Qatar Invests in Both Brains and Brawn

DOHA, Qatar, March 8, 2013


OrryThat’s Orry the oryx.

I wouldn't mind having some oryxes on my soccer team. I’m not so sure about ball-handling skills, but I do know that they can cover 90 kilometers in a day and go weeks without water in desert heat that would vaporize the gel in David Beckham’s hair.

Orry is Qatar’s sports mascot. He occupies an important position in a country whose most famous global accomplishment thus far is that of winning the bid for the 2022 soccer World Cup. Orry won’t be playing in the World Cup, but he’ll surely be promoting the heck out of it.

Qataris are already obsessed with an event that will take place for one month nine years hence, and understandably so. If a country of only 1.8 million people (only about 25% are native-born citizens) and one major city, can build the stadiums, hotels, roads, and airports to stage one of the world’s most massive events, it will be a triumph. And it will raise the esteem of the Middle East by many orders of magnitude.

Qatar is not, however, banking only on soccer.

Education City

It’s a cliché to say that education spending is an investment in a country’s future, but Qatar (pronounced more like “cutter” than “ka-tar”) is taking that strategy to a whole new level. Whereas many countries in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar itself already award generous scholarships to students who study overseas, Qatar is not merely exporting students. It is also importing universities.

Ten kilometers inland from Orry’s podium along Doha’s Corniche lies Qatar Education City, a master-planned area of many square kilometers dedicated to educational institutions. (Education City is run by the country’s nonprofit Qatar Foundation and funded largely by the country’s natural gas revenues.) Lacking a mature higher education system of its own, Qatar has invited major American universities—and thus far only American universities—to open satellite campuses. Georgetown, Virginia Commonwealth, Carnegie Mellon, and Texas A&M have already opened shop, to name just a few.

While these satellites do not have the grandeur of their flagship campuses, they are full degree-granting programs, mixing the expertise of the universities with the funding and facilities on offer in Qatar.

What this means is that Qatari students now do not have to travel to the United States for an American education. I have been told that these universities are especially appealing for girls, whose families may not want them to travel overseas. (Applicants may, however, still have to go through the American application process, including standardized tests.) It also means that American students at the flagship campuses can easily take a semester abroad and earn all the usual credits in one of the most fascinating regions in the world.

Student Housing

Design For Education City Student Housing Complex


The Future of Qatari Education

As Education City grows, it remains to be seen whether it will stem the tide of Qataris who study in the US or whether it will only inspire more curiosity for education on American soil. Either way, the intended result for Qatar is a well educated population capable of succeeding in science, medicine, engineering, and an infinite array of other professions. Importantly, the government seems—at least on face—dedicated to the types of civil liberties and stability that will enable these developments to take place.

It’s also worth noting that places like Education City, and the ideas that will come of them, will add a layer of texture to the Gulf region. In purely geographic terms, the Gulf is remarkably featureless. Qatar’s highest point is 103 meters; Lonely Planet describes its landscape as “gravel-colored.” Neighboring countries are much the same.

But the good news is that there is no limit to the intellectual landscape, which is growing more diverse by the day.

Of course, Education City is still young, and it will never offer that classic American college experience. Texas A&M at Doha is most certainly not fielding a football team. If they did, though, they might want to recruit an oryx or two to play wide receiver.


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