Building Capacity and Trust: The British Universities Iraq Consortium
Wendy Jordan gives an overview of the activities of the British Universities Iraq Consortium.
The British Universities’ Iraq Consortium (BUIC) is an independent organizations of 38 British universities. Its mission is to support the development of higher education in Iraq. Over the past eight years a wide range of supportive measures have been undertaken, but the current focus remains a three-way partnership with the Higher Committee for Education Development for Iraq (HCED) and the British Council, based in Baghdad. It is a dynamic partnership which enables each partner to fulfill its own mission more effectively. The HCED, based in the Prime Minister’s office, runs a prestigious capacity-building scholarship scheme for all Iraq, and aims to place 1000 scholars on overseas HE courses per year. The majority of these are at the PhD level and most of the applicants are involved in teaching and research at universities in Iraq. Currently BUIC members have approximately 30% of the scholars who are overseas, with the rest split between English speaking countries or those that teach in English. The UK is still the preferred destination for post-graduate study.
BUIC’s day to day activities are with the UK Placement Team at the HCED in Baghdad. HCED applications come to BUIC exclusively, and since 2009 this has built a quality circle which enables members to confidently process applications. BUIC members know how life-changing the experience of studying in the UK can be and give as much support as possible to the scholars, often following up with academic departments and seeing the applications through the early stages.
Communications with Iraq are still erratic and having a direct link with the HCED can solve many problems quickly. In addition, regular teleconferencing enables members to be kept up-to-date on the scholarship program, timings on applications and other HCED news.
Twelve MSc scholars recently returned to Baghdad after studying for two years in UK, first undertaking English language study and then progressing to academic courses. These were the first batch of scholars to return to Iraq and it was moment of great pride on all sides, reflecting the achievement of the students but also the trust and friendship BUIC has built up between all the institutions and organizations concerned over the years.
The partnership with the British Council continues to flourish. In June 2011 members of staff from the British Council Iraq office and HCED visited the UK with a senior academic from the HCED selection board. BUIC worked with the British Council to design and manage the visit and two seminars with BUIC members were organized in Manchester and London and three visits were made to member universities. Earlier this year, a senior international officer from a BUIC university was part of a British Council team which went to Erbil to deliver a course on education counseling.
In February this year BUIC, HCED and the British Council gave a presentation on the three-way partnership at the AIEA Conference in Washington. Dr John Withrington, Chair of BUIC and Brendan McSharry, British Council Director Iraq, were on the platform. Dr Humadi, Director-General of HCED, unfortunately was unable to travel. In Iraq, the British Council works very closely with HCED in order to facilitate scholars travelling to England. The British Council runs IELTS testing and assists with visas.
BUIC has also played significant wider roles in support of Iraq. It was involved in launching the DelPHE Iraq initiative and several BUIC members were part of both cycles with new relationships being forged between Iraqi and UK institutions. One of the high points was working jointly with the UK Higher Education International Unit and DIUS in 2009 on the ‘UK Higher Education Engagement with Iraq’ report which can be downloaded from the BUIC website here. BUIC maintains contact with Universities UK and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and has participated in many ministerial visits from Iraq.
BUIC is self-governing, through its Chair and Executive Board, who are drawn from the membership, with ex-officio membership from the British Council. Members pay a one-off joining fee and an annual subscription and receive news and updates on Iraq as well as HCED applications.