What opportunities drew SABIS so decisively to the Kurdistan Region?
Our first visit to Kurdistan was in 2005 and came about in response to an invitation by PM Barzani and the Minister of Education at the time, both of whom had a clear vision and saw education as the key to the future of Kurdistan. As such, they wanted to start by establishing a fee-based, private school that delivered high-quality education. During our visit, their vision was validated by what we saw; it was also clear that SABIS’s own drive to make a difference in the world through education could be furthered by involvement in Kurdistan. SABIS decided to put its resources to work for Kurdistan and we’ve never looked back. Last year, when our private school, ISC-Erbil, graduated its first class of students, we were all very proud that some of the best universities in the world accepted our students. We are very honored to be playing a role in helping to rebuild Kurdistan through education.

Can you describe the differences between the different educational systems that SABIS operates in the Kurdistan Region?
When we first started in Kurdistan we did so with a fee-based private school. It was not long after we opened the International School of Choueifat – Erbil that HE Prime Minister Barzani shared his wish to provide a high standard of education to all children in Kurdistan, including those who come from financially disadvantaged families and thus are unable to pay private school tuition and fees. He asked SABIS to operate public schools in Kurdistan based on SABIS’s experience in operating public schools in places like the US or the UAE. These Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) schools do not require students to pay tuition, yet they offer students the same high-quality SABIS education that is offered to more than 63,000 students attending SABIS® member schools in 15 countries around the world. In addition to helping to raise the overall education standards of the masses, SABIS’s approach to PPP schools in Kurdistan has the added benefit of building the capacity of local teachers who are trained to deliver education at a consistently high standard.

Why did SABIS choose the Kurdistan Region to open its first university?
The first PPP school that we operated was such a tremendous success—to the point that in its second year of operation we had 90 openings in the Kindergarten and had 1,700 students apply for the open seats—that a lottery system was implemented to determine who among the applicants could be admitted to the school. Facing the unfortunate situation where a child’s future is dependent on the luck of a draw, PM Barzani decided to open more such schools especially in remote areas like Soran, Zakho, and Kalar. However, to do that we needed to be able to build our own supply of local teachers who had the competencies, skills, and the knowledge base necessary to successfully undertake the job. And this is where the idea to establish a college of education came from. By establishing SABIS University and the College of Education, we could cater for the growth of the PPP project and bring this vision to reality. Shortly after opening the College of Education, SABIS University expanded to include the College of Business and Management Studies and lately added the College of Engineering, all designed to provide high quality tertiary education and build capacity in Kurdistan for the purpose of shaping the nation’s future.

To meet our customers’ needs, we bring all of our resources and experience to bear. We bring innovation, motivation, and competition to the educational landscape, all elements that contribute to raising standards — our standards and the standards of the entire education sector in Kurdistan.

How would you argue SABIS member schools fit into the broader educational landscape in Kurdistan?
In our view, SABIS has an important role to play in the broader educational landscape in the Kurdistan Region. We are a private, for-profit educational management organization, and as such we represent private enterprise, an essential factor in the equation to raise education standards. Our success depends on our ability to deliver a product that meets our customers’ needs and expectations. And our customers include every student because SABIS member schools implement a non-selective admissions policy. To meet our customers’ needs, we bring all of our resources and experience to bear. We bring innovation, motivation, and competition to the educational landscape, all elements that contribute to raising standards—our standards and the standards of the entire education sector in Kurdistan.

How do SABIS member schools differentiate themselves in terms of developing the Kurdistan Region’s human capital?
SABIS is actively engaged in building human resource capacity in the Kurdistan Region. We do that not only through the ongoing professional development that is offered to individuals working in SABIS PPP and private member schools in the Region, but also through the SABIS University Continuing Education Department (CED). Through the extensive array of professional development programs offered as part of the CED, we offer high-quality professional programs to any interested individuals, whether or not they are employed in schools affiliated with SABIS® in Kurdistan.The SABIS University Continuing Education Department currently offers programs in business, computer science, English, management and leadership, and Information Technology.

Do you have any plans for future expansion in the Kurdistan Region?
SABIS has expansion plans for each of the operational models we currently implement in Kurdistan. On the private school front, we have immediate plans to build a large, state-of-the-art campus in Slemani. Land has also been earmarked for the construction of a private school campus in Duhok. Additionally, plans are in the works for at least another two private schools in the Erbil area. There are also plans in the works to expand the number of SABIS PPP schools in the Region in order to meet the high demand for school places in all of our existing PPP schools. The demand for these school places comes from parents who see that their children in our PPP schools are acquiring the knowledge and skills needed to be able to compete on a global scale. The demand also comes from communities that recognize the effective role that a SABIS PPP school can play in stemming the tide of migration of people from rural to urban areas. In response to the high demand for SABIS PPP schools, there are currently an additional 10 schools planned, but on hold pending financing. Once the question of financing has been addressed, there is a possibility of substantially increasing the network of SABIS PPP schools in the Region and thereby providing a high-quality education to more students who will become the driving force behind the rebuilding of Kurdistan.