The American University in Cairo (AUC) this week wrapped up its year-long celebrations marking its 100th anniversary as it begins a new century. Throughout the week-long festivities, called “Be the Future”, the university staged several events that included lectures, a fashion show, street performances and a food festival on the grounds of its New Cairo campus.
Among the activities was a seminar in which Alaaeddin Adris, chair of the Centennial Academic Committee, said AUC had cemented its leading position as an international academic institution via the strong sense of community it had created, quality of students it had produced, and the thriving culture born out of it all. “It is a culture that is enthusiastic about learning and keen on widening its scope through research, publications, forums and events that leave their mark on local, regional and international communities,” Adris said.
To envision this future, according to Adris, the university initiated Centennial Labs to demonstrate the breadth and depth of the university’s research and creativity mission in the sciences, humanities, business and arts.
AUC’s Centennial Labs tackle everything from innovation and education to technology and architecture. “The ultimate objective of these labs is to establish Egypt as the Middle East and Africa’s research and development benchmarking centre. This will be enhanced through creating research opportunities, educating the next generation through hands-on experience and collaborating with international entities via several technical training programmes,” Adris added.
Centennial Labs is a product that aims to align its efforts with the Ministry of Education’s newly developed education initiatives. It also targets creating open educational resources that can be shared on mobiles through low-bandwidth and local intra-networks. The new platform will provide students in remote, rural and underserved locales with high accessibility to resources at a low cost. “While these resources will correspond to international standards, embrace multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches, and adopt innovative pedagogies, they will also be localised to the Arab context in Egypt and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region,” Adris said.
During the festival, AUC President Francis Ricciardone said members of the AUC’s Board of Trustees who are currently visiting the university are to revise the university’s educational programme in order to introduce new educational programmes and services. “We have great plans for the future of education in Egypt which coincides with Egypt’s 2030 Vision. Egypt — the eternal Egypt — is moving forward to the future. We are part of Egypt,” Ricciardone said.
According to Richard Bartlet, chairman of the board of AUC, the university is influencing the Egyptian community by the quality of education and students the university produces. “The AUC community is only 55,000. We cannot influence the country which is now 100 million, figure wise, but quality wise. Our students’ influence is reflected in the contribution they make to Egyptian culture,” Bartlet said.
Bartlet told Al-Ahram Weekly that the AUC board of trustees is considering introducing new programmes. AUC wants to serve different sectors of society, not only those who live close to the university. “We want to serve those who live in Alexandria, Minya, Assiut and all over Egypt. This requires us to consider providing students more financial aid because there are millions of students who dream of joining the university. This is a big challenge for us. We are always trying to do better because we can always do better,” Bartlet added.
Among the other activities during the centennial celebrations was a symposium on Artificial Intelligence (AI) called “Humanising Technology”. Rana Al-Kalioubi, co-founder and CEO of Affectiva, the pioneer in artificial emotional intelligence, talked about AI, its importance to society and its various uses.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 20 February, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.