Sheikha Moza and QF leadership highlighted the main challenges and achievements in the history of Qatar’s educational dynasty throughout a quarter-century.
Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, Co-founder and Chairperson of Qatar Foundation (QF), shared for the first time details and untold stories that built Qatar’s education empire throughout a quarter of a century.
The Qatari royal participated in a special panel discussion titled “Untold Stories of Qatar Foundation” on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the establishment, aired on Qatar TV – moderated by journalist Khadija Benguenna – on Sunday.
“Our belief in the success of Qatar Foundation as a project was deep-rooted, despite the challenges and curves that we faced at the beginning of our journey more than 25 years ago,” she said.
During the panel, Sheikha Moza recounted plans, challenges, goals, and achievements that turned a vision into reality and refined the education system in Qatar, paving the way for development on all levels.
“In 2005, on the day Education City opened, we promised that tomorrow would be here. And, indeed, tomorrow was made at Qatar Foundation,” said the royal who envisioned and founded QF with the support of the Father Amir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani.
“We never looked at Qatar Foundation’s projects, centres, and initiatives as being there to serve a specific geographical area. Instead, we thought of it as Arab-Islamic renaissance project, based in Qatar, to promote sustainable development in the Arab world, by creating positive change from an academic, research, and societal perspective.”
Joined by central figures in QF’s journey since 1995, Sheikha Moza noted that QF and its first school Qatar Academy were established and supported in response to national education challenges that required rapid reforms and to refine the educational system in the country.
She said that Qatar Academy – established in 1996 – was created with “two dimensions.”
“The first came from my role as a mother who had concerns about the education of my children, and the second was national, reflected by our role in the development of society,” she emphasized during the discussion, filmed at QF’s former headquarters in Education City.
“At the time, I realized we were facing a national challenge related to education, and we needed to make a radical change in the educational system by providing advanced, quality education – based on the logical analysis and rational deduction that were central to previous Arab civilizations and applied in Western civilizations, while at the same time preserving our heritage, language, and national identity,” she added.
“The Qatar Academy project grew and developed, and it was necessary to continue the process of progress by building the components of higher education and a culture of scientific research at QF, in order to support the development of our community.”
The royal Qatari said that initially, QF was set up to establish one university. “But we asked ourselves about the effectiveness of repeating experiments that had not succeeded in many societies,” she stated.
“We recognized that every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end, so we started to attract prestigious international universities to Qatar according to the disciplines that met national needs, in order to provide an ecosystem based on creativity and innovation which enables us to cultivate, localize, and reproduce knowledge.”
The process of hosting high-ranked global universities was met with challenges as Qatar was paving the way for improving education quality, the royal mentioned.
“One of the challenges we faced during our negotiations with international universities was their questions about the academic level of our students. But our belief in human capabilities in Qatar and the Arab region was solid. We knew that if these young people were given the right educational environment and opportunities, the world would witness their achievements. And that is what we see today.”
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“It makes me proud to see our graduates in high positions.”
At its start, the foundation faced challenges in the fields of science and research. Still, QF’s leadership persisted in finding solutions and having faith in the bright future of the establishment.
“We believe that innovation is the basis of the philosophy of Qatar Foundation. Therefore, we wanted Qatar Foundation to be an incubator for scientists, researchers, and innovators across the Arab world and worldwide because we recognize that scientific research continues as long as human life continues.”
Sheikha Moza noted that supporting local scientists and innovators is essential for developing the nation.
The foundation also faced societal challenges as people in the country were used to certain norms and traditional education, which made them fear change, the public figure highlighted.
However, QF had a firm position and determination that pushed its leadership to look forward and focus on its goal to attract Arab immigrants and bring them closer to home, she added.
Those qualified Arabs led research centres at QF and contributed to the greater success of Qatar’s education dynasty.
The royal Qatari’s vision was to build a sustainable project in Qatar to serve the greater community and the region through providing for Qataris and non-Qataris opportunities in the local market.
Among the leading figures in QF’s establishment is the former Minister of Economy and Finance, Yousef Hussain Kamal, who took part in The Untold Stories of QF, celebrating the Qatari educational dynasty.
“Successful economic models have been built in many developed countries, such as Japan and Singapore, that do not have natural resources but invested in minds,” he said in a statement.
“Nurturing engineers, physicians, diplomats, and others at Education City was a successful investment idea designed to support the goal of economic development, instead of having a reliance on scholarships abroad for knowledge acquisition. What we needed was to produce knowledge,” he added.
Engineer AbdulRedha AbdulRahman told the panel how QF’s supporters responded to the urgency of maintaining sustainable education and social development through scientific research and innovation. Thus, they launched Qatar Science & Technology Park innovation hub.
“At the same time, social development requires a culture of scientific research and the spread of innovation and creativity,” he said. “So research, development, and innovation became the third part of what I call ‘the Qatar Foundation triangle’, inseparable from education and community development.”
On his part, Dr Ibrahim Al Ibrahim explained how “the model of the ecosystem we looked to build did not exist anywhere else in the world at that time.”
He pointed out that “this increased the challenges and difficulties, as our goal was to attract international universities based on their excellence in the majors we needed – especially the oil and gas industry – to support the development of Qatar.”
“We worked hard to assess the strengths of each university, according to our perspectives and needs, and we were able to achieve what we aspired to achieve.”
In addition, Dr Sheikha Abdulla Al-Misnad noted that “the QF project, with all its aspirations, was new for us, and the world. In the beginning, there were some tensions, which is normal when starting a project on such local, regional, and international scale as QF.
“However, the determination of QF’s leadership to achieve the vision for this foundation created a national motivation, so that the vision for QF became our vision as Qataris, and we worked to implement it to support the renaissance of Qatar.”
The foundation has been engineered on “solid pillars” that managed to meet the ambitions and aspirations of generations through openness while maintaining Qatari heritage and cultural values, said Dr Saif Al-Hajri.
“My story with QF began when I received an invitation from Father Amir, HH Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, on Friday, April 7, 1995, to meet with him and HH Sheikha Moza bint Nasser,” he said.
“Our discussion focused on establishing an academic institution,” Al-Hajri narrated, speaking of QF’s first school for pre-university education.
“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 time and to meet the aspirations of our Qatari sons and daughters and their families: develop minds; and support the sustainable development of Qatar.”
On a different note, Sheikha Moza called on parents in Qatar to appreciate their native language and refrain from speaking foreign languages with their children at home.
“It saddens me when I see some parents speak with their children in foreign languages as if they are embarrassed with their mother language, Arabic.”
QF former president Dr Fathy Saoud joined the panel through a recorded video, narrating his journey with the foundation as it sought international recognition.
“We tirelessly knocked on doors during our negotiations with the most prestigious international universities to build cooperation and partnerships with them. And we succeeded until we reached the day when the doors of QF were being knocked upon by well-known international universities keen to establish partnerships with Qatar.”
The first international university that QF initiated a potential deal with was Virginia Commonwealth University. However, at the time, VCU turned down the offer of opening a branch in Qatar.
“I remember when the principal of the university called me late at night to tell me he had bad news that the university can’t collaborate with us, I was shocked,” Sheikha Moza said as she recalled the moment when VCU rejected QF’s offer.
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“At that moment, I cried,” she continued.
She said that now the same universities that questioned Qatar’s students’ capabilities say that graduates from their Qatari branches are better qualified than those who graduated in the main universities.