euronews learning world - Oiling the wheels of education in the Middle East
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Published on Feb 22, 2013
http://www.euronews.com/ Education and developing human capacities lie at the heart of some Gulf countries plans for sustainable, knowledge-oriented economies. But in real terms, how does that translate?
Investing in human resources is at the core of some Gulf countries' economic strategies. They believe that education is a must in order to develop knowledge-based economies. This week on Learning World, we looked at some higher education and training programmes in Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Bahrain.
*Abu Dhabi: the Sorbonne moves abroad*
Does getting into an elite university always mean moving far away? In Abu Dhabi the education council acknowledges that domestic universities have poor international rankings - so they're looking at importing best practice from other universities around the world.
For hundreds of years, Paris has been the only destination for anyone dreaming of studying at the Sorbonne University, one of the world's most prestigious and ancient institutions. But since 2009, the Sorbonne has also been based in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates.
A special invitation by the Emirates government, this university is part of a strategic national plan to raise higher education to international standards.
Eric Fouache is the Director of the Sorbonne in Abu Dhabi. "There's a real wish to form an elite in the UAE to replace working foreigners who currently hold the positions of responsibility", he told euronews. "Our university, like all the other universities, will form this elite. We'll do it the French way, which is a little bit different. The second point is that in developing the economy, the UAE wants to create a real platform of access to international education here in the Middle East. So it's also an economic operation".
The UAE wants to finance a francophone university in a country dominated mainly by anglophone education and they've encouraged the Sorbonne to bring typically the same experience it has back in France. This includes a mixed campus with the same curricula, a French diploma and even teachers, who fly all the way over from Paris to give intensive courses.
Jacob Schmitz is a History professor at the Sorbonne and says there are difficulties on both sides. "We have to teach to a public which is not exactly the same as we have back in France, so that is a challenge which means we must in a certain way find ways to relate to what people here want to hear. And there's another challenge which people do not really talk about, which is the challenge for us in France. The French education system hasn't changed much and these new experiences abroad actually bring us a lot of new knowledge, a lot of new blood".
The Sorbonne in Abu Dhab does not just offer its famous humanities and social studies, law and other subjects in collaboration with Paris' Descartes University. It has also developed a masters in History of Art and Museum Studies to address the Emirate's ambition to become a cultural hub. It has also built partnerships with local institutions like the Khalifa University. In turn the Khalifa University is trying to improve their quality of education, but this hasn't yet raised enough trust among local students, who still favour foreign campuses.
And the students seem to be impressed. "The teachers, the experience, the curriculum and the system they have is by far way more professional, way more experienced than other universities here in this country", one girl told euronews.
In total, 700 students from 65 different nationalities study at the Sorbonne campus. It's a reflection of the country itself, which has a big number of expatriates. It's also a good opportunity for the Sorbonne to implement its motto at the Abu Dhabi campus - "a bridge between civilisations".
*Qatar researches its way forward*
Branches of foreign universities are also popular in Qatar, which has set itself the ambitious goal of becoming a world leader in scientific research. Qatar is one of the top five countries when it comes to spending on innovation.
Of Qatar's GDP, 2.8 percent goes toward scientific research and a national research strategy was announced at the end of 2012. The country is doing its best to develop scientific research and human capacity to extend its economy beyond hydrocarbon resources. But to implement its vision, Qatar is working at even lower levels in educational institutions.
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