In a move reflecting the University’s efforts to increase its international presence, the Institute for Social Research has started a five-year partnership with Qatar University in Doha, Qatar. The goal of the joint program, which started earlier this month, is to help the foreign school establish a social research institute.

Mark Tessler, the University of Michigan’s vice provost for international affairs and the project’s principal investigator, said Qatar is becoming a major player in the global education market.

“I believe the social research institute that we will help Qatar University to establish will quickly become one of the very best in the Middle East, and will carry out studies and research of great value to Qatar and the Arab world more broadly,” Tessler wrote in an e-mail.

The goal of the project is to make the Social and Economic Survey Research Institute (SESRI) an organization capable of conducting world-class studies on its own, said co-principal investigator David Howell, assistant director of the Center for Political Studies at ISR.

“Some places kind of sweep in and do surveys and then leave,” he said. “The long-term goal is for them to be self-sufficient.”

“We don’t even know what we’re going to do yet,” he added. “This is an extremely interdisciplinary activity, rather than being just political science or psychology or engineering. It involves people from a variety of disciplines, which is really where science is going.”

The partnership is funded entirely by Qatar University, which hopes to develop its resources, techniques and personnel so it can conduct social research. But there will also be advantages for ISR and the University of Michigan as a whole, Howell said.

He also said opportunities might arise for students to be involved in the new social research projects in Qatar, where the population has increased by nearly one million people over the last 10 years.

“A primary mission of U of M, and also Qatar University, is the training of students,” he said. “One advantage of a big institution like SESRI, and this is true of ISR as well, is that students can apply knowledge, and also work on things that they’re really interested in.”

ISR was selected as the social research organization to help develop SESRI from a large pool of applicants.

In April, the director of SESRI and Qatar University’s vice president visited a series of research institutions, and ultimately settled on ISR as the partnering organization in July, Howell said.

A Qatar University press release called the University of Michigan “a premier research university with a wealth of social science research and teaching experience.”

The United Arab Emirates has become a popular choice among American universities, with much of the development there centered in Doha. Education City, just outside of Doha’s city limits, now houses branch campuses for Texas A&M University, Cornell University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Carnegie Mellon University and Northwestern University.

Michigan State University recently opened a branch campus in the nearby Emirate of Dubai, and the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia has drawn backing from American institutions such as the University of Texas at Austin, the University of California at Berkeley, and Stanford University.

The University of Michigan, too, is ramping up its international engagement. In the last three years, University President Mary Sue Coleman has visited China, Africa, and Israel. Internationalization is also an emphasis for the University’s reaccreditation process in 2010.

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