[lg policy] How Qatar University=?windows-1252?Q?=92s_?=language policy is holding back students

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Wed Apr 3 14:31:55 UTC 2013

 lost in translation How Qatar University’s language policy is holding back
 By Shaheen Pasha — April 2, 2013
Shaheen Pasha teaches international journalism at the University of
Massachusetts-Amherst. She has been a financial reporter for Reuters, CNN
and the Wall Street Journal, and previously reported from Dubai and Cairo.
 Qatar University changed its official language to Arabic—even as the
country has become a global destination. Getty Images/Chris Jackson

In Qatar, where expats outnumber local Arabs nearly 8 to 1, there is a
palpable concern among locals that the gas-rich nation has put its cultural
identity on the selling block. With a steady influx of global businesses
and Western law firms opening their doors in Doha, you’re more likely to
hear the sounds of English banter on the Corniche than Arabic.

But Qatar is fighting back—much to the detriment of its future and that of
its next generation. Last year, Qatar University reverted to Arabic as its
primary language<http://chronicle.com/article/Debate-Arises-at-Qatar-U-Over/130695/>for
business, law, social sciences and humanities as part of the country’s
push to strengthen the use of Arabic language in public education.  “Arabic
is the mother tongue of most QU students so there is certainly an advantage
to teach in Arabic,” says Nael Mohamad, a spokesman for Qatar University in
an e-mail.

That may be true in the short run and for those students seeking public
sector jobs within Qatar. But Qatar’s ambitions lie further West, making
English a language of necessity for Qataris eager to be part of the large
global marketplace. That’s especially true since Qatar won the right to
host the FIFA 2020 World Cup. The tiny Gulf kingdom has committed to
developing $60 billion worth of infrastructure projects ahead of the deal,
ushering in a wave of foreign players eager to be a part of the development
boom. Who better to work alongside the influx of foreigners in the private
sector than local Qataris, fluent in English, who are adequately trained in
the finer aspects of business and law?

Beyond its own infrastructure goals, deep-pocketed Qatar has become an
aggressive investor in foreign assets. In February, Qatar Holding, a unit
of Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, said it will launch a $12 billion
investment firm<http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/02/19/qatar-investmentfirm-idUKL6N0BJ6AY20130219>to
buy assets globally.  Such endeavors offer a unique opportunity for
Qataris to play a larger, sustainable role in the shaping of their
country’s economy.  But to make a meaningful contribution, their skills
must be on par with Western competitors.

There is no debate that Arabic is at the heart of Qatar’s cultural
heritage. Even Robert Musgrove, chief executive of the Qatar International
Court and Dispute Resolution Centre—an English common-law court established
in 2009 to attract international business to Qatar—agrees. Yet, “similarly
it is recognized that if there is a global language of commerce and law, it
is English,” he said. “If Qatar is to develop lawyers whose ambition is to
appear in international commercial courts of the world, they will need to
be educated in international law in English. “

And business majors will need to understand a basic truth: most modern
international business contracts are written in English. QU’s Mohamad said
“a suitable level of specialized English will continue to be a requirement
for graduation” and some elective courses will be offered in English. But
that may not be enough to make QU graduates – a majority of whom are locals
–competitive in today’s workplace. There are a number of foreign
universities, such as Northwestern and Texas A&M universities, with
campuses in Doha. They teach in English.

Graduates from these institutions will have an edge. And that edge may make
all the difference.

*We welcome your comments at ideas at qz.com. *


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