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Iraqi Higher Education – Small steps big leaps

Following on from a short blog entry I posted in early 2010 on Iraqi higher education following the events that have taken place in the last 20 years. A few articles had emerged between 2009 and 2010 and one of the particular articles referred to in the post was the Guardian article on the damage that the events of Iraq did to Science.

It is very clear that Iraqi universities have had to face many challenges in the previous years, with the biggest challenge being security. However, the Iraqi universities are making clear efforts to improve their reputation and performance. An initiative called the Iraqi University Linkage Programs (ULP) promotes higher education reform in Iraq by working with Iraqi faculty and administrators to strengthen university curricula, enhance and update teaching methods and technology, and improve career services for students. Such a program can be a big leap for Iraqi universities, the  University of Baghdad (UB) and Georgia State University (GSU) have already begun a partnership that could lead to many benefits including international recognition, research partnerships, culture exchange amongst a few. An encouraging quote follows from the faculty of the University of Baghdad: “On personal level you feel your whole life has changed. I’m actually able to teach students in a different way, now. Even the way we arrange our classes, for example. We used to just seat students in rows, and we now use a U-shape so that its more interactive.”[1]

Some of the Iraqi universities are beginning to encompass that in order to be a world class university, there’s needs to be a strong focus on several aspects of a university’s performance and Employability is one of the key areas that requires attention. Another positive step is the University of Duhok (UoD)’s first ever public university career fair, which was held in Iraq. Over 550 students and alumni attended the fair, which included booths and presentations by 16 employers active in Iraq. If such an inititive could get the ball rolling for other universities, we may see a direct improvement in graduate employment rates in Iraq.

In 2013, two Iraqi universities participated in the global QS Stars Rating, an audit that evaluated the universities on their performance across a range in eight different categories with an overall star rating.  University of Kufa was one of the two universities that took part in the audit and was the first Iraqi university to receive its 2 Star overall rating, the university achieved an outstanding 5 stars in the following four categories: Teaching; Facilities; Engagement and Access. These results indicate that the university has an excellent teaching standard with a high student satisfaction rate. The University of Babylon is the other university that has also taken the part in QS Stars Rating, with an overall 2 Star rating; University of Babylon achieved a stellar five stars in Teaching and Access with an excellent 4 Star rating for in the Facilities category. The QS Stars rating system can be used a tool for the participating universities, allowing them to assess their weaknesses and strengths and improve in areas of shortfall that have been identified. The two participating universities have already begun to make plans based on their performances to take necessary measures on improving. An area that both universities are likely to begin to planning towards is the Internationalisation area. More information can be found on www.topuniversities.com/qsstars

Improving the Iraqi Higher Education System will take time and more universities in the county need to participate to strengthen the system as a whole. However the small steps already taken, some of which have been mentioned above are steps in the right direction towards a global standard and regaining the strong reputation that Iraqi Universities lost due to the events that have taken place over the last few decades.

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