Interview: Sheikha Abdulla Al Misnad

In what ways is the tertiary education segment developing to accommodate the needs of students?

SHEIKHA ABDULLA AL MISNAD: Education in Qatar has been moving forward in strides. With any change of this magnitude, it would be naive to expect a smooth, unwinding and easy road to progress. But when there is sufficient determination, resources and political will such as in Qatar’s case, chances of success are multiplied. The scene in the higher education sector in particular has changed dramatically over the past decade, most notably in improving the quality of education, a new focus on research, and in offering a variety of tertiary education choices that did not exist a few years ago.

We inherited a notion that exists among the majority of Arab countries, which stipulates that everybody should have a university degree, regardless of the abilities and aspirations of the student, and without consideration to labour market needs. However, this model has proven inefficient. Instead, every student should have the right to pursue his or her education fully according to his or her interest and abilities. A university degree is not suitable for everyone, nor should it be. It is in the interest of the labour market and the development of the economy to have a wide array of people offering different skills and technical competencies.

How can higher education institutions encourage entrepreneurship and private sector development?

AL MISNAD: This subject is the new focus of education establishments in Qatar. Attempting to prepare the young generation to become more creative increases the chances of them starting their own business and developing the private sector. Educational establishments are attempting to break down the notion that the civil service should be the aspiration of every graduate. Adjusting our curricula and introducing aspects that encourage the skill sets needed to become an entrepreneur are very important. The right advice and education needs to be available; at Qatar University, for example, we have established an entrepreneurship centre within the business school that guides students as well as individuals within the community on how start up a business and manage the risks and challenges involved. Many other institutions are setting up similar facilities, and this will help lead our young people in the right direction, which will subsequently help private sector development and entrepreneurship.

What are the benefits and concerns related to stressing both strong English language skills and fluency in students’ Arabic mother tongue?

AL MISNAD: Ensuring that our students are competitive on a global level whilst maintaining students’ deep roots within their culture, values and native language is a balance we have been working to address over the past decade. Parents and educators alike continually ask if teaching the English language will affect our children’s ability to master their native tongue. However, it is evident that bilingualism in education does not affect a child’s ability to master their mother tongue – in fact the opposite is true; the mother tongue is strengthened as a result of being exposed to a different language.

How do local companies work with universities to add course content that fit the current job market?

AL MISNAD: Whenever a new programme is offered, we survey the labour market to understand the likelihood of employment as result of establishing a particular programme. Employers are encouraged to assess the curriculum and suggest how best it will fit their needs to ensure that we are aware of the skill sets required for particular roles. It is, however, difficult to match students exactly to labour market demands, as the labour needs of the country change at a rapid pace. Our responsibility as a university is to build strong character among our students and equip graduates with the right skill sets, like information technology, languages and teamwork. If the only target is to match students to the labour market, we will lose much of the scholarly work that is essential for human development.