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Interview: Sheikh Faisal bin Fahd Al-Thani, SEC Board Member

11 June 2007

Ground-breaking International Research Begins with Independent Schools

This is the frank honest assessment of Sheikh Faisal bin Fahd Al-Thani a member of the Supreme Education Council's Board of Directors and deputy general manager of Anadarko Petroleum Corporation.

"The new Independent Schools have the facilities and finances to motivate and interest students in using their research skills when they graduate.

These research skills drive them into higher education at the best universities where they can further develop their research expertise and graduate with the knowledge that will truly assist Qatar in the future," he says.

Dr. Faisal F.J. Al-Thani is well qualified to understand the need for highly developed research skills as the base to acquiring knowledge. Before joining Anadarko, he spent more than 15 years with Qatar Petroleum and other international energy companies in Doha. Equipped with a BS in Petroleum Energy, a Masters in Project Management and a Ph.D in Project Oil and Gas Industry, he has learned first-hand that research creates knowledge which fuels enterprise. A Fullbright scholar, he has published numerous articles on energy-related topics and is the chairman of Qatar's Society of Petroleum Engineers. He also serves as chairman of a number of companies, including the Qatar Import & Export Company, Faisalia Qatar Group Investment, and Arla Foods - Qatar.

Dr. Faisal F.J. Al-Thani is a modest man who speaks fluently and eloquently about his passion for education. He sees research as one of the foremost tools for the future development of the Qatari people and the nation's growth as one the most socially and economically progressive countries in the world.

He enthusiastically refers to a speech made by the Emir, His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani to the Advisory Council in which His Highness referred to the high percentage of 2.8 of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) that would be devoted to research. This highlighted Qatar's investment on education.

"This investment encourages everyone to recognize the value of education. If you look at countries like Luxembourg, Belgium, Switzerland or Singapore, they are small countries with few resources, but they have 'brains'. They are some of the richest countries in the world because they have knowledge. It's going to take some time but we're heading in this direction; we're heading in the right direction."

The support for research has its beginnings in independent schools and extends into the world-class universities in Education City and research centers such as the Qatar Science and Technology Park.

"Putting the resources in this direction makes things happen. In my own experience, I see many people with many ideas and they want to conduct research. I think this is the right time for Qataris to develop research in the oil and gas sector, for example, and present the results in conferences. They should not to be shy or hesitant to do this.

"The evolution of the Independent Schools process in Qatar is heading in the right direction. As every new project starts, there are always obstacles but I think the Supreme Education Council is overcoming all these obstacles and I think it's truly on the right track. I also think we will see tremendous results in the coming years. It's education - it's a long-term vision.

While there have been some criticisms of the reform, Dr. Faisal F.J. Al-Thani points out that criticisms can be made of any school system.

"The criticisms have been relatively minor and I know the people working at the Supreme Education Council are really looking on a daily basis to try and solve these issues. Over the last year, we have seen that the independent schools have improved a great deal.

"But we need patience. While some minor criticisms will continue, people need to look at the big picture: new schools, new facilities, sports centers and financial support for all of these. There is a great deal of investment in education and this will really put Qatar at the forefront of educational developments."

Although Dr. Faisal F.J. Al-Thani is clearly a motivated person this characteristic wasn't developed from his own experience at school. "Today I see teachers and principals who are very motivated. For the principal, it's almost like it's his or her private company. The principal is motivated to encourage the best in students, to provide the best facilities to attract more students. Things are different now. The mentality is different. Even the kind of student in the classroom is different. There is even competition between schools to get the best results. And ultimately, we need to ensure that students are motivated to achieve the best results.

"The advantage here in Qatar is that we are a small country in terms of population, the idea of the Independent School should work better here than in some of the larger countries with larger populations.

"This type of education produces high quality students, and that's what happened in Europe and other places and it is well on track here."

"The best place to start with education is where everybody else has ended. For example, when we talk about the universities that have set up at Education City, we're talking about some of the best from the United States. We are proud to have them here. That's the best way to start - to bring the best from the world and move forward from there."

Qatar is meeting educational needs at every level.
The next step for many students who have attended an Independent School is to attend and graduate from a world-class university. Students can attend the high quality national and international universities in Qatar. They also have the choice to be supported by one of a range of scholarships to attend universities abroad.

Last year, the Higher Education Institute (HEI) released a list of the best 300 universities and higher learning institutions after considerable work compiling information from all available international higher education ranking systems. A list of Arab universities specializing in higher degrees in Shari'a and Arabic language was also released.

"With the resources we have, both financial and educational, we are bound to be successful," he said. Indications are that within the next five years, education and schooling in Qatar will be number one in the Gulf, Arab region.

"For example, with the Qatar Science and Technology Park - which is really going to be like a small Silicon Valley - the best of these graduates will have a place to go."

"I hope to see more and more Qataris involved in research in the future. That's what will make this successful - seeing more Qataris involved in these enterprises."

"With first class research facilities and first class education facilities, this is the future and the future is here. It's good to have the finances to be able to do things, but in the end you have to have the quality people."

Dr. Faisal F.J. Al-Thani has some last words of wisdom about the future for Qatar's young people.

"I feel the coming generation will be better than us - they'll be better educated, much smarter and harder workers. I see this in my own children. I feel very optimistic."


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