DoHa Diary

DoHa Diary


pride creating eQual
in a perfecT world, every child woUld have The same opporTUniTies To develop Their skills and apTiTUde. The ones who wanTed iT The mosT woUld Thrive and realise Their poTenTial, becoming experTs in Their chosen fields, and Those who were lefT behind woUld have no excUses.
sports reports. He developed his inherent flair for the Arabic language which was noticed in his test scores at school. However he didn’t perform well enough overall to qualify for third-level education and this budding talent fell through the cracks in the system. Who would you see as having the brighter potential as a journalist? Morton Schapiro, the president of Northwestern University (NU), was in Qatar recently to honour the first batch of journalism graduates on their campus at Education City. Graduates whom the Dean and CEO of NU-Qatar, Everette E Dennis recently described as a ‘diverse mosaic of cultures and true pioneers who have blazed a successful trail for others to follow’. College Access: Privilege or Opportunity The 36 graduates, who came from 29 different countries, obviously needed a combination of an intellect tailored towards journalism and the means to pay for the four-year liberal arts degree. NU wants to be able to select the best and the brightest in the world, but they must also be able to pay for the privilege or getting such an education. So where’s the opportunity for a boy like Ahmed? Schapiro, who specialises in the economics of higher education, recently penned a book called ‘College Access: Privilege or Opportunity’, which addresses the problem of unequal educational opportunity in the US through essays and studies detailing the disadvantages of low-income students. Backed by quantitative data and expert analyses, the book highlights the underlying problems while presenting opportunities for positive change. He discusses various models colleges could use to educate low-income students and argued that it is imperative to give these students full access to high-cost colleges as well as low-cost ones in order for the country to remain globally competitive. What is the difference between opportunity and privilege? “It’s a question of how wide you’re going to allocate your higher education opportunities,” said Schapiro. “Some countries have a policy of ‘only the very best and the brightest will go to university’ so the other students are attracted to more technical skills. The US in particular has always felt that wide access is important and actually 70% of high school graduates are enrolled in higher education somewhere

wo kids are called Assad and Ahmed. Assad was brought up by wealthy parents in an affluent area of town. He was spoiled with private education, personal tutorials and the best resources to learn. He performed moderately well in school, randomly announced that he wanted to become a journalist and was accepted to a private university. Ahmed comes from a lower-class background. His father died when he was young and his requirement to help out domestically pushed him to do some casual work at a local newspaper after school, where the editor allowed him to write brief

juLY 2012

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DoHa Diary

DoHa Diary
photo: peter barreras.

“we recognise tHat if you coMe froM a low incoMe faMily, your test-scores are not going to Be HigH anD tHereís oBviously a reason for tHis. you MigHt Have to work outsiDe to suppleMent faMily incoMe, or BaBysit younger siBlings.”

within one year. “You have to be willing to put your thumb on the scale,” he continued, regarding policies for proportional education. “You have to be very careful how you evaluate the academic record of an 18-year-old. It must be based on the opportunities that this student had to prove himself or herself in high school. If we had the same standards and test scores, everyone would be well off. When you talk about opportunity or privilege, it would be all privilege. “There are a lot of students from upper income backgrounds who are brilliant and have availed of every opportunity, but there are more students who, if they had the same opportunities, would have even better records. One of the things we are most proud of at Northwestern is the amount of first generation college kids we enroll. They’re not going to look as good as the more ‘affluent students’ unless you evaluate them against the context in which they have to prove themselves – that’s putting the thumb on the scale and we have to adjust for the opportunities that present themselves.” It is the highly endowed private universities, such as Harvard, Yale Stanford and Northwestern, which are able to subsidise education for students from underprivileged societies. Public universities are there for all of course, but they tend to attract students with high test-scores who invariably come from more affluent families. “Institutions like ours have the funds to say, ‘Ahmed, you’re a bright kid with something to offer. Your parents can’t afford our fees, but we’ll take you on regardless’,” said Schapiro. “We recognise that if you come from a low income family, your test-scores are not going to be high and there’s obvi-

morTon Schapiro
president of northwestern university

ously a reason for this. You might have to work outside to supplement family income, or babysit younger siblings.” Education City Northwestern University has been in existence since 1851, and has defined itself as a ‘centre of excellence’, if you like, in many strains of academia. Schapiro talks of ‘purple pride’ and how its alumni are so proud of their education there that they perennially ‘give back’ in various guises. The institution is over 150 years old, so he likes to underscore that it takes time to create reputable education centres, but the Education City model is a very innovative effort. “I think Education City is working well,” said Schapiro. “It’s not just planting random universities for the sake of having universities – it’s identifying what fields you want represented. HH Sheikha Mozah asked which institution is best at teaching petroleum engineering – Texas A&M. What about media and communication journalism? Well a lot of people would put Northwestern right up there. So part of her vision was not just to bring any old universities here, but the right ones. “On top of that, she didn’t want a watered-down version of what was offered in the States either – she wanted a NU-Q degree to be a Northwestern degree. Is there the same literary tradition here in Qatar? I guess not, but students here have all kinds of talents that our US students might not have and we are trying to breathe those talents. There are always challenges but you

have to realise that culture is important. What you do is work on what’s really great and you try to make up for what’s lacking.” he added. Endowments Endowments constitute a major portion of the funding to universities. Northwestern University, one of the most highly endowed institutions in the US, currently has QR27 billion in store. Endowments allow universities to provide better education and rely less on tuition fees. Why do alumni feel obliged to give back to their universities in such large amounts? “I’ve been in this business for 20 years and I feel there are three sets of reasons for this,” explained Schapiro. “Some people are just loyal – they feel like they owe their alma mater. ‘I graduated Kellogg School of Management and now I run this big company, making a fortune. I never would be in this situation if it weren’t for Kellogg’, they say. “Secondly, these long-standing institutions – such as ours – date back to the 19th century and they stand for excellence and some people like to be associated with that. “The third reason is a shared vision,” he continued. “They see us bringing western style journalism to the Gulf region, inculcating cultural understanding into today’s youth, and they want to support this. For insteance, a scientist at Northwestern is currently looking for a cure for Parkinson’s disease, trying to change the world for the better – they like to help out projects like thise however they can”

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