Exploring ways to share University of Guelph research and teaching expertise in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) was the goal of a campus gathering this week of diplomats along with U of G officials and representatives of the Canada Arab Business Council.  

During the event on May 31, the delegates learned about research in food security and sustainability occurring in U of G’s Ontario Agricultural College (OAC) and the School of Engineering within the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences

The visiting diplomats represented Yemen, Jordan, Qatar, Sudan, Iraq and Morocco.  

OAC dean Dr. Rene Van Acker said the gathering was intended to begin exploring potential common ground between “Canada’s food university” and MENA countries.  

“We want to talk about how we can partner with nations in MENA. They’re interested in our research and teaching capacity,” said OAC dean Dr. Rene Van Acker, who serves as the University’s representative on the CABC. The non-profit organization promotes trade and investment between Canada and Arab countries in the Middle East and North Africa. 

MENA region countries focusing on food security, sustainability 

Several people sit around a U-shaped boardroom table while a person speaks at a podium
The delegates heard from OAC dean Dr. Rene Van Acker about food security and sustainability research at U of G.

Referring to growing needs for food security and sustainability in the region, Van Acker said, “The University of Guelph has longstanding excellence in education and research in agri-food as well as being a comprehensive university.”  

Following a visit earlier this year by senior U of G administrators to Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the University of Guelph is exploring student recruitment and education opportunities with the GEMS International Schools in Dubai and the Canadian University Dubai.  

A U of G regional representative based in the United Arab Emirates is focused on recruiting students from the region.  

In 2022, U of G signed an agreement with Egypt to offer financial support to BCAC Fellows completing PhDs at U of G. 

Independently, several U of G faculty members conduct research with counterparts in universities in MENA countries. 

U of G representatives at this week’s gathering said the institution wishes to explore varied partnerships with those countries, including joint accreditation, faculty and student exchanges, joint research projects, training and education, and visiting faculty, staff and students.   

“We’re underlining our commitment to that part of the world and also showing how we stand out in research and what expertise we have for students,” said Dr. Stuart McCook, assistant vice-president (international) in U of G’s Office of International Strategy and Partnerships.  

OAC aims to widen international ties

Speaking to the ambassadors this week, Van Acker pointed to OAC’s high national rankings in environmental, dairy and animal sciences as well as food science and technology.  

He highlighted U of G’s five-year $343-million agreement with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs; the Ontario Agri-Food Research Alliance supports University research and teaching expertise in strengthening the province’s $47-billion agri-food sector.    

Noting that OAC is keen to broaden international partnerships, he said, “This visit is an important step in our relationship-building.”  

“We have been engaging with national representatives in the MENA region on priority topics including efforts that support food security through partnerships on education, training and research and innovation,” said Van Acker.  

About 600 students are enrolled at U of G from MENA countries.  

School of Engineering is ‘Canada’s food engineering centre’

In his presentation to the group, Dr. John Runciman, director of the School of Engineering, said the school has tripled in size over the past 25 years, with 65 faculty members providing seven degree majors to about 1,600 undergraduate and 450 graduate students.  

He outlined food-related research centres within the school, including labs studying groundwater, sustainable food systems, bioimaging and bioproducts. “The School of Engineering is Canada’s food engineering centre,” said Runciman.   

Speaking before this week’s event, Dr. John Cranfield, associate dean external relations with OAC, said the college’s nearly 150 years of research and teaching in agri-food and engineering and U of G’s expertise in such fields as closed-environment agriculture and food systems automation are attractive to MENA countries dealing with food and water challenges.  

“They have an interest in what we’re doing,” said Cranfield. “There is increased demand for post-secondary education in the region around food security and sustainability. The University of Guelph has an opportunity to be a part of that.”  

McCook said ongoing discussions with MENA member countries will enable U of G to strengthen its ties to the Middle East and North Africa. “This visit fits with the University’s strategic plan goal of deepening global impact,” he said.  

Strengthening international research and teaching connections was the theme of another campus visit on May 25 by the high commissioner of India to Canada and the consul general of India (Toronto). The visit saw the signing of a memorandum of understanding to launch a new visiting chair in Indian studies at U of G.  


Dr. Stuart McCook