Iraq open for Orange Knowledge?

Our colleague David van Kampen and consultant Sylva Rosse recently visited Iraq as part of our scoping phase - to assess needs and demands, and to see how the Netherlands can contribute to education development. The country has a strong history in education, having had one of the most developed educational systems in the Arab world just one generation ago. But the educational sector has suffered from the years of economic sanctions, wars and political conflicts, which also placed higher education institutions into international isolation. Helping these institutions reconnect with the outside world may contribute to a renewal of Iraq’s educational system.

The country counts around 25 public universities and 22 private higher education institutions. Of those, 15 public universities and 11 private institutions are located in Kurdistan. The number of private universities is growing, as there appears to be great interest in higher education and it is a profitable business. However, the standards for admission are sometimes lower in private universities, which may result in lower academic levels when compared to public universities.

Links to Europe
The scoping trip started in Kurdistan in the northern part of Iraq. In this beautiful hilly green part of the country, we visited universities in Sulaymaniyah, Erbil and Duhok. “We noticed that these institutions maintain quite some connections with European universities. Their eagerness to collaborate with Dutch knowledge institutions is great, especially in the departments that we visited, which are underdeveloped and underequipped,” says David, who’s responsible for programme development and partnerships at Nuffic. “Visiting Bagdad was more challenging in terms of security. Travelling can only happen while escorted by the military and wearing bulletproof vests. But the hospitality at the University of Baghdad was overwhelming, and it was fascinating to visit the historic places of Karbala and Babylon,” adds David. “The opportunities for collaboration and capacity building are evident.”

During the time under ISIS rule, universities managed to keep most classes running by creatively drawing on available resources. Now, while many universities have resumed classes on their main campuses, many students and faculty remain scattered across Iraq as refugees, hampering the institutions from fully getting back to speed.

Some remnants of pre-2003 policies are still visible and influential today, such as the choice of studies depending on high-school grades, not on field of interest. In addition, every university graduate at that time was promised a government job, with all its accompanying benefits. “As a consequence, there is no culture of teaching entrepreneurship or preparing students for work in the private sector. University and ministry staff in all places we visited expressed a general need for management skills at all levels. The other obvious need is for students to move away from the public sector as the primary job provider. The educational system should start to support them in this shift by better connecting with the market. Perhaps the Orange Knowledge Programme can play a role in addressing these needs,” says Sylva, who works as a external consultant.

TVET reform
“There are around 300 TVET institutions in Iraq. Vocational work has low status and is not popular, in spite of a great need for vocational workers, such as mechanics and nurses,” says Sylva. UNESCO has been working on a Techtnical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) reform programme since 2016, with EU funds. TVET falls under three Iraqi ministries: Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (MOHESR), Ministry of Education (MOE) and the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (MLSA).

By the time it is finalised in mid-2019, the reform programme will have produced a national qualification framework, supportive legislation, an accreditation manual, a national body for supervising the TVET system, and new curricula for different levels of TVET in the areas of agriculture, construction and hospitality. “When such a system is in place, it comes down to working on changing the image of vocational work. Once young people realise there are good job opportunities with a vocational diploma, vocational training should become more popular” says Sylva. “It is clear that Iraqi universities and government officials are positive about collaborations with Dutch knowledge institutions,” says David. “They are eager to benefit from Dutch expertise.”

Orange Knowledge Programme is funded by: