Alexandria University, the only university in an Arab country to be ranked among the top 200 universities worldwide, wanted to strengthen its ability to deliver quality education by being model for an e-campus. Deploying Microsoft Office 365
allowed it to come closer to being a model of an e-campus with a strong platform for e-learning. The Microsoft technology enabled teaching in virtual classrooms and delivery of courses to students online.
Alexandria University, established in 1942 as a public research university, is one of Egypt’s oldest universities. With 130,000 students, it is the second biggest university in the country. It is also the only university in an Arab country, and the second in
Africa to be ranked among the top 200 universities worldwide. To further strengthen its ability to deliver quality education, Alexandria University wanted to build on new technologies and establish itself as an electronic campus (e-campus) with the capacity
for online teaching and hosting of virtual classrooms.
||With Microsoft Office 365, we are closer to being a model of an e-campus with a strong platform for e-learning. Our teaching staff can now teach in virtual classrooms and deliver courses to students online.
| Dr. Mahmoud Gabr
Chief Information Officer
These goals initially seemed unrealistic since the university did not even have a unified email system. Less than twenty percent of the university’s 8,000 academic personnel were using different systems: Zimbra, an email system developed internally by the university,
while others were using Microsoft Live@edu, a cloud-based email system available for free to educational institutions.
Alexandria University students, on the other hand, were mainly using free email services such as Yahoo Mail, Hotmail or Gmail. The absence of a unified university email system also meant that university staff and students did not have emails with the university
domain name, which would have been important to establish their relationship with the university.
A major reason why few university staff embraced Zimbra was its limited storage capacity. With only 100 MB of data allocated to each email account by the university’s computer servers, the Inbox of many email accounts were easily filled up. Consequently,
emails frequently bounced back to their senders. To receive new emails, Zimbra users had to regularly delete some of their emails. As well, Microsoft Live@edu had limited functionalities that discouraged its widespread use in the university.
A potential solution that would address the university’s lack of a unified email system, and desire to establish itself as an e-campus, materialised in December 2011. That month, Dr. Mahmoud Gabr, the university’s Chief Information Officer (CIO), attended
a Microsoft Office 365 presentation by the Education Team of Microsoft Egypt to the CIOs of Egyptian public universities.
In that presentation, Dr. Gabr learned of Microsoft Office 365, a cloud-based service hosted by Microsoft with a suite of desktop applications for email, calendar and contacts (Microsoft Exchange Online), instant messaging, online meetings, and video
conferences (Microsoft Lync), content and document management (Microsoft SharePoint), and the familiar Microsoft Office Professional Plus productivity software.
“I realised that Microsoft Office 365 was just what our university needed. I could hardly believe that Microsoft was even providing it for free to educational institutions,” said Dr. Gabr. “So I excitedly reported on Microsoft Office 365 to Dr. Osama Ibrahim,
our university president. I could see that with Microsoft Office 365, we would get close to our goal of being a model of an e-campus,” he added.
Although the university president, vice presidents and university council were quick to endorse the plan to deploy Microsoft Office 365 at the university, they sought written assurances from Microsoft that it would be free.
“The request of Alexandria University was uncommon. Microsoft Office 365 under Education Plan A2 is free to for all education institutions, which comes as a guarantee. But to show our good intentions to support universities and Alexandria University in particular,
we created first of a kind amendment; stating that Microsoft Office 365 was free for three years, the standard duration of our contracts. We are very keen to meet our strategic partner’s expectations and Alexandria University in particular.” said Judy Hassan,
Microsoft Account Technology Strategist.
Concerns about security and confidentiality of emails initially led some academic staff to resist the deployment of Microsoft Office 365. However, such resistance softened after Microsoft organized meetings and workshops with academic and IT technical staff.
“In March this year, two thousand Zimbra and Microsoft Live@edu email accounts were migrated to Office 365 and 25,000 new email accounts were created for staff and students. Our goal is for all university staff and students to have university emails hosted
on Microsoft Office 365 before the end of the year,” said Dr. Gabr. “In addition, the other applications such as Microsoft Lync and Microsoft SharePoint that are part of Microsoft Office 365 are now available to our academic community,” he added.
“You can imagine our excitement at deploying Microsoft Office 365 at Alexandria University. With Microsoft Office 365, we are closer to being a model of an e-campus with a strong platform for e-learning. We now also have a unified email system for communication
with a large email storage capacity. We have also created an electronic platform for research collaboration and joint scholarly publications, which are important to our thrust to remain a research-led university,” said Dr. Gabr.
Closer to being a model of an e-campus with a strong platform for e-learning
“Our deployment of Microsoft Office 365 has allowed us to come closer to our goal of being a model of an e-campus with a strong platform for e-learning. In particular, through Microsoft Lync, our teaching staff can now teach in virtual classrooms and
deliver courses to students online. Hence, our learning environment is no longer limited to physical classrooms. This also opens opportunities for us to introduce more e-learning courses,” said Dr. Gabr.
Unified email system for communication
“With Microsoft Exchange Online, we have a unified email system for communication. Our academic leaders, teaching and non-teaching staff, and students now have a common email and online communication platform. Equally important, we now have the university domain
name in all our email accounts, which strengthens our identity as a university,” said Dr. Gabr.
Large email storage capacity
“The use of Microsoft Exchange Online, with its 25 GB of email storage space per user, is liberating. We no longer have to deal with the problems and frustrations of having a limited 100 MB mailbox, and constant deletions of emails to free up mailbox
space. With the large email storage space, it’s like living in a in a large, luxurious house instead of a small room with limited space,” he added.
Electronic platform for research collaboration
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“With Microsoft SharePoint, we have created an electronic platform for research collaboration and joint academic publications, which are important to our thrust to remain a research-led university. Our academic researchers now have a site where they
can share documents, information, and research results,” said Dr. Gabr. “This bodes well for our research efforts and commitment to improve our academic standing as a university.”