The American University in Cairo (AUC) celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. Since 1919, it has been one of the focal institutions for education in Egypt.
It graduates 5,500 students from 460 colleges annually with a teaching staff of 2,000 people, with an academic research of EGP 140m per year
On the role of the university and its contribution to Egyptian society, we sat with the AUC’s President Francis Ricciardone for an interview.
What do you think is the AUC’s most important role in society?
Our first role is to serve the Egyptian people and society and offer these services to Egypt. This needs higher education to produce and transfer knowledge. The University produces this knowledge through scientific research and many contributions in other fields such as the arts culture, and so forth. We work on passing down this knowledge through educating youth so they may use this knowledge and have it grow in the world, and that’s what any major university around the world does.
What are some other roles that distinguish the university?
The AUC is distinguished in many other fields and this distinction stems from its name. With the presence of about 4,000 American universities in the USA itself and its cooperation with many other universities at the global level, there is only one American University in Cairo and it is completely American in its philosophy, curricula, and method of teaching. Cairo here represents our nature and our philosophy, which is the great laboratory in which the AUC lives, learns from, and influences. AUC has operated as a bridge for over 100 years between the East and the West, Egypt and the world. It has been trying to transfer technology and global thinking to Egypt, creating an ambitious generation of Egyptians. We offer them global education and help them complete their studies abroad.
Is the decision to prevent Niqabi (cloth that covers the face) women from entering the campus still in force?
This decision doesn’t intend to fight the niqab or anything, but it has to do with the policy of entering the campus adopted by the American University. Every student or person entering the American University campus must show their faces. The university does not discriminate based on religion, gender, or nationality. Moreover, faces must be exposed before entering the campus and taking an exam, whether it is a student or a visitor, because security must simply know who is inside the university campus.
What kind of impact do you think AUC has achieved since 1919 until now?
Despite our small size, we have a great and wonderful impact, and we continue to improve ourselves. We changed people’s lives by providing them with innovation skills to solve their problems, and highlighting the problems that the whole world faces. This is our main mission.
But since you pointed to the factor of time, we have moved in the past years to the new headquarters of the university in an area that was like a desert, and now and in the past 10 years New Cairo has grown with huge institutions, and this shows our future vision. We are in a dynamic place, and we graduate annually 5,500 students in 460 colleges, with a teaching staff of 2,000, this is a huge number that made a wonderful change in society.
But since we’re talking about our journey, in the last few years we have moved to the new headquarters of the university in an area that was like the desert, and in the past 10 years New Cairo has grown with bigger institutions, and this represents our vision of the future. We are in a dynamic place, and we graduate 5,500 students in 460 colleges annually, with a teaching staff of 2,000.
In light of your 100th anniversary celebration, did you achieve the expected volume of donations?
We focus well on the future and provide the optimal educational method for this year’s requirements. The university confirms that Egypt welcomes everyone and is a great place to obtain a university education or conduct an array of scientific research. We work all year until February, which is when we’ll celebrate the founding of the university, and we’re using this as an opportunity to attract financial contributions in order to increase the university’s budget. The university is aiming to raise an additional $100m and so far, we have raised $85m. We’re hoping to raise the rest by the end of the celebration.
How will those funds be distributed within the university?
By increasing the budget of the AUC’s individuals and institutions supporting AUC students. We focus on improving and raising the efficiency of our academic and research system at the AUC, as well as increasing the number of scholarships for students who are not able to pay. We also allocate some funds for certain types of scientific research that aims at solving existing problems in the Egyptian society, such as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, who gave the AUC $2m for any research that works on solving any problem facing the world. Students should participate in these sorts of research, such as energy problems or combatting diseases, to make a better world.
There is also Businessperson Naguib Sawiris, whose donation developed and modernized the campus downtown through the Tahrir Cultural Center with the belief that Egypt is a source of artistic intelligence, especially downtown, in terms of music, painting, and culture. The AUC is also working to always maintain its services downtown, in New Cairo, and the New Administrative Capital. We are working to be part of Egypt’s greatness in art, and we are trying to revive the greatness of the arts and culture scene in Egypt.
AUC wants to be a part of this renaissance to help Egypt bloom again, and I would like to stress that even with all these challenges facing Egypt, it still has the energy to find its way to rise again in culture and art. This is clearly evident in Egypt, and it is also evident in the AUC’s educational policy. AUC has its magazine, which gets published in 13 languages, talking about the language of beauty in Egypt over the different eras to send a clear message to the world that Egypt is the incubator of art and culture.
Does the educational level of the Egyptian student qualify him to compete in the global educational market?
The educational level of the Egyptian student is the same as the American student. All an Egyptian student needs is an opportunity, and we offer that opportunity in study, research, and discussions. The Egyptian mentality may flourish in an American or European setting. AUC offers this opportunity right here in Egypt.
How do we evaluate the system of higher education and research in Egypt?
Egypt has a long history in education and scientific research. The best example of this is Al-Azhar, which presented formal education and scientific research. Al-Azhar was a great focal point in the history of education and scientific research in Egypt. It sent its missions to many countries in the world and there are many Egyptian writers and scholars in various fields everywhere. However, there are a number of challenges facing the education system in Egypt, the biggest problem being the dense population. The population has reached 100 million citizens in a rapidly changing world. Artificial intelligence acquires various jobs, not only in Egypt, but globally, and the biggest challenge is to provide a suitable education, and like Imam Ali bin Abi Talib said, “Do not raise your children for what your fathers raised them to be because their time is not your time.”
How many research papers are published internationally from the AUC?
The amount of papers published in international periodicals last year was 340, and the scientific research budget is estimated at about EGP 140m per year. Most of it comes from external sources, which means from outside the university, whether these sources are Egyptian, regional, or international.