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INTERVIEW: Egypt is on the right track, facing its problems with courage and confidence: AUC president

President Ricciardone spoke to Ahram Online on a variety of topics including Egypt's economic and education reforms, and the AUC's role in supporting the drive for innovation and excellence in society

Doaa A.Moneim , Sunday 8 Dec 2019
AUC president
President of the American University in Cairo (AUC) Francis J. Ricciardone (Photo: Mohamed Mounir)
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President of the American University in Cairo (AUC) Francis J. Ricciardone asserts that Egypt is on the right track regarding the economic, social, and structural reforms it has adopted over the past three years, adding that these reforms have started to bear fruit across all sectors.

Speaking to Ahram Online on the sidelines of the seventh edition of RiseUp Summit, which came to a close on 7 December, Ricciardone said that Egypt’s government has shown an honest will to change and adopt reform across all sectors that affect investment in human capital.

“Egypt has no choice, it must adopt reform or die, the world will leave any country behind that is not willing to open up and change in a thoughtful, measured way. Actually, Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi focuses on improving and upgrading education, healthcare, infrastructure and jobs, which, indeed, translates into the objectives that the United Nations Development Programme had listed to achieving global sustainable development by 2030, and Egypt’s 2030 vision is in line with that,” Ricciardone said.

Ricciardone served as the United States ambassador to Turkey between 2011 and 2014. Previously, he was deputy ambassador at the US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. He was also on leave from the US Department of State as a guest scholar at the US Institute of Peace. He has served as US Ambassador to Egypt (2005–2008), the Republic of the Philippines and the Republic of Palau (2002–2005).

As a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, he received US government and other organisations' awards for his work in foreign policy and programme management, political reporting and analysis, and peacekeeping.

Ricciardone said that in fact, Egypt’s economic reforms were painful for the people, especially after the floatation of the Egyptian pound and the cutting of subsidies on fuel and other commodities, but the results are manifested in the higher growth rate Egypt has achieved, he said, comparing Egypt to a patient in a precarious surgery who will get better with time.

“Egypt is now facing its problems with courage and confidence. There is still more to do,” he said.

Ricciardone highlighted that Egypt has taken serious steps in educational reform, saying that the past three years have seen ample room for the private sector to invest more in education, and at the same time, Egypt’s government is drafting laws that enable international branches' campuses to be established in Egypt.

Additionally, he said, Egypt is advancing its e-governance, clarifying that the AUC has signed a memorandum of understanding with the planning ministry according to which 50,000 civil servants who will relocate to the New Administrative Capital are being trained to better deliver government services.

AUC president

About a looming global recession, Ricciardone said that wise investors who want to stay at the top of global growth should be ready for risks. Growth is never a straight line, he said, it always experiences ups and downs, which is natural. But, the most important thing that needs to be done is rationalising consumption and curbing population growth across the world.

He said that the environment for innovation and entrepreneurship in Egypt is promising, especially since the mentality of Egyptian youth has changed and they have become more innovative, to the extent that the US is studying the entrepreneurship environment in Egypt.

He called for Egyptians to remain confident, bold, to open up to the world, to not shy away from taking risks, and to keep learning since education is an endless process.

“The people in Egypt want more. They now know that nothing can be taken for granted and you must work hard to earn what you want. This is the biggest change I have seen over the years I spent in Egypt as a tourist, a young diplomat, an ambassador and as the president of AUC,” Ricciardone pointed out.

“Today’s Egypt is embracing what the AUC has offered for 100 years. We really have grown since we moved from downtown to the new campus in New Cairo. We have 6,500 students, 5,500 graduates, and 1,000 students doing their masters here," he said.

"We have a lifelong teaching experience in both campuses and we are working with some business partners to spread AUC’s long learning courses across Egypt using technology and our philosophy and business methodology to deliver them at affordable prices, using blended learning that allows the trainer to interact with professors and assistants. So, there are new methods that we want to expand,” Ricciardone stated.

Post-graduate students and professionals need to learn additional skills to help them to grow in their businesses, and this is what the AUC is working on spreading across Egypt and the world, he added.

“The idea of going to university and then graduating to become a civil servant is gone, and this what Egyptian young people need to understand. Fortunately, young people and government in Egypt alike have become knowledgeable, they are demanding something more. You must work and believe that nothing is guaranteed, we must experience some risk."

"This is the biggest change that I have seen over the years I spent in Egypt as a tourist, a young diplomat, an ambassador and as the president of the AUC,” Ricciardone pointed out.

He stressed that the AUC's values are passion, responsibility, integrity, diversity, and excellence.

"Our inquiry-based learning is about the 'Four Cs,' which are critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration. The AUC is inspiring explorers for lifelong journeys of challenge, discovery, innovation and service."

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