Seeking new insights on the ‘Evolving Regulatory Context for Private Education in Emerging Economies’

Discourses on private higher education, and the role of private higher education in spurring on the globalization of higher education process, are emerging in a variety of contexts: informal discussions, classrooms, workshops and conferences, publications, protests, websites, and structured and unstructured policy dialogues.

is designed to help shed light on where thinking about the construction of new knowledge spaces takes place, and when possible what the content of such thinking is.

ifcbrochureOn the former role, it is worth noting that there are some ongoing on-line deliberations between now and 14 November about the “Evolving Regulatory Context for Private Education in Emerging Economies”. The deliberations are being sponsored by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), and more specifically the IFC’s EdInvest. The IFC is an institution that is part of the World Bank Group. Our brief entry in October (‘”Frontier markets”, the International Finance Corporation, and development’) explains a little more about the IFC, and provides a variety of links to this increasingly important global higher ed institution.

An introduction to the forum can be found here. The general discussion thread can be accessed by following the link along the right margin to Private Education Forum, or by following this link.

Key questions in the discussion include, according to the IFC:

Week 1 – November 3 to 7: What are the major challenges in regulating private education and how might they be overcome?

Week 2 – November 10 to 14: Should government involve private providers in policy and decision making relating to the role of the private sector? If so, what are the most effective mechanisms for doing this? If not, why not?

The online discussion that is underway now is an outcome of an earlier (May 2008) international conference that was attended by a small group of government representatives, accreditation officials, private providers, and World Bank Group officials. According to Svava Bjarnason, Senior Education Specialist of the IFC, the purpose of the May event was to:

begin a dialogue between the various players concerning how the regulatory context is evolving in relation to private sector providers. At the close of that event we agreed to continue the dialogue and to host an online discussion to engage the wider community in the debate.

This two week long dialogue is underway until 14 November so check it out now if you want to contribute.

Apart from the content, it is worth noting that this IFC-sponsored event, like the broader (more ‘open’) national policy dialogues that have been occurring in Australia and the UK (see our entry ‘Higher education policy-making, stake-holder democracy and the economics of attention’), is an experiment in the use of digital technology to facilitate (it is hoped) debate, innovative thinking, and new insights.  Yet as we noted in our previous entry:

new technologies operate within an ‘economy of attention’ – a point well made by Richard Latham in his influential 2006 book The Economics of Attention: Style and Substance in the Age of Information.

Now the essential point Latham is making is that we live in an information economy, and information is not in short supply. In fact, argues Latham, we are “drowning in it”. What is in short supply is ‘attention’! To grab attention, we need stylistic devices and strategies so that what Latham calls ‘stuff’—like debating the future directions for higher education—moves from the periphery to the center of attention.

Thus the IFC’s on-line discussion is worth tuning into and contributing to for obvious content-specific reasons, while the nature of the forum (on-line, open, two weeks long) can also be assessed as a vehicle to enable geographically dispersed voices to engage. The IFC’s hope is, we are guessing, that the discussion enables the generation of some new insights on a topic (the “Evolving Regulatory Context for Private Education in Emerging Economies”) that clearly needs to be thought about, and with considerable care and attention.

Kris Olds & Susan Robertson

UBV celebrates 5 years of “education revolution”

The Bolivarian University of Venezuela (UBV) – which refers to itself as the “House of Knowledges” – is celebrating its first five years, as the Bolivarian News Agency ABN reports. According to the report, the UBV is key to the revolutionary commitment of “constructing a Venezuela for all Venezuelans, in which social justice and equality rules”. The democratisation of higher education is envisaged as being achieved through the strategy of municipalisation, which means that the state-funded university is operating in all 335 municipalities, as well as in prisons and factories, to facilitate equal access opportunities.

A related article cites Education Minister, Héctor Navarro, stating the Venezuela has already achieved the Millennium Development Goals with respect to education, as well as Venezuela being one of the countries with the highest participation in higher education relative to its population. UBV’s teaching body is currently participating in an integral programme for the “education of educators”, which is centred around the politico-ethical education of the teacher in the construction of the new subjectivity, radical pedagogy, critical epistemology, and strategic planning. UBV’s director Yadira Córdova is quoted saying:

Making revolution in a university that takes pride in being revolutionary implies constructing the revolutionary subject, a political subject capable of taking up the project of this university as part of the national revolutionary project. As part of the Latin American transformation project, as part of the project of the liberation of the oppressed peoples of the world.

Indeed, there appears to be some reason to share the Venezuelan optimism. The graphs shown here, produced from data obtained from the World Bank and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), confirm that under Chávez, participation at all educational levels has substantially increased (including nursery, not displayed in the graphs).

Source: Produced from Education Trends and Comparisons, at (accessed 20/05/2008).

Source: Produced from Social Indicators and Statistics (BADEINSO). Last accessed 20/05/2008,

Nevertheless, there is reason for concern with respect to justice and equality. While under the Bolivarian government all social strata have gained in access to higher education, the very large gap between the poorer and wealthier sectors remains wider than in the early 1980s. One conclusion, then, that we might draw is that the wealthy, in fact, remain the absolute winners of the past decades.

Thomas Muhr

‘Frontier markets’, the International Finance Corporation, and development

The University World News is carrying a report this week on a conference to be held (14-16th May, 2008) in Washington DC, hosted by a less well known outfit in the World Bank Group – the International Finance Corporation (IFC). Better known to most is the IFC’s cousin, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, generally referred to as the World Bank.

The conference, titled ‘Investing in the Future: Innovation in Private Education’ will invite participants to discuss what the IFC regards as the significant benefits for developing countries of engaging the (for-profit) private sector in delivering tertiary education.

The IFC is currently the largest multilateral agency funding private education in the world. One way of understanding the difference between the World Bank and the IFC is that while the World Bank finances projects with sovereign guarantees, the IFC finances projects without sovereign guarantees.

In other words, the IFC is primarily active in private sector projects, and in this respect it is a profit-oriented financial institution. Like a bank, IFC lends or invests its own funds and borrowed funds to its customers, and expects to make a sufficient risk-adjusted return on its global portfolio of projects.

Over the past decade, the IFC has taken a keen interest in the education sector. In 2001 the IFC published its Education Sector Strategy (with advice from the Education Sector of the World Bank). According to the IFC, the role of the private sector lies in both the provision and financing of education. This role is expected to grow, with increased pressure for more education as a result of the Education for All initiatives, and as human capital formation is advanced as a result of knowledge economy policies.

From 2000 to 2007, IFC provided $237 million in financing to 37 private education projects in 20 developing countries. The projects had a total value of $839 million.

However, rating agency Standard and Poor’s 2007 Annual Report on the IFC has suggested the most profitable and secure investments are likely to be in the higher education as opposed to the schooling sector.

Its current medium term investment strategy is to open up ‘frontier markets’ in Africa and the Middle East (Standard and Poor’s, 2007).

In an interview with the University World News, IFC Executive Vice-president Lars Thunell is quoted as saying:

Global spending on education has risen substantially over the past decade. There is a demand for more and better services, and governments are embracing private sector participation as a way to increase quality and efficiency. Nowhere is this felt more keenly than in the emerging markets, where demand is presenting significant opportunities.

Claims that for-profit private firms necessarily provide more efficient and better quality services, including in sectors like education is vague, and the evidence provided to date is thin.

However, the more important issue is that, like the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) (see our recent report on the GATS), the IFC sees education as a ‘frontier market’ in the emerging economies, and is willing to lend funds to investors in order to advance this project. It is also ready to ‘up’ its levels of investment in order to help this project along.

We will likely see more of the IFC as efforts to advance the privatization of education move ahead and developing countries are seen to be ripe for the picking. What is crucial, then, is that we become better informed about actors, like the IFC, and their role in the global governance of higher education. This will enable us to see the very complex way in which this sector is not only developing but is being strategically progressed by actors that are often off the analytical radar of many people and institutions.

Susan Robertson

15 May update: see Inside Higher Ed‘s story ‘The private sector role in global higher education‘ for a report from Day 1 of the conference. See also this report on the conference by World University News.

Implementing the Bologna process in Portugal: ‘how can we know the dance from the dancer?’

Editor’s note: This entry on Bologna and Portugal is one of a series of entries examining the role of the Bologna Process in the construction of the European Higher Education Area (see recent entries by Patricia Leon, Per Nyborg and Kris Olds) and exploring the consequences for member states and beyond. antonio-m.jpgToday’s entry has kindly been prepared by Dr. António M. Magalhães, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences, Universidade do Porto, Portugal, and Senior Researcher with the Centre for Research in Higher Education Policies (CIPES). Antonio has been carrying out major research and written extensively on higher education governance and its transformation in both Portugal and Europe.

The development of the Bologna process in Portugal must be understood in the context of a tension between the consolidation of mass higher education and quality improvement of the system. Some analysts recognize a clear economic determination at the origin of this process. And, as the European Commission has assumed a leading role in the process, higher education policies closely articulate with the EU strategies – to become in the near future the most competitive and socially consolidated region of the world. Other analysts and institutional leaders stress other dimensions of the process.

In Portugal, by 1974, only about 7% of the relevant age group participated in higher education. After the 1974 Revolution the political stance was one of expanding higher education from an elite status, for both social and economic reasons. These efforts were confronted with a number of paradoxes resulting from the contradiction between equity goals and other factors, such as the economic context, lack of resources, pressures from the World Bank and the IMF, etc.

The public polytechnics and the private sector made a major contribution to the massification of the system. After an almost eightfold increase in enrolments, there has now been a recent decline in this trend, creating a situation of competition for students and new ‘managing’ paradoxes between the need to attract students, quality standards, and institutional identities.

The expansion period has now come to an end. By the mid-1990s, when gross participation rate of the relevant age cohort was over 40%, the government changed its priority from expansion to consolidation, meaning by that it was mainly concerned with the quality of higher education and not greater access.

The system had developed into a network of institutions and study programs that did not seem to answer the governments priorities over more than two decades:

  • increasing the percentage of graduates in areas relevant for the country’s social and economic development;
  • increasing the diversity of higher education provision;
  • ensuring a balanced geographical provision and opening the system to students from all socio-economic backgrounds.

The government elected in 2005 commissioned the ENQA to undertake a review of the Portuguese quality assurance system, asking for advice to set up an accreditation agency following the European standards. It has also commissioned the OECD to do a review of the Portuguese higher education system. The 2006 OECD report that ensued argued that the composition of the tertiary sector is not satisfactory, and considered that, in spite of the present decline in enrolments, the tertiary system still needed to expand by raising the proportion of young cohorts of tertiary entrance age who graduate from secondary school and qualify for admission to higher education, and the proportion of adults seeking tertiary education and accelerating technical change in the production sector that can generate a wage premium for skills that are provided by the graduates of the tertiary sector.

In March 2006 the Portuguese Government also passed a law establishing the legal framework thus making possible the implementation of the Bologna process. Veiga and Amaral (CIPES), in their survey on the implementation of the Bologna process in Portugal, identified an apparently pervasive optimist view.

The leaders of the schools positively evaluated the process of definition of competencies associated with the study programmes and course units, in line with the Ministry’s progress report on the Bologna reforms and with the judgment of the Bologna Follow-up Group which has scored Portugal ‘very good’ performance on the implementation of the EQF. The same went for the evaluation that the leaders of the institutions made about the curricular reform and its impact on students success.

In spite of the fact that there are signs of difficulty for universities in developing vocationally-driven study programs, and difficulties in using the ECTS, the Diploma Supplement, and despite the oblivious attitude of Portuguese HEIs towards the development of the NQF, the general idea was that national and European institutions tended to depict a favourable picture of the policy implementation of the Bologna Process in Portugal.

This positive attitude towards the Bologna Process derives, firstly, from the general features of Portuguese state, institutions, law, social structures and processes derived from the semi-peripheral position of Portugal in the world-system. The symbolic dimension of the state arising from the Portuguese European integration in 1986 was referred to by B. Sousa Santos as ‘the State-as-imagination-of-the-centre’. When translated into the political discourse, it de-legitimises any national policy that goes against European development patterns. Hence, as the European Commission has assumed the leading role in the construction of the EHEA there was no political point to not happily join the Bologna Process.

Secondly, the Bologna process was an opportunity for the government to reorganize its political steering strategies of the sector and for institutions to reshape their ‘survival’ strategies in an increasingly market-driven environment. HEIs have extensively used their autonomy in the last 20 years, though for their own good rather than for the ‘public good’ (which resulted, for instance, in an unbalanced offer of programs, by concentrating on [or disregarding] certain knowledge and training areas, etc.), governments felt the need to steer the systems and its institutions more effectively.

The Bologna reorganization of European higher education provided the occasion for that. In 2007 a new law on higher education governing and governance was passed. The perspective was to reform HEIs governance by challenging collegialism and enhancing forms of ‘boardism’ and the role attributed to external stakeholders. Additionally, the government saw in the Bologna Process an opportunity to, on the one hand, clarify the binary divide of the system by deepening the polytechnic vocational identity and, on the other, an opportunity to re-design the teaching-learning processes in a context of mass higher education.

In the case of public universities, the reason for the positive attitude toward Bologna is that it provides an opportunity to manage some of the paradoxes of mass higher education. By tactically managing the 1st, 2nd and 3rd cycles structures, institutions have been developing their strategies to escape from the lower ‘layers’ resulting from an eventual system segmentation. While accommodating the higher number possible of students they intend not to endanger their position in the divide research-driven institutions versus teaching-driven institutions. Curiously, this very attitude can be found also in the polytechnic sector that apparently finds in the vocational-drift an opportunity to counteract the traditional supremacy of Portuguese universities. According to the survey referred to above, the main goal for institutional leaders is to fulfil the paradigm shift from teaching to learning while mobility and employability are Bologna’s goals assumed by the government.

When trying to characterize the reaction of Portuguese governments and HEIs to the Bologna Process, the verse of a poem by William B. Yeats comes to mind, ‘How can we know the dance from the dancer?’ as its rationale is, one would say, functional to the management of the contradictions and paradoxes of Portuguese mass higher education. However, apparently Portuguese HEIs are singing Bologna’s song but one is not yet sure if they mean what the words mean…

António Magalhães

Policy for higher education in a changing world: is Malaysia’s higher education policy maturing or just fashionable?

malaysiaplancover.jpgIn many developing countries, and Malaysia is no exception, the national government has seen fit to steer higher education policy in a direction that is in the ‘national interest’. This notion of ‘national interest’ is best exemplified by the changing relationship between the state, higher education institutions and the market. We would like to think that after independence in 1957 the state facilitated the growth of universities appropriate to both national and regional circumstances at that time. While serving the ‘nation interest’ public universities were also pursuing objectives that are some semblance of the “idea of a university” right up to the late eighties. However, during the 1990s, the government began to intervene in the higher education system and there were many policy changes that higher educational institutions have found to be increasingly complex and unmanageable. We would like to assume that these changes, as explicitly outlined in the National Higher Education Strategic Plan 2020 and detailed out in the National Higher Education Action Plan, 2007-2010, are Malaysia’s responses to fast changing global landscape of higher education and the rise of the ‘Asian Century’.

We need to explicate higher education policy changes in Malaysia and then answer one specific question: are these changes indicative of a higher education policy that is going through a maturing process or are these changes nothing more than an attempt to be current and fashionable in the light of neo-liberalism tendency and its associated new public management practises, which is widespread in the developed world. The recently released World Bank Report on higher education in Malaysia has a profound impact on the way higher education policy is being framed in Malaysia.

Using both neo-liberalism model/new public management concepts and state-centric model of higher education as analytical framework to analyse the plans documents, we conclude that Malaysia’s higher education policy has characteristics of both neo-liberal and state-centric models. Many new public management concepts and ideas are adopted to translate policy to actions, without meaningful or significant ‘retreat of the state”, which is typical of neo-liberalism. Arguably, Malaysia is still holding on to the state-centric model of higher education (because of the ‘nation interest’) but would like also to ‘embrace’ fashionable European and American models. Reports from the World Bank on neo-liberalism, as well as successful examples of the USA, UK and Australia are too attractive for Malaysia to ignore. Thus, Malaysia’s higher education policy is clearly an attempt to be current and fashionable to face the new challenges in higher education based on the same state-centric approach. Time will tell whether this approach will work.

We are tempted to conclude that, following Readings’ (1996) The University in Ruins, the likely scenario for Malaysia is as follows:

historically the integrity of the modern University has been linked to the nation-state, which it has served by promoting and protecting the idea of a national culture…now the nation-state is in decline, and national culture no longer needs to be either promoted or protected. Increasingly, universities are turning into transnational corporations, and the idea of culture is being replaced by the discourse of ‘excellence’.

And in relation to the two blueprints on Malaysian higher education, Jermadi and Disney writing in the latest issue of Prospect Malaysia (a higher magazine in Malaysia) caution us as follows:

Those with long and cynical memories will recall numerous previous strategies; those who glance at the more recent past will find blueprints and studies upon which the ink is barely dry. So what’s new about these recent proposals? Are they necessary, are they original, and are they workable? The short answers to these questions are: ‘yes, no, and yes’.

Morshidi Sirat

Producing the global knowledge economy: the World Bank and the KAM

What it means to either talk about, or indeed ‘produce’, a knowledge-based economy (KBE) is a bit like nailing jelly to the wall; it is dam slippery stuff! Part of the problem, of course, is that like all powerful metaphors, the KBE has a lot of political work to do, and it is powerful precisely because it can do that political work. It has something in it for everyone, whatever one’s politics.

Over 2008, GlobalHigherEd will run a series of analytical pieces making sense of the various players, projects and politics who seem to be involved in the production of a knowledge-based economy–from programs being developed by the World Bank, OECD and World Economic Forum, to knowledge spaces that include knowledge incubators such as Futurelab, local art spaces and cyberspace. Contributions to this theme from fellow bloggers out there, as always, are more than welcome.

We begin this series with the World Bank who, since 1998, have been busy undergoing a major ‘makeover’ – re-representing itself not as a ‘development bank’ but a ‘knowledge bank’. This move, under the leadership of Bank President James Wolfensohn, took seriously the idea that how we managed knowledge was important, and that knowledge was a key factor in technological creation, adoption and communication.

One outcome of the Bank’s move was the Knowledge For Development (or K4D) Program aimed at helping developing countries capitalize on the ‘knowledge revolution’. Specifically, developing (and also developed) countries are challenged to plan appropriate investments in human capital, effective institutions, relevant technologies, and innovative and competitive enterprises.

These challenges are then translated into the four pillars of a knowledge-based economy comprising:

  • an ‘economic and institutional regime’ which values efficiency and entrepreneurship
  • an ‘educated’ population
  • an efficient ‘innovation’ system
  • an ‘information and communication technology’ infrastructure

The four pillars feed into the Bank’s Knowledge Assessment Methodology – or KAM – an interactive benchmarking tool which now consists of 83 structural and qualitative variables for 140 countries around the globe to measure performance on the KE pillars against an imagined perfect score.

A Knowledge Economy Index (KEI) is generated giving an overall score, though scores can be broken down around each of the four pillars. Development advice is then fed out around a series of ‘product lines’.

The simplest ‘product line’ is a ‘do-it-yourself’ assessment of your economy in relation to either; all countries, others in the region, income, and so on. The user is also able to either generate a Basic Scorecard using around 14 key variables, or move to more complex representations that are based on respectively combinations of the 81 variables, the performance scores of all countries, comparisons over time, cross country comparisons, and so on. us-china-india.jpg

Other ‘product lines’ include the Bank doing policy reports for specific countries (for example, El Salvador, Turkey, Morocco), comprehensive assessments (for example India, China, Korea, Chile, the African region), and running learning events to exchange best practice. GlobalHigherEd’s blog on the reform of the Malaysian higher education system following a World Bank’s 2007  review is a good example of how the KAM is being used to reshape higher education policy and practice.

At one level this is fun. However this is a very serious business – as the benchmarking works like a learning tool. You learn where you are in this imagined perfect knowledge economy, and then strategize as to how to get to your preferred position using the pillars as policy guides and levers. top-ten-country-comparison.jpg

Benchmarking, ranking and other kinds of league tables are becoming more and more popular as tools for promoting particular kinds of learning among institutions, nations and regions. GlobalHigherEd has been profiling some of these – for instance PISA, the Programme for International Student Assessment, the OECD’s Innovation Scoreboard, and University Rankings.

Like all of these systems of ranking and benchmarking, the most interesting issue with the World Bank’s Knowledge Assessment Methodology is what is being measured, why, and with what likely outcomes? Leaving aside the thorny issue of the efficacy of the indicators for the moment (such as the Human Development Index which is one of the 83 indicators making up the KAM), as we run through all 83 indicators, we get a quick sense of the political nature of the project; the production of a world order that values global trade, has few bans on imports and licensing, strong protections in place for intellectual property (IP), a system for ensuring payments for royalties and IP across borders, high levels of adult literacy, landlines and computers to support global connectivity, and so on. Absent in this list of indicators are ways of representing unpaid labor, alternative systems of knowledge production, cultural knowledges, and so on.

The developed Western economies are more likely to be advantaged by this kind of economy – given their interest in extending their services sectors globally and securing greater returns from the high end of the value chain. However, in areas like education, the policy levers are still rather crude. It is difficult to see, for instance, how investments in higher education per se will generate those innovative, creative and entrepreneurial individuals who are regarded as the engines of this new economy.

Susan Robertson

World Bank Report says that China can enhance competitiveness through lifelong learning

It is worth looking at the World Bank’s recent report Enhancing China’s Competitiveness Through Lifelong Learning by World Bank experts Dahlman, Zeng and Wang for several reasons. Like all powerful signifiers, the idea of ‘lifelong learning’ has a ‘feel-good’ ring about it. Who can be against learning, or learning over a lifetime? Any model that makes what is now a rather disjointed system more accessible, equitable and enjoyable–even if our learning is in the service of making the nation more competitive–should be looked at more closely. China is no exception here.

GlobalHigherEd can report that the WB Report is advancing is a very particular model for life-long learning in China. The key ideas are these are:

  • Get more of the population into some form of basic and ongoing education and training
  • Let the market drive the changes, with much more private provision of education
  • New ‘transparent’ information systems for the market to operate more effectively and for parents to make choices about education
  • Embrace standardised international tests of quality, including IALS, TIMMS and PISA
  • Quality assurance mechanisms coordinated by the state
  • New pedagogical models that promote ‘learning how to learn’
  • A stronger and more efficient loan system for students in the higher education sector
  • Harnessing the potential of distance education

In moving the report forward, the World Bank concludes:

The challenges of building China’s lifelong learning system are immense; however, so are the opportunities of drawing on the experience of other countries, and on the potential of new pedagogical techniques, new information technologies, and new providers.

Why, then, if the challenge is to draw on the experience of other models, is the World Bank model so singularly neo-liberal in its approach – markets, information, choice, loans and so on? It is a ‘one size fits all’ model that the Bank have been trying to promote in developing countries that are very diverse from each other.  Maybe the answer to ‘why this model’ lies in the fact that China is regarded as a potential huge market for investment. This includes education as a billion dollar business and a new global industry. In ‘setting the rules of the game’ – as the Bank summary states it is trying to do – it should be seen as setting the rules in the interests of private firms and western centred economies.


An 86 minute long World Bank video on themes contained in the report is available here. It was recorded on 17 September 2007.

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