Cornell to open medical school in Middle East

$750 million pledged by Qatar

graduates will get accredited degrees

April 26, 2001|By Karen W. Arenson | Karen W. Arenson,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK - In one of the biggest deals yet in the growing export of American higher education, Cornell University is establishing a branch campus of its medical school in the Middle East, where students will receive the same diploma as those 6,700 miles away in New York City.

Cornell will create the Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, a tiny, wealthy Persian Gulf nation that has agreed to spend $750 million running the school over 11 years, including a fee to Cornell and an additional donation.

Cornell's president, Hunter R. Rawlings III, said he was initially concerned about conditions in Qatar, and had investigated everything from human rights and the treatment of women to the country's political stability.

"Some of our Jewish trustees and alumni were especially concerned," Rawlings said. "But as they learned more about Qatar and its ambitions, they were willing to proceed."

He said the medical college in Qatar would have a nondiscrimination policy, as the one in New York does, and would accept Jews - and even Israelis - as faculty members and students.

"We are bound to a nondiscrimination policy and we will respect that," said Abdulredha Abdulrahman, the managing director of the Qatar Foundation, which is financing the project. "Entrance will be controlled by Cornell. This has nothing to do with nationalities. Anyone who is qualified is welcome."

An Israeli trade representative office opened in Qatar five years ago and has remained open over the past six months despite internal pressures to close it in solidarity with the Palestinian uprising.

American universities have increasingly been establishing programs abroad, from student exchanges to research institutes to distance education programs conducted over the Internet. The University of Chicago offers an executive MBA in Singapore and Barcelona, Spain; Johns Hopkins Medical School helps doctors in Singapore train to be researchers without awarding a degree.

But few, if any, are as comprehensive as the Cornell agreement, which will give a full medical degree to students who might never set foot in the United States.

`A lot more of this'

"I think we are going to see a lot more of this," said Robert Zemsky, a professor and director of the Institute for Research on Higher Education at the University of Pennsylvania. "There is a major international market emerging in higher education."

He said that Cornell appeared to have dealt with challenges that had sometimes stymied other American universities seeking to go abroad, including language (the Qatar medical school will be conducted in English), economics (Qatar is footing the bill), and whether the American university is seen as a carpetbagger (Qatar wanted Cornell to go there and has treated Cornell officials like dignitaries).

"We are very familiar with education in the United States and knew that Cornell was among the top 10 medical schools," Abdulrahman said. "We found Cornell very keen."

The foundation, established by the emir of Qatar and led by his wife, Sheika Mouza bint Nasser al-Misnad, has committed to pay an estimated $750 million to operate the medical college for 11 years. Neither Cornell nor the foundation would give details on the management fee or the donation, but both deny that the donation was a factor in the agreement.

Cornell will control the curriculum, the faculty and the admission of students, who will have to take the same tests and meet the same standards as those in New York, the university said.

Cornell's medical college is among the most selective in the United States. This year's entering students - 101 in all - were chosen from 6,344 applicants and had a 3.7 grade point average on their science courses in college.

Cornell is aiming for an entering class of about 50 students in Qatar, drawn from there and other countries, within the Arab world and without. Abdulrahman said the agreement calls for 70 percent of the class to come from Qatar unless too few Qataris qualify, in which case more students from outside the country would be admitted.

If too few total students qualify, the class will be smaller, but Abdulrahman said he did not expect that problem. "We will get the brightest students from Qatar and the region, and they will excel," he said, "We have the brains. We don't have the education system."

Qatar, an oil- and gas-rich neighbor of Saudi Arabia with 750,000 inhabitants, most of whom are foreign workers, is smaller than Connecticut. It has no medical school and is trying to create an "education city" anchored by an array of elite American universities in the capital city, Doha.

Qatar is widely considered among the most forward-looking of Arab states. A Qatari satellite television station, Al-Jazeera, beams frank public affairs discussions and interviews, including talks with Israeli leaders, into homes across the Middle East.

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