Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Education City in Qatar

Lecture halls at Cornell Medical College in Education City, Qatar

Following from posts on liberal arts education at the American University of Cairo and on KAUST (KAUST: Xanadu for nerds?), here is another NPR story (about 7 min) on campuses of prestigious American universities located in Education City, Qatar. This is an effort in the right direction. However, I wish there was also some focus on pure sciences and the liberal arts. Even universities like Cornell and Northwestern have very specialized program offerings here. One of the wonderful things about Bachelors programs in large universities is that it exposes you to fields other than your intended major. This is essential for good education. The offerings in Qatar, while commendable in bringing high quality education to the region, seems neutered to me. Here are programs of study associated with American universities (from Wikipedia):
  • Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar (VCUQ). Since 1998, VCUQ has offered students the opportunity to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in communication design, fashion design or interior design through a four-year curriculum.
  • Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar (WCMC-Q). The Medical College was established by Cornell University in 2001 and offers a two-year pre-medical program followed by the four-year medical program leading to a Doctor of Medicine degree.
  • Texas A&M University at Qatar (TAMUQ). TAMUQ was established in 2003 and offers undergraduate degrees in chemical, electrical, mechanical and petroleum engineering. In 2007, TAMUQ added masters programs in engineering and science.
  • Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar (CMU-Q). CMU-Q has since 2004 offered undergraduate degrees in business, computer science programs, and as of 2007 an undergraduate degree in information systems.
  • Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar (SFS-Qatar). SFS-Qatar has, since 2005, offered a four-year program leading to a bachelor's degree in foreign service.
  • Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q) began degree programs in journalism and communication in fall 2008.
Plus, there is one Qatar university, Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies (QFIS), offering a degree in Islamic Studies. If you add NYU in Abu Dhabi and Michigan State in Dubai, and we are talking about a good concentration of good universities in the region. Again, I just hope they broaden their scope a bit - but then this may take some time:
Schools here hope their presence will nibble away at prejudices about the West. They have been promised that the local administration will not interfere with the curriculum. That might not be much of a problem for engineers or doctors.

Richard Roth heads the Northwestern program here. Do his journalism students run into interference?

"Oh, all the time," Roth says. "There's no Freedom of Information Act here. The reporters here don't ask questions of government. These are the things we are trying to teach."

That's just one of many things that might discourage top faculty from wanting to teach here. Why give up a cushy job with tenure in a leafy suburb to teach in the desert?

Majd Sakr came from the Pittsburgh campus because he wanted a new challenge. "Here there was nothing a few years ago when it comes to this type of education and research," Sakr says. "The impact that you have on the society, on education, is quite significant."

Sakr is originally from Lebanon. Members of the Arab diaspora see U.S. campuses here as a chance to come home again and help establish the region's flagging education credentials.
Even with these issues, all these campuses are bound to have a positive cultural impact. Listen to the full NPR story here

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