KRG Minister of Higher Education Leads University of Suleimani Delegation in Explorations with US Counterpart Institutions
(April 7, 2000 - Washington DC) Throughout this current month of April, Kurdistan Regional Government Minster of Higher Education Dr. Jalal Shafiq, is leading a senior delegation from the University of Suleimani in a series of exploratory visits with American universities in California, New York and the Washington DC area. Joining Dr. Shafiq in reviewing the possibilities for developing joint research activities, visiting professor programs and sister-university relations are Dr. Ali Saeed Muhammed (Dean of the Medical College), Dr. Mohamad Ali Abdullah (Dean of the Faculty of Sciences), and Mr Jalal Omar M. S. Agha (Deputy Minster of Finance of the KRG and Chair of Citizen's Committee for the Support of Suleimania University). The delegation's work aims to identify specific disciplines and areas of collaboration jointly with American educational counterparts, during campus visits and discussions with various universities and other educational institutions.
In the first segment of their exchanges and visits, the imminent Kurdish scholar Dr. Hikmat Fikrat received the delegation on their arrival in Califorinia. Dr. Fikrat is former President of the University of Suleimani, and in his capacity as the university's contact person in the United States he was instrumental in arranging the wide ranging schedule of meetings. Universities visited with the able assistance of Dr. Fikrat and his numerous contacts in academic circles there included: California State University in Sacramento, the University of the Pacific, Chapman University, and the University of California at Santa Barbara and at Irvine campuses.
Topics discussed by the delegation with their American interlocutors included: securing waivers of TOEFL and GRE pre-requisites for University of Suleimani visiting students and faculty; encouraging visiting professor programs linking the University of Suleimani to the US universities; arrangements for short programs of lectures, tutorials seminars, and intensive training workshops; exchange of course catalogues and syllibi; and drafting of memoranda of understanding on these and other issues.
The response of the American hosts of the Kurdish delegation was extremely positive on all counts, with numerous American discussants offering to travel personally to Suleimani to launch the desired collaboration and others volunteering to establish contact with California-based philanthropists towards creating a program of financial sponsorship of the interchanges. Specific fields of cooperation that were discussed included water and sanitation engineering, graduate studies and research, microbiology and laboratory sciences, humanities and "education abroad" programs, economics, pharmacology, and family medicine.
By way of background to the current mission of the University of Suleimani visit to the USA, it should be recalled that the dénouement of the Gulf War in 1991 resulted in the people of Iraqi Kurdistan being enabled to elect and establish the self-governing Kurdistan Regional Government in 1992. Among the first actions taken by this new government was the reopening of the University of Suleimani, making use of funds mainly contributed by the people of Suleimani themselves. It opened its doors to students in the fall of 1992, after a closure of more than 10 years.
The University, along with the KRG and citizens of the region, has endured, in the 8 years since it was re-opened, the burden of a double embargo: one imposed by the UN (as Suleimani remains part of Iraq hence subject to UN sanctions), and the other imposed by the central government in Baghdad (for being independently administered and hence beyond central government control).
While the UN oil-for-food program has brought about significant improvement in the humanitarian situation, the Kurdistan region continues to suffer greatly from the lack of adequate supply of educational materials and contact with the outside world. Today's isolation and austerity comes in the wake of the traumatic decade of the 80's in which hundreds of thousands of Kurds were killed and displaced from their villages, thousands of which were destroyed by a genocidal "Anfal" campaign and the continuing policy of ethnic cleansing pursued by the Iraqi central government.
Much remains to be done today to effectively revive the prospects for a quality program of higher education in the university, despite the outstanding efforts until now on the part of faculty and staff, and the boundless support of the city's people. The visit of the Suleimani University delegation to its counterpart institutions in the United States emerges from this context, but comes very much as an expression of the hope that has been generated by a decade of self-rule in Iraqi Kurdistan. Significant enabling factors include recent free and fair municipal elections, and an increasingly effective engagement of the international community in the reconstruction of Kurdistan through the UN "Oil for Food" program, and a nascent and vocal civil society.
The delegation will continue its exchange visits with American universities on the East Coast of the United States beginning on April 13th, 2000.
Source: Kurdistan Newsline/PUK # 25 – Apr 7, 2000