Interview with Dr. Mohammed R. Mochtar, Vice President of Administrative and Financial Affairs at the University of Salahaddin-Hawler
Education is one of the most important pillars of sustainable economic growth; investment in young people. In your opinion, how is the attitude towards higher education in Kurdistan different from that of other neighboring countries? We know that Abu Dhabi is trying to attract many big players, Lebanon is another center of education …
Since 2003, education in Kurdistan has improved at all educational levels, investors are encouraged to invest in Kurdistan (on the basis of an investment law issued by the government of Kurdistan), and the banking system has also improved. The results, among others, were: the transparency of the accounting system, the public exposure of the audit mechanism, the approach of an adequate transport system, the development of a communication system and, finally, important measures had been taken to reopen Sulaymania University. In addition, Salahaddin University was established in Erbil and many colleges are established all over Kurdistan, including international universities and colleges. Public universities have been opened and the inhabitants of Kurdistan have thus had the possibility of improving their education. In addition, the majority of people have had the opportunity to improve their economic situation.
I should also mention that the regional government of Kurdistan has stepped forward to establish an adequate education system for the people; to educate them so that they can become a productive part of our society. We have stable government and public institutions and we have democracy, so people are free to participate in the government process. An educated population is closely linked to the issue of egalitarianism, the establishment of solid structures governing our society and respect for the rule of law. We have reached the level of an educated and productive society linked to strong trust. Frankly, none of our neighboring countries can compare to Kurdistan in this area.
What should be the priorities for national reform in the education sector?
The Kurdistan Regional Government offers attractive investment opportunities in agriculture, electricity, banking, telecommunications, construction, education and training, energy, health, professional services, petroleum and gas and tourism. So far, 339 project licenses have been issued in the Kurdistan region, and these projects have generated nearly $ 16 billion in investment. The confidence and faith of an international businessman or entrepreneur in the region is clearly growing, investors are reinvesting capital to rebuild the nation, thus strengthening our economy. Also, thanks to the security in place, the reforms underway in Kurdistan should be strong and rapid.
As leaders of Salahaddin University, we have a plan to reform our system. The plan mainly depends on helping and using this (foreign) aid to reform the education system. This is to convince the private sector to share its resources and thus help reform the education system in Kurdistan.
Here I can report that we are building a new modern campus for our university. The plan has been drawn up, design and construction tenders are being organized, and many foreign companies are participating in the process.
We have reached the level of an educated and productive society linked to strong trust. Frankly, none of our neighboring countries can compare to Kurdistan in this area.
There are many successful business models for universities, especially in Sweden and Germany, where the private sector and universities have established joint ventures.
We have approached and asked many foreign companies to participate in this process. We were really happy with the results; Many foreign companies have expressed interest in participating in the tender process for the design and detailed design and construction project of the new campus of the University of Salahaddin. The president of the University of Salahaddin, myself and the rest of the committee members decided to take the project forward by cooperating with local and foreign companies to build this campus on the basis of European standards and design the buildings in a way that will match the weather and environment here in Kurdistan.
As you said, Salahaddin University will be moving to a new campus. What is your vision of the University?
We are not moving yet, we are building a new campus. We have already designed it. We are about to enter the initial phase which will include the infrastructure, the offices of the presidency and two or three faculties.
What is the deadline?
We have to start the initial phase before the end of 2012, so we will start soon. The whole project will take around 5 to 6 years.
What do you think are the major challenges for the university? Is it funding or providing international expertise or developing your own staff? What are the strategic and operational challenges?
First of all I would like to thank Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani who provided a lot of funds to our university through oil deals and as far as I know the same kind of help has been given to all universities and colleges of Kurdistan, whenever necessary. Also, I cannot ignore the help of the Minister of Higher Education who strongly supported us. I also want to thank many people and friends who have been there for us whenever we have needed support for the activities of our university.
Regarding expertise, we try to use available expertise whenever it is available. We keep in touch with many international universities around the world with which we have excellent relations. International experience is a guarantee of success and progress in the reforms aimed at improving education in Kurdistan.
I would like to stress the importance of our staff, their experiences, capacities and responsibilities when it comes to reforming education in Kurdistan. They played a major role in this process. In addition, I am proud to say that our university – with the help provided by the Ministry of Higher Education and the Ministry of Planning of Kurdistan – has been able to send around 2,000 students to study their Masters and their doctorates all over the world. Especially the UK, Germany, France and the Scandinavian countries have played an excellent role in the process of our reform and improvement, they deserve special thanks for their support in this regard. The scientific relationship to improve the qualification of our staff and expand their knowledge has always been appreciated on our side. We have received great support to tackle various strategic and operational challenges and we have received the expertise to transform our university into an attractive place to work and live for all of our local and international staff.
What about academic integration? We talked about integration with Europe, how does it work regionally and with other countries beyond Europe?
We consider that we are still in the early stages, education programs should be further improved, we should develop relationship with more experts and encourage them to come to Kurdistan, especially experts from UK and Germany. We should ask them to advise us on how to improve and regularize the undergraduate and postgraduate study programs at Salahaddin University. We are in great need of new partnerships with international universities.
We currently have some of our students in Egypt and Turkey. We also have good relations with universities in Arab countries and we are in the process of establishing stronger relations with them. Hope we will be successful in this regard in the near future.
Is this type of cooperation planned?
It is expected and it will certainly happen. Hope that in the near future, we will establish a more solid relationship and intensify our cooperation with international universities. We have already established relations with the United Arab Emirates. The University of Dubai has helped us to establish relationships with different construction companies and we also have partner companies in Lebanon, Jordan and United Arab Emirates who are cooperating with us on some projects related to University of Salahaddin.
Is funding a major issue for the university in terms of education?
Our needs are covered by the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government), however we need the private sector to cooperate with us in the reform process. Students in Kurdistan get free dorms (which is $ 150 per month per student to be paid by our university), this help continues after graduation until they are hired by the government or a local or international company. In fact, all students at Kurdistan universities receive the same type of aid, unlike all other countries in the world where no such aid is provided except for loans.
Both the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education have huge budgets, but it is still not enough to improve the education system in the desired way. We must therefore work with the Education Committee present in Parliament in order to increase the budget for the years to come. We are also looking for other sources of income for our University. We are starting to cooperate with companies that are working on projects in Kurdistan and we offer them to use our university laboratory or we provide them with whatever they might need.
How do you see the future of the education sector itself? Do you believe in the future of education in Kurdistan?
Of course I believe! Salahaddin University will continue to use all sources provided to us and we will try to do our best to change and reform the system, we will try to improve our programs. Finally, I would like to end this conversation with “when there is a will, there will be success”.