Qatar's Universities on the March Despite Gulf Turmoil

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qatar1By Cesar Wazen for THE

Two years ago Times Higher Education announced that Qatar University had topped its list of the world's most international universities.

The amazement among the audience that an institution from outside the higher education powerhouses of the US or UK had claimed top spot was palpable. Qatar University continues to excel on the international outlook indicator and took pole position for the third year running in 2018.

A similar sense of wonder was felt last month when Qatar University (QU) hosted a THE data masterclass involving numerous university presidents from across the region.

One of the slides presented at the event, shown below, showed Qatar, as a country, now topped the charts in terms of the change in average score on rankings versus GDP per capita for 2015. In other words, no developed country had improved the performance of its university system as fast as Qatar.

As in 2016 when our university hosted THE's inaugural Middle East and North Africa Universities Summit, I was asked to jump in and explain the reasons behind this surge in Qatar's performance.

As I affirmed back then, Qatar University, as other young universities, are high on these charts thanks to the efforts of the Qatari government to invest its wealth into education and research that are bringing rewards across all spectrums of the society, in addition to the benefits they give to university ranking performance.

Qatar’s performance in rankings is one tangible and sustainable result of these efforts, just as the most remarkable one that is Qatar’s winning bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup with the whole country’s infrastructure being geared towards this effort, despite all doubts cast around the capacity of the country to host this event.

This proves the fact that Qatar University’s popping out on top of the charts two years ago, was not down to luck, or the result of a Houdini-inspired trick from our data crunchers.

It was rather a logical result of the nationwide strategy, known as Vision 2030, which aims to transform the economy of one of the richest countries in the world into a knowledge-based economy.

The data above reinforce these facts as it proves that the resources devoted to research (income and PhD students) are increasing while Qatar University is holding the quantity of research output steady, thus the quality goes up, leading to our biggest gain being in citation Impact.

Even in the current difficult times inflicted by the ongoing Gulf Crisis, preceded by the drop in oil prices, resources were not affected.

On the contrary, the general impression is that the resulting blockade served as a catalyst to the implementation of the shift to a knowledge based economy. Small and medium sized enterprises and entrepreneurial efforts are booming yielding immediate results with the Qatari government able to limit the negative effects of the blockade.

The R&D strategy is proving efficient by providing the country with human resources capable of adapting to change quite swiftly and Qatar University, as the national university, serves as an incubator for all these ideas and leads the way in providing significant & useful research.

For that reason, the trend of improvement in scores on ranking for our university has stood the test of time, but it is also bound to be consolidated with the country relying on its own resources to come out stronger from the current situation as Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the emir of Qatar, defiantly stated in October.

QU Ranked Third Among Universities in the Arab World

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qatar main smallQatar University (QU) has been ranked 52 in the Times Higher Education (THE) Asia University Rankings 2018, among the 350+ top universities from 25 countries in the Asia region. The announcement was made recently on the THE website, naming QU 52nd among universities in the Asia region and 3rd among universities in the Arab world.

This achievement highlights QU’s continuous efforts to advance its standing among the top universities in the Asia region as the University was ranked 77th in the 2017 edition.

Qatar University unseated King Saud University and claimed the third position, and improved its position from 77 to the 52.

In calculating the top universities in Asia, the THE Asia University Rankings 2018 use the same 13 performance indicators as the THE World University Rankings, but they are recalibrated to reflect the priorities of Asian institutions.

The performance indicators are grouped into five areas: Teaching – the learning environment (25%), Research – volume, income and reputation (30%), Citations – research influence (30%), International Outlook – staff, students and research (7.5%), and Industry Income – knowledge transfer (7.5%).

QU president Dr Hassan al-Derham said, “This achievement highlights the university’s continuous advancement in its regional standing as it achieved 77th place in 2017. As Qatar’s first higher education institution, QU has rigorously pursued educational excellence and the highest quality research.”

QU Scholarships and Partnerships Office director Cesar Wazen said, “The ranking results prove that the resources devoted to research are increasing while QU is holding the quantity of research output steady, thus the quality goes up, leading to our biggest gain being in citation impact.”

Qatar’s Isolation Disrupts Regional Research

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qatar main smallBy Sedeer El-Showk for Nature Middle East 

The recent decision by Arab states to cut diplomatic ties with Qatar has cast a chill on growing research collaborations in a region trying to shift away from a dependency on oil to knowledge-based economies. The dispute has left researchers uncertain about the future, and the severity of the measures has made many hesitant to comment.

On June 5, Saudi Arabia accused Qatar of funding terrorist organisations and abruptly severed ties with its neighbour, cutting diplomatic relations and imposing a trade and travel ban, as well as blocking Qatari access to Saudi ports and airspace. Regional allies Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE quickly followed, leaving the small nation isolated.

While pundits debate the geopolitical motives and consequences, this decision has already affected many aspects of life in Qatar and the region, including scientific research.

Like several of its neighbours, Qatar has in recent years began ramping up its science spending. In 2014, the nation launched the Qatar Genome Project, which published a reference genome for Middle Eastern populations last year, a resource which is bearing fruit in advances in personalized medicine.

Mariam Al-Maadeed, vice president for research and graduate studies at Qatar University, calls the decision to cut ties “unfortunate”, but like several other leaders in the field, she’s cautiously hopeful. “We have international collaborations and well-established, strong, strategic partnerships with long-term plans that will foster our collaboration with institutions in other regions.”

While the US, China, and Europe make up the bulk of Qatar’s collaborations, Egypt and Saudi Arabia rank as Qatar’s third and seventh largest research partners, respectively. The economic sanctions and travel ban endanger the future of these collaborations, undermining research that could benefit the entire region. Likewise, bilateral collaboration and funding agreements that were under discussion between institutions in Qatar and these neighbouring countries have now been put on hold.

Scientists, who spoke to Nature Middle East on condition of anonymity, are concerned about the long-term effects of Qatar’s isolation. “Researchers in the region have been working to build a research establishment based on collaboration, and this political decision will make it more difficult,” admits a Qatar-based scientist. “We hope the situation will be resolved soon in order to avoid permanent damage to what has been built.”

Another researcher adds that the decision is expected to prevent travel within the region for conferences or training, and stop labs in the region from sharing samples. Qatari institutes which rely on vendors in Dubai or Saudi Arabia will now have to order supplies and technical support directly from the US, adding cost and delays.

“The severe measures ... could have a significant and long-lasting negative impact on the development of higher education and research in the GCC and the entire region,” says Hilal Lashuel, a professor at the Brain Mind Institute at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland, and former executive director of the Qatar Biomedical Research Institute.

“They reinforce the image of a region where the culture and key ingredients for achieving scientific excellence and innovation do not exist. By sending a signal that the region is unstable and unpredictable, they will also discourage talented students, scientists, and professionals from pursuing careers or collaborations in the region.”

In the long term, researchers fear, the decision to isolate Qatar might end up curtailing advancement and development. “Scientists and academics are the vanguard of change and progress, and undermining them limits their ability to make a better future for everyone,” says the unnamed Qatar-based scientist. “This isn’t just about today; it’s really about implications for the future, for the next generation.”

Education: An Early Victim of the Qatar Crisis?

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Cornell Qatar 620x350by Jesse Schatz for LobeLog

University faculty and students in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have been reeling at the consequences of the ongoing Qatar crisis, fearing the implications of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, and Egypt’s blockade on Doha for their careers and academic pursuits. Within the first days of the blockade Saudi Arabia and Bahrain recalled 12 and 11 nationals, respectively, who held faculty positions at Qatar’s universities. Officials in Doha remain adamant, however, that they will not force any faculty to leave, a decision that has allowed 226 Egyptian university faculty and staff to remain in the emirate. Given that universities in Qatar are on summer break, students have yet to be largely affected. But the blockading countries have recalled students that elected to stay in Doha for the summer term.

Caught up in this geopolitical crisis, a host of educational institutions, including American university branch campuses, are increasingly concerned about the possible effects of the blockade. Although largely comprised of American, British and French citizens, whom the ban does not directly affect, university faculty are concerned about their future in Qatar. Qatari officials insist that American universities will be unaffected, but the deployment of analysts from Global Rescue (an international crisis management firm) has only raised the anxiety levels.

Restricting Saudi, Bahraini, and Emirati students from attending Qatari Universities, and Qatari students from academic institutions in the three Persian Gulf countries blockading Qatar, will further isolate Qatar from the rest of the region and upset the cosmopolitan exchange of knowledge and ideas that sustains these international universities in Doha, Abu Dhabi, and Dubai. Additionally, from Qatar’s vantagepoint, this restriction of knowledge and the sequestering of talent away from Doha threatens the technological advancement Qatar needs to fully transition to a “knowledge economy,” a task in which research-universities play an integral part.

The National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) of Qatar has appealed to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to intervene. It has submitted to the UN body a report that accuses the three GCC states taking action Doha of committing injustices against Qatari students and “serious violations of a range of civil, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to education.”

The report alleges 85, 29, and 25 violations against Qatari students in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain, respectively, since the ongoing crisis erupted last month. The NHRC chairman, who filed this report with UNESCO, told al-Jazeera that these violations of students’ rights to an education included “preventing them from taking final exams, withholding certificates of graduation, closing their educational accounts and arbitrarily terminating their registration without giving reasons.” Accusing a fellow GCC member of failure to protect human rights is uncharted territory for the Persian Gulf’s bloc of Arab monarchies, which typically take a collective approach to defending the others from such accusations.

Compatible with the missions of GCC states to diversify their economies away from their hydrocarbon sectors, each member has taken part, albeit to varying degrees, in developing their higher educational systems. The thinking is that the push to strengthen universities in the GCC will simultaneously train these six countries’ citizens in skills that can produce profitable technological advancements for their economies and reduce reliance on foreign workers. Qatar’s Education City serves as a model for the other five GCC members in terms of attracting renowned academics and students from all over the West, the Arab world, and other regions.

Although protecting their citizens’ rights to obtain an education would help the GCC states achieve their economic diversification goals, the Qatar crisis has clearly prompted the Saudi and UAE governments to violate this right of their citizens for political purposes. If officials in Abu Dhabi, Manama, and Riyadh continue such restrictions on GCC nationals’ right to an education throughout the duration of what could easily be a prolonged stalemate, these countries will bear costs. Over time, such costs will be measured in what could have been a more educated citizenry with the skills that are required for making the GCC’s economies knowledge-based and free of their current addictions to oil and gas. Putting politics aside and defending the right of all citizens of each GCC country to obtain an education would help decrease the negative long-term social and economic fallout from the Qatar crisis.

Jesse Schatz is a contributor to Gulf State Analytics (@GulfStateAnalyt), a Washington, DC-based geopolitical risk consultancy. Photo: Cornell University campus in Doha (Wikimedia Commons).

Aberdeen University opens its first campus in Qatar

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qatar1Aberdeen University has opened a campus in Qatar.  The multi-million pound facility in Doha - a partnership between the university and the Al-Faleh Group for Educational and Academic Services (AFG) - will initially offer business degrees to Qatari nationals and the country's expatriate community, university bosses said.

The university will begin by offering two undergraduate courses at the campus, in business management and accountancy and finance, which are expected to attract around 120 students in the 2017-18 academic year.

Over the next four years, the campus is expected to expand to include additional undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, including in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects.

Aberdeen University said the move makes it the first UK university to have a dedicated campus in the Gulf state offering mainstream degrees.

University principal professor Sir Ian Diamond said: "The opening of the university's campus in Qatar is a significant milestone in our history, and I am proud to be working alongside our partners AFG to increase educational opportunities for Qatari citizens.

"We are one of only a select number of overseas universities to be chosen to provide higher education in Qatar, which is testament to the strength of our business programmes and our track record of excellence in teaching and research.

"In the years to come we hope to expand the range of opportunities available for students, so that as many people as possible can benefit from the world-class educational experience for which the university is renowned."

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