UC Berkeley to help build grad school in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia wants a graduate school and Cal needs money--so they've teamed up to build an engineering graduate school in the country.

Tech Culture

Universities--they are one of America's growing exports.

The University of California at Berkeley is signing a deal with the government of Saudi Arabia to help the country build an engineering graduate school there, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Under the alliance, the mechanical engineering department at Berkeley will collaborate on research and help recruit faculty for a graduate department that will be part of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (mascot unknown). The graduate department will accept male and female students and open in 2009.

In turn, Berkeley will receive millions, according to the Chronicle. It is "a substantial amount," Al Pisano, chairman of the mechanical engineering department, told the paper.

If you're shocked and upset that U.S. universities are taking their expertise overseas in exchange for money, you're simply behind the times. For the past few years, top-tier schools have been setting up satellite campuses in their own name or helping regional governments create their own graduate schools with American expertise.

In the fossil fuel-rich state of Qatar, for instance, Cornell has established a medical school, which is connected to a hospital that has an $8 billion endowment from the royal family. Elsewhere in Qatar's education city you can find branches of Texas A&M University, Georgetown, and Carnegie Mellon University. The administrators at these schools point out that the curriculum, grading standards, and faculty (who agree to come to the Qatar campuses for two- and three-year stretches) are equivalent to what they offer in the West.

In Singapore, Singapore National University last year opened the first U.S.-style medical school with the assistance of Duke University. Graduates get a Duke-NUS degree. The school is part of a multimillion-dollar complex called Biopolis that has become home to several pharmaceutical companies as well as several U.S. academics who now split their time between labs in Singapore and the U.S.

And then there is the Masdar Institute, a graduate school in alternative energy being created in Abu Dhabi with the help of MIT. It opens in 2009. MIT also has a research center in Singapore. And NYU is building a school in Abu Dhabi that will have a student body of 2,000. Fancy that.

The motives for these deals vary, but here's a general summary: U.S. universities are strapped for funds, and foreign governments are offering up wads of it. Foreign governments also want to build up their technology industries. Because universities are the key to this, they are raiding ours, particularly the well-known ones with success in commercializing patents and ideas. Both foreign officials and university administrators in the U.S. have said that the U.S. visa system has made it more difficult for foreign students to get into the U.S. or stay here once they get their degrees. Since they can't come to the schools, the schools are going to them.

Many of these governments, particularly in the Middle East, also want to eliminate the luxurious form of semi-employment that the last few generations of kids have enjoyed. In countries like Dubai, many people didn't really need to go to college after high school to get a high-paying job. You could get one in the government. Multinational corporations have hired locals, but often to placate local leaders.

By sending more kids to college, Middle Eastern nations believe they can become less dependent on foreign expertise and achieve a society that more closely resembles others in the world.

It's good for women, too. The driving force behind Qatar's education push is Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned, the wife of the ruler. Going to college allows a woman to increase her bargaining position in arranged marriages.

So, you see, there is some upside to our downfall.

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