Exporting American higher education to the Middle East

American colleges and universities are making money in the Middle East by operating satellite campuses in Qatar, but many claim this moonlighting is not in line with the mission of public schools and in some cases is against the rules.

A mix of public and private colleges and universities are in operation in Qatar’s Education City. The set up, located in Doha, was founded by the Qatar Foundation as a way for the oil-rich country to bring top-notch American education to the Middle East.

Private schools such as Georgetown, Carnegie Mellon, Cornell and Northwestern Universities operate in and derive revenue from Education City. So do a handful of public entities, such as Virginia Commonwealth and Texas A&M Universities. Some with ties to these public institutions say their mission is to educate students in their district – not to cash in on an international venture.

A contract between Texas A&M and the Qatar Foundation shows the university’s operating budget at $76.2 million dollars a year. The contract, obtained by the Washington Post through a freedom of information request, states the Qatar Foundation refunds the $76.2 million to the university, and the university then receives a “management fee” of $8.2 million annually.

Student organization Texas A&M Aggie Conservatives has been vocal about its disdain for the Qatar location, calling for it to be closed immediately. Justin Pulliam, former Aggie Conservatives Chairman and 2011 graduate of Texas A&M, spoke with Gulf News Journal exclusively about the campus in Qatar.

“While it is a noble goal for private individuals and organizations to spread American values such as freedom and equality worldwide, taxpayer-funded public institutions have no business operating overseas, neglecting their duty to educate Texas’ future workforce and serve the state,” Pulliam said.

The contract between Texas A&M and the Qatar Foundation further enumerates that the goal of the Middle East location should be to fill 70 percent of its undergrad population with Qatari citizens.

“It should concern Texans that at a state university, Qatari citizens receive admissions preference over American and Texan students, and only a small minority of the enrollment is available to U.S. citizens,” Pulliam told the Gulf News Journal.

Though partnering with private institutions is not enumerated in the mission statement of Texas A&M, it is not against state code. In fact, Texas State Education Code seemingly supports such partnerships.

The state’s Education Code says members of the board of public universities in Texas should “encourage cooperation between public and private institutions of higher education wherever possible, and may enter into cooperative undertakings with those institutions on a shared-cost basis as permitted by law,” according to Sec. 61.064.

For the state’s community colleges, however, rules are quite different.

“Texas public junior colleges shall be two-year institutions primarily serving their local taxing districts and service areas in Texas and offering vocational, technical, and academic courses for certification or associate degrees,” Sec. 130.0011 of the Texas State Education Code reads.

The Houston Community College, which had also been under contract for an operation in Qatar, has massively scaled back its Middle East branch after bringing in less revenue than expected. HCC closed its Middle East location, and now works on a strictly “consulting basis” with Education City, focusing on curriculum and staff support.

HCC Board of Trustees member Dave Wilson told Gulf News Journal he was happy to see the scale back, saying HCC should have never opened a location in Qatar to begin with.

“The way I see it, the Education Code says that a Texas university is for Texas – and even Texas A&M being over there, I think they’re violating the Education Code,” Wilson said. “I don’t think they have a right to be over there.”

Texas A&M’s current contract with the Qatar Foundation is dated Jan. 13, 2014 and expires in June 2023.

Organizations in this Story

Carnegie Mellon University Qatar Gulf News Journal Houston Community College - Central Qatar Foundation Texas A&M International University

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