Ten-year higher education strategy launched

Iraq has launched its first-ever national education strategy, for the period 2012-22, aimed at helping to improve education quality for the country's 33 million citizens, especially the most deprived youth.

Launched on 9 December, the strategy plans to enhance social reintegration and cohesion and to prevent social exclusion within Iraqi society. It also emphasises the importance of quality curriculum, institutions and resources in higher education, according to a report from the United Nations News Centre.

The strategy was developed by a committee of education experts and advisors within the ministries of education and higher education in Baghdad and Erbil, with international technical expertise and guidance provided by UN agencies and the World Bank

Among the elements of the strategy are providing free and accessible education to children and youth from pre-school to higher education, as well as ensuring high quality education based on global best practices.

Key educational targets include increasing Iraq's pre-school enrolment rate from 7% to 22% by 2020, and the primary school enrolment rate from 93% to 98% by the end of 2015.

The strategy calls for financial resources to be dedicated to ensuring adequate educational, psychological and social support for the most marginalised individuals across Iraq.

Speaking at the launch ceremony, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research Ali Al-Adeeb said the strategy was “designed to build a practical and philosophical base that contributes to building a contemporary educational system” able to produce an adaptable society that could respond to rapid changes in all fields of life.

Al-Adeeb added that many challenges faced the higher education and research sector, which had been plagued by inefficiency since the 1980s because of the politicisation, militarisation and flawed policies of the Al-Baath Party and its regime.

His ministry had launched an executive programme to promote the educational process in Iraq according to the new philosophy of higher education and research that stressed noble values, national identity, career ethics, democracy, human rights and a culture of integrity.

The new strategy was discussed at an international conference on higher education development held from 27-29 November in Baghdad.

The conference called for higher education to be rebuilt by sending Iraqi students for postgraduate studies in international universities and increasing academic linkages and exchanges between Iraq and advanced countries in order to build sustainable institutional partnerships.

Farooq Ibrahem Mohammad, a researcher in biotechnology at Al Nahrain University in Baghdad, cautiously welcomed the new strategy. “Despite the fact that Iraq is very interested in the development of higher education and scientific research, the mechanism is unclear and disorganised,” Mohammad told University World News.

“To restore our scientific and higher education prestige in the region, we must focus on real needs for Iraq's development, not just adding numbers and statistics for the purpose of political gains.”

The strategy, said Mohammad, should link the work of universities and research institutions to the economy and real challenges on the ground, “not to imaginary problems which only lead to useless studies and reports kept in archives”. It should not only focus on human resource development but also on building world-class higher education infrastructure.

"Mechanisms for implementing the strategy's programmes must be free from the problems that we are facing now, such as complex measures and personal relationships in selecting researchers for grants, attending conferences and scholarships,” Mohammad concluded.