A stronger foundation: Recently implemented initiatives drive innovation and growth

Tremendous economic growth has marked Qatar’s trajectory over the past decade, with GDP per capita estimated at $109,881 in 2011, according to the IMF’s World Economic Outlook. Leveraging such vast resources, the government has embarked on a comprehensive drive to diversify the economy and move away from a reliance on its hydrocarbons wealth. Identifying education as a core driver of diversification, the government has invested heavily in reforming the sector and in developing new initiatives, programmes and projects over the past 20 years.

NATIONAL STRATEGY: Reforming and investing in education is part of Qatar National Vision 2030 (QNV 2030) which was approved in 2008 and which seeks to transform Qatar into “an advanced country by 2030, capable of sustaining its own development and providing for a high standard of living for all of its people for generations to come”. The constitution also enshrines education as one of the basic pillars of social progress, declaring, “The state shall ensure, foster and endeavour to spread [education].” Within this context, QNV 2030 defines the long-term outcomes for the country and provides a framework within which national strategies and implementation plans can be developed.

QNV 2030 addresses major challenges facing Qatar through four interconnected pillars, with education playing a role in all of them. These cornerstones focus on human, social, economic and environmental development to ensure steady and sustainable growth. It also seeks to encourage more Qatari women to enter paid employment through education.

QNV 2030 supports moves to improve high school education outcomes and expand participation in post-secondary education and lifelong learning. Within this framework, the government allocated over QR19bn ($5.21bn) to education in the 2011/12 budget, up 12% from the previous year, underlining its emphasis on developing the sector. Along with providing adequate funding, the government has made significant progress in reforming the sector, overhauling the regulatory and oversight bodies, restructuring the primary education system and developing competitive research institutions.

Through these efforts, Qatar seeks to develop a knowledge-based economy with a global role as a centre for research and academic excellence.

HISTORY: Government education programmes were introduced in 1952 with the establishment of the first primary school for boys, which had 240 students and six teachers. School education regulations and educational frameworks were formalised under a newly formed Ministry of Education (MoE) in 1957. In 1973 the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani, issued a decree proclaiming the establishment of the first national College of Education. Rapid growth in demand for other areas of specialisation led to the creation of Qatar University in 1977. The university remains at the centre of Qatar’s higher education strategy, with a current enrolment of almost 9000 students.

In 1995 the emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, set up the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development (Qatar Foundation, or QF), which gained a stronger mandate under QNV 2030 to be the “engine” driving the people’s development and to “unlock human potential”.

Consolidating this progress, the government reassessed its education strategy in the early 2000s, drawing on local and global expertise to redesign its kindergarten to grade 12 (K-12) education system to build a globally competitive learning environment consistent with other Qatari initiatives for social and political development. A system-wide assessment confirmed that the K-12 education system did not prepare students adequately for post-secondary education or for work. Problems at the time included an outdated and rigid curriculum. The sector also suffered from a lack of long-term vision, blurred roles and regulations, overly hierarchical structures that did not reward results, and inadequate teacher training.

REFORM: In 2002 the government embarked on a sector-wide reform process to address weaknesses in the system and adopted a new “independent school” strategy to gradually replace the existing government-run schools. At the same time, the Supreme Education Council (SEC) was created to set the reform process in motion. The council was entrusted with setting and implementing national education policy and linking this policy with broader education goals.

Three institutes under the SEC were created to help manage and regulate the sector: the Education Institute oversees and supports independent schools; the Evaluation Institute manages student examinations, monitors learning and evaluates school performance; and the Higher Education Institute provides individual learners advice about career options and opportunities for higher education in Qatar and abroad, and administers scholarships and grants.

INSTRUCTION: To ensure a sufficient quantity of qualified teaching staff, the Education Institute has started comprehensive on-the-job training programmes for MoE and independent schoolteachers. Qatar University also provides pre-service training programmes to graduate-trained teachers for primary schools.

Running parallel to these shifts in the K-12 system, Qatar University embarked on a significant reform initiative in 2003 that aimed to continually evolve the quality of instructional and educational services and promote more administrative efficiency.

Qatar saw the largest improvements in the standardised PISA international test between 2006 and 2009. Among the 57 participating countries, the state made the greatest progress with increases in reading proficiency, mathematics and science. Furthermore, the World Economic Forum’s “Global Competitiveness Report 2012-13” ranked the quality of the primary education system in Qatar as 10th out of 144 countries. It also highlighted the investments in education infrastructure, placing Qatar 10th for internet access in schools. Both of these results contributed significantly to Qatar’s overall ranking of 11th out of 144 countries.

K-12 EDUCATION: The K-12 system is built around the adoption of independent schools, supplemented with private Arabic, international and community institutions. Government-funded independent schools were created to turn Qatar’s aim of developing a quality education system into a reality. They are granted autonomy to carry out their educational mission and objectives while being held accountable to the SEC.

Of 437 primary, preparatory and secondary schools, there are 108 independent schools with more than 5500 teachers. In addition, 92 schools formerly under the MoE are now operating as “semi-independent” while their staff and facilities prepare to operate as true independent schools. The remainder include private Arabic, international and community schools. In total, there are an estimated 158,000 students taught by more than 26,000 teachers in the school system. Some 55% of students are Qatari and 49% are female.

INDEPENDENT SCHOOLS: Independent schools are required to meet established curriculum standards in Arabic, English, mathematics and science, and comply with periodic financial audits. Each school is subjected to compliance assessment reviews regularly. The SEC’s independent school office is responsible for visiting and observing schools, as well as maintaining an information centre that reviews complaints made by all stakeholders, including students, parents, teachers and members of the public. Each independent school’s contract is reviewed in the fifth year of its operation and is only renewed after a comprehensive review.

Among other benefits, tuition is free for Qataris and others eligible for public education, with household education-related expenditures averaging QR6500 ($1785) for students in independent schools, according to the SEC’s “Schools and Schooling in Qatar 2009-10 Report”. The SEC indicates that the government gives schools around $5000 for every primary school student and $6000 for each secondary school student.

Beyond low fees, independent schools have many advantages over the public system that they replaced. For example, they have a lower student-to-teacher ratio, with a maximum of 25 students per class. Moreover, independent school principals and teachers have more autonomy to identify and meet the needs of their students, making it easier for them to meet international curriculum standards that encourage the teaching and development of new skills.

PRIVATE SCHOOLS: Although the majority of Qatar’s student population is enrolled in the independent school system, private schools also play an important role in the country’s education development strategy. According to the SEC’s “Schools and Schooling Report”, of 136 private schools, 103 are international and 33 are private Arabic schools, both of which cater mainly to the expatriate population, many of whom are not eligible for free tuition at independent schools.

The international schools in particular are usually accredited in their respective countries to prepare students within a similar system of education. The SEC reports average yearly household expenditure for students at private schools is much higher than in independent schools, reaching an estimated QR14,000 ($3844) in private Arabic schools and more than QR22,500 ($6179) for international schools.

While private schools can set their own curricula, they must uphold basic standards outlined by the SEC. In an effort to ensure high performance and quality standards in private schools, the SEC’s Evaluation Institute established the Qatar National Schools Accreditation initiative, which is aimed at elevating the standards of education at all levels. The goal of the accreditation system is to ensure quality by regularly assessing and benchmarking schools’ performance in academic, instructional and administrative standards.

QATAR UNIVERSITY: As the state’s oldest higher education facility, Qatar University’s first college was established in 1973. Growth in demand for additional areas of specialisation led to the creation of the rest of the university in 1977. It remains at the centre of Qatar’s higher education strategy, with enrolment of almost 9000 students. The university reports that applications to the university have increased by 56% over recent years, from 3046 in 2008 to 4755 in 2011.

Qatar University comprises the College of Education, the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Engineering, the College of Law, the College of Business and Economics and the College of Pharmacy.

More specialised departments such as Environmental Sciences are being added as individual or joint responsibilities between the colleges, allowing for new and important skills to be built locally. Furthermore, in support of Qatar’s aspiration to become the “sporting capital of the world” and in line with the ensuing market demand, the university has also established an undergraduate Sport Science Programme.

At the graduate level, offerings have been expanded to include master’s and doctoral degrees in pharmacy, which play a critical role in the state’s broader development strategy, where health research and services will continue to be at the heart of improving the health sector and driving economic diversification.

Scientific research remains the cornerstone of the organisation’s teaching and learning strategies. The university recently acquired a marine research vessel for its Environmental Studies Centre, providing an opportunity for practical training locally. It also celebrated success rates in the fourth cycle of the National Priorities Research Programme, with a share of 64 of the 145 winning proposals submitted by researchers from around the world. Current research projects total $177m in value, according to Qatar University.

The institution is also central to the education of women, who comprise more than 50% of the student population. Moreover, it plays a role in improving primary education standards across the country. In 2001 the university and the SEC launched the Qatar National Centre for Educator Development (NCED) to improve the calibre of teaching personnel.

The NCED works with the SEC, independent schools and international partners to develop a Qatar-based national comprehensive educator development programme. Recent directives, such as teaching mainly in Arabic, continue to make it the destination for the majority of local and regional students in the country.

QATAR FOUNDATION: QF was established in 1995 by the emir and is chaired under the leadership of his wife, Sheikha Moza bint Nasser. International participation in higher education programmes is centred at QF on the outskirts of Doha. Built on 15 sq km, it has a prominent campus for its nearly 4000 students, who represent some 90 nationalities.

Nine strategically selected elite universities come under the umbrella of QF. Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies, Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar (VCUQ atar), Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar (WCMC-Q), Texas A&M University at Qatar (TAMUQ), Georgetown University – School of Foreign Service in Qatar (SFS-Qatar), Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar (CMU-Q), Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q), HEC Paris in Qatar and University College London in Qatar (UCL-Q) bring together a diverse academic offering. Each specialises in specific areas of study, but all work together to take advantage of synergies that emerge from being in one location.

UCL-Q’s chief operating officer Raymond Harding told OBG, “The foreign universities in Qatar seem to complement each other rather than compete. With a small market to tap into, it’s advantageous for each university to concentrate on its area of expertise.” Recently, for example, CMU-Q and WCMC-Q have collaborated to initiate joint-programmes in Computational Biology and Biological Sciences where students are required to complete courses at both universities. HEC Paris in Qatar is the only international school not located on the campus as it runs an Executive MBA degree for business leaders and managers.

REACHING OUT: All of these universities engage in community outreach and development programmes in order to connect with the local population and better facilitate the exchange of knowledge. “Although the importance of the role of media, communications and journalism is almost universally recognised, these industries and occupations and the occupations within them are sometimes less clearly understood, and in some like the news media even have an undeservedly low status. Thus we have a job to do promoting understanding of media and communications writ large – and how various occupations are not only worthy but essential, exciting and increasingly well remunerated. We need to connect the reality of these dynamic fields with a lingering and inaccurate reputation,” Everette Dennis, the dean and CEO of NU-Q, told OBG.

SFS Qatar, for example, recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Qatar University, covering academic activities, including research, teaching, faculty exchanges and training. CMU-Q recently hosted its annual Ibtikar Competition for high school students to explore how technology can be used to support organisations and society. They also hope to drive interest in the biological science and computation biology programmes by engaging with high school students through the Student Biotechnology Explorer Programme.

The work carried out at QF has far-reaching implications for economic diversification, building an expertise in research and development (R&D), improving its health systems and improving its human capital, particularly in the private sector and in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The dean of VCUQ atar, Allyson Vanstone, told OBG, “There is no shortage of groups and associations available for the support of entrepreneurs and SMEs. The major challenge is how to build success in this field alongside a strong and established public sector, which is highly successful at attracting many of the local graduates.”

R&D: Moving forward, Qatar Foundation is seeking to consolidate its progress and ensure its aim of driving synergies between the individual institutions is met, particularly through research. Mark H Weichold, the dean and CEO of TAMUQ, which focuses on engineering disciplines, said his university’s strong emphasis on research will “help maximise the value of Qatar’s natural resources and position the country for sustained and diversified growth going forward. However, reaching this long-term vision will require patience and a commitment to continue funding and emphasising education in the national development strategy.”

Through the transformation of its education systems and academic environment, Qatar is also positioning itself as a leader in R&D. QF has played a critical role by developing advanced centres for research in medicine, science and technology, and in funding through Qatar National Research Fund. The government has signalled the importance of these initiatives by committing to allocate 2.8% of GDP to fund research goals.

Among its flagship projects, the $7.9bn Sidra Medical and Research Centre is scheduled to be completed by December 2012 and will function as a teaching hospital affiliated with the WCMC-Q and a medical research centre. The Qatar Science and Technology Park also serves to bring industry and academics together in an innovative environment at QF by developing ideas with the eventual goal of commercialising results.

The Qatar Research Institutes, composed of the Qatar Biomedical Research Institute, Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute, and Qatar Computing Research Institute, have also been established to address specific needs. Qatar University also serves as a centre for research, with new initiatives such as the recently launched Forum on Energy and Environmental Law, which seeks to draw on industry, academia and government to find solutions to the challenges of growing energy demands and associated environmental degradation. Finally, RAND-Qatar Policy Institute (RQPI) seeks to engage in research to develop an evidence base that informs policy decisions, with a track record of helping shape reforms in the health and education sectors. RQPI also serves to disseminate resulting knowledge into the wider regional and global community.

OUTLOOK: Government policies and investment strategies have helped transform the education sector over the past two decades. However, there are still significant challenges in ensuring this momentum is not lost. Continued focus on improving standards within the independent schools system will be vital in ensuring that the schools contribute meaningfully to the broader education sector, with the long-term goal of helping transform Qatar into a knowledge-based economy.

The government is focused on closing the gaps between the primary and higher education systems, with an increased number of academic bridge programmes that ensure a smooth transition from high school into university. QF, for example, provides assistance to help graduates from Qatari high schools make the move to reputable English-language universities, including those established via QF, through the Academic Bridge Programme. Since 2001 more than 2000 students have completed the programme, many progressing into university or directly into the workforce. The development of community colleges and adult education centres also offer an alternative career path for many.

Recent changes in the sector, particularly at the primary and secondary levels, will require more time to take full effect. However, the government’s long-term vision, supported by its strategic investments, looks certain to result in an improved, comprehensive system that encourages innovation and entrepreneurship.

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The Report: Qatar 2012

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