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Higher calling

The Ministry of Higher Education in Egypt (MoHE) has been working over the past two decades on improving higher education through developing and implementing a comprehensive strategic plan for reform. This has taken place in three phases.

It first started in 1989 with the implementation of the Engineering and Technical Education Project (ETEP), which ran until 1998. The second then ran until 2002 with a comprehensive strategic plan to reform higher education as a whole.

Since then, the plan has been implemented within the framework of an enhanced strategy over several phases. This project is called the Higher Education Enhancement Project (HEEP). HEEP aims to improve efficiency through the reform of governance and management, the quality and relevance of university education and mid-level technical education.

“HEEP is one of the main projects in Egypt to enhance the quality of higher education in our public universities. This programme started two years back with with funds from the World Bank, after which the initiative has been funded by the government of Egypt itself. HEEP itself includes multiple projects to enhance quality of our facilities, teaching performance of faculty in our institutesin addition to a project we call ICTP (Information and Communication Technology Project). ICTP aims to enhance IT at the level of education, as well as for administration and research,” says Dr Tarek El Ahmady Eltobely, executive director of HEEP’s ICTP.

ICTP involves five main elements. The first involves the development of the information network between
universities and the ministry; the second is the introduction of new management information systems at faculty and university levels; the third involves the establishment of an e-learning system, and a digital library comprises the fourth; the firth element is
about longterm capacity building.

Keeping these in mind, the team at ICTP found it necessary to establish new centres at the ministry level to operate projects at the faculty level.

The Ministry of Higher Education in Egypt establishes data centres, improves networks and uses technology to drive the education enhancement project in the country.

“Before ICTP we had information centres and we had a network called the (EUN). Along with this we established a management information centre, a division support centre, a national e-learning centre, a digital library unit and a central unit for training. These units are now composed into a single centre for IT knowledge and services,” says Eltobely.

Eltobely adds, “These same centres are mirrored in universities – so many of them have five centres just like in the ministry. Five years ago, IT was only about providing Internet connectivity but we are now looking at offering services to our students and faculty, management and research. We work now to regularly introduce new services and new applications. Our educational institutes are growing ever more aware of the advantages we offer, and are eager to avail them.”

The Ministry’s scope covers over 19 universities, including more than 300 faculty members, and 1.5 million students across these universities and technical institutes. It has eight technical colleges, 45 technical institutes and 150,000 students in them.

While Eltobely hesitates to put a number to the people working across HEEP, he says that ICTP has a total of 3,500 people working on the projects across engineering, management, data entry and training.

Managing bandwidth
“Due to the constant need for additional bandwidth for the universities, ICTP was looking to monitor its traffic and explore the behaviour of different applications in order to determine the actual usage of available bandwidth and then optimise its utilisation.

The challenge was to provide a solution that could work smoothly with other active network components. Above all, it had to be stable, easy to manage and deploy,” he said.

This was new territory for ICTP, because the ability of staff to prioritise bandwidth usage and allocate higher bandwidth to critical applications required a device to analyse and evaluate network traffic usage
through application monitoring and Web traffic management.

“This would help universities provide better IT services and applications for staff members and employees,” explains Eltobely. “However due to the heterogeneity in the topology and structure of the data centre in each university, the project faced a severe challenge in selecting one device that could
meet its business goals and operate inside each university’s data centre.

After much consideration and having gone through multiple solutions MoHE chose ipoque PRX-1100 as per the tender submitted by Raya IT, an FVC authorised partner in Egypt.

The PRX-1100 is an entry-level deep packet inspection (DPI) bandwidth management system suitable for link speeds up to 400 Mbit/s and 32,000 subscribers. It is a particularly suitable solution for budget constrained network operators who require a near-instant ROI but cannot afford to sacrifice performance nor reliability.

Implementation was fast and easy. “It was completed in all 17 data centres across the universities in October 2010. The installation in each site only took about two hours,” Eltobely recalls. At each site, the PRX-1100 was installed in front of the UTM device, allowing staff to analyse which applications are consuming Net bandwidth and prioritise allocated bandwidth according to business needs. As part of the implementation, IT staff received three days of training.

The benefits are clear. “Two IT staff in each university spend just an hour per day reviewing network bandwidth usage and updating policies as required,” Eltobely explains. “Now we have better control over our network and can we also direct network usage to serve the business needs of our institutions.”

University users are enjoying higher quality services. “By controlling applications such as peer to peer, DDL (dynamic downloads) and Flash, we can provide suitable priority to important traffic such as scientific computing, digital libraries and Net 2 applications,” Eltobely says. “So users of our universities networks can enjoy the provision of efficient services. We have better network performance, as well as improved stability and reliability. To quantify the benefits, just by limiting peer to peer applications, we have saved around a third of our daily Internet bandwidth.”

Call for more
The bandwidth management implementation at ICTP was itself part of a larger data centre transformation project stretching across the universities.

“We realised that with all the changes that we were making, it was becoming increasingly important to secure the valuable data that we were creating and storing in the data centres. We realised that we needed
to enhance the security and management information centre at the university level,” says Eltobely.

MoHE started a gap analysis, called in a consultant or two and studied its needs. Following this it agreed that there is a need to make investments to improve security.

“From that point we invested around 55 million Egyptian pounds, installing this equipment in each university. So we now have fire walls, intrusion prevention systems, traffic shaper, traffic analyser, bandwidth optimisers at university’s data centre. So that is 17 data centres for each of our 17 universities. These data centres are secured, managed and operated with the highest standard,” says Eltobely.

MoHE also took their learning from security one step further – not only did they layer their security measures, but they have made each layer out of a different vendor in order to make these measures as strong as possible.

“If you have the same vendor across multiple layers then technically you are leaving the same back hole across all of them. This is why we decided to have different vendors across layers. In this way we have built an intrusion prevention system,” says Eltobely.

In 2011, MoHE worked on strengthening the LAN connectivity within universities (to improve the management and performance across the networks) and also began setting wireless networks across the different campuses.

Keeping within the regulations of the Egyptian government, the MoHE encourages face-to-face as the ideal means of education communication.

“We have had some interest in e-learning from the faculty on a personal level. So we have created an e-course development centre in the universities. These centres develop e-courses for staff members that are interested in enhancing the teaching methology and delivery of their courses. We now have over 400 complete e-courses that are stored in central servers, and now we have more than 100,000 students enrolled,” says Eltobely.

In 2010, the average usage of these e-courses was only 10% but in 2011, this increased to 60%. As more students get familiar with these courses and find them to their advantage, MoHE is working on modifying
the curriculum structure to allow the introduction of new rules to make e-learning a true part of the educational process.

Apart from the massive investments in infrastructure, MoHE has also been investing in applications for students and staff members. Apart from requisite modules, like ones related to the finance, MoHE also has applications for the libraries and is in the process of digitising the central repository and content.

“This year we will also start enhancing the quality of electronic publications across the higher education system in Egypt. We will start supporting the international publishing of scientific journals in our universities to enhance the editorial quality and publishing quality of the journal to be able to compete across the international and scientific community,” says Eltobely.

MoHE is also very clear on what it will be working on in 2012.

“We have invited all universities to create a strategic plan for ICT and will work to enhance, implement and realise the potential of each of these projects. We also plan to work on a DR centre for our higher education institute, in addition to which, we plan to introduce some kind of business intelligent over the management information centre”. he says.

Although Eltobely has submitted a request for one billion Egyptian pounds for the next five year IT strategy bracket to the Ministry of Finance; he accepts that things might change.

In the face of recent political turmoil we cannot be 100% sure of what the next year will bring. However, we are sure that this revolution has only strengthened the idea of a joint community and highlighted the
importance of education to build a stable and continue economy.

“Thus, we can expect higher investments in education and more funds than we had earlier requested,” he adds.

With those aims, and despite the changes around them, the team at ICTP continues to work to reach the higher goals of HEEP and the Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE).

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