International institutions open new branches in Qatar and public universities engage the private sector


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. This targeted development is seeing new tertiary developments opening in Qatar; for example, the Scotland-based University of Aberdeen opened a local branch in partnership with Al Faleh Group (AFG), an education services firm, in May 2017. 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.

Knowledge Cluster 

The University of Aberdeen is the second UK tertiary institution 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. QF’s bill to cover operating expenses for the six US universities reportedly surpassed $400m in 2016.

The increased investment placed into the country’s tertiary offering appears to be reaping results: in the World Economic Forum’s “Global Competitiveness Report 2017-18”, Qatar placed 37th out of 137 countries, topping the GCC rankings for higher education. There has also been a significant rise in university enrolment rates in recent years, increasing by 83.7% in the four years to 2014 to reach 28,100.

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

Public Universities

Despite a strong presence of foreign institutions, public universities in Qatar still account for the majority, accommodating some 88% of new student enrolments, according to the Ministry of Economy and Commerce.

Qatar University (QU) is responsible for the largest portion of enrolments, with over 17,000 students attending undergraduate and graduate courses and programmes across its nine colleges in 2017. QU has also attempted to foster a research culture by setting up 14 research centres of excellence that correspond to national market needs. Furthermore, a bold five-year 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. While Hamad bin Khalifa University (HBKU), a public research institution that is affiliated with QF, conferred degrees on 148 graduates in the second quarter of 2017, up from 111 a year earlier and almost double the inaugural class in 2014.

Moving forward, public universities could benefit from generating new academic and research opportunities via a greater number of 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 should be formed with this in mind.”


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The Report: Qatar 2017

Education & Research chapter from The Report: Qatar 2017

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