CHASING THE POT OF GOLD
Russel C. Jones, Ph.D., P.E.
Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
The oil-rich countries of the
Several oil-rich countries in the Middle East, such as the
United Arab Emirates, Oman, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and Qatar) have come to
understand that they must diversify their economies, utilizing significant
amounts of the income from sale of their oil and gas at current high prices to
invest in future commercial efforts. In particular, several such countries are
focusing on developing “knowledge economies”, by developing higher education
programs that will provide the human capacity to initiate and support such new
economic thrusts. Total spending by the Gulf Cooperation Council countries on
education in 2008 exceeds their $20-billion in arms purchases from the
Many universities from North America, Europe and Australia have rushed to these oil-rich countries to offer their services – for a price. Proposals for branch campuses, store-front programs, and partnerships abound. Many of the universities making proposals to the rulers of Middle East countries have solid programs to offer, but almost all of them see significant financial gain as a major driving force.
This paper explores the dimensions of the higher education scene in several Middle East countries, and suggests appropriate considerations for the involvement of foreign institutions there.
The oil-rich countries of the Middle East have come to recognize that their substantial incomes from the sale of oil and gas will have a finite lifetime, and that they should be investing some of today’s income flow in economic diversification. The world wants to use less oil – both due to its cost, and due to the pollution of the environment which is leading to global warming. In addition, the oil supply in producing countries will run out someday, in many cases in less than 100 years.
After the terrorist attacks on the
Seeking appropriate opportunities
In an educational gold rush, US universities are seeking to set up outposts in developing countries with limited higher education opportunities and strong financial resources. The American system of higher education, long recognized as one of the best in the world, is thus becoming an important U.S. export.
One of the most visible recent connections between a
NYU had long been committed to building its international
presence, and had increased study-abroad sites to places such as Singapore,
Accra and Buenos Aires. But the plan that has developed for a comprehensive,
residential liberal-arts and sciences branch campus in the Arabian Gulf, set to
open in 2010, is in a class by itself. The NYU/Abu Dhabi project will see a flow
of professors and students between
The NYU/Abu Dhabi project thus meets several needs of the US university, and simultaneously addresses a major goal of Abu Dhabi, to be identified as a hub of knowledge transmission and creation in the region, as well as attending to the need to build human capacity in its citizens and its significant expatriate population.
programs in the Middle East
Carnegie Mellon Qatar has offered undergraduate programs in Computer Science and Business Administration since 2004. It has recently added a new Information Systems degree. These programs are aimed at providing the human capital to develop an effective Information and Computer Technology (ICT) structure, one of the main pillars of the knowledge-based society that Qatar aspires to become.
King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) is being built in Saudi Arabia as an international, graduate level research university dedicated to stimulating a new age of scientific achievement in the Kingdom 5. The University is scheduled to open in September 2009 with degrees in 11 fields of study:
Its international academic partnerships, designed to help build the curriculum and attract strong founding faculty, include two US institutions, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the University of California at San Diego. Its global research partners who will join in collaborative research working on topics of global significance, include Cornell University, Stanford University, Texas A&M University and faculty members from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology, Michigan State University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Pennsylvania State University, and the University of California at Berkeley.
KAUST is well funded, with a multi-billion dollar endowment. It will enroll both men and women from around the world. The campus, located on the Red Sea at Thuwal, north of Jeddah, is being built in 36 million square meters of land.
Michigan State University Dubai offers bachelor’s degree
programs including Computer Engineering and Construction Project Management. It
is adding postgraduate degree programs, including a Master of Science in Supply
Chain Management. The decision to open operations in
Rochester Institute of Technology Dubai is offering master’s degree programs including Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Networking and Systems Administration. These are currently offered as part-time study programs in evenings and on weekends. Undergraduate programs in engineering are expected to be offered starting in 2010.
The Petroleum Institute was created in 2001 to provide
engineering education and research in areas of significance to the oil and gas
and broader energy industries 8. It was initiated with major
assistance from the Colorado School of Mines, and more recently has also
affiliated with the
The New York Institute of Technology 9 has been
offering degree programs in
The Masdar Institute of Science and Technology 10
is the educational component of the Masdar Initiative, a program established in
2006 by the
As noted above, New York University/Abu Dhabi is being
established as a comprehensive liberal arts and sciences campus in Abu Dhabi.
With the recent merger of NYU and the
Another vehicle for offering
Many of the institutions which have opened branch campuses
A branch campus of George Mason University, opened in the UAE emirate of Ras al Khaymah in 2005, became the first American educational venture to collapse. The campus suffered from low enrollments, and was beset by problems revolving around administration, academics and identity. It announced its closing in 2009 when, among other things, its local partner substantially reduced its financial support.11
Accreditation is an issue for
Branch campuses which are established with faculty members
There is concern that investments in high-quality
undergraduate and graduate education will serve a relatively narrow segment of
society in the oil-rich countries. Local students tend to have basic skills
issues – poor study habits and motivation, and limited English, math and
science skills – and may not qualify for admission. 4
There is also concern that graduates of these American-style universities may not be connected to the local culture and society in an organic way – perhaps creating a generation of people who cannot speak with their parents. 4
US universities are responding to the needs of several
countries in the
Institutions which are currently considering involvement in the Gulf region now have the advantage of being able to learn from pioneering efforts, some of which are promising, and others for which the jury is still out. Questions must be asked and honest answers received from everyone. What are the expectations of all stakeholders? How much correlation is there between assessed market needs and planned program offerings? How many of your US-based faculty are willing to invest significant time abroad? How strong is the support of your governing board? How much investment will the university have to make to prepare students for entry into the degree-granting programs? What are the timetables for initiation, roll-out and sustainability of the programs? What are the consequences if those timetables are not met? Who has authority over what? Without adequate transparency, institutional self-awareness, and dedicated leadership, deep international partnerships such as those discussed in this paper can never achieve success in the form of reputable academic programs and sustainable research.
Zvika Krieger, “Pouring Money
into Culture and Education”, Chronicle
of Higher Education, 28 March 2008.
Tamar Lewin, “
3) See http://www.qf.edu.qa
Zvika Krueger, “An Academic
Building Boom Transforms the Persian Gulf”, Chronicle of Higher Education, 28 March 2008.
Karin Fischer, “How the Deal Was
Andrew Mills, “Failure of George
Mason U.’s Persian Gulf Campus Sparks Concern About Overseas Ventures”, Chronicle
of Higher Education, 6 March 2009.
Russel Jones is Advisor to the Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research in Abu Dhabi, UAE. He previously served as founding president of the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in the UAE. His career in higher education in the United States included faculty member at MIT, department chair at Ohio State University, dean of engineering at University of Massachusetts-Amherst, academic vice president at Boston University, and President at University of Delaware.