University of Leicester signs historic partnership agreement with Soran University, Kurdistan, Iraq

Posted by er134 at Feb 14, 2014 02:08 PM |
• Innovative new Natural Resources Research Centre opened during ceremony on 11 February • Partnership aims to improve sustainable resources expertise

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 14 February 2014

The University of Leicester is breaking new ground in international collaboration by working with Soran University in the Kurdistan region of Iraq to establish an International Centre for Natural Resources Research.

The Centre will bring together researchers from both universities, to work on research in the fields of sustainability, crop production and food security monitoring, geographic information systems and water resources, amongst others. The Centre will also contribute to the development of degree course curricula and best practice in teaching within Soran University.

The Centre will be housed in the new Faculty of Science building at Soran University, located in the Zagros Mountains – the largest mountain range in Iran and Iraq.

During a major signing ceremony held on 11 February on the newly constructed campus of Soran University, senior delegates from both universities joined with senior figures from the government of the Kurdistan Region for the official opening of the new research Centre and to welcome this first major capacity building partnership between a UK and a Kurdish public sector university.

Professor Heiko Balzter, Director of the University of Leicester’s Centre for Landscape and Climate Research, said: “This is a hugely important bilateral agreement. Soran University is a new University in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, which is rapidly developing now that the long history of armed conflicts in the region is over.

“From our side, we are committed to supporting University staff and students in Soran in their professional development. Our aim is to build mentoring partnerships between staff, deliver block courses locally to contribute to higher education in the region, to deliver staff development activities, and to develop joint research projects together.”

The objective of the Centre is to create a world-class research environment with a focus on the development of sustainable natural resources. One issue the Centre hopes to tackle directly is the challenge Kurdistan faces in effectively managing its natural resource infrastructure – in particular the management of water supply and quality against the background of rapid development of the region’s infrastructure and tourism facilities.

A split PhD scheme has also been agreed. PhD students from Soran can spend one year of initial research training at Leicester and complete their PhD in Soran whilst being jointly supervised by members of staff from both organisations throughout the PhD. The degree is awarded by Soran University. Such split PhDs are a priority for the Ministry of Higher Education in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

Ultimately, it is the intention of both partners to expand the scope of the collaboration to a partnership in other subject areas including English, Archaeology, Cultural Heritage Management and Molecular Biosciences.

Professor Martin Halliwell, Deputy Pro-Vice Chancellor (International), who signed the contract on behalf of the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester, said in his televised speech: “The agreement marks a very significant moment in the growing international collaboration between the two universities and a significant investment on behalf of the University of Leicester in capacity building in the Kurdistan Region.

“We are delighted that the University is currently training over a hundred Kurdish students, aided by the Human Capacity Development Program, and will be able to take back best practice and subject knowledge to the region.”

He went on to say: “The new research centre agreement recognizes the huge research potential of Soran University and the collaboration has the strong backing of the Ministry of Higher Education,  of Nawzad Hadi, senior adviser to President Masoud Barzani, and of Dr Hamidi, senior adviser to Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani. These senior advisers spoke at the opening ceremony, as did the senior adviser to the Minister of Higher Education, Dr Amanj Saeed.

“It is envisaged that the agreement signed on 11 February will be the first stage in an evolving collaboration between the two universities across several academic areas at both teaching and research levels over the next five years.”

Soran University is only four years old and is still undergoing staff recruitment, curriculum development and research strategy planning. Its first cohort of students graduated in 2013, but it has ambitious plans to grow its student base to 15,000 over the coming years. Plans for a second much larger campus in the style of an ‘academic city’ are also being developed. This new campus is expected to be completed within the next 4 years and will attract students not only from Kurdistan but from neighbouring countries in the region.

The collaboration builds upon experience gained by the University of Leicester in recent years in capacity building collaborations with other Kurdistan Region universities, including a partnership which commenced in 2011 with University of Kurdistan Hawler to assist the latter to establish an English Language Teaching and Testing Centre in Erbil.


Notes to Editors:

For more information please contact Professor Heiko Balzter at

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