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Time To Repair Iraq's Universities, Says Study
Published on Monday, May 2, 2005 by
Time To Repair Iraq's Universities, Says Study
by Abid Aslam

WASHINGTON -- The United Nations is urging international donors to mobilize millions of dollars in aid for Iraq's colleges and universities, saying that five out of six have been wrecked and warning that failure to rehabilitate them will set back efforts to heal the war-torn country.

''The devastation of the Iraqi system of higher education has been overlooked amid other cataclysmic war results but represents an important consequence of the conflicts, economic sanctions, and ongoing turmoil in Iraq,'' said Jairam Reddy, director of the United Nations University (UNU) International Leadership Institute in Amman, Jordan.

''Repairing Iraq's higher education system is in many ways a prerequisite to the long term repair of the country as a whole,'' added Reddy.

Since the start of the U.S.-led invasion and occupation in 2003, some 84 percent of Iraq's institutions of higher education have been burnt, looted, or destroyed, Reddy said in an assessment released Sunday.

Four dozen academics have been assassinated and many more brave daily threats, the study found.

''The bravery and dedication of educators who remain in a shattered Iraq should inspire the swift, meaningful, and practical support of the international academic community,'' said Hans van Ginkel, rector of UNU, a Tokyo-based international network of academics.

Only 40 percent of infrastructure destroyed now is being rebuilt, the study said, and water and electricity supplies remain unreliable.

Some 2,000 laboratories need to be re-equipped and 30,000 computers need to be procured and installed nationwide, it added.

''The Iraqi Academy of Sciences, founded in 1948 to promote the Arabic language and heritage, saw its digital and traditional library partially looted during the war and it alone needs almost one million dollars in infrastructure repairs to reestablish itself as a leading research center,'' the study said.

Iraqi higher education's teaching staff also has been depleted by more than a decade of international sanctions, imposed in 1990 after Iraq invaded Kuwait, and by persistent security threats against academics and institutions.

As many as four out of 10 of Iraq's best-trained educators have fled for other countries since 1990, leaving behind faculty whom the report described as ''long-isolated and under-qualified.'' One-third of remaining professors hold only a bachelor's degree, despite rules requiring a master's degree; 39 percent have a master's degree and 28 percent, a doctorate, the study said.

Beyond increased funding, Reddy proposed setting up a national commission on higher education modeled in part on one established in post-apartheid South Africa. The commission would comprise officials, local and international academics, and students. It would address everything from infrastructure needs to regulatory issues and education policy.

Iraq has 20 universities and 47 technical institutes under its Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research and 10 private colleges offering computer sciences, business administration, economics, and management, the study said.

Two dozen colleges train secondary school teachers with another seven training primary and kindergarten teachers and seven training physical education teachers.

Major fields of study offered at Iraqi universities include education, arts, law, social sciences, administration, economics, natural sciences, engineering and technology, medical sciences, veterinary medicine, and agriculture.

Reddy said recent improvements included the addition to curricula of democracy, human rights and anti-terrorism, and a boost in funding. There is no dedicated budget for higher education, he said, but the ad hoc amount allocated stands at 70 million dollars this year, up from 40 million dollars in 2003.

Iraq's primary and secondary education systems also have been ruined, according to the U.N. children's fund, UNICEF.

The agency said in a report last October that school attendance had increased as students, parents, and teachers began to take in stride frequent reports of bombings, attacks, and kidnappings. But the school system--once one of the finest in the Middle East--was overwhelmed, it added.

There weren't enough desks, chairs, or classrooms and most schools lacked even basic water or sanitation facilities, it said, adding that millions of Iraqi students had to brave raw sewage to get into and around their schools.

UNICEF attributed the school system's fall to three wars and more than a decade of neglect and insufficient funding during sanctions, which remained in effect from 1990-2003.

U.S. officials often have highlighted their renovation of schools as a success story of Iraq under occupation. The UNICEF report said that as of last October, some 18 months after the U.S.-led invasion, the rehabilitation was limited.

Copyright © 2005


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