March 6, 2023

Bridging the Gap: Systemic Change in Iraqi Higher Education

Despite ongoing efforts to improve Iraq’s education system, the gap between the labour market and higher education remains, making it difficult for graduates to find employment and contribute to the country’s economic growth. Through innovative programmes and partnerships, SPARK is working to reconnect these bridges, empower graduates, and revitalise economic growth in Iraq.

Reforming the Higher Education System
In the twenty-first century, the role of higher education has shifted. The demand for highly skilled graduates is rising on the labour market as students continue to look for a smooth entry into their first job.

To address this issue and promote employment in Iraq, SPARK initiated a reform process in Iraq’s higher education system under the Jobs and Perspective Programme with funding from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This entailed kicking off the Bologna Process in collaboration with Ministries of Higher Education of the Kurdistan Region and the Federal Iraq. By conducting national-level conferences and exchanging knowledge through visits to European universities, the process facilitates the alignment of the Iraqi higher education system with the standards of the Bologna signatory countries—49 of which are European.

Bologna principles

Bologna is a labour-market-oriented educational system. At its core, Bologna values the involvement of local actors, government-led policy processes, and partnerships among stakeholders. SPARK emphasises the importance of these principles, whilst recognising the diverse roles played by different actors and highlighting the need for institutional autonomy that respects the varied missions of higher education. Jobs and Perspectives Programme prioritises labour market-oriented employability skills to address the needs of talented students and to support economic and societal development.

“The internship programme served as a springboard for my professional career, allowing me to broaden my network with professional contacts…”

-Noor Al-Dabagh, Jobs & Perspective programme intern in Iraq


A new practical experience

As part of the Bologna adaptation process, SPARK worked closely with Iraqi universities to develop and pilot Innovation Hub models. These models serve as a key link between the practical experience of the private sector and the theoretical knowledge of graduates. 

The Innovation Hubs established by SPARK in collaboration with Iraqi universities serve as a crucial pathway for students to enter the labour market and gain valuable, practical work experience through opportunities for students and researchers to enrich their academic work with real-life examples from the private sector, enhancing the quality and relevance of their education.

Impact for future generations
SPARK’s Jobs and Perspectives Programme is bridging the gap between theory and practice as a result of a collaborative approach between the higher education and the private sector, providing students with the skills and experiences they need to thrive in today’s competitive job market.

Piet van Hove, President of EAIE and Senior Policy Advisor at the University of Antwerp mentioned: “I believe the Jobs and Perspectives project is a fine example of how a project can build a long-lasting impact. By involving many different stakeholders in the process and working on structural reforms, the project lays a solid basis for further innovation in the future, long after the project will have ended. The Bologna reforms which have been introduced will mean that the higher education system will be able to keep adapting to future needs in terms of employability and will facilitate further international collaboration as well. The academics from the University of Antwerp who are involved in the curriculum development efforts have found it a very enriching experience and have enjoyed working closely with their colleagues in Mosul and Erbil.”

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