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Qatar keeps close ties to American universities

Scholar says colleges should not ‘help strengthen an authoritarian adversarial country’

Several American universities will keep their campuses in Qatar after Texas A&M University announced its departure from the country.

TAMU’s board of regents will end its programs in Doha by 2028 over “heightened instability in the Middle East,” following a vote at its most recent meeting. This pulled the plug on one of six campuses established by the state-run Qatar Foundation through agreements with American schools.

Virginia Commonwealth University plans to keep an art school in the Middle Eastern country.

“VCU’s operations in Qatar have not been impacted by the decision from Texas A&M University,” a spokesperson told The College Fix via email.

Cornell University plans to stay there as well.

“Cornell operates a medical school in Qatar that has graduated over 500 students from the Middle East, Asia and many other countries, including the U.S.,” Cornell Vice President for University Relations Joel Malina told The Fix via email. “We are proud of this collaboration that is helping to train much needed doctors to support patient care, biomedical research and overall quality of life.”

The other three Qatar Foundation partners – Northwestern University, Carnegie Mellon University, and Georgetown University – did not respond to two inquiries about the future of its overseas campuses in the past several weeks.

The Qatar Foundation fought to conceal its TAMU contract from the public for almost five years before a Texas court ordered the school to release it in March 2023. The Washington Post obtained the foundation’s contract with VCU in 2015.

The Qatar Foundation provides all funding for TAMU’s Doha campus and owns “all Technology and Intellectual Property developed” there, according to the latest version of the signed agreement. The campus conducts research in multiple engineering, energy, and technology fields.

The Fix asked Cornell and the other private universities if they would release their Qatar Foundation contracts, but they did not respond.

American universities are ‘subject to Qatar’s influence,’ expert warns

A Cornell alumna who researchers foreign influence on higher education raised concerns about Qatar’s ambitions.

“Universities that establish campuses must remember that they can be subject to Qatar’s influence,” Neetu Arnold, a research fellow at the National Association of Scholars, told The Fix. “Qatar has a host of problems: [it] supports terrorists, censorship, poor worker protections, and so on.”

“Universities with Qatari branch campuses have monetary and social incentives to maintain good relations with Qatar,” Arnold said. “Only universities with branch campuses in Qatar can apply for research grants from organizations such as the Qatar National Research Foundation (QNRF).” Arnold is a former College Fix reporter.

“My investigation into Texas A&M System contracts found that these research grants can total in the tens of millions of dollars annually,” Arnold said. “Couple of implications here. First, American universities use educational and research resources to help strengthen an authoritarian adversarial country — that right there should already be a huge red flag.”

“On top of that, American universities can also affect their research priorities back home,” Arnold told The Fix.

“To maintain their financial ties, universities will avoid saying anything that could jeopardize their relationships with Qatar,” according to Arnold. “For example, I found that Northwestern’s journalism school did not comment on Qatar’s censorship of journalists during the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Yet the journalism school was quick to call out censorship when the Trump administration revoked a CNN reporter’s press pass in 2018.”

Arnold criticized the Qatar Foundation for having resisted the release of its TAMU contract. “It is deeply concerning when a foreign funder tries to conceal information rightfully owed to American citizens,” she said.

The foundation told The Fix it is “transparent about our partner relationships” but that “detailed financial terms” must remain “confidential.”

“The vast majority of QF’s funding for our partner universities is spent in Qatar and supports the building, operations, and growth of our Education City campus in Doha, Qatar,” a spokesperson said. “This includes the salaries of professors, researchers, and administrators, in addition to student funding, and building operations and a management fee.”

The foundation said it is confident in its relationship with the other schools and explained its interest in collaborating with them.

“QF’s partnerships with six US universities stem from the vision of Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, Chairperson of Qatar Foundation, to create a world-class ecosystem of education,” the foundation said. “To bring this vision to life, we first identified the specializations needed in Qatar and then sought international partners who represented the academic pinnacle in these fields.”

American colleges “represented educational excellence, and embodied the values of academic independence, critical thinking, and freedom of speech and expression,” the foundation said. “These values are central to the advancement of education and knowledge, to broadening horizons, and to providing minds with the nourishment to explore and lives with the opportunity to grow.”

“By establishing branch campuses of their institutions at Education City in Doha, together we embarked on a knowledge-based endeavor for the benefit of Qatar, the region, and the world,” the foundation told The Fix. “We are proud to say that these partnerships are as strong today as they have ever been. We will continue to strengthen these further.”

MORE: Professor accused of antisemitism leaves GWU for Qatar

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Hudson Crozier is a student at the University of North Texas studying journalism and political science. He is senior contributor for Upward News and has also written for The Federalist, Red Liberty Media, and others.