International branch campuses in Qatar: Qatari students' experience of campus life
Alkuwari, Mohammad Shahin
A priority for Qatar’s National Vision for 2030 is the development of its indigenous population. To help achieve this, universities have been invited to establish international branch campuses (IBCs) in Qatar. To ensure the success of this strategy, it is important to understand how the cultural background of Qatari students interacts with a Western campus-life environment. Literature on the benefits and challenges of importing education is reviewed. The study is influenced by postcolonial theories. Where the sending nation is in the West and the hosting nation is in the East, is highlighted. In many cases, as pointed out by Said (2003), the West views the East as ‘other’, and therefore a postcolonial lens is required to view the existing research in context. This study exploring the campus experiences of Qatari students uses a qualitative method involving thirteen interviews with Qatari alumni of the IBCs as well as four interviews with non-Qatari staff within the IBCs. Key themes emerging from the study included the importance of family influences in choosing a higher education pathway and the tensions faced by Qatari students as they negotiate being a ‘home’ student on an international campus. Efforts are made by IBCs to accommodate the Qatari culture, as reported by Dumbre (2013) and Karam (2018). Both these authors indicate, however, that improvements can still be made, and this viewpoint is also indicated by the study reported here. This study also confirms the view in current literature (for example, Bakken (2013) and Rehal (2015)) that family has a particularly important role to play in the Qatari culture and in the thinking of Qataris. The study demonstrates the differences among Qataris themselves, and the reader is provided with a tool in the form of an innovative multilayer spectrum which facilitates understanding. The study sheds new light on the silence of Qatari student voices in the literature and is one of the first studies to give some voice to Qatari students in IBCs. It is also the first to be undertaken by a Qatari researcher. The study’s findings culminate in an original model that takes the form of a figurative ‘combination lock’ providing a mechanism through which institutions can assess the interaction of factors influencing participation and how they open or close opportunities for students. This model has the potential to enable current IBC staff and those who are planning to set up IBCs in Qatar to improve inclusivity for Qatari students based on their culture and religion. Finally, recommendations are made for future research.