Al-Ahram Weekly Online   28 May - 3 June 2009
Issue No. 949
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

From diplomacy to academia

AUC is launching a new school of public affairs and a prominent Egyptian diplomat is its founding dean, Dina Ezzat reports

Narrowing the gap between a fairly decent academic foundation and an increasingly demanding job market is perhaps the most obvious objective of the new School of Public Affairs (SPA) which is offering postgraduate classes to students at the new Cairo campus of the American University in Cairo (AUC) next September. The new school, designed to be a multi-disciplinary institution, will offer studies in migration, administration, media and journalism and law.

"We are currently working out our core curricula that will offer all students attending AUCSPA an across-the-board understanding of all these issues within the context of practice and not just that of academia," said Nabil Fahmi, the school's founding dean.

According to Fahmi, a prominent career diplomat whose last post overseas kept him in Washington at the head of Egypt's embassy for nine years, the main objective of the school is to produce well-educated as well as well-trained professionals who will be better positioned to serve within national and international systems.

"I believe that the quality of university students in Egypt overall is fine and that what we lack here is to make these graduates capable of using the academic training they received in a way that helps them in designing new policies which will thus make them more capable of serving their society, whether in Egypt or overseas," Fahmi said.

The difference between a postgraduate degree offered by the AUCSPA and any other postgraduate degree, Fahmi suggested, is one of governance skills. "There is a difference between getting a student to learn more about migration issues and between getting a student to learn more about how to draw up good migration policies," he said. As such, the curricula and method of teaching for postgraduate students -- attending classes of the four disciplines that will now be under the umbrella of AUCSPA -- will be different from what it used to be, Fahmi said. "The difference will be basically focussed on the policy drawing aspect." He added, "so we are hoping not only to graduate exceptionally well educated students of law but also to make these graduates, through their postgraduate studies at AUCSPA, able to formulate and include policies that serve the interests of developing countries in international documents that are adopted within the international system."

As such, Fahmi is hoping that his new school will be no less than the French ENA (École nationale d'administration) one of the most prestigious graduate schools in France from where some of the most prominent French officials graduated and to which the Egyptian government attempts to delegate some of its professionals in the early phase of their careers.

Fahmi entertains no illusions that it will take him and AUC much hard work before the new school gets anywhere near the high standard and prestigious reputation of the ENA. "We will start in September and we will expand and develop," he said.

According to Fahmi, the new school will depend essentially on AUC professors but will seek lecturers from internationally renowned universities, including the ENA.

Nor is Fahmi unaware of the fact that the relatively high admission fees required for all AUC studies, his school included, will put whatever AUCSPA has to offer off limits for most students who graduate in Egypt within a highly subsidised national educational system. Fahmi is promising that there will be some grants from AUC, saying that he will work hard to get top official state bodies to allocate resources for the education of their employees at AUCSPA. Indeed, Fahmi is hopeful that government and non- governmental bodies in Egypt -- he also has an eye on the wider Arab world to which AUCSPA will be the first public governance school -- will invest in the training of their students. To serve this purpose and to help design training programmes and curricula that are sensitive to the demands of the employment market, Fahmi said he is in currently endless meetings with officials concerned in the public and civil sectors.

Ultimately, Fahmi is hopeful that AUCSPA will "somehow contribute to the development of Egyptian society." After all, it is the interest in public service that encouraged Fahmi to shift lanes from diplomacy to academia with a governance flavour.

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