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Week of 5.16.08

Education City

Winner of a 2009 Front Page Award for television feature and a 2009 Gracie Award. [pdf]

While America's reputation in the Middle East is hovering at historic lows, the demand for American university-branded education has never been greater leading a number of U.S. schools to set up shop overseas. But is exporting American education a risky endeavor?

This week, NOW travels to the tiny energy-rich nation of Qatar, home of Education City, the largest collection of American universities in the Middle East, to investigate why students are flocking to branches of America's elite colleges.

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"An American education is important to me because it's a way of advancing my career," says Assma Al Adawi, a junior studying international relations at Georgetown University in Qatar. Al Adawi, who was raised in Doha, Qatar's capital, says studying at an American university offers her a different perspective.

"I don't agree with American policies all the time. I just definitely don't see how American policy managed to culminate into the war in Iraq. But ... I think there are other aspects of American society that are good," she says.

Al Adawi is one of more than 900 students currently studying at an American university in Education City, a 2,500 acre campus where nearly 50 nationalities are represented. Five American universities are currently taking part in this multi-billion dollar experiment, with their operations financed entirely by the Qatari government.

For women like Al Adawi, the initiative is opening a door that was previously closed. Local customs in Qatar dictate that women not mix casually with men who are not their relatives. As such, most schools, including the main university, don't offer co-ed classes. But Education City is changing all that: for the first time in Qatar, women can compete with men in higher education.

While many praise Education City as a way to spread American values and principles, some question whether these renowned academic institutions should be working in partnership with a country whose values at times conflict with our own.

And it also raises the question: Are these top American schools risking their good name for a big check?

Related Links:

Education City

Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar

Georgetown University: School of Foreign Service in Qatar

Texas A&M University at Qatar

Virginia Commonwealth University

Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar

Sadat Chair at the University of Maryland/Zogby International Annual Arab Public Opinion Poll

New York Times: In Oil-Rich Mideast, Shades of the Ivy League

New York Times: U.S. Universities Rush to Set Up Outposts Abroad

New York Times: Q & A with Charles E. Thorpe, Dean of Carnegie Mellon in Qatar

New York Magazine: The Emir of NYU

New York Magazine: Posted Comments on "The Emir of NYU"