Academic journal article Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council

An American Honors Program in the Arab Gulf

Academic journal article Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council

An American Honors Program in the Arab Gulf

Article excerpt


The first Western honors program to be established in the Arab Gulf is offered in Doha, Qatar, on a small satellite campus of an American university. Doha is the capital city of Qatar, a sovereign Arab state physically located on a small peninsula bordering Saudi Arabia in the south and jutting into the Persian Gulf. With a population of only 1.7 million, roughly 11 % of whom are Qatar nationals (according to the 2010 Qatar Census), Qatar "ranks as the world's richest country per capita," due primarily to wise investment and control of "the third largest reserves of natural gas in the world" (Greenfield). Qatar's ruling monarchy, the Al-Thani family, has strongly supported education and research in the nation by inviting top-ranked institutions from around the world to set up campuses in Qatar. One testament to the success of this initiative is that 70% of Qatar's population had attained a secondary degree by 2010 (Statistics Authority and the Diplomatic Institute). Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) School of the Arts was the first external institution invited to Qatar due to its ranking as the #1 American public school of art and design. Virginia Commonwealth University Qatar (VCUQatar) became the first Western university to offer an undergraduate honors program in this part of the world.

The challenge and opportunity of creating an honors program in Qatar has been adapting the concept of academic excellence to this country's unique national vision as well as to the family- and tribe-oriented culture of its citizens. While still in its infancy, the honors program is rapidly evolving, as demonstrated, for instance, in the 2012 graduation of the first male from this originally all-female program. Like Qatar itself, the VCUQatar Honors Program reflects a commitment to cultural history and tradition while at the same time promoting rapid progress in knowledge and technology.


VCUQatar is situated within Education City, a fourteen million square-meter campus in Doha, the capital city of Qatar. As of August 2012, Education City also houses Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service Qatar, HEC Paris in Qatar, Northwestern University in Qatar, Texas A&M University at Qatar, University College London Qatar, and Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar. Harvard Law School's Institute for Global Law and Policy will join in January 2013 (Qatar Foundation, "Qatar Foundation announces collaboration ..."). Students within Education City are able to pursue their own individual curricula but also benefit from cross-registration at the other universities (VCUQatar).

In 1995, His Highness the Amir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani established Qatar Foundation (QF) as a non-profit organization to help the people of Qatar progress into the twenty-first century through education and research. His wife, Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, is chairperson of the organization. In 1997, Her Highness asked QF to invite VCU School of the Arts to set up a campus in Doha. The design field offers a viable business option for young women in Qatar, and it was believed that formal education in design would provide these young women with opportunities beyond mere employment. The goal was to provide young women in Qatar with the ability to "assume leadership roles in business industry, and contribute in the development of the world around them" ("Jamila Visit" 153). Richard Toscan, dean of the School of the Arts, travelled to Doha to meet with officials from the Qatar Foundation, and VCU was subsequently awarded the contract to establish a small school under the name Shaqab College of Design Arts (SCODA), which was the first Western institution to establish a presence in Qatar. SCODA opened classes in September 1998, offering Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in fashion design, graphic design, and interior design.

In 2001, the Shaqab College of Design Arts became the VCU Qatar College of Design Arts, and then in 2002 it became an official branch campus of VCU. …

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