By Javier Picazo Feliu
Doha, 17 Jan (EFE).- In just a few years, Qatar has gone from having an economy based on pearl fishing to becoming one of the richest countries in the world driven by a wealth of oil and natural gas reserves.
Diversifying the Gulf state’s economy has become a key challenge and investment in education is at the core of this shift.
“Education is leading (…) the pursuit towards a knowledge-based economy,” Hend Zeinal, Executive Director, Strategy, Management and Partnerships, Higher Education Division at the Qatar Foundation, tells Efe. “We cannot get there without a focus on education.”
The Qatar Foundation is a non-profit organization that started as a children’s school more than 25 years ago, promoted by the royal family of Qatar, and now boasts over 50 entities working in education, research, and community development.
Education City brings together eight universities, 13 schools, sports centers, the national library, the Museum of Modern Art, an equestrian center and a campus that accommodates 10,600 students.
The thriving intergenerational education hub brings together people aged six months to 70, the director adds.
“We embrace everyone as part of this ecosystem and our goal is to nurture the future of others and to build the future of Qatar (…) through unlocking human potential,” says Zeinal.
Qatar is a small conservative country of contrasts. The recent 2022 Fifa World Cup allowed the Gulf nation to showcase to the world its social, cultural and economic evolution. The great driver of this change has been the Qatar Foundation.
“The Foundation has been a catalyst for change in the country. The focus of the country and investment in education can be seen in Education City. We’re blessed to have leadership that really believes in the importance of education. And they have invested a lot into bringing these world-class universities, these amazing, specialized schools here,” Zeinal adds.
A model that, in her opinion, is a “testbed of innovation.”
The center’s students comprise over 90 nationalities and some of its star campuses include Northwestern University, Georgetown, HEC Paris, Texas A&M University of Engineering and Weill Cornell Medical College.
Each of its buildings has been designed by award-winning international architects — like Arata Isozaki, Rem Koolhaas, Antoine Predock and the architecture studios Legorreta + Legorreta and Mangera Yvars Architects — which has also made the Education Centre a tourist hotspot.
“It functions as a sustainable ecosystem where learners can cross campus to learn whatever it is they want to learn (…) This doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world,” Zeinal continues.
At the Qatar Foundation, students can take courses from other universities, regardless of where they are studying their main subject, to complete their training.
“Now students can choose where they want to learn, what they want to learn, where they want to learn.”
Students can “curate their education,” the expert adds, allowing them to explore their strengths and interests, however varied these are.
“We don’t believe that a person is just a doctor or just an artist or just an engineer,” Zeinal says.
Collaboration between institutions has opened the door to multidisciplinary learning, as well as also providing students with specific needs, such as those with autism or visually impaired people.