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Lacking students, US colleges drop out of Mideast

Not all has gone as planned for US universities seeking new revenue streams in the Middle East.

DePaul works in partnership with the Bahrain Institute of Banking and Finance, which provides the physical plant, the local administrative staff and the marketing; DePaul, meanwhile, provides the professors and the curriculum.

“They (BIBF) do what they do best and we do what we do best,” said Heiser. “Our professors are in Bahrain, face-to-face with students, but our physical footprint is fairly small ... (and) our overhead is a lot lower,” he said.

The school is now in discussions about expanding into undergraduate business education.

“Our mission as a non-profit is to take our services to underserved populations,” said Heiser. “We try not to lose money, but we are not treating this as a profit center.”

Given the mixed results of these experiments, it is not yet clear whether it is possible to simply transplant a higher education system in the arid sands of Arabia and expect it to thrive.

One of the legacies of Sheikh Shakbut and others in his mold is the region’s weak tradition of primary and secondary education. The problem is compounded by the growing dominance of English as the language of education, commerce and mass media. Most college-bound 18-year-olds in the Gulf can function in English, but not well enough to meet the normal standards of a U.S. university.

All of the U.S. universities with a presence in the region insist that they apply the same admissions and academic standards here as they do at home, even if it causes them to fall short of projected enrollments.

“The biggest problem — and it’s a pretty big one for a school of journalism — is writing, said Richard Roth, senior associate dean of Northwestern’s journalism program in Qatar.

“The writing skills, whether in English or Arabic, are not at the level we would expect in the United States. So we made an adjustment — we added a lot more hours in the week for writing instruction,” he said.

Northwestern, which is now in its third year in Qatar, has 49 students. But despite the relatively small numbers, Roth is confident the effort will yield results.

“Oh yes, I think it’s working. Immediately, young people — mostly female — are getting educations they undoubtedly could never have gotten,” he said.

“Longer term, I expect the outcome of all of this to be profound. Not in two years when we graduate a dozen journalists into the State of Qatar or a year later when there are 15 or 20 more ... but in 10 years, say, when there are a couple of hundred of them,” he said. “Then, 10 years from now, I think you will begin to see the value of this experiment.