School of Continuing Education Celebrates 90th Anniversary

For Iman El-Zayat, studying at AUC’s School of Continuing Education (SCE) in the 1980s (known as the Center for Adult and Continuing Education back then) was not just a memorable experience, but one that left an imprint on her career and helped her become who she is today –– chief of Arabic translation at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for the past 11 years.

“The basic, and most valuable, difference between the School of Continuing Education and formal education was that it was more career-oriented rather than theoretical,” explained El-Zayat. “It provided students with a practical toolkit for immediate application in real life, and this particular emphasis has enriched my versatility and breadth of knowledge in a positive and focused manner, which reflected in my fast career progression, whether as an instructor at the school, a translator and interpreter, or chief of Arabic translation later on at the IMF.”

Established in 1924 as the Division of Extension, the School of Continuing Education at AUC is now celebrating its 90th year of adult education in a broad range of areas. The Division of Extension was first envisioned by Charles Watson, AUC’s founding president, as a public service component of the University.

“Although in Egypt, only a few young men, largely from the upper class, could attend AUC’s preparatory or university courses, Watson realized that a public-service program of lectures, evening courses or fieldwork, similar to extension programs in the United States, would benefit many additional people and enlarge the impact of the institution,” stated Lawrence R. Murphy in The American University in Cairo: 1919 – 1987. “A Division of Extension was accordingly established in 1924, one year before the opening of university credit courses.” As Murphy noted, the Division of Extension began as a forum for lectures by well-known speakers, such as the late Egyptian intellectual Taha Hussein, on topics of “immediate concern to Egypt,” including population growth, education, and social and economic reform. In addition to lectures and film screenings, it worked on improving people’s well-being through village health contests and a campaign to prevent blindness. In the mid-1940s, the Division of Extension became the “evening college,” targeting those who completed college work and would like to earn another degree. Almost 20 years later, it was renamed the Division of Public Service (DPS), offering noncredit evening programs in business, consumer education, playwriting, language studies, administration, accounting, secretariat, fine arts and family education. Sponsored lectures and seminars, as well as public film showings and art exhibitions, highlighted cultural aspects of Egypt and the Arab world. In the 1980s, the center grew tremendously under the direction of its director, Ralph Nelson, expanding its offerings in Arabic and business; creating its own English-language curriculum, tailored to the needs of Arabic speakers; introducing one-year and two-year professional certificates, not just individual courses; and initiating evaluative techniques for faculty members, as well as English proficiency entrance exams for participants. Its off-campus extension in Heliopolis was also established to accommodate the increasing number of students. As Nelson said at the time, the work of the DPS focused on “the development of career and vocational programs and the upgrading of all courses and programs.” The Division of Public Service later became known as the Center for Adult and Continuing Education, and expanded under AUC President Richard Pederson’s tenure to include full-time career programs in different parts of Egypt, such as Alexandria and Tanta, as well as the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi. In 2006 - 2007, the center was renamed the School of Continuing Education, enrolling approximately 20,000 students per year. “The School of Continuing Education is mainly in Tahrir, but we have a building here in New Cairo -- the Mr. and Mrs. Elias Hebeka Building -- and after we closed down our operations in Heliopolis, we are witnessing a dramatic increase in our New Cairo enrollment,” said Deena Boraie, dean of the School of Continuing Education. "We are certainly part of AUC because the previous philosophy was that the SCE is a separate entity from the rest of the University. That’s why it was re-established as a school, to integrate it more with the rest of the academic schools, rather than continuing education being an isolated operation. For example, we are currently working closely with the Graduate School of Education in the enrollment management of their nondegree diplomas, as well as providing a range of services to the School of Business Executive Education. We are happy with these kinds of collaboration.” With its diversity of programs and offerings, the School of Continuing Education is a real-life manifestation of Watson’s dream of AUC’s outreach and service to a wide spectrum of the Egyptian public. “Through the SCE, the University opens its doors ever year to thousands of Egyptians from all areas,” said Boraie, adding that the school’s main drive is being responsive to market needs. “We are a needs-driven business,” she explained. “We are conducting needs assessments all the time, working to identify and understand clients’ desires and requests, and use this information to develop new products and services. So in the 1980s, our focus was on secretarial certificates and IT, and we were one of the first institutions to offer courses in computer studies. Today, we still offer these courses, but our portfolio has expanded to include sales; marketing; human resource management; international accounting and auditing certificates; legal, UN, media and literary translation; TOEFL preparation; teacher training; youth programs and much more.” And, of course, there are the English courses –– written, conversational or customized –– one of the hallmarks of an SCE education. “Right now, there is a tremendous need for English-language training,” affirmed Boraie. “Within the SCE, there are thousands of students who want to learn how to speak and write English properly. It’s an unfortunate reflection of Egypt’s school and university system, and, in that sense, we are providing a form of remedial education.” Besides English, one of the strengths of the School of Continuing Education is its professional career certificates, which complement, rather than duplicate, a four-year university degree, as Boraie put it. “We are giving our students the practical skills they need to understand the theory behind what they’re studying, or have studied, at their universities; this is an added value,” she said. “All of our certificates are called career certificates, and we mean this literally. The School of Continuing Education opens new career opportunities for its students, whether it is a pharmacist who wants to learn sales to become a sales representative for a medical company or a lawyer who wants to work in an HR firm.” And students testify to that. “My studies at the School of Continuing Education have added value to my competencies and increased recruiter interest so that my AUC experience was always a positive asset for me in receiving good job offers,” said Raafat Donia, head of compliance at Sandoz Pharmaceutical, a division of Novartis. “The diversity of students in terms of culture, work experience and demographics has also enriched my learning experience and outcome, both when I was a student and when I worked as a part-time instructor at the school.” For Ahmed Kamel, regional sales director for Travco, the “sharing of experiences and exposure to different industries through the student mix” were some of the main benefits of studying at the School of Continuing Education. More importantly, the communication and presentation skills he acquired, in addition to time management, have helped him become “adaptable and flexible as a professional,” which paved the way for him to be in the leadership position he is in today. Affirming students’ leadership potential, Boraie noted, “We have to give students the space and opportunity to talk about their experiences and express their ideas, and that is why we initiated the Dean-Student Council. We have 10 students on the council who act as advisers to the dean and school administration. I am learning a lot by listening to them, and it also a learning opportunity for them. Through this council, I inadvertently discovered that we are providing those students with a leadership experience that they never had before. I am very proud that we are able to do that. This is the power of AUC.” Historical parts of the story are extracted from The American University in Cairo: 1919- 1987, by Lawrence R. Murphy and The American University in Cairo: 1987 - 1995 by Thomas Lamont. Photo caption: The Division of Public Service in the mid-1970s and early 1980s, courtesy of the University Archives