Interview: Sheikha Hind bint Hamad Al Thani

The year 2015 marked QF’s 20th anniversary. What impact would you like Education City to have in the next two decades?

SHEIKHA HIND BINT HAMAD AL THANI: QF was founded to nurture a culture of excellence through the pursuit of lifelong learning, to help achieve sustained growth for Qatar and its people, and to widen horizons and offer opportunities for the ultimate benefit of all.

The first 20 years saw QF focusing on helping to develop strong foundations for a society with education at its heart. The successful launching and operation of world-class university branch campuses, the founding of state-of-the-art science and research centres, and the introduction of an array of initiatives designed to enhance community development all ensured that our organisation established a comprehensive framework for incubating excellence and advancing human capacity.

Our all-embracing system caters for every stage of the education cycle. From infants as young as six-months-old, all the way up to undergraduates, graduates and doctoral candidates, we work to engage with individuals at every step in their academic lives.

Education City hosts the home-grown Hamad bin Khalifa University (HBKU), as well as eight international partner universities. The universities offer specific higher-education degrees that were handpicked to promote the objectives underpinning Qatar National Vision 2030 (QNV 2030) and include courses in medicine, engineering, computer science and business, international affairs, journalism and communications, executive education, museum studies, conservation, art and design, and archaeology.

Over the past two decades, we have worked to put in place a framework and infrastructure – both physical and intellectual – to incubate ideas and projects, and allow them to forge their own paths later on. A prime example of this philosophy is the Qatar Science and Technology Park, which is a hub for innovation and is home to some of the world’s most technologically advanced companies, including Microsoft, Rolls Royce and Siemens. Its pioneering approach exemplifies QF’s mission to inculcate a culture for the continual advancement of knowledge.

After celebrating 20 years, we are now at a key juncture in our history. Innovation through education has begun to transform Qatar’s long-term prospects. Much has been achieved since 1995, but of course there is still much more to do and areas in which we can improve. We are always looking for new ways to progress, and this will remain the case in the years ahead. We will continue to address the needs of Qatar and also seek to bring benefits to the region and the wider world. Ultimately, we hope that our incubation model, whereby we deliver the environment for individuals and organisations to blossom before positively impacting both the nation and the wider world, will yield fully sustainable entities and pave the way for new projects.

The Social Development Centre, which has an array of programmes in the field of capacity building and works to achieve economic stability for less-privileged families, is a good example of this approach. Nobody can predict what the future will bring, but it is certain that QF will not stand still.

What objectives do you have in terms of cultivating research and development (R&D), and what successes have been achieved so far?

SHEIKHA HIND: R&D is indeed central to QF’s overarching mission, as it allows for the possibility of delivering tangible results from our investment in education. As I said, our philosophy revolves around our incubation model. A good example of this approach is the Qatar Research Leadership Programme. Recently, two of our female students graduated as doctors of philosophy in biomedical sciences, following their groundbreaking work on cancer research.

As well as incubation, we are working to create greater synergies among our member organisations and through international partnerships. The work of Qatar Computing Research Institute is already making a local and international impact, including through innovation in the field of Arabic language technologies. A key output of this research is Jalees, an English and Arabic e-book reader application optimised and developed for iOS and Windows 8 devices. The technology is currently being used in more than 40,000 devices in Ministry of Education and Higher Education-approved schools in Qatar, with a view to eventually implement it in all schools. In addition, Jalees will soon become a downloadable application for mobile devices, meaning the software will be able to reach beyond classrooms and into the hands of anyone interested in utilising a tailor-made Arabic e-book platform.

The involvement of the private sector is fundamental to our goals of fostering excellence and synergy. Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF), which is part of QF R&D, awards funding to individuals and institutions in the private sector – both here in Qatar and around the world – to develop research projects. In partnership with the British Council Qatar, the UK Science and Innovation Network, and the UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, QNRF recently announced six joint research workshops under the Qatar-UK Research Networking Programme.

What role is QF playing in fostering the human development pillar of QNV 2030, and what sort of strategies are being pursued?

SHEIKHA HIND: Human development is QF’s raison d’être. It is the main reason behind the organisation’s existence, and everything we do aims to further this particular goal. Education is of course central to human development, as it touches everyone’s life, perhaps more so than any other public sector. As a country, Qatar has invested heavily in education in recent decades. The full impact of this investment is beginning to produce dividends in terms of human development; however, we still have a long journey ahead of us to reach the level of development in education that we believe we are capable of.

The human development pillar of QNV 2030 is divided into three sections – an educated population, a healthy population, and a capable and motivated workforce. Private sector partnerships and agreements are one of the ways we are encouraging human development. For example, QF entered into an agreement with Siemens Qatar last year that saw specially selected QF staff members participate in the Qatar Foundation and Siemens Talent Training Programme. We recently honoured the first graduates from the initiative, with many more to follow.

Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute (QEERI) recently signed a strategic agreement with the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne – a leading Swiss university specialising in engineering and technology. The agreement will allow QEERI scientists to work closely with other world-leading scientific experts to address key research issues related to Qatar’s energy security challenge.

We believe the expansion of the private sector will be a natural consequence of our focus on human development. However, we are not taking this for granted, and a diversified economy with a strong private sector is a key strategic aim of Qatar’s government and of QF. This will not happen overnight, but we are certainly heading in the right direction. Between 2006 and 2014, the number of Qataris working in the private sector increased by 248%, the highest growth rate in the region. Having said that, I do not think of the year 2030 as a final deadline for the impact of these changes to become apparent, but rather as an ambitious target for the systemic and cultural changes that we are working to implement.