The Institute of International Education (IIE), in cooperation with IIE’s Scholar Rescue Fund (SRF), held a conference on advancing higher education in Iraq from January 29-31 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 third in a series of seven conferences to be held by IIE’s Scholar Rescue Fund and designed to engage key stakeholders in encouraging further major progress on higher education development efforts in Iraq.
Goals of the 3-day conference and training workshop:
The purpose of this conference and training workshop was to provide an overview of quality assurance, accreditation, and recognition schemes in the contemporary higher education landscape. The goals were to provide Iraqi participants with an overview of quality assurance, accreditation, and institutional effectiveness through a series of presentations, panels, and breakout sessions, and to suggest tools and resources suitable to the Iraqi higher education sector’s capacity development efforts. The conference provided Iraqi participants with information and perspectives on the development of first-rate quality assurance models, particularly those in the United States and the U.K., which might be effectively adapted to enhance their work within the Iraqi higher education structure.
The conference focused on three major content blocks:
- Current State of Higher Education Quality Assurance
- Establishing Standards and Recognition Schemes
- Quality Assurance at Program Levels
Presentations and breakout sessions focused on the current state of quality assurance in the U.S., U.K., and continental Europe and Iraq; the roles of key stakeholders; differentiating ratings, rankings, institutional classifications, and quality assurance measures; descriptions of accreditation, assessment, and evaluation methods; defining program versus institutional recognition and licensure; and examples of current initiatives among U.S. and Iraqi universities. Panel discussions addressed the applicability of U.S., UK, and other countries’ quality assurance approaches to the Iraqi system.
Conference sessions featured expert trainers on quality assurance and accreditation, including: Dr. Judith Eaton, President of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation; Prof. Catherine Mater, Director of Sustainability for Oregon State University’s College of Engineering; Dr. George Blandford, Professor and Chair of Civil Engineering at the University of Kentucky; and Dr. Stephen Jackson, Director of Reviews at the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education in the U.K.
Linda Tobash, Director of University Placement Services at IIE and an expert on U.S. higher education, served as conference moderator.
Key themes that emerged from the conference include:
- The Iraqi Ministries of Higher Education and Iraqi universities face a number of challenges in realizing an effective quality assurance model in Iraq given the current political, social and financial conditions.
- A shared understanding that quality assurance is a ‘national issue’ not merely a university issue emerged over the three days. While there is significant diversity in Iraqi higher education that needs to be considered when developing an Iraqi quality assurance model, participants noted that there is a need in Iraq for common definitions and standards, assessment measures, financial support, policies, and a strategy or direction for quality assurance.
- There are many models of quality assurance employed by countries such as the United States, the UK, continental Europe, and Malaysia, but these differing models have evolved over time from the cultural and academic values of each individual country. Therefore, it is important for Iraq to not seek a quick solution or to simply replicate other country models, but to develop its own uniquely Iraqi model and culture of quality assurance.
- Participants expressed the need to develop a better understanding of what drives quality assurance in Iraq, what is its underlying philosophy and purpose, and what is its role in society. Why do we do it and for whom were questions frequently raised.
- A quality assurance culture is starting to flourish in Iraq, but there needs to be more discussions on how to formulate an effective quality assurance and accreditation model in Iraq given the fact that higher education is centrally controlled. Where to start and how to prioritize were often cited as concerns.
In January 2011, IIE hosted its first major Iraq related conference, which was titled “Reconstruction of Iraqi Higher Education Post-Conflict”. In June 2011, a second conference on “Models and Trends in Contemporary Higher Education” was held in Iraq. That conference was one of the largest gatherings of Iraqi university leaders in recent years. IIE and IIE’s Scholar Rescue Fund plan to hold four 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 June 2012 and will focus on developing and enhancing global academic linkages.
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 244 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.