Francis J Ricciardone, president, AUC, Egypt
During an event in London to raise scholarship funds for AUC, The PIE caught up with the president of this US-accredited university in Cairo to talk about its ambitions as a global university in Egypt.
The PIE: To ask to what extent do you feel American University of Cairo is a global university?
FR: It is definitely a global university. We just received our accreditation from the American Middle States Council on Higher Education, so we are fully accredited: American curriculum, American pedagogy, American philosophy, international staff, faculty and student body. [We’re a] global university but there is a challenge – and that is bringing the world back to Egypt and that is very much our mission. To bring more international students, faculty and staff back to this incredibly fascinating country.
The PIE: So how many nationalities do you have enrolled at the moment on campus?
FR: We have 48 nationalities and representatives. We just got our numbers for this fall term.
The PIE: Which nationalities are most likely to enrol?
FR: Right now 95% of our students are Egyptians. The other 5% of internationals: 4% out of the 5% are other Arabs. Most of them are from the Gulf, Palestinians, North Africans and so forth and 1% are all others. Only 10 years ago, before the revolution, we had as many as almost 700 American students in the year 2008. Whether enrolled in a full-time four-year degree program or our master’s programs or a year abroad.
Our challenge is to get those numbers back, up we are working with great focus and determination and we are very optimistic that now that things have calmed down in Egypt – now that the State Department of the United States has put Egypt in the same security category as the UK, Germany, Italy, France, Spain – that would again encourage tourists to come back as well as students and scholars.
The PIE: So was it really a security issue [that contributed to a drop in numbers]?
FR: Largely, and perceptions of insecurity.
The PIE: How long have you been based in Cairo?
FR: Well I used to be an American diplomat and I served something like 10 years in three different assignments before coming back. I came back to Cairo in this private capacity – we’re a private American university – a little over two years ago.
“Egyptians are among the most welcoming of any people anywhere and certainly in the Middle East”
The PIE: So, does it feel like it has gotten a lot safer or has it always actually felt safe?
FR: You know Egypt was traumatised during the revolution and the post-revolution [period] in 2013. When you know your way around the country, you see that 100 million people are living normal lives every day. So I feel very very comfortable and secure there. Egyptians are among the most welcoming of any people anywhere and certainly in the Middle East so it feels good to me.
The PIE: And how are you trying to get the message out tangibly, particularly with the American market?
FR: Sure! The best way is for people to actually come and visit and see it for themselves so it doesn’t sound like we are just you know making some kind of statements or that we are overstating it. If we can get people actually to come, look around not just at our beautiful campus but Egypt itself and experience it, then word of mouth (and amplified through the social media) is the best thing.
Beyond that, we are visiting UK universities and American universities, meeting with not only security directors – that too – but also academics who want to compare what their students are interested in and what we offer and we actually have a very fine fit. We have over 150 agreements with other universities around the world including in the UK.
The PIE: Any particular programs or disciplines or faculties you are most proud of?
FR: Well, actually there are two sorts. We have what might be fairly standard in the UK and the US: our business school, we have a combined school of sciences and engineering. Both of those are highly accredited as schools not just within the university but by international accrediting agencies. Those are kind of our Cadillacs.
“We want people to come, look around not just at our beautiful campus but Egypt itself and experience it”
But what appeals to non-Egyptians [Egyptians favour the business schools] that for obvious reasons don’t appeal to Egyptians so much are Egyptology, Islamic art & architecture, Arabic for foreigners, comparative religion, Middle East studies, sociology, political science.. actually some of those do attract Egyptians as well.. and those are among our leading programs as well.
The PIE: Final question, you are here to raise scholarship funds, how do you plan on using those?
FR: Well, we will use them in two ways. One, we want to make sure we have a good diversity of students from Egypt and the region. Our price point for Egyptians is quite high. We are the most expensive by far in Egypt but we are highly competitive in European and American standards for private schools.
So, we want to have a diversity of Egyptians from all the provinces in Egypt. We want the striving, ambitious young people regardless of their ability to pay. The others we want to come are the non-Egyptians who might be a little timid or might need a little bit of help to cover the airfare and help out to come and study Arabic as foreigners or whatever it is that interests them. So we are using some of our scholarships to also encourage them to come.