How does Qatar compare with other places in the region in terms of higher education?

WEICHOLD: Comparing the State of Qatar to other countries and states in the region, I would say that it’s hard to find another country that is dedicating as much of its national wealth and resources in the pursuit of education. In particular, I draw attention to the dedication of 2.85% of Qatar’s GDP to the research endeavor. That’s a very unique level of support for research anywhere, but especially so here in the Gulf.

What can be done to encourage more research in Qatar and the region?

WEICHOLD: I think the State of Qatar has done much to encourage research here. They have established the Qatar National Research Foundation and the Qatar Science and Technology Park. Now, they’re bringing on board the Qatar Research Institutes, of which three have been established and a fourth is in the works. So, there is a lot of research activity here, and Texas A&M is very fortunate to be the recipient of a fair amount of the competitive peer-reviewed grants that are offered by the Qatar National Research Fund through its National Priorities Research Program. We are working very closely with all of these entities to ensure that we create an infrastructure, or an eco-system, that supports one another in research endeavors. We interact with other sister campuses here in Education City, as well as with Qatar University and its researchers, but we also reach out. We have collaborations with KAUST (King Abdullah University of Science and Technology) in Saudi Arabia, collaborations in the United Arab Emirates and so forth. Although nascent, there is a very vibrant and rapidly growing research activity here in the Gulf. What I’m sensing is that the other parties in the Gulf, the other states and research institutes and so forth, are seeing the State of Qatar as a model. I think we’re going to see even more opportunities for research as a result of that.

What research focus areas is Qatar well suited for?

WEICHOLD: As far as research focus areas, there are several that come to mind. Clearly, being where we are, things having to do with energy, environment and so forth, ought to be and should be on the front burner. In addition, there’s a very important need for research in biological, life-sciences and medical research. To its credit, the State of Qatar is investing very heavily in that, as well. This may not seem immediately apparent, but there’s a lot of work being started here on computing-related research, and in particular, how one might be able to support Arabic language websites and do the equivalent of a Google search. It sounds like an obvious thing to do, but the fact of the matter is it’s a very different problem to solve here in the Arabic language.

In what ways do you cooperate with other higher educational institutions in the country? 

WEICHOLD: Co-operation with other institutions of higher education or other schools of any sort is very important to Texas A&M at Qatar. We have collaborations with our sister campuses here in research. We allow our students to cross-register, so we share classes in that way. We have ongoing research activities with Qatar University. We co-sponsor symposia, workshops and those sorts of things. We also take very seriously our role to be a part of the broader education community, not just higher education. For instance, we are working with local high schools to provide feedback on how they can better prepare their students for higher education, maybe more English or a better focus on Mathematics or Science. We invite high school teachers in for workshops and symposia to help them improve. We invite the high school counselors in so that they understand what our expectations are for their students. So, it’s a multi-faceted opportunity for us and we’re taking full advantage of it, I think.

How well prepared are students coming out of the country’s secondary schools for the demands of tertiary education?

WEICHOLD: Students coming out of the K-12 educational system here in Qatar are well prepared. They’re very competitive. The schools that are part of Education City are focused on probably the top 10% of high school graduates, and those students are very well prepared. Occasionally, we’ll have students who need a little bit of help in English or Mathematics but, in all honesty, that’s not completely different from our experience in Texas and other parts of the US, as well. We feel the students are very well prepared to take on our curricula here and they do quite well. In fact, if we look at some of the experiences we’ve had with students engaged in the University’s Study Abroad program, they can go to College Station, for instance, and if that student is an ‘A’ student here, they are an ‘A’ student at College Station, as well. I’m very pleased with the quality of students here.

How would you describe the current job market for today’s graduates? How well prepared are graduates for Qatar’s transition towards a more diversified economy?

WEICHOLD: The job market here in Qatar is very lucrative for students graduating with engineering and technical degrees, which is not surprising given the country’s dependence on oil and gas, getting the oil and gas out of the ground and making products from oil and gas. So, there is a considerable demand for engineers. As a result, almost all of our Qatari students have jobs lined up when they graduate. Even our non-Qatari students are very successfully placed within the country, where we have many service companies, international companies and so forth here. For the students who don’t find employment in the State of Qatar, they are still able to go to work for some of these companies in their international locations. Compared to other places in the world, I would say that the employment opportunities for fresh college graduates are very good here. Think about the economic turmoil that seems to be striking so much of the rest of the world. We’re fortunate here that we’re buffered from that a little bit because of the nature of the economy. The students here have a bit of advantage over their colleagues in other parts of the world. The State of Qatar, and, in particular, Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, has made it clear that it would like to see the next generations of Qataris focus on the post-carbon economy, or knowledge-based economy. I think our students are very well prepared for that. Whether the economy is a carbon-based economy or a knowledge-based economy, there will always be a need for engineers. Our engineering graduates are very well prepared for the post-carbon, knowledge-based economy because they are very hard working students; they are very creative and entrepreneurial. Those are essential components of the knowledge-based economy.