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Raiders of the liberal arts

Francis Ricciardone, president of the American University in Cairo, tells Fiona McIntyre why a liberal arts education is so popular in the Middle East, and how he is turning to Europe to recruit students and academics.

“With all my respect for Egypt, Egyptians are the first to say their education sector is a disaster.” So says Francis Ricciardone, a former diplomat whose career spanned countries across the Middle East including Afghanistan and Iraq. Now, as president of the private American University in Cairo, Ricciardone has swapped diplomacy for a straight-talking promotion of a western-style, liberal arts education.

Speaking to HE on 10 October during a visit to London to market the AUC to European students and academics, Ricciardone says there is high demand for this style of “inquiry-based” private education in the Middle East, a part of the world where rote learning has traditionally been favoured. “The most brilliant students were the ones who could recite the most information the most accurately; that’s no longer a valued skill,” he says, explaining that artificial intelligence has made rote learning obsolete.

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