Flickr User Mollymegan
Flickr User Mollymegan
The Dearth of Qatari Men in Higher Education: Reasons and Implications

Originally posted October 2010

That education is a major force for socialization is indisputable. Education has the power to shape views of the world, to challenge long-held beliefs, and, therefore, to impact the social order. Its influences on the course of a society’s development are far-reaching, from the public realm of employment patterns and economic development to the private sphere of marriage and childbearing.

Despite some broad trends worldwide, it can be argued that patterns of educational attainment as well as the impact of education on development have not been uniform across (or even within) societies. Systems of education do not exist in a vacuum. They interact in complex ways with the cultural, economic, ideological, and political forces in any given society yielding outcomes that are context-specific.

In the Arabian Gulf, the creation of modern public education systems was strongly tied to the discovery of oil and to the subsequent rise in oil revenues,[1] which brought tremendous wealth to countries with small national populations. Public education systems in the Gulf states expanded to catch up with the economic growth brought about by the new-found oil wealth. Today, several major American and European universities have either opened branch campuses or forged other forms of partnerships and associations with universities in the Gulf. The effectiveness of education systems in the Middle East, including the Gulf states, in preparing their citizens for a knowledge-based economy, has been debated in the first volume of this series,[2] with some optimistic outlooks and others that are less so. Undoubtedly there have been very significant developments in higher education in the Gulf, but there are still many more challenges to be addressed in terms of the quality of education delivered and its suitability for the unique needs of Gulf societies and for the needs of the global labor market in more general terms.

This brief essay sheds light on a phenomenon common to many Gulf states, namely the gender gap in education, especially in higher education. Mention of a gender gap in most, if not all, Arab and Islamic societies usually evokes the notion of female disadvantage and of male domination. This essay identifies one vital area where this is not the case. Simply stated, men are almost absent from post-secondary education. This trend, though not new, has serious implications for the labor markets in the Gulf states and requires a careful strategy to address it. Although the trends are similar in many Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, this discussion is limited to Qatar.

Demographic Realities and Development Requirements

Human capital is an essential ingredient in the social and economic development formula. With a globalized economy and an increasingly internationalized labor market, the need for an educated and skilled workforce is arguably greater than ever before.

Yet demographic realities and development requirements are not always aligned. Nowhere is the gap more apparent than in the Gulf states which, though blessed with energy resources, suffer from a severe imbalance in their demographic make-up. In some Gulf states, nationals comprise no more than a fifth to a quarter of the total population, making substantial reliance on a non-national workforce unavoidable.

In Qatar, the small size of the national population makes it highly unlikely that the thousands of jobs created as a result of the oil and gas-driven economic and infrastructural boom can be sufficiently filled without extensive reliance on an expatriate population. In 2009, the population growth rate for nationals was 3% compared to 15% among non-Qataris.[3] Challenging as this demographic fact may be, it puts into sharp focus the need to maximize the contribution of the national population. Stated differently, Qatar cannot afford anything less than the full contribution of its men and women to fulfill the ambitious development plan, known as Qatar National Vision 2030, outlined by His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, the Emir.

Education for Development

The government’s commitment to education and to the creation of a knowledge-based economy has been backed by significant financial investments (19.6% of government spending goes to education).[4] As a result of this commitment, literacy rates have risen steadily and are today well above the regional average for both males and females in the adult and youth populations.[5] Similarly, enrollment in primary education is almost universal and is again well above the regional average.

As with other Gulf states, the discovery of oil and the revenues that followed were closely tied to the development of the modern education system in the mid 1950s. Until then, the predominant form of education was the Kuttab [religious teaching based on the Qur’an].[6] What was remarkable was that the opening of a primary school for boys would be followed only a few years later by a similar school for girls. The expected resistance from clergy and from a conservative society was not massive enough to deter female education. Furthermore, the government provided financial incentives for families to enroll both their sons and daughters in schools.

Higher education followed shortly thereafter with the establishment of the national university in 1973, which started out as a College of Education enrolling both men and women. Since then, there has been nothing short of a revolution in the quality and quantity of higher education offerings in Qatar. With over 8,000 students, Qatar University presently comprises seven colleges and a number of research centers.[7] The alumni of Qatar University are some of the most influential figures in Qatari society. In 2003, the University embarked on a comprehensive reform initiative which transformed its academic, administrative, and infrastructural sectors and introduced measures to enhance the quality of its graduates in response to labor market needs.

In addition to the national university, Education City was established in 1995 by HH the Emir to expand the post-secondary offerings available in Qatar and indeed for the region as a whole. Education City[8] is a consortium of seven world-class US universities, where the fields of study available range from journalism, computer science, business administration, information systems, design, and international relations to medicine and engineering. The initiative has been heavily supported by the government in order to ensure the quality of education that is delivered.

In all, education reforms in Qatar, whether at the primary and secondary levels (which are beyond the scope of this essay) or at the post-secondary levels, can be considered the most comprehensive in the region.[9]

The Gender Gap

Despite advances in educational attainment, and the more recent quantitative and qualitative improvements to the entire educational system, the Qatari education system has been suffering from a phenomenon that can be called “the missing boys.” Both in terms of enrollment and attainment, the education gap between men and women is a serious concern with ramifications not only for the labor market, but for broader sectors of society as well.

The education deficit among Qatari males becomes apparent at the secondary school level.[10] In 2008, the Gender Parity Index (GPI) at the level of secondary education was 1.12, up from 1.01 and 1.03 at the primary and preparatory levels, respectively.[11]

At the level of post-secondary education, the gender gap becomes even more significant. Data from the 2004 Census showed that by the age of 25, there were only 46 Qatari men with university education for every 100 Qatari women with equal qualifications.[12] In fact, the gender ratio is so skewed that at Qatar University the 2008/2009 student body was 76% female.[13] Incidentally, this trend of female domination at the university level has been going on since the inception of the University, although the ratio was slightly less skewed at 38% men and 62% women in 1973/1974.[14] Even in terms of higher education scholarships, which include support for study at the Education City universities or abroad, the trend shows an increase in women who receive scholarships compared to men. In 2008/2009, 290 women enrolled compared to 170 men.[15]

Where are the Men in Higher Education?

There are two issues to consider when looking for men in higher education. First, the roots of the absence of men in higher education lie at the lower levels of the education system, where boys underperform compared to girls. Statistics from 2001/2002 showed that, by the end of the preparatory education level (age 16), Qatari boys were three times as likely as girls to drop out.[16] The phenomenon of boys falling behind girls in school performance has been reported in other countries as well, including the United States, Britain, and Scandinavian countries.[17] It has been suggested that problems with verbal skills and reading were the main deterrents for boys rather than girls. This may or may not be the specific case in Qatar, but it does draw attention to one area of research, which is to look carefully at how boys learn differently in order to devise context-specific strategies to keep them from under-performing and therefore leaving school.

The second issue is that incentives for higher education for men are weak. The public sector, which does not necessarily require a post-secondary degree, remains the single largest employer of Qatari nationals. It is the preferred choice for men (and women), as it is considered less competitive, more secure, financially comfortable, and prestigious.[18] A survey of recent secondary school graduates found that males would much rather enroll in the police force or the military, which tend to be financially lucrative and secure careers.[19] This preference persists despite the need for Qatari nationals in all occupations, whether in the public or private sector, as non-nationals presently dominate all occupation categories. The percentage of Qataris in the private sector does not exceed 5% despite policies designed to increase that number.

Implications of Gender Gaps in Education on Employment Patterns

The education differentials between men and women have implications on employment patterns in the labor force, where, on average, Qatari women have 3.4 more years of education than Qatari men.[20] Although women have historically had much lower labor force participation rates than men, the trend has been for the participation to increase over time. Between 1986 and 2004, Qatari female labor force participation rates almost doubled, from 14% to 30%. Furthermore, more young women are entering the private sector compared to young men because of their higher educational attainment, which makes them better suited for the needs of that sector.

The paradox and the real challenge for development in Qatar is that despite the need for Qatari nationals in all occupations in all sectors, young men tend to be particularly vulnerable to unemployment due to their lower educational attainment and their inadequate job market skills. Vocational training is one of the avenues that are being pursued for qualifying young Qatari men for specific technical jobs. In general however, vocational training tends to be perceived negatively in Arab societies.

Finally, educational differentials have effects that reverberate beyond the labor market and extend into the sphere of gender relations, including selection of marital partners and stability of marriages. The effect of educational differences between spouses has been shown to influence the initiation and stability of marriages in other settings, and this can be a particularly sensitive issue, given the existing demographic realities. Further empirical studies are needed in this area.

Policies

Realizing the human capital challenges of Qatar, the state has initiated reforms in both the education sector, to better prepare graduates for employment, and in labor policies.[21] However, their effectiveness has not yet been fully evaluated. It remains to be seen whether they will be effective in harnessing the enormous potential that we are currently losing with men opting out of post-secondary education.

In the meantime, there is a need to understand better the real reasons why boys do not continue their enrollment in education and eschew post-secondary education. Part of the answer will definitely be found in the early stages of education. Research is needed on how boys learn in this specific context, their difficulties, and the most effective methods to help them improve their achievement and therefore not leave or fail out of school.

At another level, there is the issue of motivation which is very difficult to address. Jobs in the public sector should be made more competitive in terms of the qualifications and skills required, in order to motivate boys to gain higher levels of education. Attitudes towards vocational training need to be changed, as there is a need for a comprehensive and coordinated national plan for training human resources.

Conclusion

The gender gap in education in Qatar, beginning from the secondary school level and continuing to higher education is a serious phenomenon requiring intervention. The future development of Qatari society is at stake, and the resources are there to address this issue. The trends discussed here are not unique to Qatar and are shared by other GCC countries as well. Cooperation is needed in exchanging reforms and policies which appear promising in this regard.

 


[1]. G. Bahjat, “Education in the Gulf Monarchies: Retrospect and Prospect,” International Review of Education, Vol. 45, No. 2 (1999), pp. 127–136.

[2]. The Middle East Institute, “Higher Education and the Middle East: Serving the Knowledge-based Economy” (July 2010), http://www.mei.edu/Portals/0/Publications/Education%20VP.pdf.

[3]. Qatar Statistics Authority Website: Qatar Information Exchange, http://www.qix.gov.qa/portal/page/portal/qix/subject_area/Statistics?sub....

[4]. UNESCO Institute for Statistics–UIS 2010. UIS Statistics in Brief: Education in Qatar 2008.

[5]. UNESCO Institute for Statistics–UIS 2010. UIS Statistics in Brief: Education in Qatar 2008.

[6]. C. Stasz, E.R. Eide, and F. Martorell, Post-Secondary Education in Qatar: Employer Demand, Student Choice, and Options for Policy. RAND–Qatar Policy Institute (2007), http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/MG644/.

[7]. Qatar University Office of Institutional Planning and Development, Fast Facts 2009–10 Annual (2010), http://www.qu.edu.qa/offices/oipd/documents/Home_Docs/Brochure_2009-10.pdf.

[8]. For detailed information on the universities and research centers comprising Education City, see http://www.qf.org.qa/output/Page17.asp.

[9]. G. Gonzalez, L.A. Karoly, L. Constant, H. Salem, and C.A. Goldman, Facing Human Capital Challenges of the 21st Century: Education and Labor Market Initiatives in Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. RAND–Qatar Policy Institute (2008), http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/2008/RAND_MG786.pdf.

[10]. Labor Market Strategy Project, Labor Market Strategy for the State of Qatar: Main Report, December 29, 2005, p. 75.

[11]. Qatar Statistics Authority Website: Qatar Information Exchange, http://www.qix.gov.qa/portal/page/portal/qix/subject_area/Statistics?sub....

[12]. Labor Market Strategy Project, Labor Market Strategy for the State of Qatar: Main Report, December 29, 2005, p. 75.

[13]. Qatar University Office of Institutional Planning and Development, Fast Facts 2009–10 Annual (2010), http://www.qu.edu.qa/offices/oipd/documents/Home_Docs/Brochure_2009-10.pdf.

[14]. Labor Market Strategy Project, Labor Market Strategy for the State of Qatar: Main Report, December 29, 2005, p. 74.

[15]. Statistics from the Higher Education Institute, February 4, 2009.

[16]. Labor Market Strategy Project, Labor Market Strategy for the State of Qatar: Main Report, December 29, 2005, p. 72.

[17]. N. Kristof, “The Boys Have Fallen Behind,” The New York Times, March 27, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/28/opinion/28kristof.html?scp=1&sq=kristo....

[18]. G. Gonzalez, L.A. Karoly, L. Constant, H. Salem, and C.A. Goldman, Facing Human Capital Challenges of the 21st Century: Education and Labor Market Initiatives in Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, RAND–Qatar Policy Institute (2008), http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/2008/RAND_MG786.pdf).

[19]. F. Martorell, V. Nadareishvili, and H. Salem, A Survey of Recent Qatari Secondary School Graduates: Methods and Results, RAND–Qatar Policy Institute (2008).

[20]. Labor Market Strategy Project, Labor Market Strategy for the State of Qatar: Main Report, December 29, 2005, p. 45.

[21]. G. Gonzalez, L.A. Karoly, L. Constant, H. Salem, and C.A. Goldman, Facing Human Capital Challenges of the 21st Century: Education and Labor Market Initiatives in Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, RAND–Qatar Policy Institute (2008), http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/2008/RAND_MG786.pdf).

 

"Simply stated, men are almost absent from post-secondary education."'