EX­PAND­ING CHOICE IN QATAR'S ED­U­CA­TION SEC­TOR

A NEW CAM­PUS IN DOHA OPENED BY A UK UNI­VER­SITY SHOULD BOOST HU­MAN RE­SOURCES TRAIN­ING AND BRING QATAR CLOSER TO­WARDS ITS VI­SION OF CREAT­ING A KNOWL­EDGE-BASED ECON­OMY IN THE WAKE OF SUS­TAINED LOW OIL PRICES.

Qatar Today - - INSIDE THIS ISSUE - BY OLIVER CORNOCK Man­ag­ing Editor, Mid­dle East Ox­ford Business Group

A new cam­pus in Doha opened by a UK uni­ver­sity should boost hu­man re­sources train­ing and bring Qatar closer to­wards its vi­sion of creat­ing a knowl­edge-based econ­omy in the wake of sus­tained low oil prices.

In May the Scot­land-based Uni­ver­sity of Aberdeen opened a lo­cal branch in part­ner­ship with Al Faleh Group (AFG), an ed­u­ca­tion ser­vices firm. The new cam­pus, called AFG Col­lege with Uni­ver­sity of Aberdeen, will ini­tially of­fer two un­der­grad­u­ate cour­ses – in business man­age­ment, and ac­coun­tancy and fi­nance – to an es­ti­mated 120 stu­dents in the 2017/18 aca­demic year.

“We be­lieve this part­ner­ship will com­ple­ment the ed­u­ca­tional pil­lar of the Qatar Na­tional Vi­sion 2030, by al­low­ing Qatari na­tion­als and the wider com­mu­nity greater ac­cess to high-qual­ity UK uni­ver­sity ed­u­ca­tion,” Brian Buck­ley, prin­ci­pal of AFG Col­lege, told OBG.

Im­prov­ing ed­u­ca­tion forms part of the first pil­lar of Qatar Na­tional Vi­sion 2030, the coun­try's long-term de­vel­op­ment plan aimed at re­duc­ing de­pen­dency on hy­dro­car­bons and creat­ing a di­ver­si­fied econ­omy driven by ser­vices.

Knowl­edge clus­ter

The Uni­ver­sity of Aberdeen is the sec­ond ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tion from the UK to open a branch in Qatar, join­ing a clus­ter of Western uni­ver­si­ties that have es­tab­lished cam­puses there over the past two decades. These have mostly con­gre­gated in Ed­u­ca­tion City, a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar com­plex on Doha's western out­skirts de­signed as a cen­tre for knowl­edge and in­no­va­tion and spear­headed by Qatar Foun­da­tion (QF), a non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion fo­cused on ed­u­ca­tion, science and com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment.

AFG Col­lege with Uni­ver­sity of Aberdeen, how­ever, dif­fers in that it is lo­cated in Al Mamoura, closer to the city cen­tre, and is a pri­vate ven­ture un­der­taken with a lo­cal part­ner, whereas most other for­eign uni­ver­sity branches op­er­ate in part­ner­ship with QF.

Last year in­ter­na­tional me­dia re­ported that QF's an­nual bill to cover op­er­at­ing ex­penses for the six US uni­ver­si­ties in Qatar sur­passed $400 mil­lion. The in­vest­ment seems to be pay­ing div­i­dends: in the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum's “Global Com­pet­i­tive­ness Re­port 2016/17”, Qatar is placed 30th out of 138 coun­tries, top­ping the GCC rank­ings for higher ed­u­ca­tion. Data re­leased in mid-March by the Min­istry of Econ­omy and Com­merce showed uni­ver­sity en­rol­ment rose by 83.7% in the four years to 2014, to reach 28,100.

Solid growth in en­rol­ment was re­it­er­ated by Akel Ka­hera, dean of Vir­ginia Com­mon­wealth Uni­ver­sity in Qatar – the first US higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tute to set up a cam­pus in Qatar. “Qataris have cer­tainly em­braced the chal­lenge of creat­ing a knowl­edge-based econ­omy, as ev­i­denced by our an­nual en­rol­ment growth rate of 10-12%,” he told OBG. “Cur­rently, 61% of our stu­dents are Qatari na­tion­als and 91% are women, in­di­cat­ing the lo­cal thirst for ed­u­ca­tion.”

Bud­getary pres­sures

Qatar's ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor has not been im­mune to bud­get cuts in­duced by the drop in oil prices, how­ever. Ear­lier this year it was re­ported that QF would lay off around 800 staff, as part of cost-cut­ting mea­sures linked to state ef­forts to com­pen­sate for lower oil rev­enues. For­eign uni­ver­si­ties in Ed­u­ca­tion City will be un­af­fected by the lat­est cuts, as they op­er­ate in­de­pen­dently un­der pre-ne­go­ti­ated bud­gets, lo­cal me­dia re­ported in March.

Some in­sti­tu­tions have taken QF's bud­get tight­en­ing as an op­por­tu­nity to stream­line op­er­a­tions, pro­mote ef­fi­cien­cies and part­ner with the pri­vate sec­tor, ac­cord­ing to César Malavé, dean of Texas A&M Uni­ver­sity at Qatar. “We can do more for less,” he told OBG. “Our fo­cus is not just on pro­duc­ing top en­gi­neer­ing grad­u­ates; we also want to fo­cus on re­search that ad­dresses na­tional chal­lenges and has an im­pact in Qatar and be­yond.”

Pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties

De­spite a strong pres­ence of for­eign in­sti­tu­tions, pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties in Qatar still ac­count for 88% of new stu­dent en­rol­ments, ac­cord­ing to the Min­istry of Econ­omy and Com­merce. Qatar Uni­ver­sity (QU) is re­spon­si­ble for the vast ma­jor­ity of en­rol­ments, with more than 17,000 stu­dents cur­rently at­tend­ing un­der­grad­u­ate and grad­u­ate cour­ses and pro­grammes across its nine col­leges.

QU has also at­tempted to foster a re­search cul­ture by set­ting up 14 re­search cen­tres of ex­cel­lence that cor­re­spond to na­tional needs. Fur­ther­more, an am­bi­tious fiveyear re­search roadmap en­ti­tled “Ad­vanc­ing Re­search for Qatar's Fu­ture”, launched by the uni­ver­sity in 2014, tack­les four pri­or­ity ar­eas: en­ergy, en­vi­ron­ment and re­source sus­tain­abil­ity; so­cial change and iden­tity; pop­u­la­tion, health and well­ness; and ICT.

Mean­while, Ha­mad Bin Khal­ifa Uni­ver­sity (HBKU), a pub­lic re­search in­sti­tu­tion af­fil­i­ated with QF, con­ferred de­grees on 148 grad­u­ates this spring, up from 111 a year ear­lier and al­most dou­ble the in­au­gu­ral class in 2014.

Mov­ing for­ward, pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties could look to gen­er­ate new aca­demic and re­search op­por­tu­ni­ties via in­ter­na­tional part­ner­ships. “Qatar of­fers in­ter­na­tional part­ners the ad­van­tage of a large con­cen­tra­tion of mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary in­sti­tu­tions in Ed­u­ca­tion City,” Ah­mad Has­nah, pres­i­dent of HBKU, told OBG. “An in­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary ap­proach to ed­u­ca­tion and re­search is key, and any part­ner­ship must be formed with this in mind.”

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