Ahmed Abdel-Meguid, Professor of Accounting and Associate Provost for Enrollment Management, The American University in Cairo

Ahmed Abdel-Meguid has more than 20 years of higher education experience and is currently a tenured Professor of Accounting and the Associate Provost for Enrollment Management at the American University in Cairo (AUC). As the Associate Provost, he leads several offices including the Office of Enrollment, Admissions, and Student Service Center, the Office of Student Financial Affairs & Scholarships, and the International Programs and Services Office. He was also the founding faculty mentor for the first Cooperative Education program (CO-OP) at AUC. Previously he served as the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies and Administration, the Chair of the Department of Accounting, and the Director of the MBA Programs at AUC – School of Business, a Triple Crown school (AACSB, EQUIS, and AMBA). Abdel-Meguid holds a Master of Science in Accounting and a Ph.D. in Business Administration (accounting) both from Syracuse University (NY, USA).


In general, Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) affect their local, regional, and international communities mainly through three channels. The first is students whom are trained and developed in terms of technical academic competencies and general soft skills. Those students graduate, join the workforce, and ideally utilize this training for the betterment of their lives, and the lives of others, and advancing society and the world at large.  The second is research, which is typically directed towards discovery in a certain field, enhancing the understanding of a challenge or a problem and offering some form of solution. The third is outreach through initiatives and activities, which are geared towards serving a certain group of constituents and /or achieving a certain objective. While all three channels are important, it’s the first one, the graduating students, which typically is the most visible and the most commonly used proxy for institutional quality and reputation. Thus, HEIs invest heavily in the constant assessment of the quality of its programs and students.  There are two important aspects of quality in this context. First, the degree to which the skills and competencies of students correspond to the issues and challenges of the market and society (i.e. relevance). Second, the degree to which these skills and competencies could be utilized to actually make a significant favorable change (i.e. impact).

The “Gap” Challenge of Higher Education

A frequently cited challenge facing higher education is the “gap” between academia (i.e. program offerings and students’ skill sets) and practice (i.e. specializations and competencies needed by the job market and society at large).  In general, the structures and governing policies of HEIs make them relatively less agile and slower than the market in terms of pivoting their programs and their students’ skill sets. The main threat of this setting is that it makes the students’ learning more susceptible to some degree of obsolescence.  This would be reflected in both reduced relevance and reduced impact of the student’s academic training as they enter the job market. Ultimately, the career readiness of graduating students could be weakened and might have to be compensated by greater learning and development spending by employers. Thus, the dilution of relevance and impact adversely affects HEIs, students, and the market. While the academia-practice gap will always exist, it could significantly be mitigated through a mix of visionary leadership, organizational culture which fosters creativity and innovation, and the ideal use of financial and well-trained human resources.  Other external drivers behind ensuring the relevance and impact of higher education are rankings and accreditations, which constitute a favorable pressure for continuous improvement and maintaining competitiveness. Successful HEIs continuously engage in effective conversations with employers and other members of their communities regarding emerging market trends and talent needs.  Using these insights as references, HEIs periodically review their academic programs and recalibrate their student development activities. Furthermore, this usually entails the reskilling of teaching faculty and staff, who oversee cocurricular activities. In essence, HEIs attempt to move its programs closer to the market. While this is important and needed, it typically requires significant time and financial resources to implement.  A relatively easier, faster, and more cost-effective approach that could be used in tandem with the revamping of programs, is to bring the market and the community to the classroom. One way to implement this is infusing ‘learning by doing or by experiencing’ (i.e. experiential learning) in the pedagogies adopted by HEIs.

Experiential Learning: Towards Win -Win -Win Educational Models

Experiential learning can take different shapes and forms such as field trips, community-based projects, student competitions, interactive guest lectures, case solving, student research, internships and Cooperative Education (CO-OP). The choice of the mix and intensity of each type will differ among HEIs and even among disciplines.  The advantages of experiential learning are multifaceted affecting three groups. Students become more engaged with the market, thus enhancing career readiness. Employers and society at large are supported by an ongoing supply of active members who have the skills needed to effectively execute newly introduced functions and address emerging issues. Finally, with structured monitoring and assessment, HEIs receive invaluable indirect feedback concerning its students, programs, and faculty effectiveness. This could be used for minor finetuning to outright corrective actions at both the strategic and operational levels.

Cooperative Education (CO-OP) and Internships:  Hands-on Experience and Much More

Students’ on-the- job learning through Cooperative Education (CO-OP) and internship programs has become an integral element in academic programs of various disciplines.  When well designed and implemented, these programs could be considered the pinnacle of experiential learning. They provide exceptional benefits for students such as technical experience, networking opportunities, and enhanced employability. However, there are also more subtle skills that students develop from such programs, which are very difficult to replicate in the normal classroom setting. Examples of these skills include maneuvering through office politics or dealing with a difficult manager. Like other modes of experiential learning, CO-OP, and internship programs vary in structure, while the CO-OP typically being longer in duration, more closely supervised by faculty, and generally more immersive.  For example, in 2021 The American University in Cairo (AUC) – School of Business launched an optional credit-bearing CO-OP course.  Undergraduate students work on a full-time basis with an expanding list of select employers for six months.  The students are carefully screened by both the school and the employers through a rigorous process. To date the list has been very diverse and includes multinational companies, regulatory entities, government, consultants, auditing firms, banks, and many others. The students are paid by the employer and their whole experiential learning journey is supervised by a faculty mentor. The CO-OP students have to enroll in courses for at least one semester after completing their work assignment. This allows them to learn new topics but through the lens of the six months’ work experience. Furthermore, the CO-OP students indirectly share their practice-based insights with their team members through projects and during wider class discussions. Finally, the CO-OP has enhanced the employability of students with a large number of them ultimately working at their CO-OP employers after graduation.

In conclusion, HEIs should keep relevance and impact at the forefront of their strategic plans and in all of their activities with a special focus on teaching.  Experiential learning with its broad spectrum of methods and tools ensures that faculty bring the ‘real world’ into the classroom. It also drives cocurricular activities staff to design powerful skill development programs for students, making their learning experience more fun and engaging. Finally, students are more employable, and employers secure a sustainable supply of highly qualified job-ready talent. Overall, experiential learning has the potential to enhance HEIs immunity against the many challenges of a rapidly changing higher education landscape, while allowing to capitalize on the many opportunities it could offer. There is no crystal ball to precisely describe the future of higher education, however, there are some precursors which should be carefully considered. The successful HEI of the future is the one which is agile, responsive, creative, and fully aware of market and societal needs. Experiential learning is an effective tool, among potentially others, to sustain this readiness for the future.

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