Scheme aims to help rebuild Iraqi academy through UK partnerships

January 21, 2010

British universities are being encouraged to help Iraq's higher education system recover from the ravages of dictatorship and war via a £3 million state programme.

The Department for International Development and the British Council launched the scheme to build partnerships between universities in the two countries last week.

The Development Partnerships in Higher Education Iraq programme aims to improve the quality of textbooks, curriculums and teaching in Iraq's universities. Improving access for women and ethnic minorities is another goal.

Academic freedom was suppressed by Saddam Hussein and Iraqi universities were looted following the 2003 invasion by US and UK forces, the launch event heard.

Dlawer Ala'Aldeen, Minister for Higher Education in the Kurdistan Regional Government and former professor of clinical biology at the University of Nottingham, said that rhetoric about the glorious past of Iraq's universities was irrelevant.

"Let's not sing about the past, about how Baghdad was the Harvard of medieval times," he said. "We have to realise the baseline - we are really, really behind. The good news is our politicians, as well as our academics, are hungry for success."

He said Iraq needed advice from British universities on self-governance and had to move away from government "micro-management".

Tony Reilly, Iraq director at the British Council, said that the programme would build capacity in the country's higher education system, as well as helping British universities to recruit Iraqi students.

Mark Robson, director of operations at the British Council, said that "education can and must play an important role in contributing to peace and prosperity in Iraq".

Citing examples of partnerships, Mr Robson said that the University of Basra may link up with The Robert Gordon University on oil and gas programmes, while the University of Baghdad is looking for help on forensic DNA research.

The DFID has provided the £3 million investment, which will be spent over the next two and a half years. The British Council will manage the scheme.

john.morgan@tsleducation.com.

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