Qatari women outnumber their male counterparts in higher education once again, Qatar Foundation tells Doha News.
In the past academic year, almost 75% of Qatari students registered at Qatar Foundation (QF) universities were women, according to the organisation’s official figures.
A total of 1,078 Qatari women were enrolled for the academic year 2019-20 across all QF universities combined, with 254 graduating. In comparison, just 371 Qatari men were enrolled and 98 graduated.
While the numbers show a clear difference between Qatari men and women in higher education, the interplay of social, cultural and economic factors driving this drastic gap is more complex.
Women ‘more adamant’ on higher education
Though the numbers may seem shocking, there are cultural reasons behind the imbalance, says Dr. Amal Al Malki, Founding Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU).
“Men may benefit from business or army positions, whereas women are more adamant about continuing higher education. This is why you see more females in higher education than males,” she explains.
However, strategic expert and Founder and Chairperson of Tamkeen Training and Consulting Solutions, Dr. Buthaina Al Ansari considers QF’s statistics misleading, as they do not include the many young Qatari men who study abroad.
“Not everyone aspires to graduate from local universities. There’s a high percentage of male Qatari students studying in the USA, UK and Europe. In my family alone, many graduated from the US and are acquiring leading roles in their field of work today,” Dr Ansari told Doha News.
Dr. Al Malki disagrees and says the number of students sent on scholarship “are a fraction of the students that are studying in Qatar. We are building local talents in areas that are needed,” she adds.
Breaking traditional barriers
In the not-too-distant past, Qatari men got scholarships to study abroad but this same privilege was not extended to single Qatari women or those keen on travelling without a male guardian. Then in 1995, under the influence of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, women finally began receiving offers for scholarships.
However, conservative Qatari families were hesitant about sending their daughters to study abroad.
Cue the input of Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser, whose ground-breaking influence on local and global women’s educational aspirations cannot be ignored.
Currently serving as a Chairperson of QF for Education, Science and Community Development, Sheikha Mozah holds honorary doctorates from Virginia Commonwealth University, Texas A&M University, Carnegie Mellon University, Imperial College London, and Georgetown University.
Through her role at QF, Sheikha Mozah has always aimed to provide young Qatari women with an alternative to scholarships abroad by opening different fields of study and international universities right here in Doha.
“By offering Texas A&M University degrees in Qatar, a new field was opened for Qatari women,” says Dr. Al Malki. “After the establishment of QF, the number of Qatari students planning to study abroad went down. Today, there are more female engineering graduates than males in Texas A&M University.”
Despite the influence of high profile, accomplished Qatari women like Sheikha Mozah, traditional social construction of gender roles continues to pose a threat to modernisation and development efforts.
Conservative Qatari society still perpetuates a particular image of women and men, as per their gender roles. In this picture, women are housewives, caretakers, and mothers, while men are the protectors and providers.
However, the increasing rates of women in higher education and labour market proves that Qatari men are becoming more accepting of women’s engagement in wider society – outside of the home.
“Education changes people’s perception about themselves, their place, and their role in the world. It embeds you in a bigger picture, not just a localised perception,” says Dr. Al Malki.
The future for Qatari women
Valuing women’s contribution to Qatari society is a key element in the democratic transformation of the nation. As part of its National Vision 2030, one of Qatar’s main goals has been preparing its citizens – through education – to take over leadership roles in society.
Iman Al Basti, a member of Qatari Businesswomen Association says: “Sheikha Mozah has been a great influencer to young women as she publicly supports them in contributing to their society through receiving proper education and evolving in different sectors. This motivates the Qatari woman to progress and work hard on herself.”
Dr. Al Ansari agrees that social growth is essential to Qatar’s development as a modern nation, and this can only be achieved through securing equal rights for women and men.
“By equality, I mean giving equal opportunities for education and work to all citizens regardless of their gender,” she says.