The Institute of International Education (IIE), in cooperation with IIE’s Scholar Rescue Fund (SRF), held a conference on expanding academic partnerships between the United States and Iraq from June 27-29 in Erbil, Iraq. Approximately 180 Iraqi scholars, university presidents, vice presidents, deans, Iraqi government officials, U.S. Embassy officials, and international experts participated. This was the fourth in a series of seven conferences to be held by IIE and designed to engage key stakeholders in encouraging further major progress on higher education development efforts in Iraq.
Goals of the Conference and Training Workshop
International collaboration has become integral to higher education in the 21st century, and perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than in the recent proliferation of international partnerships among colleges and universities. The purpose of this conference and training workshop was to provide an overview of current dynamism and broadened scope of international academic partnerships and to focus on best practices in developing or expanding mutually beneficial linkages between U.S. and Iraq higher education institutions.
The goals were to provide Iraqi participants with an overview of models and strategies for initiating, managing and sustaining a range of international partnerships, and to suggest tools and resources suitable to the Iraqi higher education and scientific research sectors’ capacity development efforts. Through presentations, panel and round table discussions, and small group sessions, Iraqi and American participants gained new information and perspectives on the development of mutually beneficial and sustainable partnership models.
The Conference Focused on Three Major Content Blocks
- The Current State of Academic Collaboration and Linkages - Globally and in Iraq
- Approaching Partnerships Strategically
- Best Practices
Presentations and breakout sessions focused on topics such as: identifying needs and articulating partnership goals and strategies; developing policies and procedures for managing and funding partnerships and exchanges; creating effective and sustainable agreements and Memorandums of Understanding; and, advancing curricular and teaching reforms as well as innovative research initiatives through strong partnerships. Different partnership models, such as split-site PhDs, joint and dual degree programs, research linkages, faculty development, institutional capacity building, and student and faculty exchanges, were examined.
The workshop also provided an opportunity to share case studies and results from three university partnerships that were funded by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad through the “U.S.-Iraq University Linkages Program”. The following linkage programs were reviewed and discussed: University of Missouri and University of Technology, Baghdad; University of Cincinnati and Salahaddin University; and Ball State University and Tikrit University.
The conference also included a visit to Salahaddin University, hosted by the University President Dr. Ahmed Dezaye.
Iraqi university leaders, officials from the Iraqi Ministries of Higher Education, and scholars presented on key trends in their country and on the challenges and opportunities associated with reform efforts in Iraq. Dr. Ali Saeed, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)-Iraq; Dr. Abid Mehsin, Senior Advisor to the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Baghdad-Iraq; and Alexander M. Laskaris, Consul General, U.S. Consulate General-Erbil provided Opening Remarks at the IIE conference. Dr. Henry Jarecki, IIE’s Vice-Chairman, provided the welcome remarks and Dr. Allan E. Goodman, President and CEO of IIE, provided a keynote address on “Advancing Global Perspectives and Campus Internationalization through Linkages and Partnerships.”
Suzanne Bodoin, Cultural Affairs Officer, and Janet Deutsch, Education Adviser, from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad also served as resource persons and discussed the role of the Embassy's University Linkages Program and the EducationUSA advising resources available in Iraq.
The following U.S. university representatives served as workshop trainers: Dr. Stephen Dunnett, Vice Provost for International Education, University at Buffalo, The State University of New York (SUNY); Dr. Gulbahar H. Beckett, Associate Professor, Literacy & Second Language Studies and Director, Center for International Education & Research, University of Cincinnati; Dr. Vlad Likholetov, Director of International Partnerships & Initiatives, College of Engineering, University of Missouri; and Dr. Kenneth Holland, Dean of the M. Rinker, Sr., Center for International Programs, Ball State University.
Daniel Obst, Deputy Vice President for International Partnerships at IIE and Director of IIE’s Center for International Partnerships in Higher Education, served as conference moderator.
Key Themes that Emerged from the Conference
- A shared desire and need for expanding academic cooperation with the United States, including research collaboration, faculty and staff exchanges, and capacity building activities. Expanding the number of Iraqi students studying in the U.S. was another frequently discussed topic, and Iraqi educators and officials from the Ministries of Higher Education and Scientific Research (Baghdad and Kurdistan Region) expressed the clear desire to increase the number of Iraqi graduate students enrolled in U.S. universities (in part because these students can serve as ambassadors for Iraqi institutions and could help initiative dialogue related to forging linkages between institutions).
- Circumstances of the past decades have in many ways cut off Iraqi higher education institutions from the international academic community. Iraqi educators and universities now face significant challenges in developing or expanding academic cooperation with institutions in other countries. The most frequently discussed obstacle was the lack of financial resources. Other challenges include: cultural differences, language barriers, resistance to change on the part of faculty members; visa issues; security; and challenges with infrastructure in Iraq (seating, electricity, facilities, access to computers and sufficient bandwidth). More training is needed for individual university leaders and academics on 'how to get started' with international partnerships and how to avoid paralysis in light of these often very serious challenges.
- Institutional readiness for international linkages can be an obstacle to developing or expanding partnerships. A major recommendation that emerged from the conference included the establishment of international education or international relations offices at Iraqi higher education, with the mandate to facilitate international academic and scientific cooperation.
- An understanding that there is a more complex and richer context to academic partnerships than previously imagined by Iraqi educators and that there are more opportunities for collaboration beyond student exchange. However, Iraqi participants expressed the need to develop a better understanding of what U.S. higher education institutions are able and willing to do in Iraq, and a clear vision and understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses and to articulate what the Iraqi institutions can contribute to the partnership.
- Iraqi educators expressed optimism and a positive spirit for the future of higher education in Iraq and viewed international academic partnerships as a tool for revitalization and a way to improve the overall effectiveness and performance of higher education in Iraq.
In June 2011, IIE hosted its first major conference in Iraq on models and trends in contemporary higher education. That conference and a January 2011 conference in Amman, Jordan were two of the largest gatherings of Iraqi university leaders in recent years. And in January 2012, IIE hosted a conference in Iraq focused on standards in quality assurance and accreditation. IIE and IIE’s Scholar Rescue Fund plan to hold three additional conferences in Iraq over the next two years, focused on topics such as new methods of teaching and learning (including distance education); curriculum reform; and faculty development. The next event is scheduled for January 2013 and will focus on new approaches and methodologies of teaching.
Institute of International Education
The Institute of International Education (IIE) was founded in 1919. It is one of the world’s most experienced higher education and exchange organizations. IIE’s mission is to foster mutual understanding and develop global leaders through international education.
Scholar Rescue Fund
In 2002, IIE launched the Scholar Rescue Fund (SRF) to provide fellowships for scholars threatened in their home countries. These fellowships support temporary academic positions at safe universities and colleges anywhere in the world. SRF scholars contribute to their host universities through teaching, research, lectures and other activities. In return, host universities provide professional guidance and financial and in-kind support. Scholars from any country may qualify.
The Iraq Scholar Rescue Project was launched in August 2007 with the goal to rescue Iraq’s most senior, most threatened academics – from any academic discipline – by placing them at institutions of higher learning mainly in countries within the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. To date, the IIE Iraq Scholar Rescue Project has granted temporary fellowship assistance and other relevant support to 252 established Iraqi academics. In addition to carrying out their fellowships at host institutions, Iraq Project scholar-grantees attend training workshops, present at academic conferences, research and publish, and continue to teach Iraqi students via e-learning in order to further their professional development and prepare them, as academics, to contribute to new educational innovations in Iraq.