Iraqi university seeks UK help after coalition snub

September 19, 2003

A new semester is soon to begin at Iraq's universities despite deteriorating security and continuing starvation of vital equipment, books and journals.

The 20 or so state universities are urgently recruiting armed guards to protect campuses - both the universities and their students are adamant that security will be provided by Iraqis, not coalition troops.

International aid efforts are ponderously getting under way to rebuild and re-equip the sector after a decade of United Nations sanctions, state repression and the looting that followed the fall of Saddam Hussein.

But, for one higher education institution at least, the glimmer of hope is no brighter than it was in the Saddam years.

Mansour University College was founded in 1987, when a new law allowed the creation of private universities. It was predictable that the ministry of higher education would not favour it - it was the only university where none of the faculty or senior administration belonged to the Ba'ath Party, unlike the state universities, which were permeated by the party until the Coalition Provisional Authority's intervention soon after the war's end.

Mansour was dependent on student fees for its revenue, and rather than receiving any grants from the state, it had to pay 5 per cent of its total income to the government for "supervision" to safeguard its academic standards.

"We suffered from sanctions from the inside, not from the outside," said Najib Ayoub Y Stipho, its dean and president.

Nevertheless, the university prospered academically, growing from 600 students in three departments to 2,700 students in seven departments.

Dr Stipho recalls that when the Saddam regime collapsed, faculty left their families and homes to protect the university, its books, equipment and fabric. He contrasts their dedication with the state universities, where, much to the annoyance of colleague Wail N. Al Rifae, president of the Baghdad University of Technology, the looters and vandals were allowed free rein.

So, Dr Stipho said, he expected a sympathetic hearing when he went to the CPA to seek assistance. He did not get one. "They told us to take care of ourselves. The Americans would not help us at all." The public universities were its priority.

Dr Rifae, who was last week on a joint visit with Dr Stipho to seek assistance from UK universities, is adamant the state universities deserve support. His institution lost 2,000 computers to looters, who took everything they could negotiate through the doorways. The doors themselves were taken.

Already suffering from the privations of UN sanctions and more than a decade of isolation, BTU was all but destroyed in the aftermath of this year's military incursion. The security situation is possibly worsening - the prospect of a permanent British Council presence in the city has receded after the bombing of the UN headquarters, the withdrawal of non-governmental organisations and the retreat of the British government office from the old embassy building to the secure CPA area where BTU staff would have no access.

Dr Stipho returns to Baghdad hopeful that an MSc programme, agreed in principle during a visit to Birmingham University last week, will come to fruition. As well as equipment and books, the two universities were seeking faculty exchanges and other academic cooperation.

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