Education City is a 2,500-acre “multiversity” campus on the western edge of Doha. The campus includes eight universities offering a variety of degree programs, a science and technology park, teaching hospital, medical research center, the Qatar Convention Center, and the Al Jazeera Children’s Channel. The development is part of Qatar National Vision 2030, the country’s plan to transition from a hydrocarbon-based to a knowledge-based economy. The government earmarks 2.8 per cent of gross domestic product towards research and development activities carried out there.
The project’s goals include the production of a local pool of well-trained graduates and to establish Qatar as a regional research hub. Prior to its creation most male Qataris pursued post-secondary education in American universities; many did not return and those who returned could not always find appropriate employment. Due to cultural restrictions on travel, education for most women ceased after high school. All classes on Education City campuses are co-educational. This has sparked some controversy among Qataris, though these families may also choose to send their children to the gender-segregated Qatar University, the national university unaffiliated with Education City.
Education City is the brainchild of the former emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, and the al-Thani family plays a significant role in the project’s implementation. The Qatar Foundation for Education, Science, and Community Development oversees project development. Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser al-Missned, the former emir’s consort and the mother of the current emir, serves as the foundation’s chair.
At the heart of Education City are the satellite campuses of two European and six American universities, including Virginia Commonwealth University, Weill Cornell Medical College, Texas A&M University, Carnegie Mellon University, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, Northwestern University, University College London, and Ecole des hautes études commerciales de Paris. Additionally, in 2007 Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi presided over the establishment of the College of Islamic Studies, which houses the Al-Qaradawi Center for Research in Moderate Thought, as well as centers on Islamic finance and Islam and public policy. Universities and specific fields of study were selected by the Qatari government according to Qatar’s strategic development goals. The foundation pays for all buildings, overheads, and staff salaries; the universities receive the student fees.
The first school opened in 1997. Over a decade later, construction on the campus continues unabated. While many celebrate Education City and its efforts, the project is not without critics. Some wonder whether it is merely a state-funded effort to improve Qatar’s international image, particularly in light of the country’s censorship laws as contrary to Western standards of free scholarship, and its criminalization of homosexuality as incompatible with the schools’ anti-discrimination policies. While acknowledging that free expressions ends outside the campus walls, defenders point out that the contracts with the university prohibit government interference in hiring, tenure, curriculum, and admissions decisions.
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Mari Luomi, John T. Crist, Bushra Alam, and Muhammad Bilal Shakir. “Environmental Sustainability in Qatar's Education City: Strategies, Initiatives and Education.” QScience Connect 2013:41.
Katherine Zoepf. “In Qatar's 'Education City,’ U.S. Colleges Build Atop a Gusher.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 22, 2005, accessed May 25, 2014.