By Professor Saad Gamal
Any history of the Department of English at
Cairo University, however brief, is apt to recognize a number of phases each with its
distinctive features. This one recognizes three phases.
Phase I. The
The Department of
English at Cairo University was established around 1925 together with other departments
comprising the Faculty of Arts, itself one of several faculties making the new Egyptian State
University (later renamed Fouad I University).
Students admitted to the
English Department came with nine years of English language learning throughout their
pre-university education. Their mastery of the language qualified them to understand and
appreciate the great classics of English literature in the various genres.
The Faculty were
scholars and men-of-letters from England. Robert Graves and Bonamy Dobree were two prominent
figures in the late twenties and the thirties. During the war years the Department hosted a
number of young poets and novelists: Robin Fedden, Terence Tiller, P. H. Newby and Bernard
Spencer, as well as a handful of less known figures who spent the war years teaching English at
The syllabus also
included Latin, French as a second foreign language and of course Arabic
"published" an in-house magazine "The English Section Faculty of Arts Magazine (ESFAM)" where
students gave expression to their ideas, dreams and fantasies in verse or
The mid-thirties saw the
establishing of the Graduates Club in downtown Cairo where graduates of the Department kept
contact with their Alma Mater and both graduates and senior students participated in drama
productions, discussions of current events and other social activities.
The wind of politics
brought with it some far-reaching changes to the Egyptian scene. Fouad I University was renamed
Cairo University and the very core of the educational system was challenged and reshaped. The
Department of English saw the departure of its English Faculty, leaving two Egyptians
(Oxonians) and a Dutchman to face a new academic year only two months away. A hectic
recruitment campaign calling on holders of MA or Graduate Diploma in English Studies (Exeter
University) brought the total number of faculty to nine. Some emergency cuts in the syllabi had
to be made and 1954-55 left both students and faculty gasping.
Plans to ensure a well
qualified faculty were immediately set in motion. Scholarships and grants helped send a limited
number of Egyptians to Ireland and to the United States to study for PhD degrees in literature
and in linguistics. Visiting professors from the U.S. also helped, especially in the area of
linguistics, then a relatively new discipline.
The sixties witnessed
the return of a good number of PhDs in both areas (literature and linguistics), and the
student-teacher ratio was restored to a reasonably acceptable level, considering the many
adverse circumstances at the time. Those years also saw significant changes in the curriculum:
expansion in linguistics courses, interest in world literature in English, and cross-cultural
Consolidation and Diversification (1970 - the Present)
Over the last three
decades the Department has seen considerable development in various areas. The following
features characterize the third phase.
Reinforcing language skills in
response to lower competence level of secondary school certificate holders as a
result of reducing foreign language teaching to the prep and secondary stages--no
foreign languages in the primary stage.
Upgrading requirements for
academic degrees (MA, Ph.D in both specializations literature and linguistics) and
orienting syllabi in the Translation and applied linguistics to meet market
Upgrading junior faculty
members through securing opportunities to study in British/American/Canadian
universities either through the joint supervision channels or scholarships and
Keeping in contact with current
trends through conferences held regularly (every other year) with participation
from national universities as well as universities from "abroad" (in the widest
Encouraging research and
publication. The Department has its journal "English Language Studies", but faculty
members are urged to publish through other recognized channels.
Reinforcing the need to
integrate linguistic and literary studies through shared grounds (stylistics,
discourse analysis, cross-cultural studies).
Tightening up admission
requirements in all levels and requiring restoring student-teacher ratio especially
with the increasing loss of faculty through secondment to other universities in the
region or to private universities in Egypt.