Higher education in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq Part II
In addition to illustrating the difficulties of the higher educational system in the Kurdistan region in the first part of this article, Thomas Hill also discussed what needs to be changed, and what is required to be done.
From Hill’s point of view, what needs to be changed is the students and professors minds against old hierarchies. The process of learning is not only from the professors to the students, but also the exchange of knowledge that can be transferred from the students to the professors and as well as among the students themselves.
"I think the main change that needs to happen is a shift in thinking by students and professors to break down old hierarchies so that they can learn from each other,” said Hill. "Professors can learn as much from their students as students learn from their professors and other students. Professors who employ new, interactive student-centered teaching techniques and students who undertake new forms of critical research can lead this transition.”
Hill’s response about the requirements of this change is encouraging the students and professors by leaders who make policies of higher education. "Of course, they also need to be encouraged to take these steps by the political and university leaders who make higher education policies for the Kurdistan Region.”
Athanasios Moulakis spoke about AUIS in more detail by stating that it is the only educational institution in Iraq that provides American-style liberal arts education. He said AUIS has met resistance by those people who are not familiar with its style. "The innovations that AUIS introduces to Iraqi and Kurdish education, for example the pattern of student-centered learning and the single core in arts and sciences taken by all students, regardless of what their major will be, rather than immediate specialization into "faculties” according to the antiquated ways of the traditional national universities, meets with resistance by the public, students and their parents, who are unfamiliar with these approaches.”
Moreover, Hill’s comprehension about the current role of universities in the current and future developments of the Kurdistan Region in terms of improving high standards of education, economic and political developments was having lots of young, bright, inquisitive college students in Kurdistan who need to be taught critical thinking and effective planning of research, and then need to be employed.
"Every bit of public and private practice in the region needs to be exposed to critical, scholarly inquiry through a reflective research process,” said Hill, "The leaders of the region need to welcome this scholarly criticism and commit to turning the best ideas that emerge from this process into new policies that will benefit all the people in the region. There are plenty of young, bright, curious university students throughout the Kurdistan Region, and, indeed, throughout Iraq. They need to be encouraged to learn new research methods, to employ them, to share their research outcomes widely, and then to see that the region's leaders value their critical thinking by developing innovative new policies that take advantage of what the region's best and brightest minds can produce.”
Moulakis also said that they have met resistance to their innovations. "Yet our task is precisely to innovate, to introduce a fresh and better way for students to realize their full potential for themselves, their families, their employers and their country. One can say, therefore, that we need to overcome resistance to our innovative ways to do our work. Overcoming such resistance, opening new horizons is, however, not only a means but also an end: Change for the better is our work, and it will be borne out by the recognized excellence of our graduates.”
One of Ala'Aldeen’s main reform dimensions is a vision not only to the current, but also to the future of educational systems by prioritizing quality assurance. "The role of higher education institutions (HEI) in the process of nation-building is indispensable. Raising standards in these institutions has long been a top priority for the people and Government of Kurdistan Region,” Ala'Aldeen added: "(MoHESR) will embark on reviewing the entire system of higher education, in a way that no legal or administrative barrier would be considered too sacred to change. On the contrary, they will all have to be removed to accommodate reform and serve the ultimate purpose, namely, improving quality and raising standards. Even the role of the Ministry and the Government in HE would have to be re-defined.”
Jaf believes that it’s too early to decide whether his process is successful or not. “The "Capacity Building" program is what I have always being advocating for. He gets the credit of being the minister who started the whole thing and who pushed strongly to get it done. While it is still the beginning and we need to wait in order to see the fruit of the program, the steps taken so far are promising. The standards for getting students accepted were fair. Many students with no partisan background or even from the opposition parties have been accepted into the program due the academic ability they have shown.” Jaf said, “The reform process in the universities is also significant. While, according to the minister himself, they have not begun the application stage of the reform process, the feedbacks they have gotten about the few tests done are promising.”
These two articles raise a question: what is the future course for the universities in Kurdistan region. Bowman responded that question by saying that higher education is a commodity, and the consumers of this commodity can improve the quality of the commodity in the future. “Tertiary education is a commodity, and like any commodity, has to respond to market forces (like supply and demand). To some extent, the consumers of this commodity (the students and their parents) can impact its quality and content by the choices they make. Those choices will ultimately drive the future course of growth and development by strengthening or weakening various elements of the commodity. Of course, there are also a wide variety of geo-political and cultural factors that come into play as well.” Bowman added.
Finally, the biggest concern of a lot of people is the continuation and protection of the reform process after Ala'Aldeen. What will happen in the process for the next two years and in more general in the future? The question is will his vision and the process of reform continue after he left his office?
“This is a serious question.” Jaf said. “I personally believe that Dr. Dlawar has done enough to convince people after him that the right path is to continue the reforms, however, I doubt that the reform process will continue, or at least, with the same paste. Many times Dr. Dlawar was asked about this question, and he always tried to be optimistic about it. He said that the reform has become an agenda for most of the officials in the higher education. He has also said that he is not alone in what he wants to do. However, the whole reform thing was related to him personally, and I don't believe he has been able to change the system so that his way becomes everyone's way. Having said that, I find it difficult for the new minister to go backward. People have found the right way, and I am not sure if they will let anyone go astray.”