Cisco, KAUST, and Microsoft: hybrid offerings for global higher ed

The globalization of higher education has been going hand in hand with novel experiments in the provision of education services, as well as in the production of knowledge via R&D. These experiments have been enabled by the broad but highly uneven liberalization of regulatory systems, and spurred on by the perception (and sometimes reality) of inadequate levels of state support for higher education and research. A myriad of policies, programs and projects, of an increasingly sophisticated nature, are now bringing many of these experiments to life.

Experimentation is also being facilitated on some traditional public university campuses, with hybrid units in development (e.g., see the Oxford-Man Institute of Quantitative Finance), offers to select foreign universities to establish a formal presence on another campus (e.g., see this entry regarding the University of Warwick), and even private ‘campuses’ under construction by firms that lease space to mobile higher education service providers (e.g., see this entry on Chaska’s ‘Field of Dreams’).

Over the last few weeks a variety of examples of such institutional experimentation have bubbled up.

Cisco Systems, Inc.

First, the San Jose-based firm, Cisco Systems, Inc., announced that its Networking Academy, which has been in operation since 1997:

has achieved a key milestone with a record 47 percent increase in the total number of students enrolled in Morocco in the past 12 months. Since the program’s inception, this brings the total number of Networking Academy students over 7,500. Each student undergoes a comprehensive technology-based training curriculum that can provide them with skills which they can utilize in their future professional careers.

According to Cisco, its Networking Academy provides educational services in more than 160 countries, reaching 600,000 students per year. The Network Academy topics (e.g., LANs, IT networks, network infrastructure essentials) can be standardized in a relatively easy manner, which enables Cisco to offer the same “high-quality education, supported by online content and assessments, performance tracking, hands-on labs, and interactive learning tools”, across all 160 countries.

And growth is rapid: in Morocco, for example:

The first Networking Academy in Morocco started in Ain Bordja in February 2001, long before Cisco’s office in Morocco was established. Today, the total number of Networking Academies has grown to 39 throughout the entire Kingdom with many more new Academies across Morocco to be announced in the very near future.

Cisco’s growth in providing these education services partly reflects problems in the Moroccan higher education system (see, for example, the World Bank’s 2008 report The Road Not Traveled: Education Reform in the Middle East and North Africa). It is noteworthy that nearly 1/3 of the students are female; a level of enrollment perceived my most analysts of the region to be significant and positive.

Further information on the Networking Academy is available in this short video clip. This initiative is akin to the Oracle Corporation‘s Oracle Academy, which has “partnered with more than 3,400 institutions and supported 397,000 students across 83 countries“. Today, coincidentally, marks the official opening of the Oracle Academy of the Hanoi University and Hanoi University of Commerce in Vietnam.

King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST)

Second, over the last week the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), an institution we have profiled several times (see here and here), announced a series of major funding initiatives that will support other universities, around the world, to develop major R&D initiatives. The logic is to kick-start the creation of KAUST’s global networks (recalling that the KAUST campus is only now being built from scratch, as one of many photographs from the KAUST website, conveys).

KAUST’s Global Research Partnership (GRP) will be funding:

So three American universities, and one UK university. Further information on these centers can be found here.

KAUST also announced that its Center-in-Development scheme (note the in development moniker) will be funding one Saudi, one Asian and one European university in the form of:

Further information on these initiatives can be located here.

Thus we have a Saudi institution, which is really an instantaneously endowed foundation (to the tune of $10 billion), projecting itself out via funded programs, and translating institutional and researcher agendas in key centres of scientific calculation (to use some Latourian phrases), so as to enable itself to morph into a globally recognized, respected, and highly networked science and technology university within five years. Moreover, KAUST is forging ties with other types of knowledge-related institutions, including the US Library of Congress, so as to:

complement its academic and research programs in cutting-edge science and engineering with research and outreach programs aimed at giving students and faculty an appreciation of the rich history of scientific inquiry and discovery in the Arab and Islamic worlds.

Microsoft & Cisco

Finally, my own university, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has embarked upon two initiatives that splice together the institutional fabrics of a major public university, and select private sector firms (in software and the life sciences), with both initiatives facilitated by the alumni effect (another topic we have recently written about).

In the first, Seattle-based Microsoft is contributing substantial support to help UW-Madison open the Microsoft Jim Gray Systems Lab, which will focus on the advanced development of database systems. As the formal UW-Madison press release notes, this lab is:

helping expand on a highly productive 20-year research and alumni relationship between the company and the University of Wisconsin-Madison computer sciences department.

The Microsoft Jim Gray Systems Lab, named in honor of the Microsoft executive who was a founding father of the database industry, will open in downtown Madison under the direction of UW-Madison emeritus computer sciences professor, and Microsoft Technical Fellow, David DeWitt, one of the world leaders in database research.

“Microsoft is here because we are doing some of the best database work in the world and we have produced scores of graduates who have gone on to successful careers in the industry,” says DeWitt. “Our focus will be on continuing the production of talented graduate students and taking on some of the great challenges in database systems.”

David DeWitt (pictured above) was the John P. Morgridge Professor of Computer Sciences, though he has now taken up emeritus status to focus on this initiative. Further information on DeWitt and this scheme is available here.

And returning to the Cisco theme, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) sponsored a ground breaking ceremony last Friday for the development of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery (WID), a $150 million project we briefly profiled here. WID is being developed with funding and other forms of support from UW-Madison, WARF, John and Tashia Morgridge (he is the former CEO of Cisco, while she is a former special education teacher), and the State of Wisconsin.

WID will open in 2010, though it is already in action via the efforts of WID’s interim director Marsha Mailick Selzer, and pioneer stem cell researcher, James Thomson. It is worth noting, though, that even the private component of WID (the Morgridge Institute for Research) is not-for-profit. This said the competitive impulse was loud and clear at the opening ceremony, according to the local newspaper reporter that covered the event:

The building will house an ambitious effort by the state to capture what Doyle hopes to be 10 percent of the market in regenerative medicine and stem cell technologies by 2015. The building is the centerpiece of a $750 million inititiave to develop stem cell research and biotechnology in Wisconsin.

So experiments aplenty. Fortunately, from the perspective of 7,500 Moroccan students, and UW-Madison’s researchers, Cisco Kid was a friend of mine (it’s bad, I know :)).

Kris Olds

Liberal education venturing abroad?: American universities in the Middle East

Note: GlobalHigherEd will post brief entries by guest contributors from time to time. This one is by Amy W. Newhall ( of the University of Arizona.

In late September yet another American university announced an agreement to set up educational and research programs in the Gulf. The ambitious agreement between Michigan State University and the Dubai governmental entity TECOM Investments will “mesh MSU’s academic strengths with regional needs. MSU in Dubai is planning initially to offer not-for profit bachelor’s and master’s degree programs.” The new programs will be located in Dubai International Academic City, a free trade zone which is in keeping with TECOM’s stated goal to “Establish, own and promote various ventures in affiliated free trade zones, including educational institutions and research centers; investment; telecommunication and telecommunication equipment and accessories; film festival; media and broadcasting.”

Just which programs will mesh with what regional needs have not yet been revealed but agreements in other Gulf states such as the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait suggest they all will be in technical fields: medicine, foreign service, business administration, computer science, and engineering.

While American technical education is widely admired, its tradition of liberal education is less highly regarded according to a recent (June 2007) report titled Studying the American Way: An Assessment of American-Style Higher Education in Arab Countries by Shafeeq Ghabra and Margreet Arnold. Link here or here for a PDF copy of the study. Elements of liberal education curricula are often deemed to be at odds with local religious, political and cultural traditions. In some countries, teaching materials have been censored or bowdlerized and teaching methods seriously circumscribed. The summary firing of an instructor who discussed the Danish cartoon controversy and showed some of the cartoons in class at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed University in March 2006 illustrates the gulf between local and American understandings of protected speech, legitimate classroom activities and academic freedom. No procedural safeguards or processes were in place to protect the teacher’s rights nor were any processes by which she could contest the allegations and actions taken against her, according to statements on the matter. Zayed is not a branch US campus; so far it is only a candidate for accreditation in the US. It is not clear whether accrediting agencies take into account the existence or the absence of standard professional policies, regulations and grievance procedures in their accreditation assessments.

MSU’s deal mirrors that of more narrowly focused single program branch campuses run in Qatar by five different American universities, Carnegie-Mellon, Georgetown, Virginia Commonwealth, Weill Medical College of Cornell and Texas A&M. [See today’s GlobalHigherEd entry on Qatar] They are operated by their home campuses with the same admissions standards and curriculum. Each home campus has “full academic authority and quality control over courses and programs.” Virginia Commonwealth University runs the School of the Arts in Qatar, one of the oldest of the branch institutions and their students receive a VCU degree . VCU maintains complete control over hiring and retention. However, all instructors require a visa to work in Qatar and that granting power remains in the hands of the state. Visas can be revoked at any time.

New York University (NYU) has been exploring the possibility of developing a mini-university in Abu Dhabi complete with programs in humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. Administrators envision a full undergraduate program and eventually some graduate ones. The new Abu Dhabi school would serve students from all over the region in addition to NYU study abroad students. Faculty from New York would supplement permanent faculty based in country. The proposal has generated considerable and sometimes contentious discussion on the NYU campus. Serious questions have been raised concerning “academic freedom, equal access and opportunities for women and Jews and human rights issues.” NYU prides itself on having one of the largest (if not the largest) study abroad program in the world. Just how this latest proposal fits in with its own educational program and overall objectives is not clear, nor is it clear how the proposed fields of study will appeal to the different sets of students.

Amy Newhall

Qatar’s ‘Education City’: Can it be a state of the art ‘Cathedral in the Desert’?

Note: GlobalHigherEd will post brief entries by guest contributors from time to time. The first of several that will appear in the next two weeks is by May Wazzan <>, a graduate student at the London School of Economics.


The small but very wealthy state of Qatar has recently announced an integral part of its future vision; reinventing itself as a more economically diversified, less hydrocarbon- dependent, Knowledge Economy (KE). The formulation of the parameters of this vision has been assisted by the World Bank. To this end, the past five years have brought budget constraint free, billion dollar reform plans in areas such as Education, ICT, R&D, and the Labor Market; areas where the notion of the KE has cast prominent policy implications. Against this background, Qatar Foundation, a private-government sponsored institution, has launched the massive ‘Education City’ (EC) in Doha, the capital city. EC is to play a key part in Qatar’s ‘KE vision’, and its objectives of becoming the innovative hub for higher education and Science and Technology development and research in the region.


Figure 1: Qatar faces an oil-dependency ratio higher than of the average GCC ratio in terms of oil revenue to total government revenue and oil exports to total experts, making diversification an urgent matter on the country’s policy agenda

Source: Fasano & Iqbal, 2003

EC houses branches of several American universities (including Carnegie Mellon, Texas A&M, Cornell, Georgetown, and Virginia Commonwealth), strategically selected to teach different disciplines within the free- zone campus, work autonomously and under the same standards as their home campuses. QF offers the universities comprehensive financing, student fees go back to the home campuses but the universities are conditioned to make purchasing contracts locally. In 2006, 2,018 students were enrolled in EC. Up till today, EC has graduated 130 students. The campus is networked by an advanced IT infrastructure which is expected to benefit the entire region, given that it will connect different institutions in the Middle East. Within the campus, a new Science and Technology Park was recently launched to house local and international firms which will engage in science and technology development and research. Theoretically, the idea of EC corresponds to the Triple Helix Model (Etzkowitz & Leydesdorff, 2000), of the public, private, and academic configuration, expected to spur innovation. The universities at EC will serve as the academic infrastructure for the park’s research oriented science firms.


But will EC deliver its promises to the Qatari Economy? EC faces the need to balance the role of the universities as educators and the use of universities as an ‘export industry’. The extent of local multiplier and spillover effects depends on the commitment of the universities and the willingness and incentives of Qatari nationals to engage in knowledge acquisition. The latter still faces shy doubts. Besides, one may be concerned about the strength of the foreign universities’ cultural and social synergies with the country which may create the threat of excessive commercialization of the university, at the expense of its embededness. For example, EC is the first co-education institute in Qatar and the use of advanced English is not so common yet. The Science and Technology Park’s location within the EC is strategic, especially if complimented by a serious commitment to engage local Qatari’s in R&D, something which has never been part of the Qatari mindset before. Without a doubt, EC is a state of the art, ambitious and promising venture. However, it is extremely important to ensure that EC doesn’t end up as solely a playground for foreign establishments. Kevin Morgan (1997) referred to the danger of installing ‘cathedrals in the desert’: facilities which are seriously under-utilized by local firms. Ironically, Qatar is literally a desert land.


Etzkowitz, H., Leydesdorff, L. (2000). The dynamics of innovation: from National Systems and Mode 2 to a Triple Helix of university-industry-government relations. Research Policy, 29, 109-23.

Fasano U., Iqbal Z. (2003). GCC Countries: From Oil Dependence to Diversification. Washington, D.C.: International Monetary Fund.

Knowledge Economy 2020: A Perfect Vision. (2007, June). Qatar Today.

Qatar Population Census. (2003). March 2003 Population Census, State of Qatar.

Morgan K. (1997). The Learning Region: Institutions, Innovation and Regional Renewal. Regional Studies, 31:5, 491 – 503.

May Wazzan