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Iraq’s Education Initiative Could Bring Students to UCM

Contact: Jeff Murphy
A $1 billion plan by Iraqi leaders to improve education for the nation’s citizens could bring more Middle Eastern students to UCM.

Chuck Petentler, director of International Admissions, joined representatives of 18 U.S. colleges and universities in Iraq the week of Jan. 18-23 at the invitation of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The group attended the International Education Symposium in Baghdad Jan. 19-20, where they participated in a college fair and heard Maliki outline his proposed Iraqi Education Initiative. The plan calls for a substantial investment into primary, secondary and higher education institutions, which have suffered over the last several years in the war-scarred area. It includes a proposal to award up to 10,000 full-ride scholarships each year for the next five years to academically qualified Iraqi students who wish to pursue a university degree in the U.S. or United Kingdom. 

“The political and financial landscape for Iraqi citizens is changing quickly and this change is significant for U.S. international educators,” said Petentler, who was the only representative of a Missouri college or university to attend. “The new Iraqi leaders are convinced that Iraq’s road to prosperity must begin with an educated population.”

Iraq hopes to heal an education system, which has deteriorated substantially. The nation has lost many college professors who have died or who have fled the country, and schools are in need of new curriculum development, new majors, and new teaching techniques.

According to Petentler, Maliki told the gathering that by providing access to higher education, Iraq will be “supporting the principles of peace and cooperation.” He also believes that “higher education partnerships with universities developed through this education initiative will bring our peoples closer together.”

Petentler projects that if all goes as planned, UCM could have Iraqi students on campus by the beginning of the fall 2009 semester. More would come in the future to UCM, which this spring has students represented from 54 different countries. This includes students from Iraq’s Middle Eastern neighbors such as Saudi Arabia, which, with 63 students, has the second largest international enrollment at UCM.

The Iraqi government is taking measures to eliminate skepticism for the education initiative among people in that nation who fear they could get left out of the scholarship program.

“The prime minister is aware of this skepticism and has mandated that each of Iraq’s 18 provinces receive a set number of full-ride study abroad scholarships each year based upon the population of each province. It is hoped that this will make the scholarship selection process fair and transparent among Shiite, Sunni and Kurds and help unify new Iraq,” Petentler said.

From Baghdad, the group of Americans also spent two days, Jan. 21-22, in Sulaymaniyah, a city located in the Kurdistan region in northeastern Iraq. They were invited guests at a conference titled Investing in Education, which was hosted by The American University of Iraq – Sulaymaniyah. The Iraq deputy prime minister, minister of higher education, U.S. public affairs counselor and the director of the Iraq Education Initiative were key speakers at the conference. Those attending the conference also participated in a college fair, where they learned from students about needs in areas such as business, engineering and technology.

According to Petentler, Zuhair Humadi, director of the higher education initiative, and his staff  have developed a pilot program targeting 500 Iraqi college-bound students for full study abroad scholarships, beginning this fall. He anticipates UCM being one of the destinations for students taking advantage of the scholarship program.

“My goal is to welcome approximately 10 new Iraqi students to UCM this fall. Beyond that…it depends on the war and political developments, both of which can be difficult to predict,” he said.

In addition to learning about the Iraq Education Initiative, educators were invited to a dinner hosted by Ryan Crooker, the U.S. ambassador to that country. Crooker shared his thoughts on Iraq’s past, present and possible future. Members of the group also had the opportunity to watch the inauguration of U.S. President Barack Obama with the ambassador and Iraq’s deputy prime minister.

“It was a very patriotic moment, a moment in time I will always remember,” Petentler said.