How much importance has been placed on reforming and developing education in Qatar?
AL-MISNAD: Education has been one of Qatar’s top priorities for the past 15 years. Significant investments have been made towards reforming both the K-12 and higher education systems in the country. Such investments stem from the knowledge that it is impossible to sustain the current level of economic and social prosperity without building human capital, and nurturing a society able to protect and sustain such prosperity for the future. To that end, Qatar took a number of giant and courageous steps towards building an educational system that responds to the specific and contextual needs of its people, and is unparalleled in the region in scale. Such steps included the establishment of Hamad Bin Khalifa University (previously known as Education City), which hosts branch campuses of some of the world’s leading universities, in additional to establishing other colleges such as the College of the North Atlantic and the Qatar Community College. Reforming Qatar University to become a model national academic institution in the region, recognized for high-quality education and research and for being a leader of economic and social development, was also a major component of Qatar’s educational reform. But I think the most significant step in the reform plan was the K-12 reform, which consisted of establishing an integrated Independent Schools System that gave autonomy to schools, while managing quality through a central body (The Supreme Education Council) which oversees and supports the schools, conducts testing of students, monitors student learning, and evaluates school performance. All of this is for one objective; how to train our future generation to be able to take the lead, ensuring a bright future for every child – and the strong competitive growth of our nation.
I would say the K-12 reform was a major initiative taken by Qatar, unparalleled by any other in the world. The whole education system was changed from a centralized structure to a decentralized system with a lot of emphasis and room for creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving. Reforming an educational system is no easy task. It requires much time and patience because when you change an education system, you’re changing society as well. There is no other industry in the world where society and economy are as involved and integrated as they are in education. It touches everybody’s life, whether you are a parent, a relative, a student, a teacher, or an administrator. That is why reforming this sector is the most difficult initiative anywhere in the world, and Qatar is no exception to that.
What opportunities exist for business and investment in education in Qatar?
AL-MISNAD: Qatar is a fast-growing country and there are many opportunities for business and investment in education. The country needs all types of contributions, whether that means investing in teacher training, research, or attracting educators and administrators to come and work in Qatar. Qatar University and other universities in Qatar are now blessed with generous resources for research funding. Faculty from all over the world who are interested in conducting research come to Qatar to avail of such funding opportunities which contribute to their own careers, as well as to the universities and society of Qatar. Qatar is really the land opportunities for anyone who is interested in making a difference in education.
How much emphasis is placed on research at Qatar University?
AL-MISNAD: Research is a major pillar of Qatar University’s vision and strategic plan. We cooperate heavily with institutions within and outside of Qatar in research. I think Qatar University is fortunate because during its long history in this society, it has built strong relationships with the sectors of the economy where research is important; the oil and gas sector as an example. We have an Environmental Studies Center which conducts noteworthy research for the oil and gas sector, addressing concerns like pollution, biodiversity, and other environmental issues. We also have the Gas Processing Center, which mainly directs its research activities to the oil and gas industry in Qatar. Research is very important in higher education and the elite universities around the world are mainly research universities. Qatar, as a small country with good economic resources, has started emphasizing and prioritizing research. The National Research Fund has significantly contributed to the proliferation of research activities at Qatar University and other universities in the country. What we are trying to do here at Qatar University is to figure out how we can link research and make it relevant to the society and the economy. I would not say that we would compete in research with the best research centers in the world. But we can, and are, doing a lot in terms of applied research specific to our context, addressing issues such as the environment, society, industry, biology, and more. What we are trying to do here is ensure that our own research is relevant to the country and to our own needs and issues.
Reforming an educational system is no easy task. It requires much time and patience because when you change an education system, you’re changing society as well. There is no other industry in the world where society and economy are as involved and integrated as they are in education.
Where does Qatar University fit into the spectrum of education options available in Qatar?
AL-MISNAD: If anybody now looks at the scene of higher education of Qatar, they will ask the question of where does Qatar University fit? I think this is a very legitimate question. Qatar University is the only national university in Qatar; it is the largest and the first, and I think it will continue to be the primary choice for the majority of students, thanks to a unique position that combines international educational standards with a local cultural environment. Although I could see that in the future, there could be other national universities because the country is expanding and education is becoming a priority. But I think Qatar University will always be recognized as a leader in the sector; after all, it shall remain the first and the largest national university in the country.