EDUCATION IN IRAQ IS CONTROLLED BY THE IGNORANT
This is a testimony of a professor who has spent almost four decades in one of Baghdad public universities, and who agreed to write the testimony on one condition: that it is published under a pseudonym. When I insisted why that is, the answer was: “because I do not want to be arrested under article 4 (supporting terrorism), and because I do not want to be forced to leave Iraq. As such, I had to delete any indication of who, where, when, what specialization of the witness are.
It is painful for a person who has lived since 1975 until this moment within the Iraqi university campus as a student and as a professor, who witnessed the process of academic development for 18 years before 2003, and then its deterioration and collapse since that year. This institution has become vapid and empty of its scientists and highly qualified members, a situation which made professors talk about the academic and scientific progress as something of the past when we as academics, were unsatisfied about many issues, and used to criticize in front of the highest authorities in the academic institution (who by the way were of the best and most respected academics; they used to listen attentively and welcomingly). Now they left the country under the threat of getting killed.
The most important indications of the higher education collapse could be generally summarized as follows:
1- The most significant indication is assigning the Ministry of Higher Education to a person who has no academic qualifications, whose feet never stepped in campus, only after he was appointed as a minister. This appointment was not based on any skill or efficiency, rather on being a member of the governing political party, and on his Iranian origin (his mother for example does not speak Arabic), and on being Shiite. Of course there is nothing wrong with being of this or that origin, or being from this or that sectarian group, but this identity has become an exclusive passport for anyone to assume any (high) position, especially for none Iraqis.
2- Academic, scientific and administrative positions in public universities are assigned and shared according to sectarian affiliations, not expertise or efficiency. All the universities’ presidents and faculties’ deans are from a specific sectarian group; and their academic and administrative assistants are from other group in order to achieve a supposedly balanced share in power positions. Thus the criterion for appointment is not academic, but exclusively sectarian.
3- Admissions in universities are again based on sectarian affiliation, especially in post graduate studies. Norms of admission that are based on academic record are totally neglected, and exceptions have become the rule. In addition to that, channels of admission are numerous now: seats for political prisoners of the previous regime, seats for families of the martyrs(1) , seats for graduates of religious schools in Iran, seats for deserters during the Iraqi-Iranian war who sought refuge in Iran (the latter were rewarded pieces of land and 10 million Iraqi dinars- more than $10.000). What remains of seats are assigned to what is called ‘special’ admission, which means those who pay higher and who are admitted outside the rules that are based on academic record. What remains of seats, if at all, are assigned to ‘real’ students who compete on honest rules of marks and academic reports. The result of all these discriminations is that opportunities are given to those who do not deserve them, and are normally not interested in academic research, while serious students are deprived.
4- There is also a familiar criterion now, which is (exception from rules) in other areas, apart from the exceptional admission. For example: transfer from one university to another, or transfer from one specialization to another(2) . To explain this point I tell you the following story that took place to me personally: A person came to me asking that his nephew be transferred from X University to another one. I apologized saying that: we all know that this is impossible, because transferring a student from (an academically) lesser to a higher university is not allowed according to the rules, and advised him to look for another college that admits his nephew’s academic degree (marks). Few days later, the uncle came back to me saying (sarcastically): “so you are a well known professor but you could not do such a ‘small’ thing. I told the butcher in our neighborhood about this story, and he just made a call by his mobile, and my nephew is immediately transferred to the college of Administration and Economics”. May be this story can tell about the collapse of the whole system.
5- The public universities are ‘distributed’ between the political parties who control, make decisions and admit students in them. Baghdad University for example is allocated to the Islamic Supreme Council in Iraq, while Al-Mustansiriah U. is allocated to the Sadr Group. The Nehrein U. (which was one of the most prestigious academic institutions) is allocated to Al-Da’wa party that totally destroyed it.
6- This control lead to appointing some completely ignorant teachers and consequently the teaching quality deteriorated. Efficient (old) teachers are just waiting for retirement, to leave everything behind because the situation has become beyond their ability to bear, academically and administratively.
7- Curriculum has also been affected by the parties’ interference, after it was going along with the most modern curriculum in European and American universities, now they returned back 50 years ago. Even the two-semester system they are now trying to change and make it annual, which means that the student studies the same 7 materials for the whole year. This is an old system that has been abandoned all over the world, where the two-semester system and number of hours allocated to each material has been adopted.
8- Each day there are new ‘backward’ decisions, which are changed the next day.
9- Endless holidays, recurrent fiests, closed roads, absence of security…etc make students unable to cover a quarter of the material demanded for each semester, or for the final certificate in any specialization.
10- In the past, if a student misses 3 hours he/she fails the course. Now, many students’ faces I do not see only on the exam day.
11- I believe that the decline in the Iraqi higher education now is due to the fact that the people who are responsible for it have nothing to do with the educational process, or others who are afraid to oppose the parties’ regulations.
12- Fear is prevalent in the academic milieu and university campus. There is no right to criticize. When people talk criticizingly they whisper, or make signs warning each other from eavesdropping apparatus.
13- There is a humanitarian catastrophe that engulfs people who happen to be of a different sectarian group. Young people of this group are arrested and released. But after a file in the security apparatus is opened for them, in which case he/she is deprived of any future opportunity to enroll in education or to get a job. This process is determined to totally exclude the other.
14- Scholarships are exclusive to sectarian groups too. There is an office in the ministry council responsible for deciding who is admitted to scholarships and who is not. To be fair there are few scholarships given to students of the ‘other’ sect only to cover the sectarian sharing. The Kurds, however are getting their share double, in their region and in Baghdad.
This is a summary of the situation I am living in the university. I am talking mainly of Baghdad Universities. Regarding the other governorates’ universities, I can‘t talk on their behalf.
1.The criterion of ‘martyr’ is also exclusive now to those who were killed during the previous regime. It might not be so important what killed people are called, but in Iraq many decisive rights are assigned to relatives of martyrs such as pensions, pieces of land, preference in jobs and social security aid and so forth. Thus yet another criterion of discrimination is established creating more social injustice, and subsequently hatred and conflicts. For example, families of soldiers and officers of the Iranian war, or during the American occupation are not considered liable to these rights.
2. In the Iraqi higher education system, students used to be admitted in this or that college according to a strict computerized system based on the student’s academic reports. No dean would/could, risk interfering in the process, which was done in an independent office called ‘The Central Admission Office’.