Closing the gap between higher education and workplaces in Iraqi Kurdistan


By Rawaz Sulaiman:

Having professional qualifications is always vitally important when applying for jobs. Like other parts of the world, the Kurdistan region of Iraq has been making progress in many different ways, as shown by the economic boom. Undoubtedly, this prosperity requires that we have well-qualified people to govern the region effectively. Nowadays, higher education institutes are increasing: there are around 20 universities in Iraqi Kurdistan, including public (government-driven) and private-licensed universities. They provide courses in different subject areas leading to specialized diplomas, bachelors, masters, and doctorate degrees (1).

Graduates seek work with governmental organizations or the private sector. Even though they will always need time to adapt to their jobs and maybe go through training sessions about their duties, many new employees argue that they have not gained enough experience during their period of study to help them become sufficiently independent, effective and appealing to employers – and so to further their careers. A big difference can be perceived between what we are taught and what we later encounter in workplaces in the real world.

Debates revolve around the role of higher education institutes in training graduates. Identifying problems within the universities and workplaces is one approach, but a more useful diagnosis might be made by considering the relationship between the two. Therefore this article tries to point out some of these issues and suggest possible solutions.

To begin with the universities’ teaching style here is mostly focused on the teacher rather than the student. This method of learning is known as the teacher-centered approach, by which the teacher plays a vital and central role throughout the learning process. Main features of this method are constant talking, instructing and answering students’ questions by the teacher; learners have less opportunity to participate, the classroom is quiet and the learner is meant to gain a set of knowledge either by memorizing or applying rehearsed formulae (2). This method has several disadvantages, such as suppressing students’ critical thinking and less engagement of students which makes them less independent (3).

Another characteristic of this method can be a strict adherence by instructors to a specific and inflexible syllabus, which is mostly proposed by the instructors themselves, and then assessed and approved by committees under direct supervision by departments.  Here a few questions arise. For instance: is that an appropriate program to be taught? Is the learning outcome measurable? Is there any evidence to show the effectiveness of this approach in our culture or community? How does the course content relate to students’ future careers? How will it help graduates get satisfactory jobs?

Another issue is a lack of focus on the professional development of students: such as the development of leadership, organization, team working, time management, project planning and management skills.

To minimize the gap between universities and workplaces, and to and improve graduates’ employable skills, several things can be considered.

First and the foremost is designing a study program (syllabus) according to employers’ needs. This can be achieved through cooperation and consultation between the government and private sectors. This could help everyone to understand what kinds of skills employers are actually looking for. It could also encourage universities to design more flexible curricula, and steer them towards a new system of teaching, i.e. probably shifting from a teacher-centered to a learner-centered approach. The latter is characterized by the active involvement of students, better interaction with instructors, and encouraging group working and time-flexibility to assist students to progress at their own pace (4).

Furthermore, it would be useful to pay more attention to students’ research projects, to ensure that they do not cover ‘old’ topics as so often happens currently.  Instead, research topics should be proposed in correlation with students’ areas of expertise or interest and also with the real needs of the economy. In this way students will be able to enhance their CVs and employers can also benefit by accessing such useful research.

Perhaps it will be argued that these solutions are inapplicable, unfeasible or difficult to apply in every higher education institution. But, if we look at most of the higher education organizations around the world, it seems that encouraging cooperative and autonomous learning has helped various organizations to obtain prosperous achievements. Furthermore, the more business-oriented the institutes, the better the outcomes in terms of staying up-to-date and increasing the chances of graduates getting good employment.

As an initial step, private sector universities in Iraqi Kurdistan should start considering these approaches and how to adopt them. This will also be an opportunity for the government, and the ministry of higher education and scientific research in particular, to support and monitor such new approaches and also gain an understanding of how to apply them later at the public institutes in an efficient manner.


  1. Universities in Kurdistan region (2013). [Online]. Last accessed 12 December 2013 at:
  2. LOUGHRAN, John ( ). Researching teaching methodologies and practices for understanding pedagogy. [Online]. London, Falmer Press. Book from Bookfi last accessed 14 December 2013 at:
  3. KAIN, D. J. (2003). Teacher-centered versus student-centered: Balancing constraints and theory in the composition classroom. Pedagogy, 3 (1), 104-108.
  4. BOYAPATI, E. (2000). Learning: student-centred vs teacher-centred. Korean J. chem. Eng., 17 (3), 365-367.

Rawaz Sulaiman was born in 1988 in Sulaimany. He is a vet at the veterinary quarantine, Sulaimany veterinary directorate. He finished his Bachelor degree (B.V.M & S) in Veterinary Medicine and Surgery at the University of Sulaimany in Kurdistan in 2010. He received his MSc in Biomedical Sciences from Sheffield Hallam University, UK, 2013. After graduation, he resumed with his previous career as a vet in Kurdistan. One of those aspects that interested him while he was studying in the UK was the influence of UK universities on the market and their relationship with workplaces. 

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