(continued from previous page)
And then there is the medical center, slated to open in 2010. In conjunction with Weill Cornell Medical School--the first such institution in the country--the foundation will erect a large teaching hospital and research center that will seek to rival U.S. metropolitan medical communities such as Los Angeles' Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and New York's Sloan-Kettering, both of which have close ties with local universities.
Daniel Alonso, dean of Weill Cornell at Qatar, hopes that world-class facilities and opportunities will help lure the type of star researchers and physicians that major medical centers are known for.
The hospital will have an $8 billion endowment and a separate research budget of an estimated $146 million annually, roughly twice the size of Cornell University's endowment. Most hospitals don't have endowments at all.
"Projects of this nature in this part of the world generally have failed. Typically they build the buildings and bring in some Western doctors, but then they get tired and want to go home. A level of mediocrity sets in," Alonso said. "The endowment is to ensure it will be self-sustaining. We will be able to recruit a top CEO, the best clinicians. The ambition is nothing less than world class."
The hospital endowment aside, the financial rewards aren't massive for the individual universities. The Qatar Foundation pays all the expenses for running the campuses and will sponsor academic chairs at the home universities. But it's far from the largesse usually associated with petrodollars.
Rather than drawing donations, the main motivation among universities seems to be the pursuit of their own global agendas. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, foreign students have found it far more difficult to land visas to study in Western nations, and many Muslims say they feel uncomfortable in the United States.
A branch campus offers a way to reach the best students--who one day could become wealthy or powerful alumni--in the region before King's College or Tokyo University can. If such expansion becomes standard practice, education could become the next major export for the United States.
"It is an untapped resource," said Bernadette Dias, a robotics professor who splits her time between Carnegie Mellon's Doha and Pittsburgh campuses. "At the same time, you have to worry about what it might do to your brand."
Indeed, the Middle East isn't the only region that is importing education. Carnegie Mellon is exploring the possibility of opening a public policy program in South Australia, and Duke University is helping Singapore establish a medical school based on its curriculum.
None of this will occur overnight, of course. In Qatar, years of work lay ahead before the dusty plains on the fringes of Doha resemble the bustling garden oasis seen in the marketing brochures.
At present, Carnegie Mellon occupies second-floor offices in Cornell's building. Texas A&M will create graduate degree programs after the dirt patch next to its existing building becomes a lecture hall. The future, however, is not difficult to imagine.
"How many start-ups are there in Qatar at the moment? Zero," said Figgis of the Qatar science park. "When you see the first Qatari CEO, the local papers will go nuts."