Qatar: A multifaceted approach

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Since the Supreme Education Council (SEC) was established in 2002 as a regulatory body, Qatar’s education framework has been completely reworked and updated – indeed, the sector has undergone a complete transformation.

The government has invested heavily in new education initiatives, programmes and projects. Milestones achieved over the past 10 years include the development of the Qatar Foundation’s (QF) Education City, the increased involvement of the private sector in schools and universities, and a complete overhaul of the country’s education regulatory and oversight regime. These efforts have boosted Qatar’s reputation in the region substantially, and today its education sector is widely regarded as one of the best in the Gulf.

That said, the government is not resting on its laurels. A slew of recent and upcoming projects seek to address lingering challenges and further enhance existing programmes. The recently launched Community College of Qatar (CCQ) was designed to meet the needs of a niche group of students and young adults that had previously been largely overlooked. In the same vein, the upcoming establishment of Hamad bin Khalifa University (HKU) represents a major and essential step forward in the government’s ambitious higher education plan, which has seen the nation become a centre for leading Western universities in the region. These projects are being carried out as part of Qatar National Vision 2030, the country’s long-term economic development plan.

Despite many improvements in recent years, there are still a number of challenges ahead for the education sector. While the Education City project has been a boon for young Qataris who want to pursue an academically rigorous education, it has become clear over the past decade that many local students are initially unprepared for university life. Consequently, many of the institutions at Education City have put in place academic bridging programmes in an effort to aid first-year students in building their language skills and study habits. While these programmes have generally proven to be effective, they are also a drain on finances, faculty time and other limited resources.

Both individual students and the institutions as a whole would benefit from increased collaboration and pooling of resources. At present overlap remains an issue at Education City as the various institutions are somewhat isolated. While students who are admitted to a course of study at one institution in the development are allowed to enrol in courses at neighbouring universities, most do not. Additionally, administrative functions at universities in Education City are currently duplicated within each school.

The government is working to address both of these issues. In September 2010, following a lengthy exploration process, it launched CCQ in conjunction with Houston Community College (HCC), the fourth-largest community college institution in the US. “After evaluating the community college models currently in place in the US, the UK and Australia, we decided to partner with HCC,” said Judith Hansen, the dean of CCQ. “We like the concept in the US system of the comprehensive community college; we do not want to just be a technical school.” Around 3000 Qataris applied for a place at the institution, which points to substantial latent demand for community college education in the country. After initially accepting 300 full-time students in September, in line with existing capacity, CCQ launched evening and part-time courses in January 2011, accepting an additional 150 students. More than half of the part-time student population is made up of people who are already active in the work force.

The institution is working to increase capacity to 5000 students in the coming years. Currently all faculty at CCQ is from HCC, though hiring Qatari faculty is a priority. Students are working on degrees and certificate programmes in a number of areas, including business, engineering and the humanities. “Our mission is to bridge the gap between secondary school and university, and to produce professional local graduates in a variety of fields in order to reduce the reliance on expatriates,” said Hansen.

In May 2010 the government announced that it was planning to develop HKU, an umbrella institution under which the existing universities in Education City will operate. According to local news reports from early 2011, the institution is expected to increase collaboration between local players and maximise the benefits of the Education City project.

“Students will have access to greater academic opportunities and a richer campus experience,” said Abdulla bin Ali Al Thani, the recently appointed president of HKU and QF’s vice-president of education, in May 2011. “The education and research conducted here will benefit our society, economy and culture in multiple ways, and the international prestige of Qatar will be further enhanced by the presence of a university which will stand among the world’s best.”

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