Kurdistan: Rapid expansion has led to shortage of university places

Iraqi Kurdistan Iraqi Kurdistan

ARBIL -  An ESU delegation consisiting out of four people visited the Kurdistan Region in Iraq from 20 to 23 of August to meet with the Kurdistan Student Union (KSU) and learn about the situation of students and higher education in the region. Higher education has expanded majorly in this region in the last decades, which has led to a massive shortage of places at universities, leaving 7000 people waiting to enter university.

Lying between unstable Syria to the West, problematic Turkey to the North, ambitious Iran to the East and rest of tumultuous Iraq to the South-West, Kurdistan Region, one might wonder, whether it is not the best placed area in the world. However, for a visitors eye, the region seemed almost tranquil and not just because the visit was during the holy month Ramadan – as the majority of the population is Sunni Moslem.

The ESU delegation – Allan Päll, Nevena Vuksanovic, Kaloyan Kostadinov and Marek Baranski – met the KSU leadership as well as students and professors from all over the region. The ESU elected representatives also met with the Prime Minister, Barham Salih, and President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament, Kemal Kerkuki, Minister of Education Safeen Mohsin Dizayee and rectors of Salahaddin University and Dohak University. Many of the leaders of Kurdistan Region (and current Iraqi president) are former student leaders (KSU) at a time when belonging to a union was punishable up to death.

Fight for freedom
KSU, led by elected committees and coordinated by Secretary General Erfan, is an influential and well known organisation, established already in 1953. At first, the organisation was very much based on the fight for freedom and democracy and thus also connected to the Kurdish fight for recognition as people and as a state. However, just recently, KSU has taken a direction more into discussing education as they see it as key to societal development. KSU also represents students from secondary level of education.

Enormous expansion
Concerning higher education, the region has been going through an enormous expansion since 1991 that is continuing to this day. Then they had just one university, Salahaddin University in Erbil, but now there are 9 public and 8 private universities. At the moment, the expansion is continuing:  last year almost 7000 secondary school graduates were even left waiting behind university doors for another year simply because of lack of capacity – an issue of great political concern at the moment.

Study abroad
Further, the Regional autonomous government is investing into scholarship programmes to send out more than 2000 students to study in degree programmes at second and third cycle level in Europe and in the United States. Beneficiaries are however asked to sign binding contracts by which they agree to return to Kurdistan to work.

Graduates
Graduates in Kurdistan Region mainly get employed by the public sector and extra jobs have also been created. That has lead to more than 70% of the public budget being spent on payroll, which has lead to a shortcoming in infrastructure investments, including investments in the higher education sector. The region is worried about unemployment and the Regional Parliament has recently passed a law that hands out special unemployment benefits to graduates who are not able to find a job or anyone who cannot enter university due to restrictions in capacity and also does not find a job.

Safe place for investment
Kurdistan region is under fast development and is considered a safe place for investment in Iraq due to safety of the region. Almost everywhere in the cities as well as in towns, construction is going so fastly that they do not even have no time to erect railings or use any safety precautions. Kurdistan is also known for its religious tolerance – they also accept many student of other faith from the rest of Iraq to freely study there.

ESU will keep continuing to cooperate and be in contact with KSU and is also welcoming KSUdelegates to its next event, European Students’ Convention 22 in Poland.

By Allan Päll