A new report has highlighted the major challenges facing Iraq’s universities as they struggle to forge international partnerships and adopt robust systems of assessment, evaluation and quality assurance.
It draws on the results of a three-day conference organised by the New York-based Institute of International Education in collaboration with its Scholar Rescue Fund.
Held in Erbil earlier this year, it brought together about 160 Iraqi scholars, university leaders and government officials, along with international experts and representatives of the US Embassy. Presentations offered insights drawing on the experiences of the American University of Beirut, the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University Bloomington and California State University, Monterey Bay.
The report notes “a shared understanding that quality assurance is a ‘national issue’, not merely a university issue”, but warns that Iraq should “develop its own uniquely Iraqi model and culture of quality assurance” rather than adopt another country’s system wholesale.
Given that Iraqi higher education institutions had been “in many ways cut off from the international academic community” over the past few decades, the report flags up “a shared desire for expanding academic cooperation with the United States, including research collaboration, faculty and staff exchanges, and capacity building”.
It notes that many obstacles, including security, cultural differences and a lack of financial resources, pointed to a need for training on “‘how to get started’ with international partnerships and how to avoid paralysis in light of these often very serious challenges”.
Although the report stresses that educators in Iraq, like those elsewhere, are “grappling with how to best structure and deliver courses” to the “technologically savvy learners” of “the millennial generation”, they often had to contend with “infrastructure challenges such as internet access and bandwidth”.
In this context, it was crucial to “identify traditions in the current higher education culture” even when “advancing new objectives, approaches and techniques”.