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Iraq Cancels ‘Old’ Majors at Private Universities, Spurring a Debate

/ 28 Apr 2022

Iraq Cancels ‘Old’ Majors at Private Universities, Spurring a Debate

Iraq’s higher-education ministry has cancelled some majors, calling them “unfit for the labour market.” The move is spurring discussion of the role and quality of private education in Iraq.

Salah al-Fatlawi, head of the Supervision and Scientific Evaluation Office at Iraq’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, told Al-Fanar Media that the ministry’s role was to “support the quality of education in private colleges and universities, and curb commercial non-accredited colleges and universities or those that aim to increase profits at the expense of education quality.”

Low Interest in Some Majors

Al-Fatlawi said the ministry had suspended majors in fields like Islamic sciences, business administration and economics, social sciences and humanities. In exchange, it launched new majors in biomedicine and stem-cell studies.

Al-Fatlawi said the ministry had made the decision to cancel some majors because of “very limited” student interest in them. “They are old majors,” he said. “Students should not pay to study majors that have no future and offer no job opportunities.”

“They are old majors. Students should not pay to study majors that have no future and offer no job opportunities.”

Salah A al-Fatlawi   Head of a supervisory division of the Iraqi higher-education ministry

Al-Fatlawi said that the ministry’s powers over private universities were limited to matters of academic supervision, such as approving curricula stopping some majors, and setting conditions for establishing institutions and carrying out work.

The ministry receives 3 percent of the annual revenues of private universities but does not have the right to intervene in their financial or administrative decisions, he added.

Al-Fatlawi estimated that there are about 75 private universities and colleges in Iraq, which enrol about 30 percent of the country’s university students.

Worries About Student Numbers

Some higher-education experts believe that the crisis in Iraqi private universities is not limited to majors that do not fit labour market needs. The number of such institutions has increased since 2003, many are not accredited, and some take in more students than they can handle, critics say.

Abdul Razzaq Al-Issa, a former minister of higher education, said private universities should be allowed to admit only a set number of students because of the high number of university graduates in all disciplines, including medicine, and the lack of job opportunities for them in state departments.

Another problem, Al-Issa said, was a shortage of qualified teaching staff, which forces some institutions to accept teachers who do not have the required academic credentials.

Ali Razzouqi, a former director for private education in Iraq’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, said another problem was that such institutions were not evenly distributed geographically. There were too many in governorates like the capital, Baghdad, and too few in governorates like Kirkuk, in the northeast, and Al-Qadisiyyah, in south-central Iraq.

“The capacity of these private colleges is not commensurate with their capabilities in terms of classrooms and laboratory equipment,” Razzouqi wrote to Al-Fanar Media. “Some colleges admit 400 students, while they can absorb only 120 students.”

Calls for More Government Oversight

Razzouqi welcomed the decision to suspend some majors. “Such a step usually comes at the request of university presidents in light of low turnout,” he said.

Iraq’s  Private Higher Education Law allows the Council of Ministers to license retired or unemployed Ph.D. or master’s degree holders to establish a private university, college, or institute. They should have the rank of assistant professor at least and there should be at least nine of them to set up a private university, seven for a private college, and five for a private institute or scientific society.

“The decision to cancel some majors at private universities in Iraq relates to their abundant availability, being useless, and the limited demand for them.”

Zainab Al-Sultani   President of Al-Zahraa University, a private institution for women

Al-Issa, the former minister, believes that the Iraqi parliament should set “more disciplined” conditions for establishing private institutions and give the Ministry of Higher Education power to decide such institutions’ profit share.

Student Complaints

The graduates of some Iraqi private universities have complained that poor academic outcomes left them at a disadvantage in the job market.

Yassin Al-Alawi, a pharmacy graduate from a private university in Baghdad, told Al-Fanar Media that the practical lessons at university were “poor” because there were 400 students in a college that could only handle 120.

Al-Alawi, who now works in a Baghdad pharmacy, said many students went to private universities because their scores on the high school-exit exam were not high enough to study their chosen discipline at a public university.

Such results leave students with two choices, he said: going abroad to study—in Lebanon or Iran, for example—or enrolling in a private university in Iraq.

Defending Private Education’s Role

Zainab Al-Sultani, president of Al-Zahraa University, a private institution for women, said “the decision to cancel some majors at private universities in Iraq relates to their abundant availability, being useless, and the limited demand for them.”

But private universities should not be regarded as a burden on the Iraqi education system, she said.

“Private and public education are partners,” Al-Sultani told Al-Fanar Media.

She added that education quality at some private universities “exceeds that of public universities in terms of training and education system.”

Al-Sultani said private universities support the country’s economy by taking students who would otherwise go to Lebanese or Iranian universities.

The majority of those who study abroad go to uncredited universities that give fake degrees,” she said.

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Copyright © 2018 Al-Fanar Mediaحقوق © 2018 الفنار للإعلام