More students than space at Iraq's American University; English is the medium of instruction

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sun Dec 7 22:04:35 UTC 2008

More students than space at Iraq's American University
By Yahya Barzanji and Ryan Lucas

Associated Press

SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq - Tucked away in the heart of Kurdistan in northern
Iraq, a U.S.-style university with bold plans to attract the country's
top talent has quickly found a following among young Iraqis. The
American University in Iraq, which threw open its doors to students in
January, has seen its enrollment soar almost sixfold in its second
academic year. "There is incredible demand for this kind of thing,"
said Joshua Mitchell, the school's chancellor. "Frankly, our
limitation right now is space."

The jump in enrollment, from 48 last year to 256 this year, left the
university scrambling to hire extra teachers, put up temporary
buildings to house more classrooms, and find dormitories to
accommodate the influx of students. The university has already started
construction on a new campus with five quads containing dormitories
and classrooms near the Sulaimaniyah airport. Work began in January on
the site's administrative building, and Mitchell said the university
hoped to push forward with the rest of the construction as funds
allowed. The U.S. government has pledged $10 million to build a power
plant to provide electricity to the new campus, but an additional $500
million is needed to complete the project, Mitchell said.

Enrollment boost
That would allow the school to reach its goal of boosting enrollment
to some 10,000 students in 10 to 15 years. "There's no reason we can't
do it," Mitchell said. "If they [Iraqis] can get back on track, they
can again be one of the shining lights of the Middle East, and higher
education is going to be key to this." The school's concentration on
American-style liberal arts education and future job skills already
has lured talented young Iraqis tired of the country's state-funded
universities with their rote learning. "The students at state
university have to memorize the curriculum, but here it is different.
We study some subjects outside the curriculum. These are really
interesting studies that push you to work hard," said Deaa Delawar, a
19-year-old studying business.

Arean Delshad wanted to study abroad but opted for Sulaimaniyah instead.

"Studies at the American University are what I expected - serious and
advanced," said Delshad, also 19. "My father has many contracting
companies, and I want to study business administration because this
university gives me a chance to learn more and build my future."

Powerful patrons
The school was founded in late 2007 with the blessing of Iraq's
political elite - including President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and
former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite Muslim - and
offered its first classes in January.
All the classes are taught in English by Western professors, and
students can earn a four-year bachelor's degree in business, computer
science or international studies. A degree in petroleum engineering is

The curriculum reflects the school's goal of providing young Iraqis
with skills that aim to help the country rebuild from the destruction
of the 2003 U.S.-led war and the ensuing sectarian violence.

"We're deliberately setting about to help develop the private sector,
and that's why business and [information technology] are among our
primary offerings," Mitchell said. "Iraq is going to need a private
sector and entrepreneurial class."

Such an education, however, comes at a price. Annual tuition runs
around $10,000 a year, a huge amount for average Iraqis, although the
school has set up a generous financial-aid system to help students in

Beirut and Cairo are also home to institutions called the American
University, but none of the three universities in the Middle East with
that name is related.

Baghdad, with its rich history as an intellectual hub in the Arab
world, would seem to have been the most obvious choice for such a
school in Iraq. But Sulaimaniyah, a city of 730,000 in the foothills
of the Zagros Mountains 160 miles northeast of Baghdad, has something
the Iraqi capital has not provided for years: security.

"The reason Kurdistan was chosen is because it's safe," said Gordon
Anderson, the school's rector.

But the university hopes to eventually establish campuses in Baghdad
and the southern city of Basra.

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