one of the biggest deals yet in the growing export of American higher
education, Cornell University is establishing a branch campus of its
medical school in the Middle East, where students will receive the
same diploma as those 6,700 miles away in New York City.
Cornell will announce today
that it will create the Weill Medical College of Cornell University in
Qatar, a tiny, wealthy Persian Gulf nation that has agreed to spend
$750 million on the school over 11 years, including a fee to Cornell.
American universities have
increasingly been establishing programs abroad, from student exchanges
to research institutes to distance education programs conducted over
the Internet. But few, if any, are as comprehensive as the Cornell
agreement, which will give a full Ivy League medical degree to
students who may never set foot in the United States. And many are
Cornell's president, Hunter R.
Rawlings III, said he and others were initially concerned about
conditions in Qatar. The university investigated everything from human
rights and the treatment of women to the country's political
"Some of our Jewish
trustees and alumni were especially concerned," Dr. Rawlings
said. "But as they learned more about Qatar and its ambitions,
they were willing to proceed."
He said the medical college in
Qatar would have a nondiscrimination policy, just as the one in New
York does, and would accept Jews — and even Israelis — as
faculty members and students.
"We are bound to a
nondiscrimination policy and we will respect that," said
Abdulredha Abdulrahman, the managing director of the Qatar
Foundation, which is financing the project. "Entrance will be
controlled by Cornell. This has nothing to do with nationalities.
Anyone who is qualified is welcome."
Robert Zemsky, a professor and
director of the Institute for Research on Higher Education at the
University of Pennsylvania, predicts that there will be many more
instances of American universities venturing abroad. "There is a
major international market emerging in higher education."
He points to examples like the
University of Chicago's executive M.B.A. program in Singapore and
Barcelona, and another project in Singapore in which the Johns Hopkins
medical school trains doctors to be researchers, but does not award a
degree. He said that Cornell appeared to have dealt with challenges
that have sometimes stymied other American universities seeking to go
abroad, including language (the Qatar medical school will be conducted
in English), economics (Qatar is paying the bill), and whether the
American university is seen as a carpetbagger (Qatar wanted Cornell to
come, and has treated Cornell officials like dignitaries).
"We are very familiar
with education in the United States and knew that Cornell was among
the top 10 medical schools," Mr. Abdulredha said. "We found
Cornell very keen."
The foundation, established by
the emir of Qatar and led by his wife, Sheika Mozah bint Nasser
al-Misnad, has committed to pay an estimated $750 million to
operate the medical college for 11 years. Neither Cornell nor the
foundation would discuss the size of the management fee, or of a
donation that the foundation is also making to the medical school. Both
say that the donation was not a factor in the agreement.
Cornell will control the
curriculum, the faculty and the admission of students, who will have
to take the same tests and meet the same standards as those in New
York, the university said.
Cornell's medical college is
among the most selective in the United States. This year's entering
students — 101 in all — were chosen from 6,344 applicants and had
a 3.7 grade point average on their science courses in college.
Cornell is aiming for an
entering class of about 50 students in Qatar, drawn from there and
other countries, within the Arab world and without. Mr. Abdulredha
said the agreement called for 70 percent of the class to come from
Qatar unless too few Qataris qualify, in which case more students
from outside the country will be admitted. If too few total students
qualify, the class will be smaller, but Mr. Abdulredha said he did not
expect that problem. "We will get the brightest students from
Qatar and the region, and they will excel," he said, "We
have the brains. We don't have the education system."
Qatar, an oil- and gas-rich
neighbor of Saudi Arabia with 750,000 inhabitants, many of them
foreign workers, is smaller than Connecticut. It has no medical school
and is trying to create an education city anchored by an array of
elite American universities in the capital city, Doha.
Qatar is widely considered
among the most forward-looking of Arab states. A Qatari satellite
television station, Al-Jazeera, beams frank public affairs
discussions and interviews, including talks with Israeli leaders, into
homes across the Middle East.
An Israeli trade
representative office opened in Qatar five years ago and has remained
open over the past six months despite pressures on Qatar to close it
in solidarity with the Palestinian uprising.
As part of the medical school
arrangement, Cornell will also run a two-year science-intensive
premedical program to prepare students to apply. That program will
begin taking students next year, and plans call for the medical school
to open two years later. Students who complete the premedical program
will not necessarily be accepted to the medical school; they will
still need to take the medical school boards and apply to the medical
When the Qatar Foundation
first approached Weill Cornell Medical College two years ago, it found
immediate interest. Dr. Antonio M. Gotto Jr., the dean, studied abroad
as a Rhodes scholar. As a cardiologist, he treated many foreign
patients, including many from the Middle East.
He also created an office of
international medicine at the medical school, where nearly half the
students take a medical elective in a foreign country.
"I am convinced that
medicine and health are global problems," he said, "and we
in the United States have an obligation to work with the rest of the
"The initial reaction
from many people was," he added, " `Why on earth would you
want to do something like that?' "
He ticked off the arguments he
heard against the project: "It's far away. It could be dangerous.
They have very different customs. You might dilute your resources, and
distract your management. You may not be able to recruit faculty or
find students. Some of your alumni and friends may not understand
After extensive discussion and
trips to Qatar, the medical school's leaders decided to go ahead. They
plan to have about 65 faculty members in Qatar, and to supplement
their teaching with courses in New York, presented over live video.
Dr. Daniel R. Alonso, a
pathologist and former senior associate dean for academic affairs at
the medical school in New York, will be dean of the new Qatar campus.
He said he planned to go to Qatar next year and remain at least until
the first class graduates, in 2008.
"How often do you have
the chance to do something unprecedented like this?" Dr. Alonso,
who was born and raised in Argentina, asked last week.
Sanford I. Weill, the business
executive who is chairman of the medical school's board of overseers
and whose name the medical school bears, acknowledged that there were
uncertainties involved in the project.
"I don't think
Arab-Jewish relations are the issue at all," he added. "This
is about health care, medical education and medical research. We're
not in the political business; we're in the science business, the
Mr. Abdulredha acknowledged
the political tension and said, "For an American university to
come to this part of the world requires lots of studies and
Cornell is only one of the
universities that the Qatar Foundation has approached. The University
of Virginia came close to establishing an undergraduate college,
winning approval from both the State Legislature and its own trustees.
But it ultimately backed off, citing concerns over accreditation.
(Cornell says it anticipates no problems with accreditation.)
The Qatar Foundation is
continuing to talk to other top universities about setting up programs
in business, engineering and information technology, although it will
not name them. (Virginia Commonwealth University is already running a
"I think after Cornell,
the others will follow," said Mr. Abdulredha, who earned his
bachelor's degree in Britain and a graduate degree at the University
of Texas. "A lot of people don't believe we will succeed,"
he added, "but I think we will surprise them."
Source: The New York Times,
By KAREN W. ARENSON, April