On the day before his college graduation here, Thamer al-Kuwari wore the white robe and headdress that are customary for men in his native Qatar. But on his finger, he wore something special: an Aggie Ring, the traditional accessory of a proud Texas A&M University alumnus, which he was about to become.
Mr. Kuwari’s enthusiasm for Texas A&M may, at first blush, seem strong for someone who spent a mere four months studying in College Station. “Ever since I joined the Aggie family,” he said, “I’ve loved it with every part of my heart.”
Such is the extent to which students at Texas A&M University at Qatar consider themselves connected to the main A&M campus, more than 8,000 miles away. The Class of 2012 in Qatar boasted 87 students from 23 countries. They were required to complete the same coursework that they would at the main campus, including lessons in American and Texas history and government. The courses, taught in English, were coed, common at most Texas colleges, but a new experience for many in their first year.
As of 2011, A&M’s Qatar campus had nearly 140 active research projects totaling more than $96 million. In terms of producing graduates and securing research financing, A&M is now the highest-performing university involved in Education City, a 2,500-acre site on the edge of Doha that is dedicated to elite higher education. A&M officials said their involvement puts the university at the forefront of international education. (Texas A&M is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune.)
R. Bowen Loftin, A&M’s president, said the university is involved because of the students’ ability to represent Aggies internationally. “Ten years from now, they are going to be ministers of state and C.E.O.’s of major companies, the major drivers of that part of the world, not just Qatar,” he said. “This is Texas A&M’s contribution to that leadership development.”
Enrollment has ballooned at A&M’s Qatar campus, to 524 in spring 2012 from 29 in fall 2003, when it opened. The first graduating class, in December 2007, consisted of just two Qatari women. After this year’s record-breaking number of graduates, administrators expect enrollment to begin to plateau. “This is kind of the top of the mountain that we’ve reached,” Mr. Loftin said.
Education City is the hallmark project of the Qatar Foundation, a nonprofit organization established in 1995 by the country’s ruling emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, and led by his second wife, Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser al-Missned, who is widely recognized as the driving force behind efforts to convert the gas-rich nation into a knowledge-based society.
Six American universities — A&M, Georgetown, Carnegie Mellon, Northwestern, Virginia Commonwealth and Weill Cornell Medical College — have a presence here. A&M currently offers engineering degrees. The invitation to open a branch specializing in engineering degrees — the only ones A&M currently offers in Qatar — was first extended to the University of Texas, but U.T. declined to participate.
Because A&M is a public institution, no financing or tuition revenue from Texas can be used toward the effort in Qatar. All expenses, including the tab for the $150 million marble building that houses the A&M campus, are paid for by the Qatar Foundation, which has abundant resources.
Unlike some American universities that floundered after they came to the region and had to pull up stakes — like Michigan State University and George Mason University in the United Arab Emirates — A&M does not have to generate the revenue to support itself.
“Not many countries have that level of resource, and even if they did, they might not want to invest it, as Qatar Foundation has, in education,” said Mark Weichold, the dean and chief executive of A&M’s Qatar campus.
Qatar’s decision to pour resources into brand-name universities has occasionally met with skepticism in the region. In 2009, Virginia Aksan, a McMaster University professor who was then the president of the Middle East Studies Association, described Education City as “the marketing of an imagined education” and warned of the proliferation of “profit-motive teaching environments” abroad.
“Texas A&M is not in this for making a profit,” Mr. Weichold said, “but we can’t lose anything either.”
The university and its officials are contractually barred from revealing the specifics of the exchange between the Qatar Foundation and Texas A&M.
source: The Texas Tribune
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