Hassan Al Derham, President, Qatar University (QU); and Ahmad Hasnah, President, Hamad bin Khalifa University (HBKU): Interview

Interview: Hassan Al Derham and Ahmad Hasnah

How are Qatari universities approaching partnerships with international institutions?

HASSAN AL DERHAM: QU has signed on to more than 400 collaborative projects in over 130 countries. These collaborations contribute to advancing science and technology in Qatar through research and development, and to promoting academic excellence through strategic investment in human capital, innovative technology and high-quality facilities. They also engage students in academic and research activities and bring them together with experts and leaders from institutions around the world. Additionally, these partnerships engender chair positions on issues that are of national, regional and international import. At QU these include chairs in the alliance of civilisations, civil infrastructure, humanities and social sciences, environmental materials, polymer and ICT, to name a few. Incumbents in these positions provide guidance to students preparing to graduate and also assist in research projects, thereby boosting opportunities that students have in the field, and giving them experience and engagement in the workplace.

In support of the human development pillar of Qatar’s National Vision 2030, Qatar aspires to be an active centre in the fields of scientific research and intellectual activity. In this regard, the country has established an effective system for funding research shared by the public and private sectors, and conducted in cooperation with specialised international organisations and leading international research centres.

AHMAD HASNAH: While we are interested in strategically widening our partnerships abroad, we are not focused on the number of countries, institutes or companies we partner with, but rather how they can contribute to our development strategy. Relationships must be built on mutual interest and we want our partners to see the value of working with us. For example, HBKU’s College of Science and Engineering offers a course on sustainable energy. This programme provides interesting options for collaboration, as Qatar has a unique climate characterised by heat, dust and humidity, which is favourable for the development of solar energy technology. In a general sense, Qatar has the important advantage of having a large concentration of universities in Education City, which provides plenty of opportunities to develop a wide variety of educational and research programmes. Interdisciplinarity is becoming increasingly important in education and research, thanks to technological advances that have changed the way we approach subjects. Modern medicine, for example, requires inputs from engineers, biologists and mathematicians. We look at this shift towards interdisciplinarity as a valuable opportunity to further expand our partnerships and research teams.

In what ways are public universities working to encourage entrepreneurship?

AL DERHAM: QU is a key partner in terms of contributing to the research priorities in Qatar and finding solutions to current challenges. Qatar is an emerging country, and there are tremendous opportunities to develop small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

SME development is one of the keys needed to achieve economic diversity and a sustainable knowledge-based economy. We urge our students, as they graduate, to think about setting up their own businesses rather than just taking a job somewhere. The process has been implemented through the establishment of a dedicated Centre for Entrepreneurship in September 2013. The centre provides the community with various services and training programmes, with an aim towards increasing awareness about the importance of entrepreneurship, developing students’ skills and supporting them so they can create innovate business ideas and transform them into viable start-ups.

Our students are also engaged in numerous entrepreneurial activities such as the Annual Innovation and Entrepreneurship Contest and the Global Entrepreneurship Week, which take place in November every year, and the Annual Forum of Entrepreneurship in Economic Development. These activities allow our students to unleash their talents and sense of entrepreneurship in the spirit of competition, teamwork and shared knowledge. They also expose them to the challenges they must address on their way to becoming successful business owners, entrepreneurs and inspirational role models in the wider community.

Upon graduating, our students are going to enter a very competitive business environment in Qatar. Knowing how to attract and maintain public interest in one’s business is a critical skill, which students have to learn and adapt to in their future professional endeavours.

HASNAH: Entrepreneurship is a fundamental value that public universities are working to instil in students, because it is central to the successful economic diversification of the country. Qatar needs young people who are capable of shaping the future and thinking outside of the box. Making entrepreneurship part of our core curriculum is critical in our goal to produce future leaders. We want students to understand what is involved in starting a firm in terms of navigating regulations, financing and legal requirements. Entrepreneurship is all about mindset, and students need to learn how to become risk takers and deal with setbacks. However, this does not mean that every single student has to start his or her own company. It is equally important that they can bring new perspectives and ideas to existing companies. Moreover, public and private institutions should collaborate to create a favourable start-up environment and innovation ecosystem.

From the perspective of HBKU, we are working with Qatar Science and Technology Park to develop start-up boot camps and a new innovation centre, the Arab Innovation Academy. Beyond the university sphere, regulation changes may be needed in order to encourage venture capital financing. Qatar’s economic diversification will ultimately necessitate risks being taken by investors, development funds and entrepreneurs.

What role is your institution playing in developing vocational training, and do you foresee consolidation in the sector in the short to medium term?

AL DERHAM: Through collaborative initiatives with organisations in the private and public sectors, QU offers a wide range of events to advance its students’ academic research, extra-curricular interests and to acquaint them with further study options. College Open Days, Sponsorship and Internship Day, Externship Day, Entrepreneurship Day, Grad Fair and study abroad fairs are some of the many examples through which QU collaborates with prospective employers and in which students can become better acquainted with the needs of the labour market. Additionally, QU offers training programmes and customised courses to professionals in the community through its Continuing Education Office, College of Law, Continuing Pharmacy Professional Development Programme and National Centre for Educational Development. Its most recent initiative was the Human Resources Training Course, which was developed exclusively for Qatar, the first such course that reflects the specific needs of the Gulf region.

HASNAH: Consolidation is not necessary because our post-secondary system is comprehensive and each institution has a distinct role and purpose. Nevertheless, we are collaborating with QU, the Community College of Qatar and Qatar Foundation to identify educational overlaps between our institutions. HBKU’s specialty is in graduate programmes as well as research and development, which are key components in the drive to develop the knowledge-based economy.

The ultimate objective of the education sector is to generate new knowledge, because knowledge is the currency of the future. Achieving this ambition will require long-term planning and investment. HBKU is also aiming to develop executive training programmes for professionals who are looking to enhance their expertise, and courses for updated skills in response to new technological advances and developments.

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The Report: Qatar 2017

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