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Rebuilding and Reforming Higher Education in Iraq
June 15, 2012
“For two reasons, I have come to appreciate that education, from early education through university, is the keystone for resurrecting war-torn nations like Iraq,” says education professor Clif Conrad.
“One, because they embody courage and resilience, faculty in Iraq cultivate in their students genuine hope that, through their learning, they can contribute to the rebuilding of Iraq.
“Two, faculty in Iraq are instrumental in empowering students to seize ownership over their learning and cultivate those skills and attitudes-of-mind that will enable them to help transform Iraq into a far more hospitable, democratic, and prosperous country within the foreseeable future.”
Conrad spoke at a conference in Erbil, northern Iraq, last summer, as part of a conference sponsored by the Institute of International Education (IIE). Erbil is Iraq’s fourth largest city, and is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.
In their efforts to help rebuild the nation, Iraqi universities emphasize professional programs like engineering, medicine, and law, but also support humanities and the liberal arts. But rebuilding and reform are taking place in the midst of heightened political turmoil.
Last June Conrad was a keynote speaker at the conference that drew more than 140 Iraqi scholars, public university presidents, vice presidents, and deans, government officials, U.S. Embassy officials, and international experts. They attended to learn about, and encourage, progress on higher education reform efforts. Participants received an overview of U.S. higher education, with an emphasis on how “modern university systems” evolve and the factors that fuel change. They also learned about tools and resources for capacity development in the Iraqi higher education sector.
In all three of his keynote addresses and informal conversations, Conrad says he was careful not to represent the U.S. higher education system as having all the answers. Rather, he said that universities in the U.S. have made some mistakes, along the way, and invited the Iraqis to learn from those mistakes. He felt that this approach was well received.
He was inspired by the experience. “It’s all about the public good,” he said. “I’ve never felt before that universities could be so closely aligned with the public good.”