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January 8, 2011 A conference by Ministry of Higher Education to Revitalize Research in Kurdistan

Kurdishaspect.com - By Helene Sairany

Conferences have traditionally been used as a tool where academicians and students get together to catch up on each other's research and to really understand the latest of what is going on in a particular field. That is not necessarily the case nowadays considering how much of communications have moved to the internet in the form of online journals, online discussions, webanares, etc.  There are so many more ways to communicate now that we did not have previously

In December of 2010, the ministry of higher education held a conference in the capital of the semiautonomous Kurdish region.  The conference aimed to support the new PhD pathway that the minister himself has taken underway.  The conference also aimed to support the Human Capacity Development Program (HCDP) and to encourage potential sabbatical leaves.  Scientists from all around the world were encouraged to attend and they were compensated for most of their expenses to make their contribution possible.  

The minister claimed that the conference was held so that the international scholars could be introduced to the academicians of the Region’s universities.  The four key objectives of the conference were the following: revitalize research in Kurdistan, enable the Region’s researchers to broaden their international links, identify research supervisors and external assessors for the undergraduate and postgraduate courses, and sign memoranda of understanding (MOU) with international universities and promote inward investment in higher education in Kurdistan Region.

I regrettably have to admit that I was not able to attend the full three days of the conference because I failed to fill the category of being a full professor.  I later realized that just popping up in the conference with no official invitation or badge will do me no harm.  I attended the conference though I was not a full professor.  I showed the guard my university ID and I told them I was a guest and I was welcomed in with no objections. 

The conference by the Ministry of Higher education here in Kurdistan was seen by many participants as a tool to network and build some collaboration between the academics here in Kurdistan and the Universities abroad.  But many participants questioned whether the cost involved was well worth it.  Some, including myself argue that having representatives from admission offices of Universities in Kurdistan with decent communications skills sent to Universities abroad for potential collaboration would have been far more effective than having run a conference.  Plus how could we possibly talk about facilitating Kurdish students' access to American or European universities without having them on board in the conference?  

The ministry has granted a fair number of students from University here in Kurdistan a scholarship to study abroad.  Those students should have been on board in the conference to add further knowledge.  How is collaboration possible if international academicians fail to have any knowledge of what students study, why they study it, what languages they actually speak/read, and above all what they WANT to do? There were NO students present.  I over-heard so many academicians question the reason of having no students in the conference.  

It seems that students are the last to be told or involved in any committee we manage to put to together or a conference we manage to hold.  When I decide to implement an idea of some sort, I first need to study the population that will be impacted by my ideas (e.g. students) and involve them so they can help me modulate my plan and ideas accordingly.  I seriously doubt that most of the professors in my session will relay the suggestions we made about studying in American and European universities to the students to whom they were relevant.

While shadowing, It did not take me long to realize that most conference attendees were full professors minus the international guests, who were all recent doctoral graduates like myself. I later realized that I was the youngest conference attendee.  I attended many sessions, I introduced myself to the minister and I swapped business cards with many guests.  I also managed to convince some of the conference attendee to pay my University a visit for further research collaboration.

The sessions I attended composed of much discussion that was entirely theoretical in nature - Speakers failed to engage the audience and much of the talks and suggestions were implemented for showmanship purposes.

“There was little effort to facilitate meaningful communication between myself and Iraqi historians,” said a scholar from the States. “Had we been put into contact with one another before the conference, we could have learned something about our own academic worlds before attempting to collaborate on anything in particular,” the scholar continues.

“I learned that most students in history department at Kurdish universities do not even speak ARABIC (far more important to their intellectual development and careers within Iraq), let alone English,” a scholar adds.

All in all, the intentions of the conference were real and genuine, but there was a lot of grandiose affectation with fairly little concrete over-look into the future or how the signed-MOU could possibly be maintained.  There were hardly any concrete suggestions and ideas of the real problems Kurdish students wanting to study abroad will actually face among the Kurdish scholars. The conference attendees failed to acquire the long-term benefits of the conference objectives and to critically think over-it; we are here to  collaborate just because we have to collaborate

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