Interview with AUC Counselor Dr. Ashraf Hatem

Last week, The Insider AUC interviewed the new counselor, Dr. Ashraf Hatem.

Dr. Ashraf Hatem recently joined the AUC Cabinet and community as the new counselor, bringing his well-earned wisdom and professional knowledge to the university. The counselor has been working as the General Secretary of the Supreme Council of Universities for almost five years. Dr. Hatem coordinated between universities, established education policies, and worked in the regulation and certification of university degrees.

After working with lots of universities, how do you plan bringing your expertise and experience to AUC?

With my experience, I should help the American University in Cairo (AUC). My job is to be a representative for the Egyptian government. I’m the interface between AUC and the government if any problem arises. My experience helps me decide what works; which new programs and prospects the AUC should invest in, that might help the university as a whole. Despite it reaching its hundredth year, the university was always seen as an isolated island. My job is to integrate between the university and administration with the academic and the non-academic community surroundings.

Why did you resign from your previous job as the General Secretary of the Supreme Council of Universities?

Well, change is a part of life. Before I was in the Supreme Council, I worked briefly in the Ministry of Health. Before that, I worked in Qasr el Eyni Hospital. These are all different experiences connected by only one aspect;  management. When the offer came in from the AUC and the Egyptian government, I thought of making a career shift from the public sector to the private, or rather the non-profit sector.

What do you think is the major issue at AUC?

The major issue at AUC right now is the tuition fees. The parents are suffering. The tuition fees are not the problem of the university, it is the problem of the country because of the devaluation. The university is American. Hence, it manages its budget in dollars because it presents this information to its Board of Trustees in New York. According to the university’s administration, it is $16.5 thousand.  It is neither expensive nor cheap if we compare AUC to American universities. However, to us in Egypt, it is very expensive. The most important thing to do, is to help the high achieving students who enrolled in university, continue their education at AUC without disturbing them or their parents; by increasing scholarships and financial aids. I was expecting this year’s admissions to decrease, but that wasn’t the case. It was nearly the same or more by 15-20 percent than the average. Clearly, whoever applied has no problem with the tuition fees. Another threat is the value over money; the university must focus on its product, which is not only the curriculum but also the university life. Is that life worth that amount of money? What am I, as a university, going to give back to my students so that it equates the amount they pay?

What makes AUC a better academic institution? 

At AUC, you can change your major along the way if you don’t like it.

To what extent do you think the Ministry of Higher Education interferes in the university’s decisions?

I don’t think the ministry interferes in AUC. I think the student’s problem is that the ministry doesn’t interfere in the university at all. The Supreme Council of Universities is the only institution that interferes and the only thing it does is approving programs or degrees that can be taken at AUC. The policies and tuition fees of the university are the responsibility of the Board of Trustees. All parents accuse the minister of not interfering in the tuition fees issue but he is not supposed to interfere in the first place.

However, the court said that all the fees need to be paid in Egyptian pounds but in a certain percentage?

No, the court said that any Egyptian university must take the fees in Egyptian pounds and it didn’t state a certain percentage. The court has no right in calculating the fees and deciding what is the fair amount to be paid. When the minister got the court’s decision he sent it to the university, and the Board of Trustees decided that the fees will be paid in Egyptian pounds. The Board of Trustees understood the court’s statement and turned the fees into Egyptian pounds. The court didn’t state the amount of increase. Yes, parents and students are not satisfied by the decision but the board of trustees applied the court’s statement as it is.

In the future, is there any possibility that the fees may be lowered?

Some people say, that if you entered a place with a certain policy or arrangement, then you shouldn’t increase the fees that much or you can increase it 5 or 10 percent based on the devaluation. Other people say that the Board of Trustees are the ones who put the tuition fees, that the government gave people the chance to transfer to other universities, and that there are other ways to help like financial aid, emergency grant fund, and scholarships. Regardless, what the Board of Trustees told people, Dr. Salama, and myself, is that if the court stated that the fees should be lowered then it will be lowered. The problem with court’s statement is that everyone views the court’s statement from his own point of view.

Dr. Hatem, how do you view the fees issue, from a personal point of view?

From the very beginning, I told you that the amount is huge. However, the Board of Trustees are the ones who took the decision and they made channels for those who can’t pay. Obviously, the new students don’t have any problem with the tuition fees. I have two sons, and if they were in AUC, I wouldn’t have been happy about the fees, and I might have transferred them to another university.

Rumors say that some engineering degrees at AUC are not accredited or recognized by the country, is that true? 

It is not true, but the whole world now is doing the pre-license examinations. For example, They are doing a medical license test in the United States. It is called ‘USMLE’. This is done for foreign graduate students. From this year, all graduates even from very well-known universities, will have to take the USMLE. Even if your degree is accredited, you will have to take the test anyway. One of the best things Dr. Amr Salama did in the last 4 years through the Supreme Council of Universities, is that almost most of the AUC’s certificates are approved in Egypt, and got accepted by the Supreme Council of Universities.

What would you do differently than what Dr. Amr Salama did?

I want to try to be more involved with students and the faculty. I will work more closely with the provost and the Board of Trustees to continue what Dr. Salama did. We will work more on clearing the relationship between AUC and other private or public universities wasn’t clear.  In the post-graduate programs, AUC and other universities do research together. In the undergraduate studies, I am aiming to improve interaction.

Since you have worked with public universities, how do you think AUC can benefit from them?

In public universities, the human resources are stronger because they have more students. Therefore, AUC and public universities need to do partnerships. Across these last few years, there were many projects, like the Tempus Projects, that included both AUC and other public universities.

In terms of maintaining good relationships, does AUC have a certain position ? 

We should take the first step and invite them to participate with us in many events. If anyone wants to make a project or a connection, I can assist as I have worked with other universities before. Universities in upper Egypt are active and would love to come and join activities even if it is in Cairo. Yes, AUC has American academic standards, but at the end of the day it is still on Egyptian soil.