AUC on the move

Waleed Khalil Rasromani
8 Min Read

CAIRO: Boyd Hight was elected chairman of the Board of Trustees of the American University in Cairo (AUC) last November. Amongst the university s biggest challenges is the construction of a new campus in New Cairo, which Hight discussed – along with other developments – in an interview with The Daily Star Egypt.

Funds for the new campus are currently being raised and the university plans to relocate almost all its facilities from downtown Cairo to the new location on the outskirts of the city.

The university aims to raise $100 million in contributions from individuals and businesses in Egypt, the United States and the Gulf to finance part of the construction; approximately 80 percent of this has been raised to date. This type of campaign is common in the U.S., where alumni and businesses regularly contribute to universities, but it is somewhat unusual for the region.

We were quite ambitious, says Hight, and I think we are going to be successful in what is an ambitious program, because there is not a tradition of this kind of giving [in the region].

A portion of the construction is also funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the remainder will be paid for by selling a substantial portion of the university s downtown campus.

Meanwhile, many students and alumni are concerned of the dislocation the move may cause, with the new campus far away from the rest of the cultural, civil and business community in Cairo. Hight acknowledged this risk, but nevertheless believes the move is necessary. I think the new campus will improve the university by giving us the room that we currently don t have, says Hight.

There is limited space to expand the downtown campus and the university s classrooms are becoming crowded. The new campus will also provide room for sports and physical education. I think there s a good bit of nostalgia for the current setting, says Hight, but there are always dislocations from a move.

The university also plans to retain some buildings downtown, including Ewart Hall, where public activities frequently take place.

A number of new university projects have been announced in Egypt and elsewhere in the region, although Hight is not particularly concerned with competition from other universities in Egypt. There s a big educational job to be done in Egypt, says Hight. We can t do it all, public universities can t do it all. So I welcome the competition, but I think they have a major undertaking on their hands.

Hight adds that most of these projects are for profit. In light of the work that must be done to hire staff, recruit students and develop a curriculum, generating profits will be a major challenge.

Some students are surprised when told that AUC itself is a non-profit university, considering its high tuition relative to other universities in the country, but Hight explains that tuition contributes only some 60 percent to the university s ongoing expenditure with the balance funded by public and private contributions. We re not trying to make money, but education is expensive, says Hight, adding that AUC has approximately 12 students to each professor.

The university s objective is to generate critical-thinking global citizens through a personalized educational experience, and therefore requires a higher level of funds than the larger public universities. What we are trying to do is to provide an education that enables our students to graduate and be citizens of the world, Hight explains. To be able to communicate effectively in the world language, which is English.

Hight has been a member of the Board of Trustees since 1987, and he believes that during his time on the board the university s standard of education has improved. AUC s computer science and engineering programs are the only ones outside of the U.S. to receive U.S. accreditation; similar accreditation is also being pursued for the business school.

In an effort to increase its involvement within the community, the university is bringing in graduates from public schools through a scholarship program funded by the U.S. and Egyptian governments. Two students – one male and one female – are selected every year from each governorate and are enrolled in a one-year English language course, followed by four years of undergraduate study. There are currently approximately 200 students in this program.

The university also has some students from the Gulf – although this may decline with the new university projects taking place in the United Arab Emirates – as well as visiting students from Western universities who study Arabic. We ve had an increase in interest in students from abroad, says Hight, particularly from Europe and the United States, as a result of the international focus on the events in the Middle East in the last several years.

Egyptians, however, continue to make up some 85 percent of undergraduates. And as an Egyptian university with American affiliations, AUC can contribute to discussions on the cultural divide between the Arab world and the West.

There certainly is an enormous need to understand each other a little better than we do, says Hight. And I think that educational institutions, like AUC, who have access to both the Middle East and the West – in terms of their faculty, in terms of their students – can contribute to that understanding. But it is an outgrowth of where our focus is and should remain, which is the education of students.

With regard to its faculty, some professors complain of an inconsistency in salaries at AUC, and of a particular discrepancy between the compensation of local and foreign staff. We have committed ourselves to a parity of pay between Egyptian faculty and international faculty, says Hight. We are in the process, currently, of increasing faculty salaries, even though a full Egyptian professor at AUC now earns some order of magnitude more than a professor at Cairo University. As chairman, Hight expects to visit Egypt twice a year. The Board of Trustees, whose members are predominantly from the U.S., meets twice annually in New York and once a year in Cairo.

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