The Ministry of Higher Education [MHE] was first officially established in 2006. How has Higher Education in the Kurdistan Region evolved since that time?
The number of higher educational institutions in the Region has continued to expand since 2006. The MHE has also encouraged the establishment of private universities via the favorable 2006 Investment Law. The opening of private universities has helped the educational sector to overcome many obstacles by meeting the needs of the labor market, providing higher education to an increasing number of students, and bringing technological advances into the educational arena. Today, the Kurdistan Region has 13 public universities, 10 private universities, and the Kurdistan Board for Medical Specialties.

How would you characterize the current state of higher education within the Kurdistan Region?
The KRG has initiated higher education reforms focusing on several key issues. There has been an increased emphasis on promoting quality, both in terms of teaching and learning. The MHE is currently operating excellent quality assurance procedures in all of its institutions. We are also focused on introducing new changes in the curriculum, implementing continuous academic development for staff and professors, and adapting an accreditation system for higher education institutions. We have focused on developing human capacity. The KRG introduced the human capacity development scholarship program (HCDP) and allotted it an annual budget of $100 million. These funds will be used to send our young graduates to pursue their higher education, specifically Masters and PhD programs, at centers of excellence abroad. The government is also emphasizing research promotion. Although we have managed to establish several state-of-the-art research centers in Kurdistan, our vision is to invest more in research infrastructure by providing additional resources, bringing in newer technology for our institutions, and creating opportunities for our professors and academic staff to connect with their international counterparts. Through this last effort, we hope to encourage joint research and international collaboration. In fact, we have recently introduced new a PhD program that allows students to do a portion of their research abroad.

There has also been serious investment in terms of establishing new campuses for higher education institutions. For example, new campuses for universities in Halabja, Garmian, Soran, Raparin, and Zakho have all already been initiated. The master plans and designs for the new campuses of Salahaddin and Hawler Medical Universities are underway. With this in mind, the MHE has developed a new approach to support technical education in Kurdistan. Three new polytechnic universities have recently been established with new curricula and new opportunities.

We have also been successful in promoting the internationalization of knowledge generation and research via the establishment of partnerships and collaborations with various universities in different countries all over the world. We are also focusing on strategic areas like oil and gas management, natural resource management, energy contracts, and sustainable and renewable energies.

Can you tell us about the MHE’s HCDP Scholarship and the opportunities it will provide to students of the Region?
Investing in the education and human capital of our future leaders is one of the main priorities of the KRG. Sustainable development of higher education mandates qualifies and highly educated leaders. For this reason, the KRG introduced the HCDP, which has an annual budget of $100 million and allows us to send our young graduates abroad to complete their education in centers of excellence around the world. It was first implemented in 2010 and, thus far, three rounds of the program have been executed successfully. Approximately 4,350 awards have already been issued. Of those recipients, 2,350 have already left the country and continued their studies in universities abroad. We have an established system that allows us to continuously monitor the program. We will continue to launch additional rounds of the HCDP. However, in the future, our approach will be highly selective and will focus on key specialty areas that are in high demand both in the public and private sectors here in the Kurdistan Region.

In terms of services offered, quality of education, and number of students enrolled, how do schools here in Kurdistan compare to those in the rest of Iraq?
In spite of the long history of higher education in Iraq, we are now perhaps in a better situation than institutions in the south. This is primarily because of the peace and stability that exists in the Kurdistan Region. We have a very reasonable standard of higher education, but of course we need to progress more and more. So, we are currently operating standard quality assurance programs in all higher education institutions. This system was implemented across all spectrums in education, training, and research. It also assesses teaching materials, teaching methods, examinations, and lecturing ability. The process also includes curriculum development, continuous academic development, and revitalizing research. Through the implementation of all these processes, we can maintain a higher quality of education in all of our institutions.

What is the MHE’s key objective for the future of higher education in the Kurdistan Region?
The KRG is directing major investment into the higher education sector. We have a clear vision and an appropriate plan to increase the quality of teaching and of learning. We are also working to adapt our accreditation systems, develop our human capacity, and promote high quality research in all our institutions. We believe that the economy, politics, and business of the future should be knowledge based, and that increased scientific research should play a major role in developing our region.

The KRG introduced the Human Capacity Development Program, which has an annual budget of $100 million and allows us to send our young graduates abroad to complete their education in centers of excellence around the world. It was first implemented in 2010 and, thus far, three rounds of the program have been executed successfully. Approximately 4,350 awards have already been issued.