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Story | Education
31 January 2019

How Northwestern and Georgetown joined forces in Education City


Universities in Education City are collaborating to offer joint programs and minors, helping students make the most of their neighboring universities’ expertise.

When Northwestern University and Georgetown University first opened their branch campuses in Qatar, they focused on offering degrees from their most renowned schools: the Medill School of Journalism and the Walsh School of Foreign Service, respectively. In the US, these schools are located hundreds of miles away, but in Education City, they are only a few feet apart and offer joint programs.

Shakeeb Asrar was in his second year at Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q) when he developed an interest in politics and chose to take classes from the neighboring Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q). Upon his graduation in 2017, Asrar earned a degree in Journalism from Northwestern with a minor in Media and Politics in collaboration with Georgetown’s Walsh School of Foreign Service.

“I wanted to take classes in government structures, policy-making, or diplomacy — factors that greatly impact media these days,” Asrar said. “For me to take such classes at Georgetown while being a Northwestern student was a perfect blend of the two worlds.”

This collaborative approach is characteristic of Education City, a 12 square kilometer campus that houses branch campuses of six top-ranked American colleges, two European institutes, and one homegrown research university. In addition to Georgetown and Northwestern, Qatar Foundation has partnered with Cornell, Carnegie Mellon, Texas A&M, Virginia Commonwealth, HEC Paris, and University College London to open campuses in Education City.

Fostering collaborations

“When Education City was first conceived, its vision was to provide world-class education to the people of Qatar. But over the past 23 years, this project has achieved beyond that goal and the result is an academic hub with unique opportunities and initiatives,” said Omran Al-Kuwari, CEO of Qatar Foundation International. “Collaborations between some of the world’s best institutions are happening right here in Doha.”

Today, the nine universities in Education City that cater to more than 3,000 students are located within walking distance of one another. Housed in built-for-purpose campuses, the university programs range from undergraduate offerings in media, international affairs, business and computer science, to doctorates in medicine, and post-graduate programs in engineering and arts. All programs carry the same academic rigor and repute of those at their main campuses.

The students who are most attracted to the program are those who value interdisciplinarity and are eager to venture outside their comfort zone.

They are keen on having a solid grounding in political science, but also realize the vital importance of media and communication in whatever career they may end up pursuing and try to make the best of it.

“The universities are run independently and enjoy complete academic freedom and authority over their curricula and the recruitment of students, faculty, and staff. QF provides the universities with the necessary resources, and they help us develop a knowledge hub in the region with academic excellence as priority,” added Al-Kuwari. “Thankfully, the journey has been very fruitful so far.”

Hend Al Thawadi, a Qatari graduate of NU-Q also completed the Media and Politics minor, and spoke of how being at Education City allowed her to fully express herself.

“I have always been intrigued by Arab media, and I generally like debating about political systems, and their cultural and social aspects,” said Al Thawadi, explaining that she “made the most out of” politics classes taken at Georgetown as a Northwestern student.

Al Thawadi’s focus in the minor revolved around using social and cultural lenses to study her community, which culminated in her thesis about the role of fashionistas in shifting elements of Qatari society. Al Thawadi now works in a branding and communications role at Qatar Rail, where she said her knowledge of social and cultural lenses comes in handy when understanding audiences.

“The students who are most attracted to the program are those who value interdisciplinarity and are eager to venture outside their comfort zone. They are keen on having a solid grounding in political science, but also realize the vital importance of media and communication in whatever career they may end up pursuing and try to make the best of it,” said Mohamed Zayani, Associate Professor of Critical Theory, Director of the Media and Politics Program at GU-Q, and author of the award winning book Networked Publics and Digital Contention.

While cross-registration of classes is not a feature limited only to Education City — several universities such as Harvard and MIT offer similar opportunities — the close proximity of these institutions in Qatar allows students from both universities to interact more closely and helps academic advisors to meet regularly to ensure alignment of programs.

Opening up opportunities

According to Scott Curtis, associate professor and director of the Communication Program at NU-Q, “being in a set-up like Education City opened up opportunities for us to work with other universities, and to build collaborative programs which are beneficial to our students.

“In terms of the partnership with GU-Q, we already had the green light from our home university [in Evanston],” Curtis explained. “They expect us to be innovative and entrepreneurial in our teaching methods, and recognized that NU-Q has more similarities with GU-Q than with many of the other EC campuses. Both universities share a social scientific and humanistic approach, and a similar outlook.”

For Zayani, the Media and Politics program is not only encouraging other universities in Education City to consider offering similar joint programs, but is also having a positive impact on student and faculty research.

“Since its launch, the Media and Politics program has also helped create promising research synergies between Georgetown and Northwestern faculty and researchers, and has opened up exciting opportunities for high impact collaborative research,” noted Zayani.

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For the final year project required by the program, joint program graduate Asrar researched sensationalism in Pakistan’s broadcast industry and wrote a thesis linking sensationalism to deregulation of media by the Pakistani government.

“As someone who plans to return to Pakistan as a media practitioner, it was important for me to understand the issues and challenges common in media back home,” Asrar added. “The expertise of my faculty mentors from the two schools helped me critically analyze the media of Pakistan, and I have a much mature understanding of the subject than I had before.”

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