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Qatar Education City prepares for a future without oil

By Korea Herald

Published : Nov. 7, 2011 - 19:47

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DOHA, Qatar ― Qatar invests heavily in education and science, hoping to change its social and economic basis from oil to knowledge.

The Amir of the country, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, has so far put hundreds of millions of dollars into universities and research institutes.

Sheikha Mozah, wife of the Amir and chairperson of the Qatar Foundation, said Qatar tried to be a “small laboratory which finds solutions for the rest of the world.”

The country is a peninsula jutting into the Persian Gulf the size of Korea’s Gyeonggi Province. Small as it may be, it pursues the grand ambition of becoming a global and regional hub for education, science and technology. It expects this status to fuel the economy in the post-oil era. To achieve this goal, it has plowed much of its oil wealth back into science and research, and, above all, universities in Education City, Doha.

The country is the second richest country in the world in terms of per capita GDP. This figure is expected to reach $109,990 by the year’s end, according to the IMF forecast reported by The Peninsula, an English daily in Qatar.

According to the Qatar Foundation, Qatar Science and Technology Park, which houses R&D centers run by 21 corporate partners including Shell, has received investment worth more than $800 million. The country also spent more than $890 million building the airport-sized Qatar National Convention Center to host large-scale conventions and events related to Education City. The latest World Innovation Summit for Education took place at the center, and the World Petroleum Congress will be held there in December.

In Qatar, eight foreign universities ― six American, one Paris and one London-based ― offer international education to both local and foreign students. Their curricula are the same as those administered on their main campuses.

Education City houses several prestigious satellite universities as well on a 10 square kilometer lot, including Carnegie Mellon University, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, Northwestern University, Texas A&M University, Virginia Commonwealth University and Weil Cornell Medical College. 
Carnegie Mellon University in Education City, Doha, Qatar (Lee Woo-young/The Korea Herald) Carnegie Mellon University in Education City, Doha, Qatar (Lee Woo-young/The Korea Herald)

A Qatari student highly appreciated two advantages that set these foreign branches apart from their main campuses: they have a more diverse mix of students and faculties, and they allow cross-class registration among the different schools within Education City.

“Instead of traveling abroad to attend a university, we have world-class education at our doorsteps,” said Mashael Alhajri, a 19-year-old sophomore at Georgetown University.

She added that she had considered two options when applying to universities ― studying at home or abroad. She plans to major in international politics next year, and wants to become a diplomat for her country.

Alhajiri takes advantage of what the EC has to offer as a cluster of prestigious schools. Among them are dynamic interaction with students of about 90 nationalities and the low student-teacher ratio of 4-to-1.

“I am able to study the major that I want at Georgetown, while attending classes at Northwestern, Texas A&M, Carnegie Mellon or Virginia Commonwealth. This congregation of academic institutions is like no other in the world,” she said.

There are eight Koreans studying in Education City, but they all come from different countries including Egypt, Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia, said Nam Hee-seung, a Korean freshman at Georgetown.

“I have been living in Qatar since June 2008 with my family because of my father’s business in Qatar. I applied for several American universities and three schools in Qatar, and then decided to attend Georgetown here because I can get financial assistance from the Qatar Foundation,” said Nam.

“Speaking of the benefits of studying here, classes are more open here with a lot of interaction, discussions and debates among students,” said Nam. “The fact that the country has few entertainment facilities also makes students focus on studying.”

International students outnumber Qatari students not only in Education City but also in society as a whole.

For Carnegie Mellon University in the EC, they account for 64 percent of students, and have 39 nationalities, according to the 2011-2012 student body statistics provided by the university.

Out of the 1.7 million people in Qatar, only 250,000 are local citizens, with the remainder being foreigners, according to the Qatar Tribune.

By Lee Woo-young, The Korea Herald correspondent
(wylee@heraldcorp.com)