University challenge

Leicester is playing a key role in repairing damaged higher education sectors around the world.

The UK has one of the oldest and most established higher education sectors in the world.
As a result, it is sometimes easy to forget just how lucky we are.

In other parts of the world, repression of universities and the destruction of higher education sectors through conflict have caused severe harm. For many governments recovering from turbulent pasts, the question remains: how do you counter the lack of educational opportunities which has, in some cases, hampered development for generations?

What is clear is that these countries and regions should not have to shoulder theburden of the restoration process on their own. This concept is at the heart of the University of Leicester’s capacity building ethos, which has seen it lend a helping hand to higher education sectors in Iraq, Kurdistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Ethiopia.

“Education and research are international,” said Dave Hall, the University of Leicester’s Registrar, who has overseen the links between Leicester and its international partners. “We operate globally because we want to do what we can to share skills, experience and
knowledge.”

These sentiments are shared by Professor Douglas Tallack, the University’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor (International) who has taken a leading role in the University’s
work with Kurdistan-Iraq and Iraq. He said: “Overseas work is the right thing to do. International development is a reciprocal activity – helping universities
overseas improves higher education and research worldwide.”

Members of the University’s academic and administrative staff have made many trips out to these regions over the last few years, with the aim of offering advice, resources and support to the region’s university administrators and government figures. It is hoped that through these efforts, the regions can develop an increase in skills and selfconfidence leading to societal and economic benefits.

The autonomous region of Kurdistan in Iraq has seen a boom in higher education investment since the fall of Saddam Hussein, who severely repressed the Kurdish language and culture during his rule and allowed only two universities to operate in the region. Since December 2010, when Professor Tallack spoke at the ‘Revitalizing Kurdish Higher Education’ conference, University of Leicester staff have made eight trips to the region, and visited eight universities. They also met with key figures including current Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, Dr Ali Saaed, Minister of Higher Education, and his predecessor Dr Dlawer D’Aladeen. The main focus of the meetings has been on building on the region’s archaeological heritage and potential for tourism, and links have been developed in the Biosciences, Chemistry, English and History. Leicester has also developed an International English Language Centre at the University of Kurdistan-Hewler, which opened last October.

The University has also forged a strong relationship with Iraq, where universities and the higher education sector were heavily damaged in the conflict following the Iraq War in 2003. The University and Kufa University collaborated under a British Council-funded programme called DeLPHE-Iraq which focused on medical education and have now
signed a new cooperation agreement which will see the two universities offer split-site PhDs, academic training and development and joint research projects. Leicester has hosted visits by Kerbala and Kufa Universities, with Wasit University due shortly, and agreements have been signed with the Biosciences as a prominent focus.

Afghanistan’s higher education provision has also suffered immensely due to 30 years of conflict and the long-term neglect of universities under Taliban rule. David Hall, Professor Mike Petterson of the University’s Department of Geology and Dr Mark Goodwin, of the Department of Genetics, have acted as mentors under the British Council’s Partners in Academic Learning Programme to higher education leaders in Afghanistan representing the universities of Bamyan, Nangarhar, Shiekh Zaied and Balkh. The University of Leicester also hosted a workshop with delegates from the University of Kabul in December, which touched on how Afghan universities can contribute to peace and nation building.

The University has worked closely with the University of Bahria in Islamabad, Pakistan, over the last three years. Michael Green, Leicester’s director of
strategic partnerships in the International Office, said: “We have run three work programmes in offices here forcounterparts at the University of Bahria to see the administrative models we have. We also organised a programme to allow staff from Bahria to attend a two week summer class here to teach them the latest developments in e-learning.”

There is also a longstanding relationship between Leicester and University of Gondar in Ethiopia. In 2004, the University joined the Leicester-Gondar link, which is aimed at supporting developments in teaching programmes and enhancing healthcare in hospitals and communities. The connection has seen the University of Leicester help set up masters’ courses in Gondar for Ethiopian students – including MSc courses in Advanced Clinical Nursing and Advanced Clinical and Laboratory Practice.

In many of these cases there is a direct benefit to the University of Leicester,in that we are better placed to recruit international PhD and masters’ students from these regions as a result of our connections. However, members of staff are keen to dispel any notion that this is the primary motivation for our
involvement. Dave Hall said: “We are not just in it for the short term – we are in it for the long term, as part of a campaign to help develop the capacity of higher education worldwide.”

This article originally appeared in LE1 Winter 2012

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