A new era

When Qatar University became an autonomous public institution, it knew what it wanted to do - install a completely new network infrastructure to match up to the competition. Brid-Aine Conway reports.

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By  Brid-Aine Conway Published  April 5, 2008

When Qatar University became an autonomous public institution, it knew what it wanted to do - install a completely new network infrastructure to match up to the competition. Brid-Aine Conway reports.

Public institutions are often at a disadvantage when competing with the private sector. A smaller budget and the necessity of reporting to the government can lead to a lack of imagination among staff as to how the institution should invest its money and creatively counter challenges.

Meanwhile, private institutions in the same industry may be backed by much larger budgets and consequently have more room for trial and error.

When I joined, no student had an e-mail account, there was no Blackboard software, no e-learning environment, there was basically nothing almost – just three years back, you can’t imagine!

Qatar University (QU) found itself in this position when it became independent from the government in 2004, but remained a public institution where Qatari students can study for free.

"The university got autonomy from the government in 2004 and during the reform project, the institution started to address the digital divide with peer institutions.

The university had adopted technologies about ten or 15 years back, which were brought us up to be level with our competition. We embarked on a complete infrastructure uplift from scratch - even pulling every cable in the campus - to a state-of-the-art network," QU's director of IT services, Muhammed Javeed, explains.

Qatari students had lost faith in QU as an educational establishment and the school was also facing some stiff competition, which led to the overhaul of its infrastructure.

"We had lost that confidence from our students, especially because of the competition we face here in Qatar, which is mostly from American institutions. Qatar has five or six satellite campuses from the US and a few others - we are the only national university.

"But the real competition the university looks at is other GCC public universities and this is what our peers look at. Because those American universities are private not public institutions - we are a state-funded university and the Qatari students get free education here," Javeed says.

QU is now in the process of the final phase of its plan to implement a unified digital campus for its students, according to Javeed: "The network has been live for about a year and a half and then we went into the wireless phase; so today we are a 100% wireless covered campus in and out.

We are now moving towards our last phase which is increasing the concentration of the wireless coverage in the classrooms where 30 or 40 students get together in a single room."

This implementation was backed by a relatively simple parameter plan - to implement each phase after the groundwork had been done. As the university had had the same technology for so long, a lot of basic network components were not there when Javeed joined QU three years ago.

"When I joined, no student had an e-mail account, there was no Blackboard software, there was no e-learning environment, there was basically almost nothing - just three years back, you can't imagine!" he says.

Because of this, the plan was to bring the university step by step to a unified digital campus.

"I could put up all the wireless connections but if the students don't have laptops to use, what's the use of having that?" asks Javeed, "So we've been working in parallel on several technology initiatives. When we started our plan, we put up our parameters - what we needed at what time and when would it be ready.

Such a long and complete infrastructure project presented one major challenge at the planning phase however - getting the support of management, which luckily wasn't too difficult for QU to overcome.

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