Education is an important pillar of Qatar National Vision 2030 (QNV 2030), the country’s development plan to diversify the economy and reduce its dependence on hydrocarbons. To that end, Qatar has prioritised developing and reforming the education sector, with a substantial portion of its energy revenue dedicated to education. Although the decline in international oil prices in recent years has resulted in some cuts to funding, public spending is once again on the rise in the country, with education allocated 9.3% of the 2019 budget.
Qatar offers a range of local and international schools to meet growing demand for private education. Education City contains eight international universities and the authorities are working to further develop vocational training offerings. While the economic blockade placed on Qatar by some of its neighbours in June 2017 had an adverse effect on opportunities for regional academic collaboration, the impact on the overall sector has been limited, with a slight dip in student enrolment and staff retention in some private schools.
Structure & Oversight
Education in Qatar is administered and overseen jointly by the Supreme Education Council and the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEHE). The council directs three educational institutes. These are the Education Institute, which issues licences for independent, public and private schools; the Evaluation Institute, which is responsible for evaluating and assessing the performance of individual schools through implementation of a standardised school evaluation system; and the Higher Education Institute (HEI), which supports the development of higher, technical and vocational education through various scholarship programmes.
All private schools must comply with the safety measures and requirements mandated by the Private School Office (PSO), including nurseries and kindergartens, and are subject to continual monitoring to ensure ongoing compliance with SEC standards. The Qatar Foundation (QF) for Education, Science and Community Development is a major player in the higher education sector and has established 11 pre-university academies and educational programmes, in addition to university campuses of six international institutions. The QF, founded in 1995, is a private non-profit organisation.
In 2018 the QF Research, Development and Innovation (QF RDI) Council was established. The council, which comprises senior government leaders, industry experts and consultants, seeks to align the country’s activities with national priorities to maximise the impact of its research institutions. The QF has been a key player in the sector and is able to support the council by sharing its expertise in this field. The foundation also established the Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF) in 2006 to develop research in engineering, technology, science, medicine and the humanities; however, the establishment of the council signals a growing focus on research, development and innovation, and the desire to bring government officials and industry experts together to exchange ideas to address national priorities.
The QNV 2030 aims to build an education system that is aligned with international standards in order to allow citizens to develop skills required by the labour market. Central to this system is critical and analytical thinking, as well as creativity and innovation.
The QNV 2030 also seeks to promote the country’s values and heritage, and as such, private schools are required to teach Arabic, Islamic studies and Qatari history to all students. Educators are largely open to these requirements. “Regulations are not a hindrance as private schools have the flexibility to develop their curricula as they need to,” Phillip Stroup, director of development and external relations at the American School of Doha, told OBG.
In the QNV 2030 the authorities laid out a plan to establish an education system capable of responding to the current and future needs of the labour market through accessible, lifelong educational programmes. The plan acknowledges the increasingly complex technical requirements of a changing world and seeks to equip its population with the skills, training and opportunities to meet these requirements. The roadmap outlines the development of certification and training programmes by public and private institutions, training courses for all citizens, and increased opportunities and vocational support for women. In line with the QNV 2030, institutions are adapting their curricula to ensure students are prepared for the labour market. “There is an increasing focus on ensuring safety, particularly for heavy duty aircraft. As a consequence, there was a need to adapt course syllabi accordingly, and now there is a greater focus on safety-related matters for our students,” Sheikh Jabor bin Hamad Al Thani, director-general of Qatar Aeronautical College, told OBG.
The government has also highlighted the importance of scientific research, the funding for which it aims to source from both public and private sectors in cooperation with international organisations and research centres. “Qatar aims to become a regional hub for education,” Everette Dennis, dean of Northwestern University, told OBG. “About 14% of the economy is currently engaged in preparing students for future labour needs. There is a continuous flow of international education institutions in Qatar, and there are still great opportunities in particular sectors such as health sciences.”
According to the World Bank, Qatar’s education expenditure, which accounts for approximately 3.3% of GDP, is one of the highest in the MENA region. Some QR19.2bn ($5.3bn) was allocated to the education sector in the 2019 budget, representing around 9.3% of total expenditure.
This figure is approximately equal to the funding allocated in 2018. Major projects funded in the budget include new facilities for medicine, pharmacology, engineering, law and student living at Qatar University (QU); an expansion of the Community College of Qatar; two new schools for Qatar Academy, an accredited International Baccalaureate (IB) World School offering primary, secondary and IB diploma programmes; and the establishment of two other schools at a total cost of approximately QR6.8bn ($1.9bn) over a projected five years.
By law, the government is required to provide free education at the primary and secondary levels. A growing school-aged population, coupled with a preference for private education, has resulted in the private sector playing an increasingly important role in education services. Private institutions enrol over 60% of students, and catering mostly to Qatar’s expatriate population and a rising number of Qatari nationals.
“There is significant demand for private education, but parents are looking closely at the options available to try to balance cost with opportunities that education will provide for their children,” Thomas Hawkins, director of the American School of Doha, told OBG. “There are not yet enough places to meet demand, so there is significant opportunity, but it will be important for the long-term development of the education sector for these schools to offer a quality curriculum to their students.”
Qatar’s primary education segment comprises 445 pre-primary schools, 266 primary schools and 159 preparatory schools, and a total student count of 258,834 in the 2016/17 school year, according to the latest available data from the Planning and Statistics Authority (PSA). About 34% of students enrolled in primary education are in government schools and 66% are in private schools. Of those enrolled in government schools, 56% are Qatari nationals, and the remaining 44% are non-Qataris. In private primary schools; 19% of students are Qatari and the remaining 81% are non-Qataris.
According to the PSA, there are 142 general secondary schools in Qatar and three secondary specialist schools. Secondary school options are split between government and private schools, with a total of 44,781 students enrolled in secondary education, 55% of which are enrolled in government schools and the remaining 45% in private schools.
Qatari nationals make up 53% of students enrolled in government secondary schools and the remaining 47% are non-Qataris. Conversely, non-Qataris dominate private secondary school enrolment, making up 83% of students enrolled.
All non-governmental higher education institutions must be licensed by the MEHE. QF is a major player in higher education, managing the 1012-ha Education City. Founded in 1995, Education City is home to six US universities, including Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, Texas A&M University at Qatar (TAMUQ) for engineering, Northwestern University in Qatar for journalism, Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar (CMU-Q) for computer science and business, and Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar (VCUQ) for design. The campus also hosts other educational and research institutions such the QNRF and Hamad bin Khalifa University (HBKU), a public higher education institution founded in 2010. HBKU is primarily a research and graduate studies university. Outside Education City, QU – another public university, established in 1973 – has nine colleges and over 20,000 students enrolled.
Universities in Qatar are working to collaborate to provide students with a well-rounded education while using financial resources efficiently. “The standard of the education sector in the country continues to rise, with a revised strategy to focus on fiscal sustainability and budget control,” Donald Baker, executive dean of VCUQ, told OBG. “One of the main goals moving forward is to promote greater interaction among the different universities, applying a multi-versity concept, not only to make use of available resources with greater efficiency and productivity, but also to provide students with a wider base for knowledge acquisition.”
Having numerous high-ranking international universities in such close proximity to each other is a significant advantage for Qatar, providing students with a concentration of institutions unavailable elsewhere in the region. Students enrolled at universities in Education City are able to study at their chosen institution while also taking additional courses at institutions nearby, which serves as an attractive opportunity for prospective students. Education City is seen as the flagship initiative of the QF and was conceived as a forum where universities can forge relationships, share research and collaborate with each other, and with the private and public sectors.
As Qatar’s higher education segment became well-known worldwide, increasingly specialised programmes have developed, including PhDs. “The number of PhD students in Qatar has grown significantly over the last few years,” Abdul Sattar Al Taie, executive director of the QNRF, told OBG. “Qatar previously had no PhD programmes but now has more than 35 course options. Qatar is becoming more attractive to local and international students and the focus is not only to attract them, but also to retain them for a longer period of time.”
There is a focus on encouraging new students and increasing enrolment rates across all levels of the education system. According to UNESCO, Qatar’s pre-primary net enrolment rate was around 60.3% in 2017, relatively stable from 59.8% in 2016 but up from 51.2% in 2013. The net enrolment rate for primary education was around 94.4% in 2017, with that figure staying at the relatively same level since 2009. However, there were more significant fluctuations in secondary education, with a net enrolment rate of 75.8% in 2017, compared to 81.8% in 2016 and 96% in mid-2011.
UNESCO found the gross enrolment ratio for tertiary education to be 16.4% in 2017. Notably, women are enrolled in higher education in larger numbers than men in Qatar, with the female gross enrolment ratio at 51%, while the male gross enrolment ratio was considerably lower at 6.7%. Indeed, women make up roughly two-thirds of the student body. It is thought that only around 5% of Qatari men enrol in higher education programmes directly after school, with this figure slightly higher for women. One of the main reasons for this is that many men go on to secure employment in the public sector or armed forces, where a university degree is not required. The government promotes the pursuit of further education at a later stage, however, supporting many government employees to enrol in courses.
English language proficiency can present a challenge for some Qataris, and the International English Language Testing System is seen as a barrier to more students securing places at the country’s numerous international universities. For students who do decide to pursue higher education, many chose to first enrol in a bridging programme. The Academic Bridge Programme (ABP) acts as a stepping stone between secondary school and higher education. The programme prepares students academically through additional classes and allows them to experience different educational settings, such as practical science experiments and mixed gender classes.
The ABP graduates 200 students per year, 70% of which are female and 30% male. ABP students are predominantly Qatari, at 80%. While most students traditionally come from government schools, there is an increasing number of students from international schools in Qatar. The ABP attributes the demand for their programmes to the different learning style and experience provided by focusing on the development of soft skills and offering more advanced classes to prepare students for university. Government schools changed the language of instruction from English to Arabic a few years ago. ABP consider this an additional reason for the increase in demand for its courses, with students requiring a prep year in English before enrolling in university courses. Over 90% of ABP graduates are admitted to university each year.
The Community College of Qatar, funded and run by the MEHE, is one of the fastest-growing educational institutes in the country. Many students enrol directly from secondary school, although the college also has a substantial number of students in fulltime employment, most often for the government, who leverage the college’s afternoon classes. Some 3500 of students are female and 1500 are male. The college also serves as a bridging programme, as the majority of its students go on to enrol at QU as full-time undergraduates. The institute also provides courses tailored to the needs of specific government departments, such as a logistics course designed for graduates entering the military.
Some 54% of students enrolled at institutions in Education City come from outside Qatar, while many Qataris also choose to study abroad. In the 2016/17 academic year, 1240 Qataris studied at US higher educational institutions. However, according to Mothana Al Kubaisy, CEO of University Foundation College, student preferences have changed in recent years. “There is a growing trend of students preferring to study in Europe over the US following the inauguration of US President Donald Trump,” he told OBG.
In an effort to support overseas learning, the HEI awards full scholarships for promising undergraduate and postgraduate Qatari students at institutions around the world. The QF has also launched its own scholarship programme supported by local companies, which sponsors trainees in Qatar and abroad to address long-term employment needs. The number of students receiving domestic and international scholarships has increased markedly, from 900 in the 1989/90 school year to 3000 in 2014/15. Some 54% of the scholarships issued in 2014/15 were for students studying abroad. Males made up 74% of Qataris that were granted international scholarships. The most common fields of studies were business and administration, marketing, engineering, law and social sciences.
Academic institutions in Qatar have formed affiliations with international institutions to help develop educational offerings in line with QNV 2030. Affiliations with leading universities from around the world have also been important for the success and appeal of Education City, providing the country with valuable technical expertise needed in the sector.
In addition to the US universities located in Qatar, the QF is partnered with University College London (UCL) Qatar. Although the QF’s partnership with UCL is due to end in 2020, some programmes are expected to shift to HBKU. The University of Aberdeen opened a campus in Doha in May 2017, making it the first UK university to have a dedicated campus in Qatar offering mainstream degrees.
Teach for Qatar (TFQ) is a local NGO aimed at closing the education gap and reaching the goals set by QNV 2030. TFQ has partnerships with the MEHE, Qatar Petroleum (QP), the QF, ExxonMobil Qatar and Qatar National Bank to train graduates and professionals to become teachers in its partner schools. QU’s College of Education, meanwhile, offers teaching qualifications and training at the undergraduate and postgraduate level.
Public primary- and secondary-level education in Qatar is provided free of charge for nationals. According to the PSA, there were 113,532 students enrolled in public government schools in the 2016/17 school year, 88,063 of which were enrolled in primary education and 25,469 in secondary schools. At public schools the student body is split almost evenly between genders, with 48% male students and 52% female students served by 14,888 teachers. Qatar nationals account for 56% of the student population, with the remaining 44% of students coming from abroad.
International schools play an important role in the private education segment, with approximately 338 international-curriculum schools operating in the country. Curricula offered include the IB, UK, US and German certificates. Schools that are currently offering international curricula in the country include Doha College, a UK-curriculum school in Doha; the US School of Doha; and the German International School. While the majority of students from countries involved in the economic blockade withdrew from Qatari schools, the effect on the top-performing schools has been muted as a result of the long waiting lists for such institutions, Steffen Sommer, principal at Doha College, told OBG.
In 2018 the MEHE established an e-learning system which it subsequently rolled out across 40 public schools. The ministry has plans to introduce the system to all other public schools in the country over the course of 2019. ICT Qatar also operates the Qatar National e-Learning Portal, which online courses on ICT and business.
Strengthening and deepening ties between higher education institutions and the companies driving economic growth is an important part of Qatar’s bid to ensure its population is equipped with the skills demanded by employers on the job market. As such, industry and education collaboration has been a priority for the MEHE. QU’s College of Business and Economics hosts lectures and workshops in partnership with entities such as EY, QP and Total. Additionally, in November 2018 Ibrahim Al Nuaimi, undersecretary of the MEHE, announced the launch of a digital skills programme in collaboration with Chinese tech giant Huawei.
“Increasing demand for education to boost career prospects suggests that there continues to be room for growth and additional investment in the sector,” Nils Plambeck, dean and CEO of HEC Paris in Qatar, told OBG. “In this context, developing local human capital requires an environment that is enhanced by greater interaction and collaboration among stakeholders in the market. The country’s continuous and sustained economic growth depends on its ability to develop future leaders to effectively and efficiently lead government and private entities in an environment of change and uncertainty.”
In January 2019 Qatar rolled out a plan to build 45 new public schools in five years with QR4bn ($1.1bn) of investment from public-private partnerships (PPPs). The project is the first PPP in Qatar established to improve social infrastructure. According to officials, the private sector will provide design, construction, financial and facilities management at the schools, which each have a capacity of 750 students. The government will shoulder all demand risk, and the MEHE will manage students, teachers and administrative activities, while the Ministry of Finance will guarantee payment based on applicable regulations. The Public Works Authority is to be responsible for project management and procurement. The plan will be rolled out in phases, with the first phase – comprising eight schools – to be launched in the first quarter of 2019 and the final phase completed by 2023. The authorities have said that the project is a pilot for similar PPP projects in other sectors of the economy.
The education sector has been a significant pillar for foreign investment, with funding opportunities particularly ripe for international schools and universities. However, increased foreign involvement may result in an oversupply of international institutions, especially among those without a long-term plan in the country. This has created increasing competition among private education operators, resulting in pricing pressures.
Qatar has evolved and developed its educational offerings substantially over the past 20 years, as such it is vital that prospective investors seeking to enter the market understand the changing landscape and the local market. While there are strict licensing rules and regulations private educational institutes must comply with, this does not have a substantial impact on private schools, which are able to develop their curricula as needed. However, the government’s restriction on fee increases has put pressure on some private institutions in terms of their ability to allocate spending on resourcing and infrastructure. Under the newly amended law on foreign direct investment, non-Qatari investors can receive assistance in securing land and are exempt from Customs duties on the import of equipment.
With the government working to attract and incentivise private financing, the opportunity for growth and additional investment looks set to expand in the coming years. “There are good investment opportunities in Qatar’s higher education segment, as an interesting possibility for independent private investors,” Brian Buckley, principal and president of AFG College with the University of Aberdeen, told OBG. The demand is growing, thus providing room for growth for all. It is an exciting time in Qatar. There is a strong and tangible commitment from all stakeholders to improve education.”
Qatar National Library (QNL), which opened to the public in November 2017 and was officially inaugurated in April 2018, is a 45,000-sq-metre facility available to all residents of Qatar. In addition to over 1m books, the QNL has online resources and more than 500,000 e-books, periodicals and newspapers. It also houses a library for children and teenagers, as well as creative and collaborative facilities, including a writing centre, innovation stations and study rooms.
Qatar is tapping support facilities like the QNL to help develop its knowledge economy. “Museums and the QNL are national symbols and essential tools for the social development of the country,” Hend Al Muftah, vice-president of administration and finance at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, told OBG. “Over the years, Qatar has become a centre for Islamic and Arab culture. This position was reinforced by the launch of the first historical dictionary of the Arab language, which has been hailed by linguists as a very important milestone.”
In addition to helping to develop the knowledge-based economy, institutions such as the QNL can also attract visitors from abroad. “Qatar is developing a network of institutions dedicated to specific cultural, historical and educational interests,” Sohair Wastawy, executive director of the QNL, told OBG. “Taken together, these organisations offer tourists a rich overall experience.”
Under QNV 2030, Qatar aims to raise research and development spending to 2.8% of GDP. Established in 2006, the QNRF is a major funder of academic research in Qatar, operating under the framework of the QF RDI, which is responsible for the Qatar National Research Strategy. The QNRF provides funding for a range of programmes and allots grants of up to $5m. It is also set to launch a science, technology, engineering and mathematics lab in collaboration with TAMUQ in 2019.
QU operates a research complex and many research initiatives across its colleges, as well as 17 subject-specific research centres. These include a biomedical centre, an environmental science centre and an animal laboratory centre. The university is also home to the fastest-growing research centre in the region. QU’s scientific research department has been awarded over $212m in funding and received 80 research projects funded by the QNRF in the 2017/18 academic year. It has research partnerships with over 330 local and international institutions, and saw the number of research papers published increase by 442% between 2010 and 2017.
HBKU operates the Qatar Biomedical Research Institute (QBRI), the Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI) and the Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute (QEERI). The QBRI, founded in 2012, focuses on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases affecting the region. The QCRI was established in 2010 and specialises in large-scale computing challenges, with research covering areas such as social computing, data analytics, distributed systems, cybersecurity and computer science and engineering. The QEERI conducts research on national priorities concerning energy and the environment, including sustainable farming, desalination and solar energy.
Qatar’s research sector benefits from both local and international talent, which often complement and enhances one another. “Being national does not mean being not international,” Doha Institute for Graduate Studies’ Al Muftah told OBG. “In fact, in any country around the world, the combination of local and international expertise is essential to produce accurate research. This becomes even more relevant for Qatar, taking into account its economic relevance within the international scene and the opportunities for collaboration.”
Importantly, the emphasis on research has also cultivated an environment conducive to entrepreneurship, Michael Trick, dean of CMU-Q, told OBG. “Qatar’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is rapidly developing,” he told OBG. “Its strong financial position, combined with the government’s ongoing efforts to create a culture of research and development and entrepreneurship, makes it a growing hub for innovation and start-ups. At the same time, we can observe a growing number of partnerships between educational institutions and the sector, which also plays an important role,” he added.
The establishment of the QF RDI Council is a positive step towards cultivating an environment for entrepreneurship across the country, as it will unite the government and industry leaders to promote research in education and business. Education is seen as a vital platform to foster entrepreneurial spirit so that students can go on to establish startups in the future. “The promotion of entrepreneurship in Qatar is moving in the right direction. The role of universities in this aspect is crucial, not only in instilling a greater entrepreneurial spirit among students, but also in bridging the gap between research and idea generation and the business world. This will have a strong impact on Qatar’s private sector community,” Dennis told OBG.
Creating and cultivating entrepreneurial spirit among the local population is vital for the success of future research and innovation, economic growth and entrepreneurship. INJAZ Qatar, a branch of the Jordanian non-profit organisation, works to educate young people on entrepreneurship and financial literacy through experimental, hands-on programmes to equip students to succeed in a global economy.
Meanwhile, the Qatar Business Incubation Centre (QBIC) supports entrepreneurs to start and grow companies through development, incubation and investment. The QBIC provides a range of services, including office space free of charge – which is often a barrier for younger businesses – in addition to loans and equity financing. The QBIC also works alongside the Qatar Development Bank, which was established to support Qatari entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized enterprises by offering financial and advisory products.
The Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP), part of QF RDI, is a free zone and centre for applied research, technology innovation, incubation and entrepreneurship. QSTP has recognised that there is a demand for more private sector involvement in research and development and thus works to remove obstacles so that companies can innovate.
The aforementioned QCRI has worked extensively on research and innovation over the last decade, and is looking at ways to convert academic research into start-ups and economic growth. The QCRI envisions technology developed at computing institutes as the key component of the start-ups of the future and believes in the need for applied research programmes to unlock economic growth.
QU’s scientific research has also seen substantial growth over the past few years, with many examples of applied innovation. For example, the university’s scientists and researchers developed an open air cooling technology that will be used at Khalifa International Stadium, in addition to eco-friendly biofuels, supplements and organic fertilisers.
Health research is a priority in line with the National Health Strategy 2017-22, which focuses on preventive health care. The QF-backed $7.9bn Qatar Genome Programme presented its findings in December 2018. Following the analysis of 6000 genomes, the centre announced it had identified over 30m new variants, providing a deeper understanding of the Qatari and Arab genome. “Typically, genome-mapping projects have largely focused on European, Asian and African populations,” Xavier Estivill, chair of the genetics and genomics programme at Sidra Medical Research Centre – also under the QF umbrella – told local media. “The unique features of the region and Arab populations therefore have been under-represented or altogether absent in the available human genome data. This clearly impacts our ability to understand, diagnose and treat disease types that are particularly prevalent among Arab populations.”
Sidra Medicine collaborates with local and international academic institutions in various capacities, but the blockade has made it more difficult to research and study a variety of regional health-related issues. “Sidra Medicine has academic collaborations with organisations around the world,” Cristof von Kalle, chief research officer at Sidra Medicine, told OBG. “While the level of academic collaboration with blockading countries before the blockade was minimal, the declining possibility for collaboration on a variety of shared health challenges in the region is considered a hindrance.”
HBKU’s QBRI signed an agreement with the Jordanian King Hussein Cancer Centre (KHCC) in November 2018 to accelerate cancer research in the region. KHCC, one of the leading cancer centres in the region, and the QBRI will share research data on new diagnostic and predicative biomarkers for breast cancer, potential biomarkers for diabetes, and the detection of circulating tumour cells and protein biomarkers in patients with early stage cancers.
While he blockade in some ways has been a setback for the education sector – most notably regarding opportunities for research collaboration and attracting international students from blockading countries – despite these challenges the outlook is increasingly positive due to the sizeable investments in resources, human development, infrastructure and various education institutes outlined in the QNV 2030.
The rise in the number of courses offered at higher education institutes, combined with substantial budget allocations, are signs that the education sector is on the way to reaching its full potential.