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Qatar’s Private Universities Are the Most Expensive in the Region

This article is one in a three-part series that examines the growing role and impact of private universities in the region.The other articles are “Private Universities Thriving as Public Ones Weaken” and “Are Private Universities Worth the Money?

Qatar has the most expensive private universities in the Arab region. Yemen, the least.

Average country private higher-education costs range from a stunning $50,000 a year to a slender $1,000 a year, in a region where much of the public tends to think of education as a government responsibility that should be free.

A network of Al-Fanar Media correspondents gathered data on the cost of private education in 13 Arab countries (Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates). The correspondents collected information on four to six universities in each country, including the most expensive and least expensive.

Why take the trouble to do this? We wanted to inject some facts into policy debates about private education and to help families make more informed choices.

The cost of four years of university education in U.S. dollars relative to the local cost of living.

The average annual cost for tuition and fees of a private non-profit four-year institution in the United States is $31,231 according to the College Board, a membership organization. That price is far less than the average cost Al-Fanar Media found for Qatar of  $50,000 per year. German universities charge no tuition at all.  (None of those numbers take into account student housing, meals, travel or other living costs.)

Would a family be better off sending a child abroad than to private universities in Qatar? That is for the families to decide, but we wanted to outline the facts on costs. The benefits of individual universities are often harder to discern.  (See a related article, Are Private Universities Worth the Money?)

As usual, there are wide variations among Arab countries. Private universities do not exist in Algeria because they are illegal there.  Lebanon has more than 40 private universities, perhaps the most in the region. (See a related article, Private Universities Thriving As Public Ones Weaken.)

The category of private universities is broad. We are not trying to paint institutions with the same brush. There are venerable non-profit private institutions such as the American University of Beirut or the American University of Cairo. There are many other private institutions with international accreditation from trusted organizations that offer scholarships. There are for-profit institutions set up on the side by government officials that take advantage of students who can’t get into public institutions.

To compare the cost of private higher education between countries, we compared average university fees adjusted for average consumer prices in those countries. Even when that adjustment is taken into account, Qatar still came out on top, with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Lebanon following, in that order.

The variation in the cost of private education within a country, in U.S. dollars.

For families making decisions about where their son or daughter should attend university, there is no easy calculation. The program of study within the university, not just the university itself, is often what matters. In Lebanon, for instance, Jad Melki, director of American University of Beirut’s Media Studies program, says that it offers the strongest digital media program in the country. But he acknowledges that Lebanese American University’s theater program is the best and said the country’s sole public university, Lebanese University, has the finest print journalism program.

With few, if any, guides yet to the strengths and weaknesses of individual institutions, prospective students and their families need to do a great deal of research to find out what an education at each institution is worth.

More universities collecting data on how many of their students are employed professionally and then sharing that data would help families to make better decisions. A handful of institutions do publish the results of surveys of student satisfaction: See for example the College Outcomes Survey done at the American University of Beirut. Such surveys include questions on how well students feel they have been prepared for a career.

In all cases, numbers make it possible to have debates based on data, not emotions.


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