With an estimated $36bn of university construction projects under way in the Middle East and North Africa, the region’s governments are allocating large proportions of their budgets to ensure the region has a hi-tech infrastructure to house the next generation of students.

But smart buildings alone will not be enough to raise standards of education.

According to the findings of a survey conducted by US polling firm Gallup between February and April 2009 on behalf of Qatar-based non-profit organisation Silatech, 27 per cent of 15-29-year-olds in Bahrain are neither attending school nor working. The figure for Saudi Arabia is higher still at 28 per cent. The unemployment rate for the entire Middle East is one of the highest in the world, at 9 per cent compared with a global average of 5.9 per cent.

With states such as Qatar building what amount to small cities dedicated to higher education, the next decade will see the region’s capacity to educate its young people boosted significantly. If these ambitious education projects are successful, the Gulf states and the wider Middle East will begin to achieve their common goal of becoming knowledge-based economies, populated by locally-educated, highly skilled workers.

CAPTION – Ambitions: Gulf states are investing in education to meet their goals of creating knowledge-based economies