This month saw the grand inauguration of Qatar’s Education City, a massive undertaking aimed at positioning Qatar not only as a regional leader, but as a global one in the economy of the 21st century.
The sprawling, 7m square metre compound, accentuated by large, ornate state-of-the-art facilities, has so far received some USD1bn in investment from the Qatari government - and the many ongoing construction projects are evidence that much more is to come.
The inauguration drew the highest ranks of Qatar’s political, intellectual, and business establishments, and the attendance of foreign dignitaries, business leaders and academics highlighted the global attention Education City is bringing to this Gulf nation.
Yet, Education City is only the most apparent effort of the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development to lay the building blocks it hopes will secure Qatar as a cornerstone of modernisation in the Arab world.
The Qatar Foundation was created in 1995 by the Emir HH Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani and his wife HH Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned. Its objective is to develop educational systems in the country that will contribute to the advancement of its educational and scientific sectors to meet future human resource needs in Qatar and neighbouring countries.
Speaking of the importance of the Education City’s opening, HH Sheikh Hamad declared: "Usually whenever we celebrate the opening of a new project in Qatar, people tend to think that it is related to energy or industry. Today, however, we are celebrating an event that surpasses in its significance any economic or industrial project, however large it might be, because it is in fact the foundation and the pillar that will secure the success of any other future project."
To date, Education City has attracted three US universities that will open campuses at the site. At these, regional, and international students will study the exact same curriculum as students in the US. The students will also be awarded the same, fully accredited diploma upon the successful completion of their course.
The universities currently operating at the multi-institutional campus are: Texas A&M University; the Weill Cornell Medical College (WCMC); and Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). The programmes offered by these institutions, which are top-ranked in the US, reflect Qatar’s development priorities. With oil and gas accounting for some 60% of GDP, Texas A&M will be offering its petroleum engineering programme, which is ranked number one in the US, as well as its programmes in electrical, chemical, and mechanical engineering. The Weill Cornell Medical Colleges programme is demonstrative of Qatar’s ambition to become a regional leader in the medical sciences. Virginia Commonwealth University will offer its nationally acclaimed degree in Communication Arts and Design (Graphic Design, Fashion Design, or Interior Design).
There are currently 144 students hoping to receive the degree from VCU, while the WCMC has 38 students, including 15 Qataris, and Texas A&M is starting its engineering programs with 34 students, including 28 locals. While foreign students are welcome, Qatari officials hope that local students will comprise 70% of those enrolled.
Scheduled for completion by the end of 2008, Education City will be home to over 30 buildings, including a museum, a conference and exhibition centre, sports facilities, a shopping centre, a mosque, and residential and recreation facilities for students and staff. In addition to the programmes currently available, it is envisioned that Education City will also offer undergraduate and graduate degrees in Business, Diplomacy, Computer Science, Media and Communication, Specialty Teaching, Music, and Islamic Studies.
However, these programmes are only part of the Qatar Foundations comprehensive efforts to overhaul the nations education system. The Qatar Foundation also oversees the Qatar Academy, the Academic Bridge Programme, and the Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP).
The Qatar Academy is a private non-profit day school for boys and girls of all nationalities with a 73 000 sq m campus that boasts facilities that equal or surpass those of any international school in the world.
Meanwhile, the QSTP is there to facilitate the necessary integration of education, research, and business to stimulate development in Qatar. The Qatar Foundation hopes the park will become a centre of commercial excellence and a hub of regionally produced intellectual property on a par with the science parks of Silicon Valley, Oxford, Cambridge, MIT, Hong Kong, and Singapore.
Particular areas of focus include gas-to-liquid, hydrocarbon, aircraft engine, aircraft avionics, renewable energies, and water technologies, as well as tourism and leisure.
Showing Qatar’s commitment to becoming a key centre of research and development (R&D), HH Sheikha Mozah has also announced that Qatar will devote a significant increase in the percentage of GDP to R&D efforts. Alongside this, the QSTP is seeking a number of anchor tenants to invest in the project, and these tenants will have a commercial foothold in Qatar.
Anchor tenants already signed include Microsoft, Shell International Gas Limited, ExxonMobil, European Aeronautic Defence and Space (EADS), and TotalFinaElf, while the European science park, SAEM Sophia Antipolis, has signed up as a major collaborator. Planned projects include research in advanced polymers and special plastics,
technical inspection and certification, gas-to-liquid technologies, catalyst testing, gas reservoir modelling, and advanced information and communication technology. The presence of these leaders in software, science, technology, and energy are proof of the fruits of the Qatar Foundations labours to propel Qatar to the fore as a regional leader in the 21st century, and to provide economic prosperity for generations to come. Indeed, just days after the inauguration of Education City, Qatar signed the worlds largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) deal with ExxonMobil, which will involve a total investment in estimated to be in the area of USD12bn.
Demonstrating the Qatari governments commitment to the welfare of its citizenry, the Qatar Foundation also oversees a Social Development Centre (SDC) and a Qatar Diabetes Association (QDA). The SDC gives priority to the development of low-income families and women, both Qataris and non-Qataris, and helps to empower them to be
Together, these substantial investments in Qatar’s human capital portend an optimistic outlook for Qatar in the years and decades ahead. Nevertheless, the comprehensive revamping of Qatar’s educational system has drawn some criticism from neighbouring
countries, particularly in regards to the cooperation from Western, mainly US-based, institutions.
However, the recurring theme at the inauguration celebration was that the ideals of Islam and higher education are not only compatible, but indeed are inseparable. As HH Sheikh Hamad stated, "Our intellectual and cultural heritage which is derived from [Qatar’s] Arab-Islamic civilization is completely in line with this concept. The pursuit of wholesome knowledge is an imperative obligation."
HH Sheikha Mozah characterised Education City as a project that will help create a constructive dialogue to bring greater understanding between civilizations. This sentiment was echoed by WCMC President Jeffery Lehman, who said that Education City is the result of collaborative efforts to heal the planet.