DOHA—Georgetown University in Qatar has plans for enhancing its global profile and building on its role as a bridge between Arab societies and the rest of the world, Safwan Masri, the campus’s dean, said at a recent roundtable with journalists.
“We provide students with a mind-set that enables them to become global citizens, to navigate the world in a more facile way, and to contribute to the advancement of the region and the world,” said Masri, who took office as dean of Georgetown University in Qatar last fall.
The campus opened in 2005 in Qatar’s Education City as a branch of Georgetown University, a Jesuit-affiliated Roman Catholic institution in Washington, D.C., and Masri believes it has lived up to its promise of creating a powerful hub for teaching, learning, and research.
“We provide students with a mind-set that enables them to become global citizens, to navigate the world in a more facile way, and to contribute to the advancement of the region and the world.”Safwan Masri, dean of Georgetown University in Qatar
“As a hub of global education in the region, the GU-Q campus is committed to not just provide education, but to also learn from partners on the ground, and transmit that knowledge to the Washington, D.C., campus, contributing to the further globalisation of the institution,” he said.
Masri also spoke about how the campus could help meet the unique needs of the Global South and the changing global economy.
“The Qatar campus of Georgetown University provides an opportunity to teach and learn about the world from a location that is an important intersection of geopolitical interests,” Masri said. “With over 70 nationalities represented in the student body, the students are unlike any in the world, and the diversity of viewpoints adds depth and complexity to the international affairs curriculum.”
Graduates as Bridges
Seungah Lee, a senior lecturer at New York University–Abu Dhabi, agrees that Georgetown University in Qatar is well-placed to graduate students who could serve as bridges between conservative Arab societies and the wider world.
“A lot of Georgetown graduates, especially Qatari graduates, are expected to be in places of leadership. This makes them great potential leaders to be a bridge between more-conservative factions of society and the rest of the world who might not quite understand Qatar.”Seungah Lee, a senior lecturer at New York University–Abu Dhabi
In a 2021 paper titled “A Precarious Balancing Act: Globalisation, Political Legitimacy, and Higher Education Expansion in Qatar and the UAE,” Lee argued that as Arab Gulf states bring in foreign universities to raise their international profiles, they often face pushback from conservative elements of their own societies who object to “Westernising education.”
“Qatar is developing, modernising, growing in its economy, and opening up to global markets, while trying to preserve its heritage and identity at the same time,” Lee said in an interview with Al-Fanar Media.
Lee believes that as Qatar and other Gulf states pursue a balance between these competing interests, the graduates of institutions like Georgetown University in Qatar can be of service.
“A lot of Georgetown graduates, especially Qatari graduates, are expected to be in places of leadership,” she said. “This makes them great potential leaders to be a bridge between more-conservative factions of society and the rest of the world who might not quite understand Qatar.”
A Safe Space for Expression
“We have a role and a responsibility in widening the space for discussing subjects that may be uncomfortable or controversial,” Masri told journalists at the roundtable. “Otherwise, we’re not doing our job as academic institutions.”
But such efforts can only be done “while respecting local cultural norms,” he added. “As long as one is respectful of those, I don’t see any limits to the kind of engagement that we can have.”
Education City promises students a world-class education rooted in local heritage. But the balance between Western higher education and local culture has proved challenging at times.
Seungah Lee argues that Georgetown and other Western campuses in Education City serve two purposes.
“We’re not here to change any part of the world. We’re here to contribute to advancing the state of the world through education.”Safwan Masri, dean of Georgetown University in Qatar
One is that “they are part of the effort to build a knowledge economy for Qatar as part of national development,” she said. “Another aspect is also to place Qatar on the international higher education scene by inviting these reputable institutions and universities to come to Doha.”
During the roundtable, Masri said the Qatar campus was planning a number of initiatives to bolster its expertise in areas such as international security, global economics, and U.S. relations with the region.
He also announced a series of community-engagement events planned in the coming year. These include conferences, book launches, lectures by distinguished experts, and programmes featuring diplomats and scholars in residence where students, scholars, and the Qatari public can exchange ideas.
Asked by Al-Fanar Media whether he thinks such events will help higher-education institutions advance the discussion of political rights in the region, Masri said: “Our presence here is driven a lot by wanting to try to make an impact.”
He explained that this could be done by advancing women’s education, developing global citizens, and teaching students how to contribute to the progress of the region and the world.
Referring to the university’s Jesuit values of serving the common good, Masri added: “We’re not here to change any part of the world. We’re here to contribute to advancing the state of the world through education. This will happen as more and more of us are trying to do that, but it won’t always be successful.”
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