New books and laboratory equipment en route for Iraq's universitiesFour containers of laboratory equipment, along with supplies of up-to-date reference books and students textbooks are on their way to Iraq as part of an international effort to revitalize the country’s universities and its higher education system. The consignment has been organized by UNESCO and the International Fund for Higher Education in Iraq, initiated by the First Lady of Qatar, Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Misnad, who is also a UNESC0 Special Envoy for Basic and Higher Education.
Based on priorities identified by Iraqi education authorities, the shipment includes $4.6 million of equipment and materials for medical and related disciplines such as dentistry, pharmacy and nursing, as well as for engineering faculties. It also includes US$1 million in textbooks for students and reference books for university libraries.
Due to arrive in Baghdad before the end of December, the equipment and books will be distributed and installed in the laboratories and libraries of about a dozen universities and technical institutes in the capital and other important regional centres, including Basrah and Mosul.
“Iraq’s universities and technical institutes are in a dramatic situation,” said UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura. “Some 24 years of conflict and unrest – first with Iran in the 1980s and then with the Gulf wars and the situation that has followed – have seen tens of thousands of young Iraqis killed, the exodus of many intellectuals and the virtual isolation of those who remained. The institutions themselves have suffered severely from war damage and neglect and are a pale image of what they used to be.”
Despite the difficulties, nearly 240,000 students, or 83 percent of the entire Iraqi student body, returned to their college campuses to attend classes in 2003, reflecting the tradition of pursuing higher education in Iraq, which once boasted the best universities and technical institutes in the Arab region.
Mr Matsuura added that, “this shipment comes with a clear message of solidarity and hope to all university professors, researchers and students, administrative and support staff in Iraq, and a signal of UNESCO’s commitment to help them.”
The assistance programme funded by the International Fund for higher Education also includes an intial package of fellowships for 500 Iraqi researchers and university teachers, allowing them to spend three months in universities abroad to update their knowledge and teaching methods, and to re-establish contact with the academic community.
This initial phase will be followed by a more comprehensive project of academic cooperation, which will aim to further reinforce the skills of Iraqi academics by strengthening collaboration with universities and institutes of higher education around the world
To this end, UNESCO is organizing a Round Table during the first half of 2005 with donor organizations, non-governmental organizations and representatives from the world’s leading universities, along with senior staff from the Ministry of Higher Education in Iraq and from Iraqi universities. The meeting will identify Iraq’s higher education priorities and how they should be addressed.