LAKHANPAL: Qatar, A New Intellectual Hub

It would be impossible to replicate Qatar's Education City project, a massive campus that houses educational facilities from elementary schools to branches of research universities, anywhere else in the world.



There are eight Western colleges here in Qatar — a successful transplantation of the academic strengths, cultures and scholarships of Virginia Commonwealth, Weill Cornell Medical School, Texas A&M, Carnegie Mellon, Northwestern, HEC Paris, University College London and Georgetown's School of Foreign Service.



It took America over a century to build academic prestige.



It took Qatar around a decade.




This, however, couldn't have happened in any other place at any other time. It takes political wherewithal, small size, money, open minds and room for development (and a dash of authoritarianism to get things done). The emir of Qatar realized when he came to power in 1995 that this country could not eternally survive on its natural resources alone. Since then, he has taken measures to advance his country with a concrete plan: Qatar National Vision 2030. One of the first priorities of this idealized future is to develop an educated population.




Qatar is smart when it comes to many things. They have a compliant foreign policy, an intriguing dichotomy of being open while still preserving their culture and a grounded knowledge of how to utilize their abundant financial resources.




But the most innovative idea Qatar has ever developed is Education City, now known as the Hamad bin Khalifa University. It's an idea that will be heralded as one of the greatest educational inventions in history. And it will likely never be duplicated.




Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have skyscrapers, natural resources and progressive attitudes. Saudi Arabia has all but the latter. Oman has a well-written plan for the coming decade as well. All Gulf countries have the money, but it takes a combination of factors to make an idea like Education City a reality.




Kuwait has not taken the initiative to become independent from oil or from America; Bahrain has sectarian issues, Oman doesn't have the political power and Saudi Arabia is too traditional. Most people think that the UAE would be better for Education City, but that's far from the truth. There is no unity among the emirates, and there is severe inequality.




Other regions of the world would be unable to recreate Education City, regardless of financial power. East Asia faces language barriers between countries; Europe (even without the euro crisis) doesn't feel the immediate need for human development; American culture simply wouldn't be accepting of the idea of a "mega-university." Education City is not one unified culture of athletic and academic strength, unlike the American idea that college should be various unique cultures unified under one name. In the United States, college life is one unified culture of athletic and academic strength. Here, it is a combination of separate college cultures unified under one name and location.




Qatar is the perfect — and only — fit for the mega-university concept. The education component of the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, the organization responsible for Education City, is what makes Qatar different from the other Gulf countries. It has finances, the absence of political obstacles, diplomatic savvy, small size and a relatively progressive attitude. These features are the same that attracted FIFA to Qatar for the 2022 World Cup, and they're the same features that will likely bring the Olympics here in 2020.




Worldwide, people complain about the human rights issues in this region, but without a massive manual labor force, the efficiency necessary to achieve the Qatar National Vision 2030 would be absent. The fact that the majority of the students in Education City aren't Qatari is a non-issue as well. Most graduates of the different branch campuses here plan to work here, regardless of national origin. The culture of Qatar might change as the native Qatari population becomes smaller, but this tiny peninsula in the Persian Gulf will become only richer in human and financial capital.




Education City is at the center of it all, and if other countries think they can replicate it, they are, at least for the present, dead wrong.




Nikhil Lakhanpal is a freshman at the School of Foreign Service-Qatar campus. CUTTER, KUH-TAWR, QATAR appears every other Tuesday.

by Nikhil Lakhanpal  Mar 3rd, 2012
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