Outsourced to Qatar – A Case Study of Northwestern University-Qatar: “Saudi Arabia has historically provided the largest amount of funding to American universities out of all the Middle Eastern countries. In recent years, however, neighboring Qatar has emerged as a significant rival. A small but wealthy Persian Gulf petrostate, Qatar recently became the top foreign funder of American universities, donating at least $4.7 billion between 2001 and 2021.Qataris fund research projects in many different fields, including medical research, cybersecurity, and economic development. The top recipients of Qatari funds have something in common: they all have branch campuses in the country. According to the Department of Education, Northwestern University received more than $600 million in Qatari gifts and contracts since it opened a branch campus in the country in 2007. The Illinois-based university is one of six American campuses in Qatar, each of which has a particular specialization. Cornell University, for example, focuses on medical education, while Georgetown University specializes in government and politics. Northwestern University’s branch campus in Qatar (NU-Q) primarily covers journalism… QF recruited Northwestern to establish a Qatari branch campus in the hopes that the university would train future journalists who could build Qatar’s media presence abroad. At first, this purpose was largely unstated. In 2013, however, NU-Q entered a formal agreement with the Qatari-owned news outlet Al Jazeera designed to train journalists for the outlet. NU-Q and Al Jazeera signed a Memorandum of Understanding that created Al Jazeera scholarships for NU-Q students and established journalist exchange programs and training workshops in which the students could participate.
As part of the agreement, NU-Q committed to help Al Jazeera expand into the American media market via its Al Jazeera America (AJA) news channel: NU-Q will conduct consultations with Al Jazeera leadership based on its faculty research interests and expertise in the American media industry, as the news network moves forward with its planning for Al Jazeera America. AJA shut down in 2016, but Al Jazeera continues to reach American audiences via its social media platform AJ+. Nearly 500 students have graduated since NU-Q’s founding; the number of graduates increased from 35 for the class of 2012 to somewhere between 75-80 in the 2021 class. Universities that enter into agreements with Qatar receive significant criticism because of the emirate’s illiberal practices. Qatar is a quasi-absolute monarchy that offers little in the way of protections for workers, women’s rights, or freedom of the press. Critics of the Qatari government frequently end up in jail, so academic freedom for professors at branch campuses remains a major concern—as does the willingness of American universities to turn a blind eye to Qatar’s illiberal practices…”