STUDENTS FROM OVER 20 NATIONALITIES

Qatar 2019 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Samuel Evans, Director of UCL, on the Gulf embargo, students' post-graduation trajectories, and the outlook for Qatar's education sector.

How has the embargo impacted your operations?

Qatar has made a remarkable show with the embargo. The country's ability to keep business as usual going in this context is an outstanding example of the quality of the Qatari leadership. UCL Qatar has benefited from that stability, allowing it to continue focusing on the delivery of its academic and research mission. For us at UCL Qatar, the progressive increases we were seeing year on year in our student recruitment were directly affected by the embargo; we are a graduate school, and the blockade occurred in the middle of our recruitment cycle, which usually ends in late July. We always have an international mix, with on average 20 countries represented in our student population, and the immediate impact of the embargo was on regional recruitment, but our international recruitment was also affected.

Is UCL one of the few players that specialize in library and museum-related studies?

We are the only player, no other institution in Qatar offers any postgraduate degree in similar subjects. Our post-graduate students need to meet UCL's extremely stringent entry requirements, which allows us to attract some of the best students, certainly regionally. According to one of the main global ranking agencies, UCL is a top 10 university globally and we compete successfully with Oxford, Cambridge and the Ivy League colleges. We are not a government-sponsored institution; UCL works in Qatar in partnership with the Qatar Foundation, and operate under our own academic regime.

Why did UCL decide to set up in Doha and not China, India, or Dubai, for example?

This goes back to the vision of the Qatar Foundation, which was able to bring together leading global universities in one place in Education City. It is the mix and attraction of this international campus, and the significant academic, research and infrastructure investment that enables us to better leverage the UCL brand to help create a unique proposition for the Qatar Foundation.

Do your students mostly look for work in their home countries when they graduate or do they go elsewhere to further their careers?

By coming to UCL, our students seek a prestigious UK stamp that will take them further. Many people come here because they are interested in studying their subjects with a special focus on the Middle East and would like to practice in the Middle East. However, for international students, their ability to seamlessly move into local employment is definitely made more difficult by the fact that currently their student visas expire two weeks after graduation. Thus, people who want to work here and who are sought after by employers in the region must apply from overseas, and will certainly start to look for employment in their home or neighbouring countries. This is a matter which the Qatar Foundation is discussing with the Ministry of the Interior, and we look forward to hearing on progress on this matter. Certainly a visa model that lets the potential workforce we are creating as an international campus flow into the local labour market will be of benefit in helping shape a knowledge economy. For now, the human talent we are helping to create should be focussed on helping Qatar in the first instance. At the moment many of our students will return to their home countries and will be immediately employable there.

Will UCL continue to be associated with Qatar following the school's decision to not renew its contract in 2020?

UCL made a strategic decision a few years ago to discontinue its international campuses. In consultation with the Qatar Foundation, UCL intends to complete its current operation in Qatar in October 2020. UCL is currently expanding our London operation and because we are a global university, we do not necessarily have to partner with other institutions through bricks and mortar. We can do it through technology and travel where needed. Thus, we are working with the Qatar Foundation and other national stakeholders on how we can continue our relationship to achieve the same outcomes, through a different operating model.

What is your outlook for Qatar's education sector?

The next phase of education in Qatar will offer a clearer line of sight between the needs of the country and the education focus. This will be aligned with the development of a more coherent Research & Development pipeline, made up of people who are educated to an advanced standard, know how to do research, and move through the international workforce bringing their innovation ideas to the mix. This is when R&D can take on an expanded role in economic diversification. The Qatar Foundation has been given the lead on two of the six pillars of Qatar's national plan, one of which is Research and Innovation. A great deal of the work being done is about aligning the education system with the needs of Qatar's development strategy, such as diversification, growth, and helping closing the productivity gap through education. Qatar will eventually need to run its own higher education system and become self-sustaining in terms of its higher education population, however, and for the short to medium term, to maintain a critical mass, it will need to think about continuing to partner with the big providers of education. It is a simple question of demographics because the population is 2.6 million and fewer than 300,000 are Qataris. Based on the OECD average, if Qatar aspires to be a knowledge-based economy, 4% of the population must have an advanced degree. Thus, partnering arrangements with leading educational research providers will continue to be a feature longer term. Qatar is rapidly getting there.