Higher Education in Iraq After 2003: Ongoing Challenges


Author: Ilham Makki

English and Arabic versions | تحميل عربي

Almost three decades of wars, including internal and external armed conflicts, have crippled most attempts to reform the education system in Iraq. Educational institutions have been exposed to destruction and depreciation due to the economic blockade between 1990–2003. Furthermore, teachers have experienced various forms of violence, including killings, abductions and displacement, which have markedly increased since 2003.

University of Baghdad’s Strategy 2018–22 listed the following most significant weak points facing higher education in Iraq:

  • Lack of skill development and training in educational institutions that meet job market requirements. This is a result of the absence of strategic planning within universities and the insufficient application of a comprehensive quality system for higher education.
  • The limitations on academic freedoms and the politicisation of education as a result of the sectarian apportionment – or muhasasa taʾifiyya – system and the spread of political violence, forcing academics to practice self-censorship. This has affected the scientific standards and credibility of research, especially within the Social Sciences and Humanities.
  • The poor rate of spending on scientific research, estimated to be the lowest in the region.
  • Lagging infrastructure inadequate for the increasing numbers of students year on year, in spite of the expansion of governmental and private universities; noting that the biggest demographic category in Iraq is youth.
  • Poor governmental policies for addressing economic problems and unemployment among university graduates are likely to precipitate more violence, feeding into foundational causes for conflict and the continuation of anti-government protests.
  • The ineffective role of universities in transferring knowledge conducive to innovation and creativity, and their inability to find answers and solutions to ongoing crises and conflicts facing Iraq.

Consequently, rebuilding higher educational institutions in accordance with the requirements of the changing reality and prioritising benefits to wider society – particularly youth – is an urgent priority to achieve political stability and support a sustainable peacebuilding process.

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