It is all about choices. If you want an American university education, you can access that in Qatar Foundation. If you want a traditional and established university education with the choice of studying in Arabic with key disciplines you can have it in Qatar.
But what wasn’t there is a mainstream British university education. Yes, there is a choice but you have to travel to the UK. There is a huge demand for students who actually want to stay in their own country and study for prestigious old school university degrees such as that from the University of Aberdeen.
Brian Buckley, Principal of AFG College with the University of Aberdeen in Qatar, believes the university provides a choice to students who want to pursue higher education in a British university. “What we are doing is not that we are necessarily creating the demand or reducing the demand in other institutions. We are complimenting what is already here and we are offering a choice.”
He said this in response to a question about what distinction the university offered to students in Qatar. He was recently interviewed by Community about the institution’s educational mission and future plans.
AFC College is a unique partnership between Al Faleh Group for Educational and Academic Services (AFG) and the University of Aberdeen Scotland which opened its doors to undergraduate students in September 2017.
“For example, a young female student, who may not be able to travel overseas, now has the option to study for the degree and achieve the same award while staying with her family,” said Brian, adding that there were many people who cannot go to the UK for studies. They can do so in Qatar.
Elaborating the uniqueness of the University of Aberdeen, Brian, who has over 20 years of higher education experience, said: “The Aberdeen is considered an institution that sits technically within the top one percent of universities. Its business school with the programmes it offers has increased its ranking internationally and nationally. It is one of the oldest universities – established in 1495! It is a university — unlike many other high quality established universities — that is open to all. It practices wide need access. It is not elitist.”
In Qatar, AFG College with the University of Aberdeen will be developed in two phases. Phase one is currently offering two undergraduate degrees: Business Management and Accountancy & Finance and two postgraduate degrees: Master of Business Administration (MBA) and MSc International Business Management.
Phase two is the establishment of a large purpose built university campus offering engineering, education, medical science and social science degrees. This new campus will be opening its doors in September 2021 with a student capacity of over 4,000.
“I have been very much involved in the initial idea and development of the college under the leadership of Dr Sheikha Aisha bint Faleh bin Nasser al-Thani, who is the chairperson of the institution. We had a discussion about how we can bring together high quality education to support Qatar’s national vision from the UK. British higher education is still considered one of the best in the world. There is also a close affinity between Qatar and the UK. So, I supported Dr Sheikha Aisha’s vision to identify a suitable university. This was the development that took five or six years,” said Brian, who has master degrees in business administration and European politics.
The college campus has a capacity of about 900 students. “We launched with 137 students in both programmes. In the second year, we enrolled 250 undergraduate students. Our reputation was building very quickly in the country. We then launched two post graduate degrees in 2018, an MBA and MSc in International Business Management. We now have 195 students in these programmes. They are oversubscribed. Each of these programmes have previously been submitted to the Ministry of Education and Higher Education for approval. So, we went through a very rigorous quality oversight process with the ministry.
“We have 80 students who graduate in Qatar on November 4 (tomorrow), half of which are over postgraduate students. We are launching a new degree — masters in law — subject to final approval from the ministry. We are hoping to have a soft launch of the programme in February 2020,” the principal said.
Technically, the university is the first from the UK to come to Qatar outside Qatar Foundation. “There will be more universities to follow. We are looking forward to that. We believe the more availability of quality higher education from the UK, the more choice there will be for students. It will also raise the profile of Qatar. Education is going to be a significant contributor to the national economy. We want to support the Qatar 2030 National Vision pillar in terms of knowledge economy, education and empowerment of Qatari nationals and residents. In fact, 72 percent of our students are Qatari nationals. Over 50 percent of our students are female. We have over 18 different nationalities of students. We really are international. In the second phase, we will look to attract students from outside Qatar. The country will become a hub of university education excellence,” said Brian, who takes personal interest in international relations.
The university has worked very closely to ensure that there is a right balance between the learning environment and the cultural environment of Qatar. “For example, we make sure that we have the highest standards of education, faculty, services, and facilities. We also have separate prayer rooms for males and females here. We also have separate gymnasiums. We ensure that there is time for students who want to pray. We make sure our examinations and assessments to the best of our abilities do not interfere with the religious festivals that we celebrate here.
“The students have chosen the University of Aberdeen because of its history, because of its reputation and because of its quality of education. What we have found is that our students want more Scotland than we actually think. So, we celebrate Scottish events. We also celebrate the festivals that Qatar has to offer. It has not been a challenge. It is actually a partnership between the British education and Qatar.” In response to a question about how universities in general are coping with the influx of online information, Brian said: “Technically, universities globally are playing catch-up. The universities have not driven the agenda in terms of the learning process. In the last 20 years, with the explosion of access to free information from multiple sources has changed the agenda. The agenda now is the individual. The individual has the access to information. However, there still is a learning process. There still will be transfer of knowledge — the structured way of learning and understanding — showing evidence that you can actually achieve a certain level of knowledge at a certain time. That has not changed. The award of the degree has to follow certain norms — international standards in many ways. “We must remember that explosion in technology is not a new way of doing things. It is a way of facilitating old ways to improve and enhance. So, we are not going to get rid of universities and everyone sits on their iPads at home. That may not necessarily be verified quality information. That is the challenge.”
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