What role do you envision AUIS playing in the broader Iraqi higher education system? Do you believe or hope that AUIS’s presence will be a force for innovation of Kurdish or Iraqi public education?
One major difference between AUIS and the Region’s public university system is that in the Iraqi education system, high school students take a college entrance exam called the baccalaureate exam. They are admitted into their universities and courses of study based on their exam scores. At AUIS, students are admitted into the university based on their academic histories, and choose their course of study after one or two years of general education ‘core courses’. In this sense, Iraqi public education is more vocational. AUIS tries to ground these professional capacities in a broader education.

How do you envision or hope that AUIS graduates contribute to Iraq’s human capital? Are there any sectors or positions that AUIS prepares students for in particular?
Many graduates across Iraq find employment in the pubic sector, whereas over 60% of our graduates find work in the private sector. In fact, this number increases each year. We aspire to provide our students with a professional skill set to become leaders in whichever sectors that they are hired into. We do not train our students for their first job; we train our students for promotion and leadership within their workplace.

To what degree, if any, does AUIS aspire to achieve international rather than local recognition? Is local or global prominence more important to the University’s image and trajectory?
AUIS is in the process of attaining national and international accreditation. By bringing international accreditation into the Iraqi system, we can become thought leaders in the quality assurance of our programs. By partnering with the Ministry of Higher Education in the KRG, as well as the Ministry of Education in Baghdad, we can help Iraq advance the dialogue about the accreditation process, and what it means to be accredited. Accreditation provides international validity to both the quality of programs offered by universities and the operations of universities more broadly.

Regarding partnering with other universities, we have partnerships with Stanford University for law, UCLA for education, and SUNY-Albany for public health. Our partnership with SUNY Albany will facilitate partnerships with other Iraqi universities, as well as universities throughout the Middle East. Public health as a degree program does not currently exist in much of the Region, and we would like to change that through partnerships with local universities.

AUIS is unique in Iraq in that it is a private non-profit that charges tuition. What are the costs and benefits of this model?
We are a non-profit institute for public benefit. Our Board of Trustees is composed of citizens who serve on a voluntary basis: any revenues that AUIS makes are reinvested into the University. Regarding tuition, Iraq’s public universities charge zero tuition. From a psychological point of view, which has been extensively tested, when people pay for something, they assign it more value. So, having the students pay a small amount makes students value their education more. AUIS receives less than 10% of its revenues from tuition; 90% of our revenues come from elsewhere. The vast majority of our income comes from the generosity of donors in the Region, and from Iraqis and Kurds living overseas who have given back. We thank Prime Minister Barzani and the KRG for their generosity, because they are the University’s largest donors. So, if we continue charging tuition at our current rates, I believe our students will value the education more and feel more connected to AUIS throughout their lives. Essentially, the experience becomes something they own.

As you mentioned, the KRG has invested heavily into AUIS. To what extent is AUIS dependent on KRG support, and to what degree is the KRG a sustainable source of income for the University?
The KRG has been very generous and supportive, and we are very thankful to them for that. My role as the new President of the University is to demonstrate to the KRG and to PM Barzani that we will use their investment to become financially sustainable. We are using their donations to establish processes, policies, and procedures to make us sustainable without requesting additional gifts. We have initiated this process by establishing a foundation in the US, through which we can receive tax-deductable contributions. Additionally, we are establishing an office of institutional advancement so that people can easily give legacy benefits or cash gifts to the University. It is our full intention to demonstrate that the investment that the KRG has made in us has paid off.

How does AUIS maintain the diversity of its student body? What outreach is involved in attracting students from southern and central Iraq, as well as surrounding countries, to AUIS?
As the “American University of Iraq”, we are from all of Iraq. The majority of our students come from the Kurdistan Region, but we have students from central and southern Iraq, as well as neighboring countries. We would like to increase that diversity. One of our most successful outreach methods has been through social media. We have Facebook followers from all around the country. This provides us significant, countrywide visibility. Our best ambassadors, however, are our students themselves. Students from the south tell their friends and family about AUIS. This has worked well for us: our Admissions Office has noticed that we are developing a legacy effect. Many younger siblings of our current students and alumni decide to enroll.

We are also taking measures to become prominent throughout the Middle East. We are creating four spaces for Syrians who have been displaced due to the Syrian conflict. We aspire to be like the American University of Beirut (AUB) or the American University of Cairo (AUC), which are well known in the region, so that, like them, we can draw international students into our student body.

Can you tell us about AUIS’s Professional Development Institute (PDI)?
The PDI is the arm of our school that reaches out most to the community. It offers open enrollment English language and project management courses for continuing education. The PDI also offers tailor-made courses and modules in cooperation with specific companies and industries. Finally, the institute offers a one year Executive MBA (EMBA) through a partnership with Steinbeis University in Berlin. The EMBA is designed for working professionals, so it is taught in night classes by German and AUIS professors. Through its local outreach and work with local business, PDI is very much an institute of public benefit.