Qatar built a literal city for education
Education is a competitive business. We can wonder if this should be the case, and there are many reasons why we would all be better off if it wasn’t. But he is.
The easiest place to attend an educational competition is school-to-school, where institutions compete for reputation, funding, and students. But at a broader level, a very real and very substantial educational market exists from country to country.
It is more than a question of national pride. Nations that invest in their colleges and universities, build labs, incubators and libraries, and hire the best teachers not only attract lucrative and stabilizing foreign students, they generate educated and rational citizens and create innovations that transform economies.
Silicon Valley, for example, would never have become Silicon Valley without Stanford and Berkeley. And that’s why some countries, China for example, are investing so much money to try to recreate it. Build schools and bet on the innovation to follow.
In this global race to invest in education, there is one player that should grab everyone’s attention: Qatar. The relatively small country on the Arabian Peninsula is not playing. Not only does Qatar, through its namesake Qatar Foundation, host one of the world’s most prestigious educational conferences and initiatives at WISE, but the foundation has also built a literal city – Education City – around investing in education. , innovation and infrastructure.
City is not a cute name to conjure up big images. It is in fact the size of a city. And having had the honor of visiting Education City recently, I can tell you it’s the kind of place that defies even the most wacky imaginations. It’s the kind of place you would build if you had a blank canvas of open land and virtually limitless resources. Education City is the bold, ambitious endeavor that we in the United States simply don’t do anymore – or at least haven’t even attempted since the days of the Robber Barons or Land Grant Universities.
Education City was built as an end-to-end educational community with schools and programs from early childhood to doctoral and advanced research. It has high-tech labs, an educational innovation incubator, and is already home to eight healthy foreign universities, all of which share an interconnected and impressive campus. Of those eight, six are American – Cornell, Georgetown, Texas A&M, Virginia Commonwealth, Northwestern, and Carnegie Mellon.
It features Oxford-esque landscaping designed to evoke campus greens and a luxurious air-conditioned tram service connecting the various centers of the city. The impressive Qatar National Library and Convention Center and one of the Qatar World Cup football stadiums are also located on campus. Education City is obviously designed to impress. It’s new, sparkling and avant-garde.
It’s not meant to sound dismissive. The school I attended, for example, is very well regarded but its facilities were downright stoic and decrepit. He lacked warmth. The windows were broken or leaking. The few elevators he had rarely worked. Education City is the opposite of this. It may not yet have found its reputation with a bang, but I’m sure its elevators are working.
Also consider that perhaps the most important factor is not what Education City is, but where it is located. Founded in culturally-open, western-facing Qatar, the richest county on the planet, Education City looks like a powder keg of creative and educational energy. It is clear that this is what Qatar has bet on.
That’s why what Qatar does is really important. Education is the type of investment that pays off both well and over a long period. So Education City doesn’t just stand out – it sure will. It’s not just vanity, it’s future prosperity.
The juxtaposition with the state of higher education affairs that we see in the United States is shocking. Elsewhere, they build. They enhance the results of education by financing its inputs. Other countries are building computer labs and libraries as we push schools to get rid of their âexpensiveâ physical buildings and land campuses and cut public funding for colleges, increasingly passing the costs onto the very people who need it. ‘they’re supposed to help.
The saying goes, you invest in what you value. And the investment – a major investment – in education is happening. People are literally building better systems, better educational structures by design. It doesn’t necessarily happen here. No more.
It makes you wonder whether in 30 or 20 or even ten years we will regret having allowed our higher education infrastructure to collapse, both literally and figuratively. Distractions like student debt and ridiculous âreturn on investmentâ standards have made us forget that we are in a competitive global environment for education. The others know it. And they play to win it.