Demand for private education high in Qatar while research sector develops


Home to an array of local and international schools and curricula, as well as a burgeoning university scene, Qatar hosts numerous branches of foreign tertiary education institutions, many of which are in partnership with Qatar Foundation.

Although the decline in international oil prices in recent years has negatively affected the sector, leading to cuts in university funding, university enrolment has risen strongly in recent years. The country is rapidly developing its university-based research capabilities, in addition to fields like vocational and technical education.

School System

Pre-university schools operating in the kingdom in the 2015/16 academic year include 405 pre-primary schools (including nurseries), 254 primary schools, 153 preparatory schools, 135 general secondary schools and three specialised secondary schools, according to figures from the Ministry of Development Planning and Statistics (MDPS). Some 140 of the schools were state funded.

The number of pupils studying in schools in 2015/16 stood at 288,634, up from 268,424 the previous year and 197,255 in 2010/11.

Some 37.4% of the total – 107,986 pupils – were in government schools, while 62.6% of the total – 180,648 – were in private schools.

The country has a substantial expatriate population, and 81.2% of students studying in private schools are foreign citizens, totalling 146,752 pupils, while the majority of students in government schools were Qatari citizens, numbering 62,219 pupils, or 57.6% of the total.

The total number of teachers working in the country stood at 25,753 in 2015/16, of which 11,201 had positions in private schools and the remaining 14,552 worked in government facilities. Some 10,472 teachers in public schools were foreigners, versus 4080 who were Qatari citizens. In private schools, all but 32 teachers were foreign nationals.

Qatar Foundation is one of the major players in the country’s higher education sector and operates nine pre-university education schools in Qatar, in which 4196 students were enrolled at the end of the 2015/16 school year. The newest of these, Renad Academy, opened in 2016 and specialises in educating children who are diagnosed with mild-to-moderate autism spectrum disorder.

The school system continues to expand. In the 2016/17 academic year 12 new private schools and kindergartens with a combined 10,380 places were opened, while government-funded independent schools added 2360 places.

The government intends to open a further 53 state schools by 2020, rising to 99 by 2030, providing an additional 61,000 places.

International Schools

International schools in Qatar offer a total of 23 different curricula and qualifications. While both international and Qatari schools have continued to expand in recent years, the departure of some expatriates as a result of the decline in the international price of oil as well as the economic blockade imposed on Qatar in June 2017 by several of its regional neighbours has been putting international schools under pressure, leading to rising competition for pupils.

“Many organisations have pruned their senior management complement, and expatriate packages are also falling,” Nicholas Evans, director of education for Doha British Schools and Qatar Skills Academy, told OBG. “Furthermore, several new private schools have opened at the same time, which has given rise to difficulties in attracting enrolment in the short term, despite a shortage of places for students in the private sector overall.”

However, Evans said that although the situation was likely to remain difficult for another year, he believed continued expansion of middle management in Doha would help to relieve such pressures.

Supporting Ongoing Development

The authorities are incentivising the creation of more high-quality international schools by inviting in major international school chains and providing them with support, such as access to land.

“The initiative has worked very well and is helping the high-quality development of the sector, despite increasing competition among existing schools,” said Evans. To this end, the government is in the process of allocating 11 plots of land to new private schools.

Annual School Fees

Annual fees for private schooling in Qatar range from QR8000 ($2197) to QR60,000 ($16,480). Prices are capped, and schools must apply for permission to increase them. The average fee rose by 7% between June 2015 and June 2016, according to the MDPS.


Qatar scored an average of 402 in the 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment survey, which tests 15-year-olds on their reading, maths and science abilities.

This was below the average score of 490 for OECD countries, and gave Qatar a ranking of 58th out of the 70 included in the survey. However, its score has been improving over recent years, rising from 312 in 2006 and 388 in 2012.

Furthermore, 83% of parents were satisfied with the quality of the education received by their children in the 2014/15 year, according to the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEHE).


Under Qatar National Vision 2030, the country aims to raise research and development expenditure to 2.8% of GDP. “As the country looks to spur economic diversification, Qatar has prioritised infrastructure and human capital development with the long-term vision of becoming a knowledge-based economy,” Abdul Sattar Al Taie, executive director of the Qatar National Research Fund, told OBG.

Established in 2006 by Qatar Foundation, the Qatar National Research Fund is a major funder of academic research in Qatar. It operates under the framework of Qatar Foundation Research and Development (QFRD), which is responsible for the Qatar National Research Strategy (QNRS).

The institution provides funding under a range of programmes for research throughout the educational cycle. The size of grants runs up to a maximum of $5m for post-doctoral research projects under the fund’s National Priorities Research Programme – Exceptional Proposals, with the average grant provided to academic researchers worth $800,000.

The fund prioritises research focused on the four pillars of the 2012 update of the QNRS, namely energy and environment, computer sciences and ICT, health and social sciences, and arts and humanities. QFRD has broken these down into a series of research priority areas, including themes that cut across these pillars, such as diabetes and social behaviour, and human behaviour in cybersecurity.

Research Institutions

Qatar University operates a research complex and research initiatives across its nine colleges, as well as 17 subject-specific research centres that cover a wide variety of subjects. These include a biomedical research centre and a laboratory animal research centre, as well as an environmental science centre. HBKU is another key institution in the field, and operates three dedicated research institutes: Qatar Biomedical Research Institute, Qatar Computing Research Institute and Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute. Health and biomedical research activities are a particular focus, and have been bolstered by the launch of Qatar Foundation-backed $7.9bn Sidra Medical and Research Centre. The facility, which was originally due to open in 2011 but faced construction delays, partially opened its outpatient clinic in May 2016. The centre is expected to receive its first inpatients in January 2018, with all of its services scheduled to be up and running by May of that year.

National Library

The new 45,000-sq-metre Qatar National Library (QNL), which was opened in Education City in November 2017, will benefit all types of educational and research activity in Qatar.

In addition to its physical resources, of which Arabic publications account for around 25%, the library also has approximately 100,000 e-books and a website with some 200,000 registered users, which has been running since 2012. The Qatar Foundation-backed facility was designed by the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas’s company OMA.

“With a wide-ranging offering of hard and digital content in several languages, we believe that QNL will attract all kinds of residents,” said Sohair Wastawy, executive director at the facility.


University enrolment has been growing in recent years. According to the MDPS, the number of enrolled students in Qatar stood at 28,668 in 2015/16, up from 28,106 in 2014/15 and 15,252 five years previously.

The number of postgraduate students has been rising particularly fast, albeit from a relatively low base; 957 students were studying for postgraduate qualifications in public colleges and universities in 2014/15, compared to 205 in 2010/11.

In terms of gender statistics, female students greatly outnumber male students, with 19,445 females enrolled, compared to 9223 males. Some 76.5% of Qatar’s total university student body was studying in government universities in 2015/16.

Qatari nationals made up a combined 14,436 of the 21,917 students studying in public colleges and universities in 2015/16. The next largest source of students by country was Egypt, with 1300, followed by Yemen (817) and Jordan (774).

Some 1085 of the 1330 recorded teaching staff were foreigners and the other 245 were Qatari nationals. The largest contingent of foreigners were from the US, at 197, followed by Egypt, at 156.

The largest university in terms of student numbers is the state-run Qatar University, which was established in 1973 with an initial student body of 160, a figure that has since risen to 14,000.

In the private sector, the largest institution in terms of number of students was Hamad bin Khalifa University (HBKU) and the various institutions operating under the umbrella of Qatar Foundation at Education City, with 2834 students, followed by the College of the North Atlantic with 2241.

Four other private universities also operate in the country, all with fewer than 700 students. These are Calgary University of Qatar, Qatar College of Aeronautics, Stenden University of Qatar and Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, which opened its doors in the 2015/16 academic year.

Education City

Qatar Foundation established Education City – which is located in north-western Doha adjacent to the Qatar National Convention Centre – in 1997, with the city officially being inaugurated in 2003. It is now home to Qatari HBKU and eight foreign partner institutions, namely Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar (CMUQ), Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar, Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar (VCUQ), Texas A&M University at Qatar (TAMUQ), Northwestern University in Qatar, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar, HEC Paris in Qatar and University College London Qatar. VCUQ and CMUQ were the first institutions to open branches at the campus.

Of these, TAMUQ has the largest student body, with a total of 550 enrolled, followed by HBKU with 500 students and CMUQ with 413, according to figures from Qatar Foundation. More than 3500 students had graduated from the institutions within the city as of June 2017, including 850 from TAMUQ, 679 from CMUQ and 620 from VCUQ. The city also has a range of facilities, including a new national library opened in November 2017 and hotels.

Challenging Target

Foreign universities at Education City have been set a target of achieving a Qatari national enrolment rate of 70%. However, César Malavé, dean of TAMUQ, told OBG that this was proving to be a challenge. “Parents and local CEOs are fully behind the ‘knowledge economy’ concept, and they understand the value of having world-class universities here in Qatar that can provide holistic educational opportunities to students,” he told OBG. “However, many young people fail to see its importance, so we must work harder to help them understand the value of being a ‘technical intellectual’ that can help to shape the future.” According to Malavé, Qataris who are keen to pursue tertiary studies are additionally often enticed to institutions in the US or Europe. According to Akel Ismail Kahera, dean of VCUQ, Qataris have certainly embraced the challenge of creating a knowledge-based economy. “This is evidenced by our annual enrolment growth rate of 10-12%,” he told OBG. “Currently, 61% of our students are Qatari nationals and 95% are female, which is indicative of the local thirst for education.”

Under Pressure

Despite the recent rise in enrolment, universities are facing pressure from oil prices, with university budgets cut by 35% since 2015. As a large number of students are sponsored by the government or by state-owned companies – with some 2400 undergraduate and postgraduate students funded through MEHE scholarships in the 2016/17 academic year – enrolment does partly depend on government budgets. Staff in tertiary education are also being affected, with local media reporting in early 2017 that Qatar Foundation would lay off 800 staff, as part of cost-cutting measures linked to state efforts to compensate for lower oil revenues.

Ken MacLeod, president of the College of the North Atlantic, told OBG that cuts in education budgets, as well as in business and industry, led institutions and firms to scrutinise their spending habits, and to look closely at prioritisation and optimisation. In November 2016 the authorities announced plans to move some state-run educational services into the private sector, although it was not clear at time of press how this will be implemented.

“We saw a substantial spike in investments in primary and secondary education facilities in 2016, whilst demand stalled as a result of budget cuts and layoffs at some of the country’s biggest employers,” Christopher Whittle, executive director at Artan Holding, a local educational consortium, told OBG. “The result of this is that parents are now looking for schools that have strong reputations and charge reasonable fees. In the short term this is putting pressure on profit margins, but we expect education to remain profitable in the long term, particularly as urban developments in areas such as Lusail are creating new demand for English-language or dual-language schools,” said Whittle. Despite these concerns, foreign universities in Education City are likely to be largely unaffected by the latest cuts, as they operate independently under pre-negotiated budgets. In fact, a number of institutions have taken the more trying circumstances as a chance to improve. “We can do more for less,” Malavé told OBG. “Our focus is not just on producing top engineering graduates; we also want to focus on research that addresses national challenges.”

Vocational & Technical Training

According to Evans, Qatar had an unusually strong vocational education sector for the Gulf region, thanks in large part to the success of institutions like the College of the North Atlantic. He told OBG that while vocational education is not heavily emphasised in public schools, which can lead to difficulties as regards the absorption of Qatari citizens into the labour market, there are signs this might change.

“There is a major debate under way at the moment on what the country should look like in the future and a growing awareness that the post-oil economy needs to look different from the oil economy, which will undoubtedly give rise to a shift towards more vocational learning aimed at the services sector,” Evans said, citing an ongoing ministry project to revise the public school curriculum to focus more on applied skills and subjects.

Arvind Rampal, managing director at Qatar Skills Academy, told OBG, “There is a strong and increasingly diversified demand from the economy for vocational education thanks to investments ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and significant demand for vocational training in the tourism and hospitality sectors in particular.” Rampal said that the institution had seen a shift in demand away from generic soft skill training and more focus on technical training in recent years.

Executive Education

Industry figures say the prospects for executive and corporate education, provided by institutions such as HEC Paris, are also good. “Despite a slowdown, the demand for executive custom programmes remains strong due to the need for further developing the current and future generations of managers,” said Nils Plambeck, dean and CEO of HEC Paris in Qatar. “Furthermore, we expect demand for executive programmes to pick up. There are also some related specific demands for functional areas – such as human resources or marketing, and industries such as health care or energy – that we will address,” he added.

“Austerity measures have inspired Qatari educational institutions and government, business, and industry stakeholders to collaborate on education With a wide variety of higher education institutions now established in the country, the education sector appears set to witness healthy development over the long term and training solutions that leverage in-country expertise and resources, as opposed to importing expertise from abroad or sending students out of the country,” said Plambeck.


The fortune of the K-12 sector in Qatar over the coming years appears set to depend in large part on the budgets at state-funded institutions and major private schools, which will also be largely dependent on developments regarding the international price of oil. University education is also likely to feel the impact of this trend, given the importance of government financing and scholarships, and other forms of funding to the sector.

Despite this, there is still demand for private schooling, and with a wide variety of higher education institutions now established in the country, the education sector appears to be well set to witness healthy development over the long term. Efforts to build up research activity in line with Qatar’s broader development priorities will also continue.


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The Report: Qatar 2017

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