2011 Conference on Higher Education in Iraq

June 21, 2011 June 21, 2011

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 June 22-24 in Erbil, Iraq. More than 140 Iraqi scholars, Iraqi public university presidents, vice presidents, and deans, Iraqi government officials, U.S. Embassy officials, and international experts participated. This important academic event was designed to engage key stakeholders in encouraging major positive progress on higher education reform efforts in Iraq. IIE and the Scholar Rescue Fund plan to hold five additional conferences in Iraq over three years, with the next one scheduled for January 2012.

The goals of the 3-day conference were to:

  • Provide Iraqi participants with an overview of U.S. higher education, with an emphasis on how “modern university systems” evolve and the factors that fuel change, and 
  • Provide useful tools and resources for capacity development in the Iraqi higher education sector.

The conference focused on three major areas:

  •  “Setting the Stage: The Higher Education Landscape,”
  • “21st Century Models of Quality Education,” and
  • “The Changing World of Higher Education: Reflections and Applications.”

Individual sessions focused on the development of university systems, financial management, leadership structures and decision making processes, models of strategic planning, quality assurance, and internationalization.

Conference sessions featured experts in higher education management, including Dr. Michael Bastedo, Associate Professor in the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education at the University of Michigan; Dr. Clifton Conrad, Professor of Higher Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Dr. Jennifer R. Pournelle, Research Assistant Professor in the School of the Environment at the University of South Carolina. Iraqi university leaders and scholars presented on key trends in their country and on the challenges and opportunities associated with reform efforts. 

Key themes that emerged from the conference include:

  • Scholars and institutions articulated the challenges they face in working to reform the Iraqi higher education system, and voiced their vision that education is the keystone for rebuilding Iraq in both the short- and long-term. Using an analogy from the medical field, the Vice Dean of a University in Baghdad stated that “Iraqis are in the stage of ‘diagnosing the problem’ and are working toward the ‘treatment’ stage.”
  • Educators voiced a strong conviction that higher education reform is essential in Iraq, and that other higher education systems can be seen as models with the potential of being applied or adapted (but not copied) to the Iraqi context.
  • Universities need strong and independent governance to ensure quality, maintain financial stability, and prevent potential corruption.
  • The role of university presidents is central to managing the competing demands of constituents and political leaders.

IIE hosted a separate information session for university students on “Applying to Graduate School in the United States.”  This workshop provided useful tools and advice for approximately 150 students who are interested in attending U.S. graduate schools. The Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq recently launched a $100 million Human Capacity Development Program that seeks to send thousands of students from Iraqi Kurdistan abroad for Master’s and Ph.D. programs.

Linda Tobash, IIE’s Director of University Placement Services, provided the students with an overview of the process of applying to graduate school programs, including when to apply and what to include in an application file.  She also discussed the great importance to universities of letters of recommendation.

Future conferences will focus on topics such as quality assurance, assessment, and accreditation; curriculum reform, faculty development, and building quality institutions; international cooperation and building sustainable partnerships; administrative and leadership training and policy planning.

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 fellowship assistance and other relevant support to 232 established Iraqi academics. In addition to carrying out their fellowships at host institutions, Iraq Project scholar-grantees attend training workshops, present at academic conferences, and continue to teach Iraqi students via e-learning in order to  further their professional development and prepare them, as academics, to contribute to the rebuilding of Iraq.