The communications team at UH-GAF posed a series of questions to the President about his career to date, his research impact and what attracted him to the role of President at UH-GAF
What attracted you to the role of president?
I was looking for a role which allowed me to bring together my experiences in teaching, research, quality assurance and senior management which would allow me to make an impact. The role of President of the relatively recently created University of Hertfordshire international branch campus hosted by Global Academic Foundation in the New Administrative Capital, Egypt seemed to provide the opportunity that I was seeking. I like a challenge and the role of President, as we undergo rapid expansion, is both exciting and challenging in equal measure. I was also attracted by the quality of the staff at the University and the commitment of the Board of Trustees to ensure the University’s vision to transform lives would be realized and so contribute to the development of Egypt.
What did you do before becoming President of UH-GAF?
Before being appointed as President, I was the Senior Vice-President, Global at the University of Surrey where I led on international partnership development and student mobility and contributed to international recruitment activities. I also spent 18 months as the Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research and Innovation. During the 7 years I was at Surrey we expanded our partnership network substantially, enhanced student mobility especially outside of the EU and increased our international student population and enhanced our rank in international league tables.
Prior to joining Surrey, I was a Professor of Virology and Pro-Provost for Africa and the Middle East at UCL. During my many years at UCL I was involved in the Graduate School (as a Vice-Head for student affairs) and chaired a number of senior quality assurance committees related to programme development and assessment/examination in addition to my substantial teaching (as course director, lecturer, exam officer) and research commitments.
What contributions have you made to internationalization especially in Egypt?
I first got involved in international activities at a University level when I was appointed to the role of Pro-Provost at UCL initially covering South Asia and the Middle East North Africa and then covering Africa and the Middle East. This coincided with UCL launching its new global strategy and the vision to be London’s Global University – an exciting time in the history of UCL. This role involved a mixture of engagement with governmental level representatives, university leaders, interfacing with the student recruitment teams, and acting as an ambassador for the university especially with key stakeholders such as the British Council, CARA, and British and Foreign Embassies. I continued these types of activities in my role at Surrey expanding them to a global footprint.
My engagement with Egypt started early on when in the late 1990s I was invited to be a guest speaker at the Middle East Society of Transplantation meeting held in Cairo. Following that event, I was invited (with another UK university colleague) by the British Council to run a series of workshops with Ain Shams University to enhance their research activities and profile. This then led to a more substantive project coordinated by the British Council to work with the Supreme Council of Universities, Egypt and its Secretary-General at the time, Dr Ashraf Hatem, to help discuss the changes necessary in the higher education sector in Egypt for it to realize its ambitions as a country. This then led to the Presidential Decree allowing the formation of international branch campuses and I am pleased that I am now able to contribute directly to the success of this initiative.
Tell us more about your research interests?
I started my life as a Biochemist and Chemist and then did a PhD in biochemistry at the University of Southampton. However, I was really interested in applying my science, so I became a postdoctoral fellow at the NERC Institute of Virology in Oxford in the mid-1980s. This got me excited about virus and I spent 3 years working on exotic viruses such as Rift Valley Fever Virus and developing novel systems that would allow multiple proteins to be produced simultaneously.
These systems were patented and have subsequently been deployed in a range of vaccine development programmes and for basic science applications. I then moved to London to an academic position at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine (later to become part of UCL) where my work focused on a range of important viral infections in immunocompromised hosts especially patients infected with HIV and those having an organ transplant. Our research group focused on HCV, HIV papillomavirus and human cytomegalovirus – a herpesvirus which can cause devastating effects in immunosuppressed patients. My group was the first to show how rapidly cytomegalovirus replicates inside the human host and this led to new treatment approaches and monitoring in the laboratory and even a patent which was exploited in the hospital labs. In more recent years, I have been involved in how we can develop sensing methods for early detection of pandemics (very topical) using a combination of digital tools and smart diagnostics. This project was initially aimed at influenza and bacterial infections but in the last year has moved into COVID-19 research (see www.i-sense.org.uk ).
What are you most proud of in your career?
I think there are two areas:
• The first relates to my contributions to saving the lives of transplant patients. Our work on understanding how cytomegalovirus replicates inside the human host has had major impacts on the lab monitoring of infections post-transplant and also how we deploy drugs to minimize infections and so reduce the probability that patients suffer serious disease. This resulted in me being selected as a Fellow of the American Society of Transplantation.
• The second relates to my contributions to internationalization and how this can enhance the student experience. Both at UCL and Surrey we saw the impact that giving students an international dimension to their studies (both our students but also those from other universities worldwide) had on their academic development and also their appreciation of what it is to be a global citizen.
What is your life like outside of UH-GAF
In the UK I enjoy bellringing as a hobby which I took up when I was 38 years of age because I wanted to strengthen my shoulders. It worked wonders and I became hooked possibly because much of my research involves maths and the patterns in bell ringing are quite mathematical.
I also enjoy listening to music (classical and jazz), playing the piano (and formerly the church organ) and also composing music and painting. All of these activities – except bellringing – I can do in Egypt and I am hoping that the inspiration of living in Egypt will provide a new stimulus for my orchestral works – watch this space!