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Calling all nerds, Part II

Calling all nerds, Part II

With few signs of homegrown Silicon Valleys on the horizon, Gulf states are spending billions more to attract high-tech knowhow, Part II.

June 10, 2009 12:15 by

Indeed, creating new Silicon Valleys takes legions of highly specialized workers, which emerging technology producers like China and India are churning out by the hundreds of thousands each year. But the entire Middle East lacks its own world-class technical institutes. So a growing number of the Gulf’s rich petro states are courting tech-savvy Indian and North American universities to set up local branch campuses nearby.

One is the University of Waterloo (UW), a Canadian institution famous for spurring high-tech startups like Research In Motion, creator of the ubiquitous Blackberry. UW plans to set up two engineering programs in Dubai this fall, al-though a permanent home for its campus is being built in Abu Dhabi.

“There are a lot of entrepreneurial activities on campus,” says Leo Rothenburg, UW’s acting dean of engineering. “It’s not uncommon that our students graduate and already have businesses started. … We intend to bring that same spirit to the United Arab Emirates.”

Further up the coast, Qatar’s new 14-square-kilometer Education City development already hosts a handful of engineering programs from Texas A&M university, and a computer science program from Carnegie Mellon. The billion-dollar complex dispatched its first round of graduates last year, but many of the students that have enrolled so far have been foreigners. Even though university education is free for citizens of the tiny, petroleum-bathed country, tertiary enrollment for Qataris hovers around 20 percent – a third the rate of most high-income countries.

“They’re starting slowly, but with confidence and quality,” says Hady Amr, director of the Brookings Doha Center, the Qatar branch of a prominent, Washington-based think tank that was established last year, a few kilometers from Education City.

When asked how close the Gulf has come to cultivating its own technology-export industries, he says: “They’re preparing the ground, so that one day those seeds can be planted.”

“If you want to see the results of these things, call me in 10 years.”

First seen in Trends magazine.

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