Choosing the right college in Kurdistan

By Meer Ako:

Choosing the right college is a pivotal task for all students and this is often very burdensome. Most students’ lives hinge on what college they will end up in. This will determine how busy they will be, how much money they will be able to make, and what skills they will need to improve to succeed. College major assessment quizzes are popular as they make students feel that they are choosing the major that fits them best and are thus furthering their chances in the pursuit of happiness.

In Iraqi Kurdistan, college education was first introduced when the University of Sulaimany (UOS) was founded in 1968. Before 1968, the highest education a Kurdish “Joe” could get was a high school one; travelling outside the country in search of a college degree was a choice only available to select elites.

However, very gradually after 1968, college education in Kurdistan was taken more and more for granted as the global view of attending college changed from a privilege to solely a step in the money-making process. Over time, more attention was given to the fields of Medicine and Engineering than to all the other fields combined since they are the fastest windows to boundless wealth.

The social element also kicked in. Pressure from parents and peers forced students to excel, but “excelling” only meant “getting rich fast.” For many high-pressured school graduates, it was Medicine, Engineering, or bust. And those who came from the families of doctors and engineers but chose different paths for themselves were declared heretics.

While I can’t argue that this is not the case anymore (and that education is no longer taken for granted but for education’s sake only), I can prove that there is a rising interest in other fields of study. With the private sector freed from its post-Saddam hiatus, there is an increasing demand for a broader spectrum of professionals. “Excelling” is no longer solely an attribute of doctors and engineers; therefore, students’ families are a bit less demanding concerning fields of study. Moreover, Kurds are beginning to realize that it is not healthy for all of us to be shaped by the same cookie cutter, that our country needs much more than doctors and engineers.

In response to the demand for more professionals and more majors, many private colleges have been founded all over Kurdistan. The American University in Iraq-Sulaimani (AUI-S), University of Kurdistan in Hawler (UKH), and University of Human Development (UHD) are among the most remarkable of these colleges.

Private colleges are certainly a promising beacon light in the Kurdish educational path as they not only decrease the pressure on the state universities, but they also create a necessary competition between all the universities and give hope to the victims of the Bakaloree, the unfair Iraqi evaluation system that randomly categorizes students into colleges. Students who failed to show their abilities to the Ministry of Evaluation can try to impress the admissions office of private universities.

But probably the best thing about private universities is that it is not only the students that need to impress; Universities also compete to attract the best students by providing the most extensive curriculum for the cheapest price.

Now, so to speak, students have a choice between more cookie cutters.

Students of UOS, AUI-S, UKH, and UHD: why did they chose their universities?

Luna Ako, a fourth-year student of UOS who majors in Medicine, said:

“I chose UOS because the majority of the students graduating from high school with high averages attend UOS instead of private colleges. Also UOS is the only college in the city that offers Medicine, the field I was interested in. I can’t speak for all the fields, but my field is hard and I believe it is even harder than most of the colleges abroad because we study too many theories and we don’t have the chance to apply them practically. The system used here is an outdated one. Although efforts have been made and things have improved in the recent years, there is still much left to do. I am satisfied with my field and I think it is good, but generally speaking it lacks many facilities and the teaching system needs much improvement.”

Amed Latif Omer, a second-year student of AUI-S who majors in General Engineering, said:

“AUI-S is a unique university in the region not only because it teaches students to think and not memorize, question and not follow, and have the privilege to study a wonderful curriculum, but there are also truly beautiful attributes the university does provide. There is an overarching theme that beats these. Anywhere you look in AUI-S, in debate rooms, refugee campaigns, and in regular classrooms you will see that AUI-S is on its way to conciliate the ongoing tension between the new generation of Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, and Assyrians. It is a glimpse of the prosperity that peace can bring upon a nation. In many ways, the curriculum is made to fit the circumstances of Iraqi students. For students who need it, there is a one-year Academic Preparatory Program (APP). This is a recognition for the English capability that students have when they enter the university. Students who listen and question in class should do fine.”

Shko Nawroly, a UKH alumni, said:

“When I graduated from high school, I was very confused. UKH was like a surprise for me. I chose UKH because it was the best university option I had back in 2007. I still think it is the best in the country, because UKH was the place that made me meet myself: I had the environment and opportunity to discover my abilities and improve my skills. For instance, back in 2008, 35 students from Kurdistan were selected to participate in the IYLEP program, 28 students out of the 35 were UKH students. Moreover, students are chosen based on their communication, leadership, and English Skills. UKH develops and improves students ‘critical thinking.’ Our course outline contains presentations, assignments, attendance, participation, tutorials, and exams. These are distributed on different assignments which eventually make us gain different skills and knowledge.”


Aree Jamal, a first-year student of UHD who majors in Law, said:

“I chose UHD because I wanted to study Law, and that university was the cheapest private one in Kurdistan. It is pretty hard; they use two languages, Arabic & English. For me as a student of Law, I have to study in Arabic. It is hard because I am not good in Arabic. The other thing about this university is that they have based it on Islamic principles. You can say it is an Islamic university; that bothers me when I do not believe in Islam but I still have to do what they require of me.”


One Response to Choosing the right college in Kurdistan
  1. Nicholas Rion
    October 12, 2012 | 17:57

    This article is very informative!! I am going to Kurdistan in 2013 to take a job teaching at a new University and your ideas are very important. Keep writing and criticizing…..this is how things change.

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