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HBKU residence halls

Chantelle D'mello / Doha News

HBKU residence halls

Several university students inside Education City in Qatar have reported being temporarily locked out of their dorm rooms after failing to pay their housing fees for the semester.

The students, who attend various schools that partner with Hamad Bin Khalifa University, had been warned weeks in advance about the lockout.

But some said they had been unable to pay the fees, which range from QR8,000 to QR10,000 per semester, because they couldn’t afford it.

Georgetown University in Qatar

Derek Bruff/Flickr

Georgetown University in Qatar

While HBKU, which falls under Qatar Foundation (QF), has always required that housing costs be paid at the beginning of the semester, enforcement of this policy was previously less strict.

According to one Georgetown University in Qatar student who was locked out yesterday:

“There has always been a soft deadline there but not really enforced. Since most of the students who live in the residence halls are international students, we always cleared our fees by the end of the semester or before we left for vacation…

Some of these students are supporting themselves and probably will not be able to come up with the fees (overnight).”

A Northwestern University in Qatar student said she also experienced a similar situation yesterday when, despite being on a pre-determined payment plan, she found herself unable to access her room:

“If you have a monthly plan, you’re meant to have a balance…as you’re paying the fees over the course of the semester, but we were all locked out. It seems like it was done (indiscriminately),” she said.

Payment plans

In a statement to Doha News, an HBKU spokesperson confirmed the temporary lockout, adding:

“This semester, a number of students did not comply with the deadline for payment of housing fees. On March 4th, after a series of payment due reminders were sent to each individual, a temporary room restriction was put in place to prompt students to speak with HBKU Housing and Residential Life representatives to arrange for payment of these outstanding fees.

It is important that students take responsibility for fulfilling their financial obligations and for meeting the specified deadlines. HBKU Housing and Residential Life is committed to working with students to settle any outstanding issues to resolve this situation quickly.”

Questions about how many students were affected by the lockout and whether it would happen again were not answered.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Qatar Culture Club

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Many students are currently on spring break, and won’t return to campus until next week.

In January, students were sent an email by HBKU Housing reminding them of overdue payments. They were told that failure to clear their accounts by Feb. 19 would result in the deactivation of their room cards.

The deadline was then moved to yesterday, after sending two further notices to students who still had outstanding payments.

“For students who are staying in Qatar during spring break, all outstanding payments must be completed by March 4, 2015…for students who want to travel outside Qatar and require an exit permit, they must go to QF Finance to pay their outstanding balance and provide receipt to HBKU Housing before March 4, 2015,” read the email.

Yesterday, when the deadline passed, a final reminder was set to students informing them that their keys had been deactivated.

But students were allowed access to their rooms after they visited QF’s finance department after they collected their overdue invoices and made arrangements to pay their dues shortly.

Financial pressure

HBKU’s move to ensure on-time housing payments comes during a period of belt-tightening for EC universities, most of whom have had their budgets slashed by QF.

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Alanood Al Thani

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Students have reported feeling the pinch elsewhere over the past several months, especially in the area of paid part-time work.

Funding for most jobs filled by students, including ones at the student center, inside residence halls and within EC’s various universities, is provided by the HBKU Career Services Center, according to NU-Q student publication The Daily Q.

The center, which has in the past provided work opportunities for students as receptionists, teaching assistants, dorm fellows, and research assistants, saw its budget cut by some 50 percent last October, resulting in a hiring freeze and reduced working hours and salaries for students who already had jobs.

“HBKU, a division under QF located within the EC campus, was affected by what appears to be a larger effort by QF to reexamine its own budget,” Adam Al-Saadi, director of the HBKU career development center, said at the time.

A few months later, universities sent out emails notifying students that employment dates had changed. One stated:

“We have been informed that due to QF budget constraints, the fall semester employment end date has been changed to Nov. 30… Students will be removed from their positions and will not be compensated for additional work after this date.

Recently, citing budget cuts, HBKU notified universities that it would no longer support student jobs at the various branch campuses.

The new policy comes into effect May 1, and has already prompted some schools, including NU-Q and Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar, to rework their internal budgets to continue to support students. In an email to students last month, NU-Q said:

“While we are also feeling pressure from HBKU on our budget, we plan to continue employing students using our internal budget to minimize the impact on students whose work provides valuable support to our operations. We hope to keep this at the same level as this academic year and without some of the restrictions recently imposed by HBKU.”

Thoughts?

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Adam Bermingham/Flickr

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A new law school at Qatar’s Hamad bin Khalifa University (HBKU) will be the first in the region to offer a juris doctor (JD) postgraduate degree – the “centerpiece” of legal education in the US and several other countries, officials announced today.

The three-year program, which is expected to launch this fall with an initial class of 20 students, will be run in partnership with US-based Northwestern University at Education City. Where exactly classes will be held has yet to be determined.

Unlike many of the other programs offered on the campus, students will receive an HBKU degree, rather than one from a foreign university.

As a brand-new program, the HBKU degree would not yet be recognized by international accreditation bodies or foreign countries.

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Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar

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But discussions are currently underway with Qatar’s Office of the Attorney General, Justice Ministry and local legal industry bodies to ensure the degree is recognized in this country when the first class graduates in 2018.

Discussions about HBKU establishing a graduate law school first emerged in 2012. At the time, HBKU said it was working with Harvard University to set up the program.

There is currently a law school at Qatar University that offers an undergraduate-level Bachelor of Law, or LL.B, degree and has a student body of approximately 800, according to its website.

Qatar University also plans to launch a graduate law program this fall and will grant a Masters of Law, or LL.M.

Understanding the law

While some graduates of the new program are expected to go on to work at law firms, HBKU provost and executive vice-president Ahmad Hasnah said the new school’s aim goes beyond graduating lawyers.

Speaking to Doha News following a press conference today, he said:

“What we’re trying to focus on is graduating leaders who understand the law and understand the spirit of the law and see … (how that knowledge can be used to make) your society, your country better from a governance perspective and public policy perspective.”

The program’s curriculum – which will be taught in English – “has been designed to meet the unique needs of Qatar,” Dr. Clinton Francis, founding dean of the school said during today’s press conference.

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Janet Lindenmuth/Flickr

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It will focus on civil law, common law, Islamic law and take into account legal principles that reflect the makeup of Qatar’s economy, with an emphasis on energy, infrastructure development, finance, health care as well as culture and media.

In addition to theoretical knowledge, students will be trained in contract drafting, trial advocacy, dispute resolution, negotiation and presentation skills.

Faculty members will be drawn from Doha, Northwestern’s Chicago campus and other academic institutions.

Applications are now being accepted for the program online. Officials said that the size of the incoming class of 2018, while initially small, would be adjusted based on its popularity and “market demand.”

They declined to give tuition figures, saying only that the fees charged by other law schools in the region would be taken into consideration.

Legalese

The JD degree differs from the LL.M as it does not require incoming students to hold an existing law degree.

HBKU law students are required to hold an undergraduate degree in any discipline and possess a “strong academic record.”

HBKU’s three-year program is also longer than an LL. M, which typically takes a year to complete.

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UAA Justice Center For Students

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While the goals of HBKU’s program are geared beyond bolstering the ranks of Qatar’s legal system, its launch nevertheless comes amid other efforts to attract more people into the profession.

In 2013, compensation packages for judges, prosecutors and judicial assistants was increased in part to motivate more Qataris to enter the country’s legal system. And last year, a UN official said the country’s justice system lacked a sufficient number of qualified and interested Qataris.

While Hasnah agreed that the new program would mean Qatari students can pursue graduate legal studies closer to home, he added that it was his vision to attract students from Japan, the US and other counties in future years.

Thoughts?

Education City

Sam Agnew/Flick

With reporting from Ankita Menon

In a move aimed at recognizing “loyalty” to Qatar, Education City officials have adjusted the criteria for merit-based scholarships to favor university students who were born or grew up in Qatar.

Scholarship applicants with those strong residency ties to Qatar would receive additional points on their application process.

The move by Hamad bin Khalifa University (HBKU), which oversees Education City and falls under Qatar Foundation, has drawn the ire of some students and sparked an online petition – which has so far garnered 50 signatures – that argues international students coming from abroad will have drastically reduced chances of receiving a scholarship.

According to the petition:

“The HBKU Merit Scholarship is most often cited as the primary reason students choose to come to EC from abroad. With that option no longer available to them, universities in EC will no longer be able to attract the caliber of international students it has been able to in the past.”

HBKU did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Students typically become eligible for the HBKU merit scholarship after their first year of study.

Because of this, the petition states that the changes are especially unfair to students who enrolled in EC universities last year with the understanding that they could compete for a merit-based scholarship this fall, on an equal footing with their peers already residing in the country.

The changes do not affect other forms of monetary assistance, such as loans given to students in financial need, or entrance awards.

Expats in Qatar

HBKU’s shift comes amid an ongoing debate in Qatar and across the Gulf over extending certain residency benefits to long-time expats in lieu of citizenship, which these countries typically do not grant to foreigners.

Regardless of how long they’ve lived in Qatar, expats must continually renew their residency permits, which are tied to employer sponsorships, and are at risk of being forced to leave the country at any time.

In some regards, the changes in the program reward expats. Additionally, many other nations have policies aimed at retaining and attracting young and educated graduates who have ties to the country.

However, critics of the new scholarship standards argue that the new changes in criteria could discourage bright international students from considering attending university in Qatar.

Speaking to Doha News, Ahwaz Akhtar, a sophomore studying international economics at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar, said:

“The change in criteria only reflects one of the many criticisms of Qatar: your skills and qualifications are not always the most valuable asset you have.”

Akhtar said he received a scholarship worth $44,280 to cover his tuition fee last fall and would not be affected by the changes as the financial award will be automatically renewed if he maintains a 3.6 GPA, but added that the changes still bothered him.

“It’s time HBKU went back to rewarding merit because it’s the best way to ensure that the culture of knowledge creation takes hold in Qatar,” he said.

Meanwhile, Northwestern University in Qatar said it has heard the objections of its students and is “concerned” by the changes. Speaking to Doha News, spokesperson Paul Reilly said the school has voiced its apprehensions to QF and HBKU.

Several other schools contacted by Doha News either did not return messages or referred inquiries to HBKU.

Uneven footing

Under the new criteria, scholarship applicants can receive up to 20 points on a 100-point scale in recognition of their “loyalty (to) the state of Qatar and their willingness to work/live in Qatar and contribute in return.”

Specifically, students will receive five points if they were born in the country and up to 15 points depending on how long they’ve lived in Qatar.

Applicants are also eligible for an additional 10 points for their “contributions to Qatar society.”

Students with a parent working at QF, HBKU or one of its subsidiaries automatically receive an additional 10 points. Applicants also receive points, to a maximum of 10, for the number of credit hours taken during the previous academic year.

The weighting is heavily tilted towards academic merit, with up to 50 points available to students with a high GPA. Critics, however, point out that this is unlikely to be a deciding factor as students must have a minimum GPA of 3.6 to apply for the scholarship.

This means that all eligible students will receive a minimum of 45 out of 50 points in this category, making it more likely that residency points will determine who receives a scholarship.

Here’s the criteria:

Thoughts?