Iraqi Leaders Seek U.S. Help to Speed Their Nation's Science Recovery
Baghdad's Republican archives burnt to ashes. Image courtesy the Library of Congress.
Iraqi science is slowly recovering after years of isolation under Saddam Hussein and the devastating effects of wars and insurgency on universities and research facilities, top Iraqi education officials said during a 5 July visit to AAAS.
Beriwan Muslih Khailany, Iraq's Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, said that 84 percent of her nation's university facilities were burned, looted or destroyed during the chaotic period following the April 2003 ouster of Saddam by U.S. and coalition forces. More than 2,000 science laboratories need to be re-equipped, she said, and the universities need at least 30,000 new computer work stations.
Khailany spoke at a public discussion at AAAS on the future of Iraq's higher education and scientific research. Despite continuing dangers, she and her colleagues were optimistic about the efforts to reinvigorate schools such as the University of Baghdad, the oldest university in the country and once known as "the Harvard of the Middle East."
While many university professors were killed under the former regime and threats of kidnapping or assassination by insurgents remain real today, Khailany and her colleagues said reports in foreign media have overstated the risks. With tight security, she said, Iraqi university campuses are among the safest places in the country and students now have the freedom to express diverse views.
"We cannot sit back and say, 'I'm too scared,' " Khailany said. "We wouldn't be able to rebuild Iraq. We would leave it to the insurgents." She said university faculty members are "the pioneers" of the new Iraq. "They will build up Iraq, they will let people understand freedom, democracy, human rights," she said.
Scientists, physicians and engineers already have played an important role in both the interim Iraqi government and in the recently elected government, in which they account for 58 percent of government officials.
"I applaud the courage and fortitude of our colleagues," said Alan I. Leshner, the chief executive officer of AAAS and executive publisher of Science.
He noted that the association has played an important role in helping Iraq. Several AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellows have assisted in rebuilding Iraq and training scientists and engineers while on assignment to various federal agencies. A team of AAAS Fellows has been working on an interagency program, called the Iraqi Virtual Science Library, to provide online journal access and educational resources to Iraqi scientists.
Mosa Jawad Aziz Almosawe, the president of the University of Baghdad, said his institution is eager for assistance and cooperative agreements with schools beyond Iraq. He said that U.S. universities have lagged behind their counterparts in Europe and Asia in providing help. Khailany said U.S. visa restrictions have made it more difficult for her and other Iraqi officials to travel to the U.S. to discuss their needs with American schools.
She said her current trip with Almosawe and three other top officials from the University of Baghdad is the first opportunity for Iraqi education officials to visit key U.S. institutions since Saddam's ouster. The trip is sponsored by the Army's Third Infantry Division and the United States Military Academy at West Point. Before visiting Washington, the Iraqis stopped in Boston for talks with officials at Harvard, MIT and Boston University. They also will visit West Point.
"We have very big deficiencies in laboratory equipment and instruments," said Almosawe. He said his university is seeking surplus equipment from U.S. universities. Iraqi officials also are eager for their students to study abroad to help provide them with the best training available. Khailany noted that from 30 to 40 percent of Iraq's best-trained scientistsmany of whom had doctorates from American, British or French universitiesleft the country during the past 15 years. She said it will be vital for Iraq to improve its own doctoral programs and reintegrate itself into the world science community.
"We need reconstruction and rejuvenation," Khailany said. The needs are large. Her ministry oversees the administration of 18 major public universities in Iraq, where all undergraduates are able to enroll for free, as well two post-graduate commissions, 35 research centers and 16 research units. More than 280,000 students were enrolled in Iraqi universities in 2004.
Khailany said the Iraqi government is providing $25 million for construction of new university buildings, a first step but well short of what will be required. In other helpful developments, the World Bank has promised $15 million for equipment upgrades. Twenty five Iraqis have been awarded Fulbright scholarships to study at U.S. universities. India has offered 50 scholarships for Iraqi doctoral candidates.
Among the higher education ministry's immediate goals: improving the teacher-student ratio at Iraqi universities to 1 lecturer for each 15 students. In some vocational institutions, Khailany said, the ratio currently is 1 to 58.
For more information on science in Iraq, see:
"Iraqi Science: The War Within the War"
"Panel at AAAS Says Iraq Scholars and Students Need Help from U.S. Counterparts"
"Rebuilding Science in Iraq, One Scientist at a Time"
"AAAS Fellow Krista Donaldson Returns to Power-Grid Work in Iraq"
7 July 2005