Egyptians' interest in the Chinese language has grown as trade between China and Egypt reaches record highs. But as more students choose to learn Chinese and more universities start Chinese departments, there is great shortage of Chinese teachers in Egypt.
Omayma Ghanem, a professor of the Chinese language at Ain Shams University, which opened its Chinese department in the 1950s, said there were only 11 Chinese majors in her class when she graduated from Ain Shams in 1983. Now there are more than 2,000.
When Cairo University started its Chinese department in 2004, it had 20 students - now there are 60 in each year of study. And the number of students in Cairo University's Confucius Institute, launched in 2007, grew from 30 to 1,200 a year, said Rehab Mahmoud, director of the university's Department of Chinese Language and Literature and dean of the Confucius Institute. Egypt now has two Confucius Institutes - the other is in Suez Canal University.
Ghanem said that more Egyptian universities are opening Chinese departments.
The list includes Al-Azhar University, Suez Canal University, Fayoum University, Pharos University, Helwan University and Misr University for Science and Technology. Moreover, Confucius Institutes are helping to set up Chinese classes at some junior and senior high schools.
Ghanem said that Port Said University, Suez University and Bani Suef University are also considering opening Chinese departments.
"There are far from enough Chinese teachers. Though the Chinese government has sent some Chinese volunteers to assist in teaching, many more are needed. Many of the Egyptian Chinese teachers are very recent graduates and lack experience," she said.
Because of the shortage, Ghanem is also the director of Chinese departments at other universities. From 2005 to 2011, she held that post at Suez Canal University, and she is now also director of two Chinese departments in Fayoum University, one in Faculty of Tourism and Hotels and the other in the Faculty of Literature.
"Ain Shams University has rich experience in teaching Chinese, so universities usually turn to it for help when they start a Chinese department," she said.
Liu Xing is a Chinese professor at the North China Institute of Science and Technology who currently works at Cairo University's Chinese department.
According to Liu, "China is an increasingly common topic in Egyptian and other Middle Eastern countries' media as trade between China and Egypt continues to increase. This has strongly aroused Egyptians' interest in and desire to learn Chinese."
In 2014, trade between China and Egypt reached a record high of $11.6 billion, and China's non-financial direct investment in Egypt rose to $100 million, increasing 86 per cent year-on-year. China is Egypt's biggest trade partner.
Students majoring in Chinese have better job prospects than other language majors do, Liu said.