February 4, 2002

Qatar Medical School Plans on Schedule

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Despite the events of Sept. 11, Cornell’s plans for the new Weill Medical College in Qatar remain on track, and architects recently proposed a final project for the college’s buildings, medical program officials said last Monday.

“The architects have just finished the building plans,” said Prof. David Robertshaw, biomedical sciences, who leads the project. “The buildings themselves should be finished by July of 2003.

“We’ve just finished recruiting the faculty who will go out there,” he added.

The two-year premedical non-degree program is scheduled to begin in September. Robertshaw explained that for the first year the program would be housed in temporary facilities.

After Sept. 11, members of the Cornell community were worried about the safety of students and faculty at the school. But after examining the situation, the University “encouraged us to go on, and we did,” Robertshaw said. “We have had an incredible amount of support from the Qatari people,” he added.

As Cornell continues with its plans, other schools have started looking into starting programs in the Middle East.

Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va. has already established a design school in what the Qatari government hopes to turn into an “education city” outside of the country’s capital, Doha.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNCCH) is currently hoping to create a business school and is negotiating the matter with the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, a private, non-profit organization started by the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani. The Qatari government has also contacted the University of Texas at Austin (UTA).

Robertshaw hypothesized that institutions are interested in starting schools in Qatar because it gives them an opportunity to “expand their programs and be a little more global, and a little less provincial.”

“For [the medical college], part of the attraction is that [being in Qatar] will open us up to a whole new range of diseases,” he continued. “But you could also ask why the Qataris want us. They came to us. And I think they recognize the value of U.S. degrees.”

The current plan for the school is that up to 70 percent of the students will be Qatari. According to the University’s agreement with the Qatari government, once that quota is filled, or if that quota cannot be filled, Cornell is free to recruit in the Gulf region.

Cornell presently has complete control over the curriculum, faculty, and admissions for the school. Last year, Hank Dullea ’61, vice president for University relations, said, “[The Qatar Foundation] assured us total control of academic programs, admissions, procedure and hiring decisions.”

As far as Robertshaw can tell, Cornell will continue to have that control in the foreseeable future. There is no immediate plan for the school to become independent. “It takes a long time, maybe 30 or 40 years, for a medical school to become independent,” he said.

The medical program in Qatar will be divided into two parts.

First, students must go through a two-year non-degree premedical program, a system that is almost unheard of in the U.S., but exists at European universities. Then, students will go through the medical school itself. The degrees given will be equivalent to those given from Cornell’s Weill Medical College in New York City.

Most of the Cornell faculty going to Qatar is either emeritus or part-time. Some classes, however, will be taught through distance learning.

“Overall, the main message is that we are still on-track. We are very excited about it, and we are still committed to what it stands for, mainly the export of American education,” Robertshaw said.

Archived article by Freda Ready