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200 days in: the view from a new University President at an IBC in Egypt

Moving abroad to take up a new role is always something that one approaches with a mix of trepidation and excitement, but especially so in the current circumstances regarding travel under Covid-19 restrictions.

Photo: UH

"Key areas of our academic study will contribute highly skilled graduates with lifelong learning skills to contribute Egypt’s future workforce requirements"

Transnational education is a major export of the UK, and the University of Hertfordshire International Branch Campus, hosted by Global Academic Foundation in the New Administrative Capital in Egypt, aims to contribute to the development of higher education and scientific research within the Arab Republic of Egypt.

It also works to strengthen links with the UK, providing international educational opportunities within Egypt, while maintaining the national identity of Egyptian students.

I was appointed President of Global Academic Foundation hosting the University of Hertfordshire in mid-October 2020, and the first challenge was organising my transition to Egypt. Indeed, between starting the role in the UK and getting to know my senior leadership team and members of the Board of Trustees through multiple Zoom and MS Teams meetings, the UK then entered its second lockdown a few days before my flight was due to depart.

Fast forward to my first day on campus. Nestled in the New Garden City development of the New Administrative Capital, the campus was (and still is) amazing – new buildings of high quality, with social spaces for students and staff and attractive planted borders. I was greeted with an extremely friendly welcome from the Provost and the senior team of the University and members of Global Academic Foundation including the Chair of the Board of Trustees – a great start!

Day 1 over and now getting a feel for the university, its journey so far, and its ambitions for the future has allowed me to shape the institution’s strategy for the next five years and ensure it aligns closely with that of the University of Hertfordshire in the UK.

“200+ days into the role I am confident we have the right strategy moving forwards”

So, 200+ days into the role I am confident we have the right strategy moving forwards. An important element of this is embedding the robust quality assurance processes into all that we do.

The QA of TNE remains an area of active discussion but my experience here in Egypt and from other TNE activities that I have been associated with at previous institutions (including campus activities in the Middle East and China) is that ensuring QA management processes locally are aligned with those at the UK University is imperative.

We work closely with academics and quality assurance colleagues at the University of Hertfordshire to validate our franchised programs – a process that allows us to offer the quality of education, student support and student experience expected by UH and also by the Egyptian government.

Of course, the process does not stop with validation but is an ongoing one relating to the entire range of academic activities being undertaken. Importantly, this allows us to operate effectively with key Egyptian stakeholders including the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, the Supreme Council of Universities and the National Agency for Quality Assurance and Assessment of Education, Egypt.

Naturally, there have been some challenges: would my colleagues mind that my Arabic is rudimentary to say the least (no, they are extremely tolerant); could I get up to speed with the Egyptian HE system (yes, helped by the fact that I had previously worked with a number of Egyptian universities and the Supreme Council of Universities through the British Council and Erasmus projects); how would I manage the relationship between the IBC in Egypt and the University of Hertfordshire, especially as we have a number of programs undergoing validation in 2021 (actually easier than I thought, partly because of the full engagement of many people at the University of Hertfordshire particularly Julie Newlan, PVC for Business and International Development and the international team, Stuart Smith and James Perrin).

This year started against a backdrop of increasing Covid-19 cases in Egypt and, as a consequence, we moved from face-to-face to online teaching which made the campus feel very quiet. A hybrid model brought students back on campus in a staggered way.

However, the effects of this disruption on both students and staff has not passed me by and, whilst some positives can be gleaned from our experience of online teaching which we shall incorporate into our teaching strategy moving forwards, the lack of peer-to-peer interactions amongst students argues to me that face-to-face is still an important part of the university experience for both students and staff.

“Face-to-face is still an important part of the university experience for both students and staff”

Fortunately, the number of cases of Covid-19 on campus has been relatively low and reflects our strict quarantine measures, adoption of social distancing and PPE inside buildings, and our awareness campaigns including a video featuring students and staff around the theme of  “I wear a mask because…”, which, as a virologist, I approved of wholeheartedly.

Our major new academic building, which will be completed in summer 2021, provides us with 18,000m² of internal space that will house our physiotherapy, pharmacy and engineering and computer science programs along with our business school – all key areas of academic study that will contribute highly skilled graduates with lifelong learning skills to Egypt’s future workforce requirements.

The successful delivery of our programs reinforces to me the importance of rigorous quality assurance in TNE activity and how this can feed into local staff development, familiarisation with UK higher education delivery methods and standards and also in building sustainable bi-directional links between the main UK university and its international branch campuses.

 About the author:

Professor Vincent Emery is President of Global Academic Foundation hosting the University of Hertfordshire in Egypt.

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