The end of last year saw the launch of the first national ranking of the universities in Iraqi Kurdistan.
This is largely unprecedented in the region, claimed Yousif Goran, minister of higher education and scientific research, who was visiting Britain recently for the World Education Forum. Although both Iran and Turkey have national university rankings, there have never been any in Iraq or the rest of the Arab world.
Those in Iraqi Kurdistan were developed over the past year with the support of an international team including counterparts from both Italy and Germany. They incorporate eight main criteria and 59 in all.
Some of them, explained Amanj Saeed, the minister’s adviser, measure how far “universities are engaged in the problems of Kurdistan, how they contribute to the communities and development of Kurdistan”. Yet the majority are focused on broader factors such as curriculum development, English-language provision, internationalisation, quality assurance, research output and student satisfaction.
The core goals, added Dr Saeed, are “to help universities understand international criteria for quality and how to reach them”. This would enable them to “come out of the local paradigm” and “be more internationally visible” with a view to rising up the international rankings.
Apart from the specialist Hawler Medical University in Erbil, all the other public and private institutions in Kurdistan are multidisciplinary. Twenty-five of the total 29 institutions were ranked into four groups – although none attained the level required for Group A. The three private universities in Group B are now allowed to expand their admissions by 10 per cent and to introduce joint international master’s and PhD programmes for the first time.
While the current financial crisis makes cash scarce, in the longer term results for the public universities would also be linked to funding and admissions. In the meantime, the government has a great deal of data to feed into policymaking and a better sense of how it can help universities improve.
As part of the regional government’s plans for promoting research exchange and attracting international staff and students, Dr Goran is also strongly “committed to building a strong infrastructure for the English language – I want it to be the second language in our universities”. This has meant the creation of new teaching centres and regulations making proficiency in English a prerequisite for postgraduate studies and academic promotion.
Last year, the minister told Times Higher Education that he had been very disappointed by the response of British universities, who had gladly accepted Kurdish students on scholarships but had given little in return. So what had been the response to this appeal?
“They didn’t do anything about it!” replied Dr Goran. “So I’m trying again with them and asking universities to come to Kurdistan and open a branch campus. The ministry is there and willing to help.”
“We’ve done our part,” continued Dr Saeed, notably through a “huge investment” in English-language provision. “Now it’s time for English universities to come and contribute. We really need their help at this time of financial crisis.”