Qatar Foundation’s (QF) first school, Qatar Academy which began with a limited number of students learning in wooden classrooms in 1996, has evolved over a quarter of a century to offer education of a quality in line with international standards, while at the same time providing students with knowledge related to the Arabic language, heritage and identity, and the history, environment, geography, and economy of Qatar.
The establishment of Qatar Academy laid the pillars of pre-university education at QF, and the foundations of its ecosystem. And the tale behind it formed part of The Untold Stories of Qatar Foundation panel discussion, whose speakers included Dr. Saif Ali al-Hajri.
“My story with QF began when I received an invitation from His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the Father Amir, on Friday, April 7, 1995 to meet with him and Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser,” he said. “Our discussion focused on establishing an academic institution.
"The main goal of establishing Qatar Academy was for it to carry the values of authenticity, and to be open to modernity, starting from the values of national identity and the needs of our society, while being open to successful global experiences. The vision of QF’s leadership revolved around an academic institution that took into account the challenges faced at that times, and to meet the aspirations of our Qatari sons and daughters and of their families: develop minds; and support the sustainable development of Qatar.”
The school led to a legal framework for QF, and Dr al-Hajri explained: “It was a huge responsibility, and a huge challenge. But what we saw of an ambitious vision, and a leadership determined to achieve this vision, inspired us, as a team, to strive for a better tomorrow.
“The impact of the pre-university education model established by QF has become evident in the public and private education sectors, and among parents, who have seen this model of education as being for the future of their sons and daughters.
“We also noticed the impact of this model regionally, as we received many contacts from across the region to learn about our unique educational experience that combines authenticity and modernity, and that has led to cooperation initiatives being formed. Today, we have reached a point where QF has a world-class educational model that includes elite schools, universities, and research institutes."
A team headed by QF’s leadership proceeded to negotiate with international universities, and contact was made with Virginia Commonwealth University in the US, while at the same time negotiations began with Cornell University and others. During this period, QF took advantage of Qatar's international network and its active role in international relations, by communicating with these universities and their graduates who occupied prestigious positions on the international scene.
And it was the signing a partnership agreement with Weill Cornell University in early 2001 which is considered a turning point in the negotiation process with international universities.
As Dr Fathy Saoud, former president of Qatar Foundation – from whom a special video message was played during The Untold Stories of Qatar Foundation – explained: “The reluctance of elite universities to enter into this type of partnership was a great challenge for us.
“There were several reasons for this reluctance, including the unwillingness of the most prestigious international universities to do anything that they felt may risk their brand name. It took a lot of effort, but we were able to demonstrate to these universities our commitment to adhering to all the required standards, and we succeeded in reaching a full partnership agreement with Weill Cornell University to establish a medical school.
“This partnership was very important, because it caught the world's attention and paved the way for other partnerships. We overcame the challenges, tirelessly seeking to communicate with international universities, until we reached a point where Qatar Foundation became a destination for prestigious and well-known universities to establish partnerships with Qatar.”
But why focus on US universities? It is a question that many have asked since the beginning of QF. The answer lies in the fact that these universities meet the standards, requirements, and aspirations that QF was working to attract, whether in terms of the international rankings of their majors, or the academic and research environment they offered.
During the discussion, Dr Sheikha Abdulla al-Misnad said: “We came a long way toward creating a single, multi-disciplinary university at QF. But we were guided by QF’s leadership to direct our attention to attracting international universities according to the majors they offered, and so we transitioned away from the model of having a single university.
“This was very difficult, and we faced many challenges at the beginning. But we believed that Qatar Foundation, with its unique model, had made a qualitative leap in the concept of quality education. And in a short time, QF was nurturing generations of learners and Qatar was seeing leaps in its educational system that might otherwise have needed three or four decades to achieve."
After several years of international QF partner universities producing highly skilled alumni across multiple majors, Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU) was established in 2010.
Dr al-Misnad noted: “The localisation of knowledge has always been one of the most important goals of Qatar Foundation since its establishment more than 25 years ago. QF has succeeded in bringing about positive changes in our society, and has been able to nurture a new generation of change-makers and researchers. The establishment of HBKU as a national research university aligned with this intent to localise knowledge, whether by launching new educational and academic programs that meet national needs and aspirations, or by launching new pathways in higher education worldwide.”