No conversation with Dr Mamdouh Shoukri, president and vice-chancellor, York University, Toronto, Canada, ever goes by without a mention of his love for India. “Those memories are still cherished when I, as a schoolboy born and raised in Egypt, stood on a road in Cairo waving the Indian flag to greet a motorcade in which the then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru was travelling with Egyptian president Abdel Nasser during the former’s visit to Egypt in the 50s,” he says.
That moment awakened an interest in India. “My heroes are of course Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru,” Shoukri adds. Each visit to the country, therefore, is something he looks forward to.
This year, however, the delayed foreign universities bill has been a disappointment as York University’s Schulich School of Business had to put plans on hold to launch an Indian campus in Hyderabad. What’s in place now is a twinning programme with GMR Business School (run by the infrastructure company GMR). Students will do a year of their MBA programme in Toronto and year two in Hyderabad. “We are content with this programme and should there be a change in the Indian universities bill we will have a local campus,” he adds.
A great advocate of international education, Shoukri believes the “next generation that leads the world after us will need a global education.” The internet, he says, won’t work. “No matter what advanced technology does for us it cannot compensate for the human touch. That comes from an international university. I encourage young students to do their master’s degrees overseas. The full experience, the settings, interacting with people from across the globe, helps you understand different cultures. In Canada, with its tradition of multiculturalism, there is no ethnic group that I don’t have a friend from. It doesn’t take you long to figure out then that goodness is not limited to a particular group.”
York University, too, has a vibrantly multicultural student community studying liberal arts and professional studies, science and law. An interesting plan Shoukri wants to work on takes off from his tenure as dean of the faculty of engineering at McMaster University (Canada). “I introduced five engineering courses at McMaster in which students combined engineering studies with an area of the humanities or the arts. To be innovative, engineers have to have appreciation of knowledge beyond their technical forte. They can then interact in a more comprehensive way with society. An engineer who understands business acumen can be a better entrepreneur,” Shoukri adds.