Major investments in the Kurdistan Region’s higher education system are helping to develop well-trained human capital.
Institutions of higher education in Kurdistan are key to producing a new generation of graduates that have the skills to harness the opportunities provided by the Region’s growing economy for local benefit. Despite the challenges of transforming a system that has traditionally relied on rote learning and an instructor-centric approach, innovators are introducing Western-style teaching methods that emphasize critical thinking and give students more freedom of choice in their academic pursuits. The KRG Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE) is also implementing guidelines to ensure quality in higher education across Kurdistan and teaming with key players in the regional economy to ensure that new graduates have the skillset and experience to succeed in the local workplace.
The MoHE has also established a number of tertiary institutions dedicated to technical and vocational education and training (TVET). The Ministry runs two-year technical institutes and four-year technical colleges across Kurdistan that are managed under three polytechnic universities representing the Erbil, Sulaimani, and Duhok governorates.
Enrollment in private universities has expanded rapidly. In 2014, Kurdistan’s 12 private universities admitted 12,000 new students, an increase of 5,000 over the year prior.
Quality Assurance Plan
While supportive of the increasing array of choices that the proliferation of private institutions has helped create for students, KRG education officials are keen to point out that their support is dependent on those institutions meeting government standards in terms of quality. The Ministry’s strategy is to prevent higher education from becoming a commercial product. The Ministry has weighed applications for new private universities against the key metrics of a Quality Assurance Plan for higher education that it adopted in 2011, approving just 2 out of the 18 proposals for new private universities it has received since that time.
The quality assurance procedures for higher education outlined in the Plan focus on curriculum reform, increased autonomy for universities and technical institutions, programs offering staff the chance for continuous professional development, and the promotion of research. The strategy also establishes a system to evaluate teaching methods, course materials, exam design, and lecture styles in parallel with a planned accreditation system to ensure that institutes, colleges, and universities conform to acceptable academic standards.
Closing the Skills Gap
Authorities within the KRG have recognized the need to better tailor higher education in both universities and technical institutes to the skillsets demanded by local and international firms operating in the Kurdistan Region.
There is an emerging movement to connect employers with intuitions of higher education across the Kurdistan Region. One such initiative is the annual Career events, where organizers have been educating job seekers on the importance of internships and connecting local and international companies interesting in hosting interns with workers and students looking to gain experience.
Both the public and private higher education sectors have seen rapid growth over the last two decades, and overall enrollment in higher education in Kurdistan stood at over 115,000 in 2013.
A growing number of universities in Kurdistan are establishing connections with their peers abroad in an effort to expand opportunities for their students and benefit from international expertise.
The KRG has founded a Human Capacity Development Program that seeks to cultivate professional skills and leadership abilities among students from the Kurdistan Region by giving them the opportunity to earn a degree abroad. In 2014, the program gave 4,351 of the Region’s most talented students the opportunity to study abroad for the 2014 academic year with the help of government-sponsored scholarships. During the same period, 670 of those students finished their foreign academic pursuits and returned to join Kurdistan’s labor force. Scholarship recipients benefit from language-skills training at centers set up by the MoHE in preparation for their studies abroad. The KRG has spent over $82 million on the Human Capacity Development Program, and plans to expand it in the years ahead.