|<img alt=“Inside WCMC-Q.JPG” aligh=right src=“http://blogs.nature.com/houseofwisdom/images/Inside%20WCMC-Q.JPG” width=“280” height=“187” />|
|Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar (WCMC-Q)© Khalid Ahmad Al-Marzouqi|
In the growing trend of creating offshore campuses of highly acclaimed international universities, the Middle East has taken the lion’s share – with a <a href=” http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=20110819173149188”>third of these branch campuses heading to the region.
The distribution of these universities and programmes is sharply skewed towards Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, which are home to around 40 of them.
This sharp move has largely been driven by an understanding of governments and leaders of the need for major reform in the higher education sector in their countries, especially in the Gulf States.
The rich economies that are mainly driven by petrodollars from the oil industry have helped facilitated this move. The leaders know that this money won’t last forever and are trying to utilize it now to shift as fast and as far as possible towards a knowledge-driven economy.
These new institutes, programmes, and visionary projects in the region have already started bearing fruit within their walls. The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) – though not an offshore campus of an international university, was created with help from some of the most prominent international figures in education. It has already published five Nature papers and several more in Nature-branded journals. The Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar has sequenced the date palm genome and is becoming a regional leader in biomedical research.
It would be interesting to see the effect that these universities have on the communities outside their walls. Universities in the West have long been bastions of freedom. Most movements of liberalisation have started within universities and spread out to change their societies. How will the presence of these Western-influenced and –administered universities change the Middle East? And how will they deal with touchy issues – such as women’s rights – in conservative societies such as Saudi Arabia’s?
The equilibrium balance between the liberal approaches of these Western universities and the more conservative Middle Eastern societies will eventually have to shift in one direction, at least to a certain extent. The question is, which direction will it shift?