Trading oil for education

How do you plug the brain drain of students leaving your country to study in the United States?

You bring the US to them by creating a mega university with branch campuses of the top US institutions, offering the same curricula on the home campus.

You even set up a basketball team or two. All it takes is several billion dollars earned from your country’s oil revenues and voila!

You’ve got Weill Connell Medical College offering undergraduate medical degrees; Northwestern offering journalism and communications; Carnegie Mellon offering business and computer science programmes; Texas A&M (engineering) Virginia Commonwealth (fine arts) and Georgetown University School of Foreign Service.

This is a dream scene in Education City in Doha, Qatar, to which 80 journalists were recently whisked and given a quick tour of the stunningly beautiful, sprawling campuses that resemble the headquarters of multinational companies.

The project is the flagship of the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, which was founded by Sheik Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani, emir of the State of Qatar. It aims to develop the potential of people through a network of centres and partnerships with elite institutions devoted to progressive education, research and community welfare.

Education City provides the highest quality of education from early childhood education to postgraduate study. It covers 14-million square metres and aims to be the centre of educational excellence in the Middle East.

About 2 500 students are based at the campus and about 50% are from outside Qatar. Although it was a struggle to find the students as numbers are low and so are lecturer-student ratios, this site could possibly be the only place of higher education in the world where a parking space is not a problem and bunking classes is a headache as you will be missed by your lecturer.

Furthermore, although it is plush, it lacks the atmosphere of a buzzing university. The foundation, meanwhile, is in negotiations with other international universities, cherry-picking the best faculties and opening branch campuses in Qatar.

For Dr Abdulla bin Ali al-Thani, the foundation’s vice-president for education, ‘the emir is leading transformation into a knowledge-based society by using gas reserves to fund and equip people for the 21st century. ‘In this vein Education City is being used to develop the skills and creativity of people.

For the first time we will be able to create new knowledge, apply it and commercialise it. We are creating a culture of innovation and enterprise and this will be the foundation of the new economy.” He said this programme of transformation through education and research is an ambitious one, but the aim is to preserve the Middle East Arab culture.

The Qatar Foundation is meanwhile attempting to enter the international education arena with the announcement that it will host a World Innovation Summit for Education (Wise) in September, which will address challenges such as access to education, as well as the use of technology in the delivery of education.

The theme is global education: working together for sustainable achievement. According to Dr Ahmad Hasnah, the foundation’s associate vice-president of higher education, the participants in the summit will be able to showcase best practices and innovations in dealing with education- related problems.

The summit’s call for innovative projects is open to any public and private participants in the education field and must be submitted from May 1 to July 1 through the website: www.wise-qatar.

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