Wanderlust…

The International Reporting (and Life) Adventures of Vivian Salama

U.S. Students Try Life on Qatar campuses

Posted by vmsalama on May 4, 2009

By Vivian Salama, Special for USA TODAY

DOHA, Qatar — Doha may not have New York City’s bustle or Chicago’s charm. But as the global economy gets worse, it’s becoming an affordable — if slightly unusual — college town for more American students.  

Half a dozen U.S. universities have opened branch campuses here that are thriving because of generous financial support from the government of Qatar. 

Students at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service in Qatar. Courtesy: AP

Students at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service in Qatar. Courtesy: AP

Qatar — a tiny, gas-rich Persian Gulf nation — is offering substantial financial aid to most foreign students who need it — often chopping tuition to a quarter of what it costs at home, according to the government.

Qatar has struggled to diversify its economy away from oil and gas revenue. It sees the university sponsorships as a way to build its academic credentials — locals also attend classes — and bolster its workforce. The government offers foreign students the option of repaying each year of study with a year of work in Qatar.

“Qatar knows there aren’t enough Qataris to build the economy that they want to build, so they are delighted when people come from all over the world,” says Chuck Thorpe, dean of Carnegie Mellon’s branch here in Doha. “They are willing to offer all sorts of financial aid to get people to come here and study.”

Six American universities have branch campuses in Doha’s academic hub, a 2,500-acre campus known as Education City: Virginia Commonwealth, Weill Cornell Medical College, Georgetown, Texas A&M, Carnegie Mellon and coming this fall, Northwestern.

The number of U.S. citizens attending classes at Education City is relatively low — Weill Cornell tops the list with 26 Americans among its 239 students this academic year — but the number of university applications has gone up this year and is likely to keep rising, Thorpe says.

“This is a viable option for Americans looking for a U.S.-quality education that isn’t impacted by the current economic crisis. And we expect more students to take notice of that,” Thorpe adds.

Most of the current American students opted to study in Doha before the recession began and consider themselves fortunate.

“It has certainly been a surreal experience to be overseas during (the recession), and I’m sure I will be returning to a very different climate than the one I left,” says Kristina Ricco, 24, of Miami, who is studying architecture at Carnegie Mellon in Doha.

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