Qatar aims to boost regional collaboration after blockade ends

Foundation considers creation of consortium of universities across Gulf region

May 18, 2021
Education City Qatar
Source: iStock
Education City, Qatar

Qatar is seeking to build stronger collaborations with universities across the Gulf region following the end of a diplomatic blockade.

A rift in 2017 led to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severing all ties with Qatar, but the countries reopened their borders to each other in January this year.

Francisco Marmolejo, the Qatar Foundation’s president of higher education, said the organisation was already responding by building stronger connections with higher education institutions outside the oil-rich state, and was “even entertaining plans for the possibility of establishing a consortium of universities in the region”.

He told Times Higher Education he envisages that this would be in “a similar fashion” to the Consortium for North American Higher Education Collaboration, which promotes international higher education collaboration between North America and the rest of the world, and of which he was the founding executive director.

Mr Marmolejo, who was the World Bank’s lead tertiary education specialist until 2020, pointed out that universities in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region historically had lower levels of international collaboration than others around the world, and had particularly low levels of collaboration with each other. Recent data from Clarivate’s Institute for Scientific Information backs that up, showing that only 5 per cent of the region’s research output was based on regional collaboration.

“There is a lot of room for more collaboration in the Mena region in higher education, and [the Qatar Foundation is] truly committed to that,” Mr Marmolejo said. The end of the blockade provided the right moment to “capitalise on the benefits and importance of partnership” and will likely result in increased mobility of students, faculty members and collaborative research – once that becomes possible, he explained.

Collaboration is the key component to the foundation’s new higher education strategy, which Mr Marmolejo said was developed in partnership with the eight institutions based in Qatar’s Education City, its academics, students and other stakeholders.

When the coronavirus pandemic shut down the usual activity of global higher education, the Qatar Foundation used the time to conduct a “thorough review” of its strategy. As a group of institutions – Education City is home to seven international branch campuses as well as Hamad Bin Khalifa University – it offered a “unique opportunity” to think collectively on how to adapt effectively to the upcoming needs of the economy and society in Qatar and globally, Mr Marmolejo said.

“We are establishing new academic programmes within the framework of institutions in order to cope with some of those emerging needs that are being identified,” he said. The plans include a “skills passport” that allows students to demonstrate what competencies they have gained beyond their core discipline.

“It is not enough to learn just mathematics or history; we need unique critical thinkers. We need people with multicultural awareness [and] people who are entrepreneurial, but these aren’t skills that students magically acquire just because they are in higher education,” he said.

There are plans to allow students to take courses at other institutions in Education City more easily, Mr Marmolejo said.

There are also some discussions about a possibility of adding to its “family of institutions” with one that could provide technical education, which is not on offer at the moment.

“We are building on the past, on the successes not only here in Qatar, but on the lessons learned globally. We aren’t reinventing the wheel, but we have certainly moved the needle,” Mr Marmolejo said.

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles