Qatar campus leaders confident of surviving diplomatic crisis

Branch outpost heads confident for long-term future of institutions despite blockade

August 22, 2017
Arabic airport signs
Source: Alamy

Branch campus leaders in Qatar have insisted that the diplomatic crisis in the Gulf is having limited impact on universities as they prepare for the upcoming academic year.

Four Arab states – Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – have cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, accusing it of funding terrorist groups. Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have also ordered their citizens to leave Qatar.

Omran Hamad Al-Kuwari, executive director of the Qatar Foundation, which is the principal funder of Education City, where most of the country’s branch campuses are located, said that there were about 300 students from the blockading countries at institutions in the global education hub.

In terms of staff, he said that there were fewer than 30 in total from Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and about 200 from Egypt.

However, Mr Al-Kuwari said that the impact of the crisis has been “almost none” in terms of operations and he did not expect student and staff numbers for the upcoming academic year to be badly affected.

“As soon as the blockade started, we reached out to all students from those blockading countries and confirmed to them that from our perspective they are welcome to come and to stay,” he said.

In cases where students have returned to their home countries over the summer holiday and are not able to return, the foundation is working to find “alternative solutions” for students to continue courses at institutions’ main campuses, Mr Al-Kuwari said.

He added that the branch campuses were in “high demand” and he was “confident that our history and our performance will help us to get through this” in the long term.

Mehran Kamrava, director of the Center for International and Regional Studies at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Relations in Qatar, agreed that so far the impact has been “minimal or none” because the other Gulf countries have not been “fertile recruitment grounds” for Qatar.

“The GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] countries in general have competed with one another particularly in the field of education, so very few students have come from other GCC states” to Qatar, he said.

Professor Kamrava was also optimistic that Qatar’s institutions would remain unscathed in the long term given that the country “did not instigate the crisis”.

“As someone who specialises in the study of the Middle East, I have full confidence that this is not going to have adverse reputational impact on us. In fact, I think that the reputational costs for the UAE and for Saudi Arabia are significantly higher than [those] for Qatar,” he said.

Everette E. Dennis, dean and CEO of Northwestern University in Qatar, was also “optimistic” that the crisis “will not have an adverse effect on our campus in Doha” in the long term.

But Christopher Davidson, reader in Middle East politics at Durham University, said that he would expect the campuses to start feeling the damage from the blockade by summer 2018.

“By then no international student in their right mind would choose a branch campus in Qatar given the slew of negative reports about Qatar,” he said. “This will cause phenomenal damage to their reputation and viability.”

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

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