Notes on the Conjunction of Urbanization and the Education Business
In recent years, a conjunction of educational investment and urban development in Egypt has been restructuring its educational field and carving a new relationship between real estate development and private education. A telling example of this emergent urban-educational nexus is an announcement made earlier this year from real estate developer SODIC outlining its plan to establish “the MENA region’s First Finish British School”[i] Under the aegis of the Egyptian embassy in Finland and the Finish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, SODIC ratified a partnership with Global Education Solutions,[ii] a Finish educational consultancy, to establish an English-medium Finish school in its up-and-coming New Heliopolis development.
The announcement may not seem too striking given that many of Egypt’s private schools have for long been operating inside gated communities. SODIC’s Beverly Hills, for example, one the first gated communities established on the Western outskirts of Cairo, has been home to the Beverly Hills Schools (with American, German and English sections) as well as the more exclusive British International School (BISC) since 2008. Yet, such partnerships between real estate developers and international education consultancies reflect an new relationship between urban development and a transnational education industry wherein urban class divisions are increasingly mapped onto educational divisions.
While in an earlier phase in the development of gated communities, schools were owned and managed independently from the urban development company, education has been recently introduced as an integral part in the conception and promotion of gated communities. In this phase, real estate developers are owners and primary investors in private education. A few months ahead of SODIC, Palm Hills Development, another leading Egyptian real estate development company, likewise signed a partnership with the UK-based educational consultancy, Inspired Education Group, to establish branches of the international school brand King’s College in four of Palm Hill’s ongoing developments in Cairo and Alexandria.[iii] Palm Hills has recently also partnered with Taaleem, a Cairo-based higher education management company that owns and runs the Nahda University in Beni Souef, to establish Badya International University in its new development of the same name on the Western outskirts of Cairo.[iv]
The growing entanglement of real estate development and for-profit private education is, however, only one of multiple manifestations of a relationship that goes beyond Cairo’s exclusive gated communities. The two sectors are imbricated in the agenda of the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development, which- through its control of the Sovereign Fund of Egypt (TSFE)-directs public and private investment in schooling and urban development. Most notable in recent months are the multiple partnership agreements ratified by the TSFE with local and international partners in the education industry for the establishment and managements of private for-profit schools in the “Cosmic Village” project (Al-Qariya al-Kawniyya),[v] a touristic/cultural/educational smart city on the outskirts of 6th of October City (https://www.almasryalyoum.com/news/details/2109454). Over the past six months only, the Ministry signed partnership agreements with all the leading players in the education business to establish schools and universities in various locations, including the Cairo Investment for Real Estate Development (CIRA), El-Sewedy Capital, GEMS Egypt, Mobica and EFG Hermes’s Education Fund. CIRA, for example, owns and operates more than 24 schools spread across New Cairo, 6th of October City, Hurghada, Dahab, Suez, Assiut, Minya, Damietta and New Mansoura.
It is important to note that the ongoing educational-urban expansion in Egypt also patterns the hierarchical ordering of new public schools established by the Ministry of Education. Take the Japanese Egyptian school initiative as example. These schools, with school fees in the range 15,000EGP per year, are in decidedly new middle-class urban settlements in and around satellite cities. Of the eleven schools established in the Greater Cairo area (48 schools in total), seven are in New Cairo and its environs (including Zahra’a Madinat Nasr, al-‘Ashir min Ramadan, al-‘Obur and al-Shoruk) and 4 in the Western cities of 6th of October and Sheikh Zayid.[vi]
This remarkable urban dimension about educational investments in Egypt indicates a critical shift in the spatial configuration of social inequalities towards increasing class segregation. On the one hand, we see schools reconfigured as key anchor in real estate development and land valorization. Remarkably, this private investment logic resonates in the spatial distribution of the government’s Japanese schools targeting the middle classes. On the other hand, this new imbrication between education, private investment and real estate development produces a new articulation of educational privatization in Egypt that goes beyond issues of commercialization and marketization. Under this new arrangement, schools are relegated as real estate type, conceptualized and managed following the directives of the real estate market. It is not clear why SODIC partnered with a Finnish consultancy and Palm Hills with an English one, but it is safe to assume that it is high management in a real estate company that are making decisions about what and how the young residents in their gated communities are educated, and the government is following suit.
[iv] Egypt Today. 2022. “Palm Hills Developments & Taaleem Inked an Agreement with JBI to Manage the Implementation of Badya International University,” March 23, 2022. https://www.egypttoday.com/Article/3/114115/Palm-Hills-Developments-Taaleem-inked-an-agreement-with-JBI-to.
[v] Farag, Mohamed. 2022. “Schools to Be Built on Untapped Lands in Cosmic Village, Scientific Exploration City: El-Said Tells DNE.” Daily News Egypt, January 23, 2022. https://dailynewsegypt.com/2022/01/23/schools-to-be-built-on-untapped-lands-of-cosmic-village-scientific-exploration-city-el-said-tells-dne/.
[vi] Hussein, Mahmoud Taha. 2021. “عناوين المدارس المصرية اليابانية بالقاهرة و المحافظات بإجمالي ٤٨ مدرسة.” Al-Youm al-Sabi’, April 8, 2021. <https://www.youm7.com/story/2021/4/8/عناوين-المدارس-المصرية-اليابانية-بالقاهرة-والمحافظات-بإجمالى-48-مدرسة/5273079>