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UCL joins Education City in Qatar 29, October 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar.
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University College London, one of the UK’s best Universities, is to open a campus in Qatar’s Education City. They will offer Masters degrees in archaeology, museum studies and conservation. The agreement was signed on the recent high-level visit of Qatar’s Emir and his most prominent wife, Sheikha Moza, to the UK.

These ventures, while clearly potentially profitable, are also somewhat dangerous. Certainly, these top-tier Western Universities will be remunerated handsomely for going to Education City and will have a beautiful campus built for them. However, their reputation is on the line. As they are offering the same degrees as one can obtain in the UK (or the US) at the home institution, if these are not taught well or if they cannot attract suitable students, then home students are likely to (rightly) complain that the ‘value’ of their degree is going down and their precious reputation could be adversely affected. Weill Cornell in Doha, for example, had problems with students back in the States complaining along these lines.

Similarly, one must never forget the cautionary tale that was the rash of US Universities opening in Japan in the 1980s amid their boom. Many miscalculated badly and left with millions of dollars of debt. [Indeed, one such University is currently ensconced in Education City now. Inshallah, they’ve learned from their earlier mistakes…]

It is not so much importing the lecturers and professors that is the problem as attracting suitable students. Standards dictate that students at the home institution and in Doha pass the same entrance requirements. Yet as the student body is being drawn from such vastly different cultures/areas, even if students can pass the same entrance exams, classes are different. Several Professors at some of the Education City institutions told me that it is simply impossible for them to teach the same curriculum as back in the States. Typically the students, while all certainly very intelligent, simply do not have the same breadth of experiences or knowledge of the topics at hand. Still, it must be recognised that ‘different’ is not necessarily ‘worse’.

Lastly, Western Universities leave themselves open to criticism from ‘home’ that they are treating Education like a commodity. By opening up in ‘non-democratic Qatar’ they are offering – at the harshest interpretation – some kind of intellectual veneer of credibility at the expense of proselytizing the true ‘Socratic method’. Incidentally, I wholly don’t agree with this kind of almost ad hominem attack, as launched, for example, by the President of the Middle Eastern Studies Association in her Presidential address in 2009.

One last complicating factor for UCL is that they are not simply engaged in a bilateral arrangement with Education City but a trilateral one with the Qatar Museum’s Authority as well. This extra layer of sleepy, Qatari bureaucracy could exponentially increase their difficulties in getting things done. I wish them well, hope for their success but don’t envy their task.


1. P. - 14, November 2010

Could you please elaborate on the Cornell Weil issue? Are there links available that highlight the stundents’ complains and if that involves the campus in Doha?

thegulfblog.com - 15, November 2010

Alas I can’t really. Back when I was told about this, I searched for such links to the college newspaper but I couldn’t find any.

I think that a lot of this stuff is born out of misunderstanding. Initially at least (I’m 9 months out of the loop with events at EC) Cornell and others did not drop their standards at all (grade-wise). Though I can’t give you a specific figure, I’m fairly sure that the first intake of students at Cornell was absurdly small (like less than 10). So, theoretically, those kinds of standards are being maintained. Perhaps the Cornell students back home didn’t realise this or they simply were not amused at the perceived waste of money to build a campus to educate a few students per year.

2. P. - 26, December 2010

thanks for the input. I would appreciate you posting something to this effect, in case you come across any kind of information relating to the foreign campus issue.

two stories come to mind;

1. a Qatari journalist complained in an local Arabic publication that these campuses and universities have not benefited the local population in any way. They are more “ivory towers” for the few whereas the public schools are being ripped out of the hands of the government thanks to Rand’s recommendations.

2. another foreign journalist relayed the complaints of QF that many professors of these universities in the US refuse to come to Qatar to teach.

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