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A general view of university of Texas A&M is seen located at Education City in Doha, Qatar in Tuesday , Oct. 18, 2011 .(AP Photo/Osama Faisal)

Bowing to Political Pressure: Texas A&M Withdraws from Qatar

On February 8, 2024, the announcement that Texas A&M’s Qatar campus will close by 2028 sent shockwaves throughout the community in Qatar. The satellite campus has been a cornerstone of higher education for many, with countless young Qataris and local students aspiring to study there in the future. The university’s Board of Regents, which voted 7-1 in favor of the closure, defended their decision, citing escalating regional tensions. However, the Board’s response left many perplexed and prompted others to question the validity of its rationale.

The American branch campus, established in 2003, had seemingly fallen victim to a smear campaign accused the Qatari government of funding a nuclear research program at the Texas A&M branch campus that posed a threat to American national security. Though the university refuted these unfounded claims, it still chose to withdraw from Qatar. This is a major setback, not only for the Qatar Foundation (QF)-Texas A&M partnership, but also for the ties that bind American branch campuses and local communities in Qatar. To protect other U.S. branch campuses in Qatar from similar accusations, policymakers and stakeholders must counter the narrative that Qatar wields too much influence over institutions of higher education in the United States.

A Microcosm of the U.S.-Qatar Relationship

Texas A&M’s 20-year old campus offers multiple undergraduate and graduate engineering programs for Qatari youth. Located in Education City (EC), an expansive hub that hosts several American branch campuses and other higher education institutions including Georgetown University and Cornell University, the campus is well positioned to provide a world-class education alongside other reputable U.S. colleges. EC prides itself for fostering an esteemed international culture that caters to locals in Qatar and people from diverse backgrounds. Indeed, Texas A&M and the rest of the American campuses have long weathered major geopolitical upheavals, crises, and conflicts, including the American invasion of Iraq, the Syrian civil war, the rise of ISIS, and the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. Despite these challenges, American universities in Education City have preserved a safe space for dialogue and communication among the community’s members.

In fact, amid the ongoing conflict in Gaza one can witness the pivotal role that these branch campuses play in mediating between American perspectives and the Arab public in real-time. The mediating mechanisms produced by U.S. universities should offer insights for American policymakers who seek to mitigate any damage done to U.S.-Gulf relationships by Washington’s policy toward Gaza. Texas A&M’s decision to withdraw from Qatar has already stirred controversy, called into question the future of other U.S. campuses in EC, and created fertile ground for anti-American sentiment among Qatari youth.

The Qatar Foundation took to X, where it released a public statement noting that the Texas A&M Board of Regents “neglected to contact QF to investigate the truth,” regarding ISGAP’s allegations. Some users replying to QF’s post claimed that it was time for Qatari students to look beyond Western higher education and consider the East, particularly China and Japan, as models for education and innovation. Qatar would not be the first Gulf state to pursue educational alternatives. Saudi Arabia is increasingly introducing Mandarin in schools across the country, encouraging young students to consider China as a desirable destination for higher education. Of course, the spread of Chinese language curricula coincides with the Kingdom’s growing economic and security cooperation with China, allowing it to reduce its dependency on the West in turn. While Qatar’s relationship with China is not as profound as the Saudi-China partnership, some Qatari parents may encourage their children to apply to universities in China as a result of American policy in the Middle East, restricting one of Washington’s few remaining channels to engage with the youth from the region.

Enhancing Transparency and Cooperation

Besides direct affiliates of these universities and their satellite campuses, diplomatic channels should broaden their outreach and inform American educators and policymakers about Education City’s mission and activities. This approach is critical, considering that some media outlets have already propagated the Board’s views and other anti-Qatar allegations to Americans and other international audiences. Media outlets hostile to a closer U.S.-Qatar partnership may exploit these narratives or allegations to deepen American distrust of Doha. Countering disinformation would also contribute to improving Qatar’s overall image, which would align with the country’s diplomatic objective of strengthening relations with policymakers in Washington and key constituencies across the United States.

It is widely known that American branch campuses operate in Qatar on a temporary basis, predicated upon mutually beneficial bilateral agreements. Given that the Qatar Foundation remains committed to fulfilling its obligations and duties, under these agreements, including financial support and oversight and legal support, American universities should inform QF of any concerns, risks, or decisions that would impact their presence in Qatar. Doing so is critical to maintaining the EC ecosystem, which relies upon transparency between all parties. According to QF, Texas A&M did not inform or involve QF administrators in the university’s decision-making process—actions that surely undermined mutual trust. The termination also voids the existing contract between the university and EC, which was renewed in 2021 and was supposed to last until 2031. Due to its communication failures, Texas A&M bears the lion’s share of responsibility for putting the educational and professional prospects of its students and faculty members in jeopardy.

The unanticipated closure of Texas A&M’s Doha campus, which was influenced by a disinformation campaign, marks not only a turning point for Education City’s community members, but also calls into question the future of Western satellite campuses in the region. This saga highlights the complexities of balancing an educational mission with strong political undercurrents that continue to shape regional dynamics. The importance of these academic institutions to both Western and Qatari interests necessitate an improved operational framework that improves transparency and strengthens dialogue between the host country and international universities. Finally, this incident also serves as a reminder of protecting Education City’s role in building bridges, challenging cross-cultural boundaries, and sustaining an exemplary environment amid political turmoil.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Gulf International Forum.

Issue: Politics & Governance
Country: Qatar

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Dr. Hind Al Ansari is a Non-Resident Fellow at Gulf International Forum. She is a development and global education researcher based in Washington and recently completed a one-year fellowship at the Wilson Center. Dr. Al-Ansari has published multiple articles and has been recognized for her work as a recipient of the Middle East Policy Council 40 Under 40 Award. She holds a PhD in Education from Cambridge University and a Master in Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard.


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