The education sector key to meeting Qatar's development goals


The state’s permanent constitution enshrines education as one of the basic pillars of social progress, declaring: “The state shall ensure, foster and endeavour to spread [education].” The country’s economic boom over the last two decades has transformed the Gulf state into one of the world’s wealthiest countries, with GDP per capita estimated to be more than $93,352 in 2013, according to the World Bank.

The government has outlined a clear vision of leveraging these vast resources to diversify the economy away from oil and gas revenues. Qatar’s National Vision 2030 (QNV 2030) and the National Development Strategy 2011-16 outline the country’s long-term social and economic goals and identify education as a critical vehicle for meeting these targets. The government has invested in reforming the sector and in developing new education initiatives, programmes and projects over the past two decades. Government expenditures in 2014, for example, emphasised education, which accounted for over 7% of the national budget. Private sector actors are also playing an increasingly important role in providing education services, particularly at the primary and secondary level. The presence of a large expatriate workforce has given rise to demand for different curricula and syllabi. The size of the market for private schools and other education facilities is likely to continue growing as the population expands.

YEARS OF GROWTH: Tertiary university level education is also rapidly developing in Qatar. The country’s first national institution of higher education, Qatar University (QU), is a key actor in this sector. The university’s focus on raising academic standards, introducing new disciplines and fostering a research culture has resulted in a rapid increase in enrolments over the last decade. Qatar Foundation (QF) has also played a significant role in helping develop a competitive tertiary education sector by establishing Education City, which houses the branch campuses of a number of international colleges and universities and the newly established Hamad bin Khalifa University (HBKU). QF has also invested in developing more cutting-edge research and development (R&D) facilities that are designed to support the country’s economic transition.

The pace of growth within the education sector has created its own challenges. The government’s Education and Training Sector Strategy for 2011-16 identifies a number of factors that are affecting the demand for and supply of quality education. For example, the number of new schools has led to a shortage of skilled teachers in both public and private facilities.

The rapidly expanding education sector also makes it difficult to ensure minimum standards, particularly within private schools that cater to a different syllabus and curriculum. The sector strategy also highlights the lack of alignment between the qualifications of graduates and the needs within the labour market. However, the Qatari government is actively tackling these challenges with policy and regulatory reforms, as well as focusing on major investments.

BACKGROUND: Qatar’s first education programme dates back to 1952, when the government built the first primary school for boys that had 240 students and six teachers. The Ministry of Education, which was established in 1957, helped focus more attention on the education sector. In 1973, Qatar established its first higher education institution, the College of Education, which in 1977 became QU. At that time, QU hosted 173 students: 93 women and 57 men. The university has since experienced rapid growth and today stands at the centre of Qatar’s education reform strategy, with a student population of over 16,000. Noting the need to expand the higher education offerings in Qatar and to invest more in innovative R&D, the Emir of Qatar established the QF. QF’s mandate was strengthened under QNV 2030 to serve as a driving force in the development of Qatar’s citizens, with the aim of unlocking human potential. QF’s flagship Education City has since become a major focal point in the country’s education sector.

In 2002 the government embarked on a major reform process to address weaknesses and to redesign the school system from kindergarten to grade 12. Evaluations of schools outcomes found that the K-12 system was not preparing students adequately for post-secondary education or for the job market. An outdated and rigid curriculum, a poor institutional structure and inadequate teacher training were some of the major issues that were identified through the assessments. The reforms adopted an independent management of public schools to reduce inefficiencies and to enable a more agile management structure. The government-run school system was gradually phased out.

The Supreme Education Council (SEC) was created at the same time with the mandate of setting and implementing national education policy in line with broader national development objectives. SEC housed the Education Institute, which oversees and supports independent schools; the Evaluation Institute, which develops and conducts testing of students, monitors student learning and evaluates school performance; and the Higher Education Institute, which provides advice to individuals about career options and opportunities for higher education in Qatar and abroad, and administers scholarships and grants.

A NATIONAL VISION FOR EDUCATION: The reforms and investment in the education sector are aligned with the goals of QNV 2030, which seeks to transform Qatar into “an advanced society capable of sustaining its development and providing a high standard of living for all of its people”. QNV 2030 defines the desired outcomes for the country by the year 2030 and provides a framework within which sector strategies and implementation plans have been developed. The national vision addresses major challenges facing Qatar through four interconnected pillars, with education playing a role in all of them. The national vision also places a particular focus on the role of women within Qatar’s workforce, supporting measures that expand the participation of women in higher education and that encourage Qatari women to seek employment.

The Qatar National Development Strategy 2011-16, which was launched in 2011, defines priority national initiatives and investments that are geared towards achieving the goals outlined in QNV 2030. The broad strategy integrates 14 sector-specific strategies that are all aligned to QNV 2030.

The Education and Training Sector Strategy 2011-16, which is nearing its final year of implementation, outlined 21 desired outcomes supported by 31 projects that would be established during the five-year implementation period. The scope of the education strategy is vast as it tackles the sector holistically, covering all phases of learning, including schools, universities, vocational training, and R&D.

INVESTING IN LEARNING: The government has underlined the importance of these initiatives in the national budget for 2014/15. Allocations for the education sector increased by over 7.35% from QR24.4bn ($6.7bn) in 2013/14 to a record total of QR26.3bn ($7.2bn), for the current fiscal year. While the bulk of this funding is for existing expenses, the government has identified several new projects including building 85 new schools by the end of 2015. The government has indicated that this level of investment will double over the next five years, particularly if the country’s revenue base continues growing on the back of its oil and gas revenues.

The impact of these reforms and investments are already evident. The World Economic Forum’s “Global Competitiveness Report” 2014-15, for example, ranks the country as ninth out of 144 countries for the quality of primary education and third for the quality of higher education system. Notably, the quality of math and science education in Qatar’s higher education institutions and the quality of management schools are ranked sixth and 10th out of 144, respectively.

The report also highlights some areas of weaknesses. The availability of specialised research and training services for the work force, for example, is relatively low at 19th out of 144 countries. The ranking for quality of the education system has also dropped by two places since the 2011-12 report. The ranking for internet access in schools has dropped from seventh place in 2012 to 25th place in 2014-15. Finally, the quantity of tertiary education measured in terms of enrolment rates is low, with a ranking of 107.

Qatar’s performance in the Programme for International Assessment Test (PISA) also highlights real results with significant improvements in the average test score over the last decade. PISA is a standardised test conducted every three years and is designed to support policy makers by benchmarking outcomes in the education sector. While Qatar’s outcomes have been below the OECD average, the country made the largest improvement among the 57 participating countries between 2006 and 2009. The results of the 2012 test again show steady improvements in the overall performance of students in mathematics, reading and science.

Qatar’s mean scores in reading increased by 12 points – a bigger improvement than any other country in the ranking. In mathematics, while 70% of students who took the test were ranked as low achievers, there was a 9-point improvement over the previous year. Similarly, there was a 5.4-point improvement in the sciences. Encouragingly, Qatar was also one of only five countries where girls outperformed boys in mathematics.

THE SYSTEM: The landscape of Qatar’s primary and secondary system is centred on independent publicly financed schools supplemented by a thriving industry of privately owned and operated schools. Qatar’s education reforms shifted the management structure of the country’s public schools in a bid to give administrations more autonomy and authority to manage their programmes while holding them accountable to the SEC’s broader targets for education outcomes.

The number of private and independent schools in Qatar has almost doubled over the past few years. There were a total of 767 schools as of 2013 compared with only 437 in 2010, according to the Ministry of Development Planning and Statistics’ Qatar Education Statistics Report. The number of students enrolled in these schools has increased by 47% between 2010 and 2013, rising from a total of 157,871 in 2010 to 232,345 in 2013. At the same time the number of teachers employed by these schools, however, has decreased over the same period, dropping from an estimated 26,484 in 2010 to 22,213 in 2013. This implies the student-teacher ratio in Qatar has increased from around six students per teacher in 2010 to over 10 in 2013.

The majority of students attend private schools with only 42% of the total student body, or 96,720 students, enrolled in the country’s 261 government-financed independent schools in 2013. Independent schools generally cater to the local population and are mostly single gender. In 2013 there were 131 schools for male students with a total enrolment of 46,077 students and 130 schools for female students with a total enrolment of 50,643 students. The faculty in independent schools is generally female, with a total of 9231 female teachers compared with 2899 male teachers in 2013, according to the Ministry of Development Planning and Statistics. Qatar’s independent schools are mainly clustered around the urban areas of Doha and Al Rayyan. In 2013 there were 38 independent schools for female students in Doha and 32 for males compared with 57 and 59 schools for females and males, respectively, in Al Rayyan. Al Khor, Al Wakrah, Al Daayen and Umm Salal round off the other major clusters.

The nationality of students enrolled in schools reflects the broader national population, with 63% of the student body, or 146,579 students, representing non-Qatari nationals in 2013. The vast majority of the Qatari student body is enrolled in the independent schools system. In 2013 there were 59,670 Qatari nationals in independent schools compared with 26,096 Qatari students in private schools. This compares with 109,529 foreign nationals enrolled in private schools with 37,050 foreign students enrolled in independent schools.

All independent schools fall under the purview of the SEC and are required to follow the state’s curriculum and meet specific standards for Arabic, English, mathematics and science courses. Independent schools are required to comply with financial rules and regulations imposed by the SEC, which has the mandate of assessing the schools. While the previous government-run schools were free for Qatar nationals, the SEC introduced an education voucher system to extend the subsidy to independent schools and to private schools in 2008. This reform introduced a level of competition between schools and served to give families a greater variety of choice of education programmes for their children. It also ensured that private institutions could more easily tap into the education market of Qatari nationals. Under the programme, the SEC transfers funds directly to the schools based on the number of eligible students enrolled. In 2012 the vouchers provided a subsidy of up to QR28,000 ($7675) per student per year. This is an increase of almost 30% over the subsidy in 2010, which could be a reflection of the rising cost of education in Qatar. The SEC recently announced the expansion of the education vouchers programme to an additional 71 private schools in 2014.

While there are several independent schools that offer courses in English, certain SEC reforms in 2012 changed the medium of instruction to Arabic in a number of institutions to facilitate better scores in mathematics and science. The Ideation Centre Survey also revealed that despite these changes, Qataris generally prefer independent schools over private institutes, which is one indicator that education reforms for the publicly financed school system are working.

PRIVATE SCHOOLS: Private school education in Qatar is a $433m industry, using school fees as a proxy for revenue, according to Alpen Capital. Out of 506 private schools, 67 are private Arabic schools while 439 are foreign schools. This compares with 136 private schools in 2010, of which 103 were international and 33 private Arabic schools. Both sets of private schools cater mainly to the expatriate population though the number of Qatari nationals enrolled in these institutes is gradually growing with 10,792 female and 15,304 male Qatari students in private schools in 2013. The schools include several international institutions and generally teach coursework in English. Most private schools are co-educational and provide tuition to children from pre-school nursery groups through to university entrance examinations. Alpen Capital’s GCC Education Report for 2014 notes that private schools in Qatar fall into three categories, including Arabic private schools that follow the SEC’s curriculum; international schools that offer a foreign curriculum; and embassy-sponsored private schools that cater to expatriates.

According to the report, the Qatari curriculum is the most popular among the private schools, with 50% of all private schools offering the SEC’s state curriculum followed by 31% offering the British curriculum.

EDUCATION CITY: Construction at Education City is ongoing. “There are a number of exciting projects under development, including the Qatar National Library (QNL), which will span 46,000 sq metres, and will boast a range of state-of-the-art public facilities and technologies, as well as learning spaces, performance venues and cafes. In addition, the Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies at HBKU is in the process of constructing a purpose-built facility. The overarching aim of the building is to create an environment conducive to learning and knowledge-sharing,” Saad Ebrahim Al Muhannadi, president of QF, told OBG.

According to Claudia Lux, project director at the QNL, “Firstly the QNL will serve as the national library, which will act to collect everything produced in the country, everything produced about the country outside and everything produced outside of Qatar with Qatari funding. The second function of the QNL is to operate as a university and research library, which will primarily aim to support master and PhD programmes in the country. The third function of the facility is to serve as the metropolitan public library for the city of Doha.”

UNIVERSITIES & COLLEGES: Tertiary education is evolving as the country develops its broader education strategy. Enrolment rates have been growing across the country, increasing from 4.5% of population in 1976 to 12.1% in 2012, according to Alpen Capital’s GCC Education Report. The landscape of universities and colleges in Qatar is dominated by QU and a number of branch campuses of foreign universities established in partnership with QF at Education City. QU was established in 1977, and remains the state’s oldest and largest higher education facility. The university is at the centre of Qatar’s education strategy, with current enrolment of more than 16,000 male and female students and an alumni base of over 30,000 members. The university’s growth is in line with the national education reform strategies initiated in 2003. The changes in strategy aimed to address weaknesses and to improve the quality of instructional and educational services, and promote administrative efficiency. University-wide strategic plans for 2010-13 and 2013-2016 placed research at the heart of QU, with a commitment to fielding community-driven issues in line with QNV 2030.

QF has helped draw an international presence in Qatar’s higher education sector. Education City has brought together eight strategically selected universities to Qatar. Each university addresses specific gaps in the education sector in Qatar. They include: Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar, Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, Texas A&M University at Qatar, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar, Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar, Northwestern University in Qatar, HEC Paris in Qatar and UCL Qatar. Education City now includes its first home-grown Qatari university. HBKU works closely in partnership with the branch campuses in Education City to bring a renewed focus on R&D with an array of master’s and doctoral programmes delivered via interdisciplinary graduate colleges. These include the College of Science, Engineering and Technology; the College of Humanities and Social Sciences; the College of Law and Public Policy; the College of Public Health; the College of Business; and the Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies.

OUTLOOK: Education features prominently in QNV 2030 and the National Development Strategy as a critical driver for the country’s transition into a knowledge-based economy, which is just one indicator of the importance the state places on the catalytic role of education. In parallel, the government has also invested heavily in developing the physical infrastructure and the human capital required to support the sector. The budget for the last financial year alone topped $7bn.

A number of global ranking figures and the state’s own evaluations attest to the impact of these investments so far. The pace of progress, however, also comes with other challenges. These include a shortage of skilled teachers and a challenging regulatory environment. However, the government’s long-term strategy and vision, supported by strategic investments and reforms, are likely to address these challenges and continue to support the development of an education system that supports innovation and entrepreneurship.

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The Report: Qatar 2015

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