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Provost Loves the Challenge of Bringing a Canadian University Programme to the Middle East

[This content is under Al-Fanar Media’s Spotlight service.]

Kim Critchley, provost of the University of Prince Edward Island’s Cairo campus (UPEI Cairo), loves the challenge of placing a Canadian university programme in Egypt. 

“I am responsible for ensuring the academic standard,” Critchley told Al-Fanar Media. “How should we tweak it? How should we mould it, at the same time holding onto the standard of Canada? I just love that, because you are solving a puzzle and when you figure it out and it works, it is such a great accomplishment,” she says.

Cultural Differences

One major challenge was gaining the understanding and trust of the mother institution, UPEI Canada, to allow us to change the programme just enough so it fits with the Egyptian culture without jeopardising the academic standard. UPEI Cairo has worked extremely closely with UPEI Canada to ensure the quality of the education delivered is equal”.

“I am responsible for ensuring the academic standard,” Critchley told Al-Fanar Media. “How should we tweak it? How should we mould it, at the same time holding onto the standard of Canada? I just love that, because you are solving a puzzle and when you figure it out and it works, it is such a great accomplishment,”.

Kim Critchley, provost of the University of Prince Edward Island’s Cairo campus (UPEI Cairo).

Another major difference is that the legal age of an adult is 18 in Canada but 21 in Egypt, “so students are actually minors for most of their academic duration on campus.”

Students’ being minors means that their parents will often come to campus to advocate for them. “Sometimes the parents will come on their own without the student and we have to explain, ‘We really need to have your son or daughter in the room because of confidentiality rules,’” Critchley explained.

جامعة جزيرة الأمير إدوارد.. مسار أكاديمي فريد من كندا إلى الشرق الأوسط
Kim Critchley, provost of the University of Prince Edward Island’s Cairo campus (UPEI Cairo),

As minors, Egyptian students can be a bit more naïve because they are usually living at home with their parents. “Family is extremely important to them. They will usually live with their families until they are married and may well often still continue to reside in that same complex with their spouse.” This sense of family extends into their university experience. Students refer to UPEI, Cairo as their university family.

She sees teaching styles as another cultural difference. “When students go to school in Egypt, it can be very much ‘I am going to tell you what you need to know.’ Our method of teaching and our fundamental beliefs are in self-directed teaching, participation, engagement, students taking responsibility for their own learning. Those can all be very foreign concepts to our students. They expect to be told what to do, what to study and to then come back and be tested on it.

Critchley, who has been in her post for three years, said one of the things she got wrong early on was not insisting on mandatory class attendance. 

“I thought there is no way we will do this. It is not Canadian. But in the Egyptian culture it is very important that there is mandatory class attendance because students just won’t come. They don’t see the value in it and they are just not interested enough. … So we did that for the first term and students did not come and as a result there were high failure rates. We could not help them because we did not see them. When we put in mandatory attendance, we got students on campus and we could work with them and help them

“UPEI is primarily an undergraduate university. It is a small community. The university prides itself on the individual attention that students will receive, small class sizes and extra support, and this campus is very much thought to be part of the community in Canada. My goal is to have them (these same values) instilled here on our campus in Cairo.

Unique Programmes

The University of Prince Edward Island Cairo campus has four programmes and tries to offer unique programming that has not been offered in Egypt before. 

Sustainable Design Engineering is a project-based, four-year programme where students are paired with industry partners from the outset to solve problems that have been presented by industry. “So they are solving real-world problems, learn to work as a team, to lead the team, present solutions to problems and manage a project,” Critchley said. Related focus areas within this programme are sustainable energy, bioresources and mechatronics.

The second programme is Computer Science, where one of the most popular majors is Video Game Programming. Other majors include Data analytics, working with big data, and Business Analytics.

The Business Administration programme  has five specialisations – Entrepreneurship for those who want to develop their own business ideas, Accounting, Finance, Marketing and Organisational Management.

Entrepreneurial Success Stories

Two Egyptian students, with the university’s help, have managed to set up businesses and run them for years while continuing their courses. 

Ahmed Elgarem, a senior business student specialising in  Entrepreneurship, has set up AEG Holding, a company which manages three brands in the marketing and media field. “The professors on campus deliver their real-life market background, mixed with their teaching experience, which allowed me to transfer their knowledge into the business I’ve started,” he told Al-Fanar Media.

جامعة جزيرة الأمير إدوارد.. مسار أكاديمي فريد من كندا إلى الشرق الأوسط
Ahmed Elgarem, senior business student specialising in  Entrepreneurship

A senior Business student specialising in Finance, Joseph Boshra last year founded ‘Finvo,’ the first AI-powered accounting & financial management platform for start-ups in the MENA region. He said, “UPEI’s unique business programme exposed me to great educators and industry leaders who gave me the necessary skills and mind-set to launch and grow a successful business while studying.”

Joseph Boshra, senior Business student specialising in Finance.

UPEI Cairo also has a Master of Business Administration programme in Global Leadership. It is designed for executives/professionals already working in industry so classes are scheduled  on weekends and delivered in a condensed format. This programme is delivered mostly  by University of Prince Edward Island Faculty who come to Cairo to teach.

The University of Prince Edward Island in Cairo is one of two institutions hosted by Universities of Canada in Egypt, along with Ryerson University Cairo. The campus is in the New Administrative Capital of Egypt, a 30-minute drive east of Cairo.

Critchley told Al-Fanar that one month after UPEI Cairo’s first cohort graduation a survey was done. The results showed that of the 45 graduates, 31 were actively employed, nine males completing Egypt’s compulsory military service,  and five were seeking employment.

Part of Universities of Canada in Egypt

The University of Prince Edward Island in Cairo is one of two institutions hosted by Universities of Canada in Egypt, along with Ryerson University Cairo. The campus is in the New Administrative Capital of Egypt, a 30-minute drive east of Cairo.

The University of Prince Edward Island in Cairo started with 167 students in 2018 and now has about 750. Critchley concedes this is less than she would like. “2019 was a great recruitment year but then there was Covid and the economic decline with the falling Egyptian pound. … This is a private university and the fees are as they would be in Canada. The Egyptian pound dropped again last week and that means it costs so much more to buy anything, including tuition.” 

But Critchley remains confident that with its state-of-the-art courses, small classes and supportive staff, UPEI Cairo will continue to grow no matter what the financial climate.

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