Apr 30 2012
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Reality Check: Closer to a Knowledge-based economy?
There's no doubt that Qatar is working tirelessly to achieve it knowledge-based economy. The word 'knowledge' is mentioned more times than any other in the 2011-2016 National Vision. Education City is populated with some of the world's most decorated universities. But does all this necessarily mean that Qatar will achieve their vision? Does a will mean there'll be a way?
"When you don't have resources, you become resourceful." - Unfortunately the opposite of this is also true. When you have resources, there's a tendency to let these resources work for you.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) recently revealed their findings from an intriguing study regarding the above sentiment. It mapped students' motivation to study in a particular country against the total earnings of the country's natural resources as a percentage of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It basically assessed how smart kids were in countries that had an abundance or a lack of national provisions.
It looked at the performance of 15-year-old students in 65 countries on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA exam) - which tests maths, science and reading comprehension every other year. The countries which were involved in the study ranged from Singapore and Hong Kong to Qatar and Kuwait to Brazil and Mexico. No African countries were used in the study.
Schleicher went one step further. "Students in Singapore, Finland, South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan stand out as having the highest PISA scores with few natural resources, while Qatar and Kazakhstan stand out as having the highest oil-rents and the lowest PISA scores."
So when analysed, Schleicher says that "knowledge and skill have become the global currency of 21st century economics, but there is no central bank which prints this currency. Everyone has to decide on their own how much they will print."
Limitations of labour markets
Further to this, the Brookings Center Doha has recently published a study on the career attitudes and motivations of university students and recent graduates in Qatar and the UAE. Its aim was to identify the range of obstacles that exist in the transition between education and employment.
The paper found that policies must address the limitations of labour markets and the effects these limitations have on employment choices of young people. Otherwise high salary differentials between public and private sector employment and limited awareness of entrepreneurial support mean that the status quo of high public sector employment is likely to persist.
It reveals that there is a need to reform the public sector itself - create more state-owned enterprises which comply with market-oriented, performance-based management rules, while encouraging mobility between public and private sectors. Other measures such as introducing greater parity between public and private sector pay, increasing young peoples' employability and soft skill levels and removing barriers to business start-up and female employment.
The study concludes that a new strategic framework should be introduced to facilitate young people's transition from education to employment and this should go beyond the objectives of nationalisation targets, and address barriers such as salary level and a lack of training, while also seeking to enhance productivity, mobility and innovation in the workforce, as well as ensuring that all policies and programmes include systems of monitoring and evaluation which had been conspicuously absent in the past.
A slippery slope?
When looking at the above in isolation, the picture certainly does look pretty bleak for Qatar as a whole. The OECD report indicates that the country's youth are too relaxed in their approach to education because its vast reserves of oil and gas will sustain their lifestyles, while Brookings understands that they are happy to land themselves into a cosy public-sector job, knowing they will earn more here than they ever will in the private sector. Qatar seems to be a society which has no instinct or motivation for learning or honing skills to compete.
Everette Dennis, Dean and CEO at NorthWestern University-Qatar (NU-Q) says: "I think there's a lot of effort through the Supreme Council of Education (SEC) to assess and evaluate performance going all the way back to grade school and high school. That's conceivable very visionary depending on how it's all carried out. There's a desire to get up to speed with the rest of the world and that's a positive thing. There's a lot of emphasis on the teaching of language, a lot of emphasis on arts and culture, the kind of education that has relevance to the society, whether it's preparing people for careers in extractive industries or the cultural sector.
"A lot of what we are doing here is of course tied to the Emir's 2030 goals, the National Vision, of building a knowledge-based economy. We think that our students will be part of the content creation for knowledge-based industries in the non-fiction and journalistic sector. We try to be close to what's developing and we want to be part of it. All these growing enterprises in Qatar need a media and a communications connection, so we want to ride on their wave and contribute as much as we can."
Robert Monroe, Associate Dean at Carnegie Mellon University says that Qatar has incredibly ambitious goals for the education of its people and they are acting on those goals with strength and vision in a very impressive way.
"There are few countries in the world investing as much energy and resources into building a great education system as Qatar," he claims. "The improvements are being implemented from K-12, to the Community College of Qatar and the College of the North Atlantic - Qatar, all the way through improvements and expansion at QU and the Education City campuses. It will take a decade or longer for the benefits of all of these efforts to become obvious, but if the efforts are sustained over time they will provide Qatar with the people and expertise needed to build the knowledge based economy envisioned in the Qatar National Vision 2030."
Producers, not consumers
It's clear that there is optimism from the corridors of Education City regarding Qatar's prospects of overcoming their perceived defects in education standards. These colleges have brought a wealth of experience and knowledge here, coupled with an ability to transfer knowledge to willing and able students. But as HE Sheikh Abdulla bin Ali Al-Thani, the Vice President, Education, at Qatar Foundation said in his keynote speech at QITCOM 2012, even this may not be enough. In the Arabic world, he contends, they have become consumers of knowledge instead of producers of it, and the producers love them for it.
"They don't want us to be producers, they only want us to consume their knowledge," he said. "We are the same though. We only want them to consume our oil and gas. The Chairman of Google was in the region recently and somebody asked him how we can change from being consumers to producers and his candid answer was 'Get up and do it'.
"Qatar has placed 2.8% of its GDP on research and development and they have employed some highly-qualified people to manage this pool. We have established an Education City where the best universities in the world are coming to work in. This is a major advantage to lead us to our knowledge-based economy. This is our chance - this opportunity might never come again."
"Talent is the most important thing - talent will be the driving force behind the knowledge-based economy, and the engine for this is education, education, education," he continued. "We keep talking about knowledge transfer and technology transfer, but we should be focusing on talent transfer. Technology is safe as it can be bought, knowledge is accessible on these devices, but developing talent will be the key to the knowledge-based economy.
"Talent can produce technology and knowledge and if you want proof of this, look to India and China. There are supremely talented people in these countries that went to the United States, got the knowledge and came home to their home countries and applied this there and helped their country grow and compete. They didn't come up with technology or knowledge, they produced talented students who understood how to learn, how to work, how to set up a profitable company."
What are the new universities at Education City doing to impress this 'talent transfer' mantra that is now becoming so important in developing entrepreneurs and innovators who will produce knowledge, and not perpetuate an economy of consuming it? Qatar is interested in the process of knowledge creation; they don't just want to produce engineers or scientists, they want to produce engineers and scientists who produce knowledge for consumption elsewhere - selling knowledge instead of hydro-carbons if you like.
Everette at NU-Q explains that their priority is to make sure their graduates have a competent liberal arts education and a capacity to know and understand the field they are going into.
"A school like this is initially preparing people for entry level. If they're going to be competent at this level, you'd like them to be prepared to move into a managerial or a leadership role. We provide this - we want our students to have a certain level of expertise, but also understand how they can use this to grow further.
"We do this in a number of ways. We had a job fair recently where 20-25 local firms were interacting with our students. They go on internships to different media organisations around the city or businesses that need communication skills. We sent students on special summer courses - or courses during their breaks - where they might cover a story at a refugee camp in Jordan, or an international event in Geneva. About 39% of our total admissions are Qatari students - this obviously fluctuates year-on-year."
Monroe at Carnegie Mellon says his university is founded on the firm belief that through the encouragement of scientific inquiry and the promotion of practical preparedness, they can provide a generation of thinkers, business leaders, researchers and scientists.
"Core values of innovation, creativity, collaboration and problem solving provide the foundation for everything we do," he says. "Through our Office of Professional Development, the university connects students with valuable internship and career opportunities. More than 80 percent of Carnegie Mellon graduates complete at least one internship programme, and some students take on multiple internships before graduation. Our corporate partners span a wide range of industries in Qatar. We have also seen an increase in international internships, with students gaining experience with financial firms on Wall Street, consulting companies in Singapore and Dubai, and research organisations in India, Tanzania and Bangladesh."
© Qatar Today 2012
© Copyright Zawya. All Rights Reserved.
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