Nature Middle East | House of Wisdom

Nile University students discuss their dissertations in makeshift tents

Salma Shabayek is the latest Nile University postgraduate student to defend her thesis in the protest tents.

Nile University

It has been 52 days since the protesting students of Nile University have started an open sit-in, demanding their university be accredited as a national university and that they be allowed to use the disputed campus that was originally built for them, but which the government has reallocated to the Zewail City of Science and Technology.

With the start of the new academic year, the students set up makeshift tents in the garden outside the disputed campus to carry on with their classes. They brought electricity generators to power their computers and what little equipment they have there. Three postgraduate students have even held their dissertation defenses in the tents.

“I visited the sit-in yesterday and it was very sad,” says Moustafa Ghaniem, the vice president of research at Nile University. “The students are struggling with miserable conditions to keep up their studies and continue the sit-in.”

The first thesis, discussed on 30 September, were on software engineering. Loay El-Alfy, a nanotechnology postgraduate student whose work involved trying to use carbon nanotubes to desalinate water, also defended his thesis on the same time. He has traveled to Munich to continue his postgraduate studies there.

On 14 October, Salma Shabayek defended her nanoelectronics thesis successfully. Her thesis suggested a design for an ultra low energy radio frequency receiver for use in wireless sensor networks. This can be used for sensors placed in hazardous conditions where they get little maintenance. “Reaching this very low amount of power, techniques can be applied to let the circuit be self-powered and gather its needed energy from the ambient environment without the need for batteries at all,” explains Shabayek.

She has been in the sit-in since it started in late August. “We have been literally living in these tents, taking classes, sleeping and eating here. I’ve been working on the thesis documentation and a conference paper with my design and results during the sit-in days – in the tents when we set them up and before that in the sun,” she adds. “A dissertation defense there was the easiest.”

While Shabayek has plans to continue her studies abroad, she is delaying them till next fall. For now, she wants to teach the Nile University undergraduates. “I felt that this is the least that I could do to them and to the university at this critical period.”

The students started their sit-in on 28 August, 2012 when they managed to force their way into the campus and occupy a corner there, where they set up tents, and demanded they be allowed to use the building. They were joined by concerned parents and university faculty as well. However, after nearly a month, they were forcefully moved out of the campus by the police. Since then they have been camping outside the building, continuing their sit in outside.

Several public figures and other universities, including the American University in Cairo and the German University in Cairo, have joined the protest there to support the students. The problem, however, remains unresolved.

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