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QATAR: Excellence quest lures foreign universities

As Qatar strives to be a hub for academic excellence in the Arab world, Western universities are increasingly showing interest in opening branches in the tiny-but-wealthy Gulf emirate. Six US universities have already established campuses there, and the latest arrival is a French graduate school of management.

The US universities have set up branches in Qatar's Education City, a flagship project of the Qatar Foundation, which is a private non-profit organisation chaired by Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser (pictured), the wife of the emirate's ruler.

Located on a 14 million square metre site on the western edge of the Qatari capital of Doha, Education City houses a wide range of education and research facilities. Each of the Western universities in Education City has been carefully selected to provide world-class education, according to Qatari officials.

"I think the leadership of the country wants to raise the standards of quality education in Qatar," said Abdulla bin Ali Al-Thani, Vice-president of the Qatar Foundation. "Our experience turns out to be very positive. Still, I don't know if ours is the best model for other Arab countries," he told University World News.

The first of the foreign branch campuses to be established in Qatar was Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts, a US institution that opened there in 1998. The declared mission of the Qatar branch is to provide the highest level of design education and training for the citizens of Qatar, the Arabian Gulf and beyond.

The degree programmes combine contemporary approaches to design adapted to the cultures of the region. Its students have the chance to obtain a master of fine arts in design studies or a bachelor degree in fashion design, graphic design, interior design and printmaking.

Another foreign campus in Qatar is the New York-based Weill Cornell Medical College, which opened there in 2002. It was the first American university to offer a doctor of medicine degree outside of the US.

Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar pioneered co-education in the conservative country. Its student body is diverse, with enrolments from more than 30 countries.

The following year Texas A&M University started offering bachelor of science degrees in chemical, electrical, mechanical and oil engineering in Qatar. In addition, the branch provides instruction in science, mathematics, liberal arts and the humanities.

In 2004 the US' Carnegie Mellon University opened its first international branch campus in Qatar. Undergraduate students may choose from three of the university's programmes: computer science, business administration and information systems.

A year later another American institution, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, opened in Qatar to teach a four-year degree programme leading to a bachelor of science degree in foreign service.

Meanwhile, since 2008 the Qatar branch campus of the US Northwestern University has been offering programmes in journalism and communications. It plans to offer a pre-college preparatory programme.

The latest to set up in Qatar is HEC Paris, a French graduate school of management. HEC Paris in Qatar [http://www.exed.hec.edu/locations/Qatar] will offer executive education programmes and carry out research, and will offer an executive MBA starting in February.

"In the past, our students used to go abroad and never come back after graduation," said Al-Thani of the Qatar Foundation. "This was a big loss. This trend is reversed now."

Professor Albert Lourde, Rector of Senghor University, a university for African development located in the Egyptian coastal city of Alexandria, disagrees.

"Foreign universities in our countries can lure the best students away from the national universities," he told University World News through an interpreter. "Foreign universities can even encourage students after graduation to leave their home countries to work abroad. So, this system does not work for us in the Third World," he said.

But according to Stephanie Hartgrove, a media relations manager at the Qatar Foundation, this was not the case in Qatar. "Most students prefer to stay in Qatar after graduation to start their own businesses," Hargrove told University World News.

"Students from over 80 nationalities have attended the branch campuses since they started in Qatar. Generally speaking, fees charged by these universities are the same as at home." She added that some students were granted scholarships, subject to certain rules.
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