What are the vulnerabilities of the public university system in Kurdistan?
While the system certainly allows a large number of students access to university education, the universities themselves still have limited budgets for core expenses like salaries, facilities, and labs. Educational support systems on campuses, such as proper buildings, recreation facilities, sports centers, and other such services, face decline. This disparity negatively affects the quality of our higher education.

What do you believe needs to be done to change the mentality regarding free education?
There are three major issues preventing this from occurring. Firstly, a major impediment to paying for education in Kurdistan right now is the lack of a developed banking sector. Even if a paid tuition system were to be implemented, students are currently unable to take out the types of loans that would be needed to finance their educations.

Secondly, there is this collective understanding among the public, largely due to inherited socialist values of Iraq’s previous regime, implying that the government should pay for everything. Government should, in many cases, be the key player in leading development processes. However, the time has come in Kurdistan to shift from such notions, given the improved economic conditions people now enjoy.The government should develop alternatives to just paying for services without return. Interest free loans, for example, could be one solution, especially in higher education. The Education sector is a bit different, given that preliminary education is free, which is very necessary (particularly in deprived areas with low-income citizens). To summarize, the government must stop playing the proxy role without the public’s contribution.

Finally, the majority of employment in the Kurdistan Region is in the public sector. For this form of employment, simply having a degree can be considered more important than the quality of education received. Students do not compete intellectually with one another for public sector jobs in the same fashion that private sector employment demands.

The businesses community in Kurdistan is increasingly developing, and more and more foreign companies are establishing operations here. This growth will obviously cause the private sector to expand. In addition, both the KRG and Iraqi governments are taking great steps to reform civil service. These changes will likely increasingly draw students to private or independent universities, driven by employer preference for students from these universities. This will stimulate a need for reform in the public university system.

What types of civil service reform are being implemented?
A promising Civil Service Council has recently been authorized by the Kurdistan and Iraqi Parliaments that is intended to reform the public sector. The council will be responsible for defining the structure of the civil service system, the jobs that will be included in the new system, and the qualifications needed for government employment. The Council will also lead the way in developing civil service exams. This will wholly reengineer the public sector, making it much more lean, efficient, and specialized. In addition, these changes will make the civil service system more professional, and encourage increased private sector employment. Moreover, I believe that this council will have a positive impact on the public schools and universities. It will force public universities to produce better graduates in order for them to pass the employment filters.

Can we say that these reforms will ‘westernize’ the Kurdish university system?
The Kurdish educational system should not aim to emulate the Western educational systems. Rather, sustainability must develop according the specific strengths and weaknesses present in the Region’s education system, laws and regulations, philosophy and most importantly the specific needs of the Region’s population: students, teachers, parents, and other staff members. However, we can benefit and adapt our system based on the experience of others. Our reform should not aim to Westernize, but to adapt. We must innovate the system to shape it into our own, to think globally but act locally.

The new generation is growing up in a booming economic environment. What role do you think university lectures should play in encouraging the entrepreneurial way thinking?
Given that I teach Business, Management and Governance , I always try to encourage my students to connect their newfound knowledge to real world scenarios. It’s important for them to apply this understanding so as to have a greater awareness of the changing business climate in Kurdistan. Currently, I also try to emphasize the fact that students, prior to graduating, ‘must’ be prepared enough to perform well in their forthcoming jobs. In my understating this could be done mainly via well-designed internships. Unfortunately, this is a component that most university programs still lack. Furthermore, if the students aren’t properly incentivized to pursue their education for a good reason (to have a “good” job afterwards), then they aren’t motivated to push themselves to achieve. If they aren’t motivated, then recruiters won’t be willing to buy the student’s “product”, in this case their knowledge, ability, and skills. It’s a domino effect, in my opinion.

We need to develop a Human Resource Diaspora Policy so that the skills of that population can be utilized effectively to develop the country. People want to bring knowledge and experience here.

Is there a need to diversify education beyond standard public and private universities?
Recently, there has been more of a push for vocational or technical schools. There are also an increased number of technical universities. The government is advocating this approach to some extent because it wants its graduates to have specific types of training so that they are specially tailored to certain areas.

What role can the Kurdish Diaspora play in creating a strong academic environment in the Region?
In 2001, I gave a presentation at the first International Kurdish Congress. My paper was about utilizing the capacity of the Kurdish Diaspora. Specifically, how to attract them back to the Region and then get them properly involved in the development process. Currently, some of the diaspora population makes the independent decision to come back to Kurdistan. However, they don’t receive enough support when it comes to utilizing their skills in the right way. We need to develop a Human Resource Diaspora Policy so that the skills of this segment of society can be utilized effectively to develop the country. People have certain emotions toward Kurdistan. They feel they owe the Region something, so they want to bring knowledge and experience here. We have to utilize this in the right way. We must focus on how to implement the individual components for the betterment of all the people of the Kurdistan Region.