Qatar University Opens EE Doors To Women

A small but oil-rich country needs all the electrical engineers it can produce

PHOTO: Qatar University

ENGINES OF CHANGE

Qatar University students conduct a lab experiment. Women entered the chemical engineering program in 2004; the EE program will see its first women students this fall.

Next month, the ­electrical engineering program at Qatar University, in Doha, will open its doors to women.

Qatar is a peninsular ­country like Denmark but with one-­quarter of the territory and a fifth of the ­population. Even so, it has a huge demand for ­engineers. Indeed, the entire Qatar ­economy is as hot as its Arabian sands, with a gross domestic product that’s expected to grow 14 ­percent this year, to US $73 billion. To fuel yet more economic ­development and ­cultivate a ­culture of ­innovation, the ­government annually allocates an ­astonishing 2.8 ­percent of that GDP to ­technology R&D, ahead of the United States and just behind South Korea. It hopes as well to reduce dependence on foreign technology workers, and that’s where Qatar University comes in.

”There is a great focus on ­education here that is unique in this part of the world,” says Adnan Abu-Dayya, chairman of the university’s electrical ­engineering department. ”We want to make sure there are opportunities for local residents.”

The plan calls for ­doubling the size of the EE class to allow for some 25 to 30 women, a 50:50 ­student ratio, which is higher than that of any Western country.

”There’s a closer ratio of men to women engineers here than in the United States or Canada,” says Abu-Dayya.

For employers, the influx of local female engineers to the workforce plugs a brain drain left by men who head to Europe and America for their education and never return. Abu-Dayya worked at AT&T Wireless in Seattle after earning a Ph.D. in ­electrical ­engineering from Queens University in Kingston, Ont., Canada.

”There’s a cultural issue here. Men tend to go away to ­university, while the women stay home-based,” says Ian Dowdeswell, ­incident ­manager of Q-CERT, the Qatar ­government’s center for ­information ­security. ”Engineers are in strong demand all over the world, ­especially in the Middle East,” says John Challenger, CEO of the Chicago global ­out­placement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. ”I see it as the world forcing the change, because the cultural norm is holding the country back.”

But a big push for an EE major came from the women ­themselves. ”Generally, women are ­serious, ­passionate, and ­dedicated to ­education,” says Abuâ''Dayya. ”They are ­hardworking, like to explore, and are as ­committed as the men, if not more.”

The university’s first ­engineering majors to open to women were industrial and ­computer engineering in 2001, followed by chemical ­engineering in 2004. Electrical ­engineering, critical to such ­fundamental ­elements of the ­infrastructure as power systems and telecommunications, comes next.

The program also helps place students in internships and postgraduate employment and engages in research ­collaborations with nearby branches of American ­universities. Eventually, the department plans to offer ­graduate engineering degrees.

”Right now, our economy is big in oil and gas. That may last 50 years, or it could last 300 years. Eventually, we have to depend on other sources of income,” says Abu-Dayya. ”This is part of a process to convert our society over time to a knowledge-based economy—to have human beings be our natural resource.”

About the Author

SUSAN KARLIN is a travel junkie who has visited every continent. Writing ”Qatar University Opens EE Doors to Women” [p. 22] was especially satisfying to her because ”women around the world don’t get the same ­opportunity as women in Western countries,” she says. ”I’ve seen the frustration ­firsthand.” A frequent contributor to Spectrum , Karlin covers science, technology, and entertainment.

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