Five University of Kentucky faculty members were in the Middle East last week to see how Kentucky can help revamp Iraqi education.
UK was one of five U.S. universities chosen to partner with Iraqi schools through the Iraq University Linkages Program. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad created the program and awarded $1 million to each university based on a grant proposal.
The faculty members traveled to Baghdad for a conference to map out a plan for the three-year endeavor. The conference was June 26 to 30, but a few members stayed to go to Najaf to visit the campus of their partner university, the University of Kufa.
Susan Carvalho, associate provost for international programs, said UK's proposal focused on civil engineering and business administration. Those areas, along with English as a second language, are the main departments UK faculty seek to improve.
Carvalho said that during the three-year period, UK faculty will communicate with Iraqi faculty about curriculum by e-mail or video teleconference. Professors and students will be able to sit in on UK classes using electronic means.
David Bettez, director of the UK Office of International Affairs, said he hopes to work with Iraqi professors electronically, but there are obstacles to that method.
"One problem they have is still no consistent electrical power," he said. "That hampers computer use."
The plan also includes visits from Kufa faculty to UK to learn more about U.S. curriculum and teaching methods. Bettez said he hopes to have the professors visit for three to four weeks at a time.
George Blandford, chairman of civil engineering at UK, visited Kufa and said that the school was well on its way to building a new campus and that the equipment the civil engineering program had was up to date. Blandford said most professors at Kufa do not have doctorates, which puts them at a disadvantage. He would like to bring Kufa professors to UK to earn Ph.D.s so they can be better equipped to work internationally.
"It takes interaction to collaborate on research projects, and that would expand opportunities for UK faculty," he said. "There has to be a belief that both sides are contributing in a collaboration."
Blandford said he thinks Kufa's civil engineering department needs to include more communication and science skills and to consider the social implications of projects.
Blandford said UK is lucky to have been paired with Kufa. Through the partnership, Kufa was the only Iraq school that requested assistance in civil engineering.
"They seem to have a strong desire to improve and move forward," he said. "They have an open attitude toward changes; they are very progressive."
Carvalho said UK has not established how many or which faculty will be involved because the recent conference was the first attempt to create a road map for the project.
"It is important the plans we made were constructed with our partner university and not just for our partner university," she said.
Bettez visited the campus in Najaf and observed the challenges Iraqi universities face and the recent progress.
"Iraq's educational system has been highly centralized by the government. They are not used to innovation and adaptation, so hopefully that will change," Bettez said. "There is dynamic tension, some infrastructure still needs repair, but there is great potential in that country."
The UK contingent worked with the other U.S. universities involved at the Baghdad conference and were able to hear the feedback of the Iraqi colleges, Carvalho said.
"One thing they focused on was the development of career centers on Iraq campuses. Currently, businesses don't turn to the university for new employees," she said. "Iraqi universities were very interested in that idea. So we will work to make sure graduates have skills businesses want."
Other issues were outdated textbooks and a lack of digital materials, Carvalho said, and there are no accreditation organizations for Iraqi universities. Carvalho said by helping this university move forward, UK students and faculty can see how universal their skills are.
"We have an ongoing effort toward internationalization. That means a global consciousness across the student body that our disciplines don't just work in a U.S context," she said. "We will become more globally aware of where our disciplines are and where they are headed."