x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Qatar's Education City plans for expansion

A postgraduate business school, a graduate law school and a university that will teach archaeology and museum studies will aid diversification.

Qatar's Education City is due for a significant increase in size, with three new postgraduate training institutions likely to join the flagship complex on the outskirts of Doha in the next two years. The Qatar Foundation, which launched the project in 1998, is in negotiations to establish a postgraduate business school, a graduate law school and a university that will teach archaeology and museum studies.

These will be the first postgraduate courses to be offered at Education City as up to now it has concentrated on bachelor's degrees. Officials say the expansion will help ensure the country has the human capital to realise its ambitions of diversifying the economy away from hydrocarbons and becoming a centre for culture and knowledge. Robert Baxter, a spokesman for the government-funded foundation, which funds Education City, said: "If you look at the rapid development of the economy, there's a great need for lawyers, and the emphasis [at the new university branch] will be on company law and international law.

"With museum studies, this city has collected a lot of art. What's in the Museum [of Islamic Art in Doha, which was created independently of the foundation, is only a fraction. "We need people who can ensure this is well looked after and well displayed. There are also a number of archaeological digs. It's part of the quest to establish, pin down the identity [of Qatar], the history of this country and the region. It's all developing so fast."

Education City already plays host to six American universities, among them Texas A&M and Carnegie Mellon, which offer courses in such subjects as engineering, computer science and business to Qataris and expatriates. Qatar's strategy of attracting overseas institutions mirrors what is taking place in several other Gulf states that are likewise looking to expand the size and quality of their tertiary sector.

While all universities currently in Education City are American, Mr Baxter said this was "not a policy or dogma. We would like to see much broader representation," he said. "This will come about, though not necessarily along the branch campus model." For example, he suggested other universities could become involved in Education City through research collaborations, even if they do not open branch campuses.

The Qatar Foundation, which was founded by the emir, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, and is chaired by his wife, Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al Missned, has a separate project near Education City that is growing nearer to completion. The Qatar National Convention Centre, the front of which is designed to look like the Sidra tree in the foundation's logo, is due to open in 2011. "They're still doing some finishing work to the pillars [of the façade], but there's a lot of work to be done inside," Mr Baxter said.

The first major conference scheduled is the 20th World Petroleum Congress in December 2011. When Qatar was selected to host the congress, Dr Randall Gossen, president of the World Petroleum Council, said it was long overdue that the event should be "held in the region where the majority of the world's petroleum resources are based". But like Education City, the convention centre is part of the Qatari government's moves to diversify the economy away from its dependence on gas. It is essential national infrastructure with the aim of creating a knowledge-based society, according to Mr Baxter.

"We've got to see it in the [context] of what we're doing overall," he said. "More and more of these big conferences are being attracted to Doha but they've been held in hotels. "We've got these universities, think tanks, these commercially orientated research organisations in the Qatar Science and Technology Park [opened in March 2009]. All these academic areas have their own world conferences and we would love to host them - the world conference of neurosurgeons or the world conference of scholars of Proust."

Hosting such events would "put Doha on the map" as a city for education, research and culture. "It would help in our long-term mission of attracting brainpower," Mr Baxter said. "The quality of life has to be sustainable beyond hydrocarbons and the convention centre is part of that. "The only real asset we have is people, and people are an asset if you invest in them. We're investing in people through education. The commodity of these educated people will be knowledge and we're creating knowledge through research."

By hosting major conferences, developing itself as an education and research centre and collecting some of the world's best art in its museums such as the Museum of Islamic Art, Mr Baxter said Qatar was "pushing forward the boundaries of civilisation". "It's creating a developed society where people have values that will help develop civilisation," he said. "That's part of our mission ? to be a contributor to world civilisation."

Dr Clifton Chadwick, a senior lecturer in international education management and policy development at the British University in Dubai who worked in Qatar for two years on education reform, said the Qatar Foundation was doing good work. However, he said, itsr projects were at an early stage so the results so far were rather intangible. "You have to give them credit that they're able to understand that it's a long haul," he said. "Anything they can do to highlight attention on education is very positive."

dbardsley@thenational.ae