The Kurdish minister of higher education and scientific research has called for far greater support from UK universities in return for the students sent here as part of a major scholarship scheme.
Yousif Goran, who is responsible for universities in the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq – institutions that have complete autonomy from Baghdad and operate under a separate legal system – was in London last month to attend the Education World Forum 2015.
The minister outlined to Times Higher Education his government’s response to the challenges faced by a higher education system that one of his predecessors, Dlawer Ala’Adeen, described in 2009 as “dated and largely dysfunctional”.
A range of new initiatives are aimed at improving quality assurance, scientific innovation, academic freedom and university autonomy. His ministry launched Kurdistan’s first independent national research council, designed to “connect areas of research with the social and economic growth of the country”, and has set up a national ranking system.
Dr Goran said he hoped to bridge the gap between graduate supply and demand, for example by creating five new departments in diplomacy and international relations. In addition to improving the research base, he was keen to boost the use of the English language across all university curricula.
The Kurdish authorities had also commissioned the British Council to carry out a major survey looking at current capacity and what needed to be done. From 2009 to 2012, the council also oversaw collaborations between British, Kurdish and other Iraqi universities under the Department for International Development’s programme, Development Partnerships in Higher Education (DelPHE), in fields ranging from engineering and forensic medicine to conflict, security and gender studies.
The Kurdish government’s fully funded postgraduate scholarship scheme, launched in 2010, currently has 1,500 Kurdish postgraduates studying at UK institutions, according to the ministry. This represents about 69 per cent of participants in a programme that overall costs $200 million (£132 million) per year.
Speaking through his adviser Amanj Saeed, Dr Goran told THE that the scheme was a “huge investment”, but his view was that the “payoff is not satisfactory” with regard to the UK.
“The DelPHE-Iraq scheme is terminated and we don’t have any other projects to replace them…We demand more from British universities, because our engagement and commitment are really, really serious,” he said.
Although only 2 per cent of postgraduates on the scholarship scheme went to Germany, the minister had recently “signed a memorandum of understanding to form a joint research group to work on energy and security, to exchange students and staff” on a visit to the University of Göttingen.
The minister added that the attitude at this German university, which charges no tuition fees to Kurdistan postgraduates, was far “warmer” than those generally found in the 121 UK universities that he said were earning money from Kurdish students on the scholarship scheme.
“We expect those [UK] universities to come to Kurdistan,” Dr Goran stressed, “and contribute funding to joint research collaborations, exchange staff, help with teaching English as a second language, help with our ranking system and research council. We were expecting them to come and give us a hand with all these initiatives.”