Exchanging ideas on achieving sustainability and quality

Almost exactly 10 years ago a colleague and I were invited to Iraqi Kurdistan, the semi-autonomous region of northern Iraq. Our work took us to Soran University in Soran, a mountainous region in the north of Kurdistan about 150 kilometres from Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.

During our time with the university, we conducted workshops with academic staff, carried out audits of various teaching-learning settings and presented to the wider university on research strategy and internationalisation.

We met a fascinating and diverse academic staff, each with their own interesting story. A substantial number had been recruited from countries in Europe. There were also several local academics who had completed their postgraduate studies overseas.

An especially memorable experience was sitting in on a class given by an Iraqi academic who had recently returned from Germany where he had completed a doctorate and had learnt to speak English. He taught his class at Soran University in English, but with a heavy German accent that had delightfully rubbed off on his students who similarly responded in English with a broad German accent.

In September this year, we were again invited to Iraq by Al-Noor University College located in Mosul, situated approximately 80 kilometres from Erbil. The university was established in 2013 and currently offers academic programmes across 12 departments.

The institution is committed to three principal goals. These are 1) equipping graduates with knowledge that prepares them for the profession they intend to enter; 2) fostering scientific research; and 3) developing professional community collaborations in the pursuit of addressing societal needs, including in the area of sustainable development.


The university was hosting its inaugural congress on the theme of sustainability and aviation. The congress brought together ministry officials, policy-makers, researchers, academics, students, scientists and engineers from a number of countries, including Australia and Malaysia, and from across Iraq.

The area of aviation was well-covered by other speakers who shared their expertise in and data about the most recent advancements and challenges in the fields of sustainability, renewable energies and the aviation industry.

My keynote address focused on how education at all levels can and must play a significant role in promoting sustainable development – specifically, how high-quality education is the means to achieving this goal because, without a highly educated population and highly skilled workforce, it is unlikely that the goals stipulated in the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development can and will be realised.

One of the targets for UN Sustainable Development Goal 4 is ensuring that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development.

The message reinforced the significant part that Al-Noor University College and other higher education institutions could and should play in preparing the next generation of professionals, knowledge-makers and solution-finders to address today’s big global issues. Those include, for example, clean water and sanitation for all, sustainable cities and communities, affordable and clean energy, eradicating poverty and the conservation of our environment.

This message is highly relevant when we consider the society in which we live today, one characterised by increasing levels of risk and uncertainty. We need high-quality education to prepare graduates as best we can for those risks, to contribute positively with confidence to unexpected circumstances with needed innovations and-or advancements.

Rapid development

I left the audience with a series of questions, the responses to which will be very much affected by the unique geopolitical, cultural, social, economic and environmental context in which the education institution resides.

They included contemplating the current and future role of higher education in Iraq (and further afield) in addressing the challenges associated with sustainability and how universities can best integrate sustainability into their teaching, research and across the whole of their operations. The latter includes consideration of the types of academic programmes to be developed and the types of graduates the country expects and requires.

What was especially pleasing was the active participation and support of ministry officials and their willingness to listen to issues raised by the university academics. The issue that received the most robust discussion revolved around the need for a national qualifications framework to provide guidance to universities about the expected standard of student learning outcomes at different levels of education, from certificate through to doctorate level.

Such a framework would support standardising the level and quality of what is offered or delivered to students and improve international recognition of Iraqi qualifications to facilitate transferability of these qualifications for student educational mobility.

It was again a privilege to spend some time in a truly remarkable, culturally ancient, fascinating and complex part of the world where rapid development is occurring in so many fields, including in higher education.

Dr Nita Temmerman has held senior university positions including pro vice-chancellor (academic quality and partnerships) and executive dean in Australia. She is an invited accreditation specialist with the Hong Kong Council for Accreditation of Academic and Vocational Qualifications and international associate with the Center for Learning Innovations and Customized Knowledge Solutions in Dubai. She is chair of two higher education academic boards, and invited professor and consultant to universities in Australia, the Pacific region, Southeast Asia and the Middle East.