Challenges remain despite huge investment in higher education

An official report says that a decade of substantial investments in scientific research and higher education in Qatar has yet to meet expectations. Indeed, the nation has gone backwards on some indicators.

Qatar’s third national human development report says that despite the efforts made, the number of science graduates is declining, the gender imbalance in the labour market is increasing, drop-out rates remain high particularly for men, and graduates are not well prepared to participate in the knowledge economy.

The report Expanding the Capacities of Qatari Youth: Mainstreaming young people in development was launched by the general secretariat for development planning on 26 January.

It is the first step towards implementing Qatar National Vision 2030 and the National Development Strategy 2011-16.

The vision aims to build a modern world-class education system that provides students with a first-rate education while the development strategy highlighted weak points in the higher education system.

Weaknesses include low enrolment and high drop-out rates as a result of competition from the labour market or insufficient qualifications, misalignment between the subject matter taught and competences developed, and admission requirements for higher education. Many students need to take one or two years of foundation courses before starting college to catch up with entry level demands.

There is also a mismatch between the qualifications students obtain in the higher education system and the needs of the Qatari labour market.

Gross enrolment rates are low for Qataris, especially for men (28%) compared with 54% for women.

Although women have a higher average educational attainment level than men, they are employed mainly as professionals (79%) while only 4.9% work as senior officials and managers or clerks (6.7%) or technicians and associate professionals (9.2%).

Qataris’ share of the labour force is only 6%. The remaining 94% are expatriates and Qatar has only 1.9 primary care physicians for every 10,000 people, far below the World Health Organisation recommended level of 5.6.

The report points to a decline in interest in science and mathematics at secondary and tertiary level, which has led to the closure of major science and mathematics programmes at Qatar University – when the demand for graduates has increased.

“Since 2009, Qatar has made a significant progress with regard to increasing student enrolment and bridging the apparent gap between higher education requirements and general education learning outcomes,” Ahmed Ibrahim Al Ganahi, acting director of the Doha-based Higher Education Institute of the Supreme Education Council, told University World News.

“We have established the Community College Qatar in 2010 and increasing numbers of colleges at Education City,” Ibrahim said.

“We look forward to the implementation of the Supreme Education Council’s strategic plan, which can achieve many of the goals and strategies mentioned in the third national human development report.”

To increase the number of women in leadership roles by 30%, as suggested in the strategy, the report calls for the creation of a women’s leadership centre designed to strengthen and build women’s capacities.

Ibrahim is however cautious: “It is worth mentioning that cultural factors can be difficult to overcome in the timeframe of the strategic plan.”