Qatar Foundation is leading efforts to diversify and develop the gas-rich Gulf nation’s education sector
Qatar is investing heavily in education as part of its strategy to prepare for a post-hydrocarbons future. Its government is already one of the world’s biggest spenders when it comes to education, having doubled its budget for the sector over the past six years.
Leading Qatar’s education drive is the non-profit Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development (QF). Sheikha Mozha, the wife of the former emir and mother of the current emir, chairs it. The centrepiece of QF’s activities is Education City. As well as hosting primary and secondary schools, and the recently founded Hamad bin Khalifa University (HBKU), Education City is also home to a cluster of world-class specialised teaching and research bodies.
The 14-square-kilometre City now hosts eight top-ranked faculties from US, UK and French universities. These include Texas A&M University for oil and gas; Weill Cornell Medical College for medicine; Georgetown University School of Foreign Service for government service; Paris-based HEC for executive education; and University College London (UCL) Qatar for heritage management.
Education City is an expensive experiment, made possible by Qatar’s immense oil and gas wealth. Since 2006, Qatar Foundation has launched more than $6.5bn-worth of projects at Education City. Top Western universities are lured to Education City with generous packages. Qatar Foundation provides the land and builds the infrastructure in consultation with future tenants.
At the Georgetown School of Foreign Service in Qatar, where the first classes were in 2005, students are split almost equally between Qataris, foreigners previously resident in Qatar, and those who have travelled to the country for their education. Alumni already include Qatar’s deputy emir Abdullah bin Hamad al-Thani and his brother Mohammad who is head of the Qatar 2022 Legacy and Delivery Committee.
As yet, there are no Qataris on the teaching staff, although Waleed Khan, a spokesman, told Bloomberg Businessweek: “That is an obvious ambition, [but] we do already have Qatari staff in a research analyst role.”
University College London (UCL) Qatar’s role is to support Qatar’s cultural development programme. One achievement is the IM Pei-designed Museum of Islamic Art. Another is the ambitious national library project. Qatar Foundation approached UCL. Again, no capital expenditure was required and August 2012 was the first intake.
UCL Qatar currently has 40 staff and 78 students, and expects 100 within two years, says Brett Kershaw, marketing and student recruitment manager. Of the students, 24 percent are Qataris and 40 percent are non-Qataris. The Supreme Education Council sponsors all Qatari nationals, but also provides selective scholarships for non-Qataris. “It is not difficult to persuade people to work here,” he says. “And it is fair to say there is a lot of collaboration and sharing of expertise both in Qatar and the Gulf.”
Kershaw says that of the first two graduating years, almost all students are “staying on to work in Qatar”.
Doha has also poured billions of dollars into its primary and secondary education system. Between 2010 and 2011, all state secondary schools in the country became independent schools, overseen by a board of governors and funded by the government. Most expatriates, however, choose to send their children to private schools. “We are primarily for the British community here, then Qataris,” says Michael Weston, senior headmaster of Sherborne Qatar.
Sherborne was invited to join Qatar’s Supreme Education Council’s (SEC) Outstanding Schools Programme in 2008. “We opened the Prep school in September 2009 and the senior school in 2011. In Qatar, you have to move fast,” says Weston. The school caters to students from pre-school to lower sixth (Year 12) with the upper sixth (Year 13) starting next year.
The school now has just over a 1,000 students and about 60 percent are British, 20 percent are Qataris, with a mix of nationalities accounting for the remainder.
Demand for public and private education is steadily rising in Qatar, bolstered by an influx of expatriate workers involved in the 2022 infrastructure-building programme. According to the SEC, Qatar has a total of 249 public and private schools. The government has allocated $7.2bn for the education sector in its 2014/15 budget – a 7.4 per cent rise on the previous year. It expects to double annual spending over the next five years. The spending programme includes plans to build 85 new schools.
Education City also houses Qatar Foundation’s research unit: Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP). The $600m innovation provides world-class research facilities for international firms and also offers support to start-up technology companies. More than 30 global firms have opened offices at the park, including US firms ExxonMobil, GE and Microsoft, France’s Total and energy major Shell.
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