Kurdistan Region of Iraq: Interview with Dr. Mohammed Mochtar

Dr. Mohammed Mochtar

Vice Chancellor (University of Kurdistan Hewler)

Dr. Mohammed Mochtar

The Kurdistan Region of Iraq has been facing security challenges for the last two years. However, Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani has expressed that the Kurdistan Region of Iraq has embarked on a new era, the post-ISIS era. What is the current situation in the Region?

The Kurdistan Region of Iraq and the wider region has been severely challenged by ISIS and at the same time that we have been going through an economic crisis. However, despite these challenges, the Kurdistan Region maintains its growth and we keep working for the future of our nation.

President Masoud Barzani has recently announced a referendum on independence on September 25th. What would be the implications of independence for the Region?

As the Vice Chancellor of UKH, I agree with the idea of holding a referendum on independence. As a University and academic centre, we will support the policy of the President in the Kurdistan Region, as it is the right of our nation to decide our own future.

The first implications of independence will be hard on the whole nation, especially due to the foreseeable reaction of some actors in the region. Even before ISIS, we experienced suffering from enemies that established embargos and restrictions on us, and we can expect again negative reactions to our independence. However, we will achieve the goal of independence and we will succeed with the support of the Kurdistan Region’s friends both in Europe and around the world.

For the last two years, the fight against ISIS has maximised the efforts of the Kurdistan Region, with negative consequences in other fields, including education. What are the main goals and challenges that the Region is facing at this moment in the education sector?

Keeping in mind the path towards the referendum and ensuing independence, it is fundamental to have high-quality education for the future of our nation and it deserves the greatest care in order for us to succeed as a country. With this vision, UKH was established as an educational institution aiming to meet and exceed the requirements and ambitions of the Kurdistan Region’s development programs. The growth of the Kurdistan Region demands highly educated graduates and competent professionals that will guarantee the development of the nation.

The University of Kurdistan Hewler was founded in 2006 as the first and only English-speaking public university. Nowadays, you offer a wide range of education specialties. What are the core values or strategic guidelines of the University?

UKH was founded on the principle of being the Region’s leading centre of excellence in research, teaching and application of knowledge to further industrial, economic, environmental and social development of Kurdistan. Therefore, our overarching mission is to produce high quality graduates students who meet the requirements of the Region as a whole, in both the public and private sectors.

The University of Kurdistan-Hewler has become a beacon of hope and excellence in higher education, UKH outsources quality graduates and postgraduates to local government, foreign construction and oil companies operating in the Region. Our motto is “education requires the greatest care, because it influences all life”.

In Kurdistan, the public sector represents the main source of income; factually, 53% of its people rely on the state for livelihood. However, a strong private sector is essential for the prosperity of the Region. How do prepare your students for private industry?

Our alumni have the highest record of employability in comparison to all of the universities in Iraq; more than 95% of our graduates work for international and local companies and at senior levels, as CEO’s for example, or PhD Candidates in renowned UK and European universities. This year, foreign companies, NGO’s and businesses employ more than 70% of our students who are not yet graduated. It shows that in spite of the economic crisis, high quality education is moving forward. In order to improve the employment of our graduates, UKH has a department of Public Relations that leads them in the pursuit of professional futures and our academics encourage the students to be open-minded and give them the tools to carve out their own futures.

As an example of our collaboration with the private sector, on June the 6th 2017, UKH signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Kurdistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry in order to show the students how to develop business and trade connections with other countries.

On May 2017, you organised the conference “Iraqi Kurdistan at Crossroads: Current Issues of Domestic and Middle Eastern Politics”. Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani opened the event and the panel included international specialists from Russia, the US, UK, Europe and the Middle East. What was the main outcome of the conference?

We are currently working with an independent Committee on the collaboration of a draft Conference proceedings document that will pull together the assessments of the conference and it will be handed to the KRG, the President Barzani and the KRG representatives around the world, including Europe and Russia.

In June 2017, UKH became the first university in the Kurdistan Region to be awarded with ISO 9001:2015 Certification, which guarantees that the institution meets the international education and management standards. What are your plans to promote the international presence and cooperation of the University?

Since becoming the first university in the Kurdistan Region to gain this certification, we have been pursuing accreditation in each one of our Schools in collaboration with the Higher Education Academy in the United Kingdom. UKH’s curriculum is compatible with the UK standards, and our goal is to become a member of the Russell Group. That is why our constitution is fully compatible with the British Quality Assurance Program.

Our School of Medicine’s system is unique in the Middle East thanks to a Memorandum of Understanding with the University of York that accredits our curriculum, and the new projects are also in line with the UK’s programs: a new Department of English accredited by the University of Leicester and the School of Business supervised by the University of Birmingham, both due to be open the next semester.

Our staff base is comprised of top international academics with the highest calibre of academic backgrounds. Despite the financial crises, last year we employed 35 new lecturers, providing them with the very best academic working conditions and remuneration,  and we are looking forward to increasing this number in 2017/8.

UKH’s programs aim to engage in regional problems in diverse fields. What are the main projects that you are carrying out in the Kurdistan Region?

UKH champions Social responsibility and is a pioneer in social responsibility projects, thanks to the creation of the new UKH Charitable Foundation - UKHCF, a platform that gives support to the refugees and IDPs in the Region. Our students collaborate as volunteers in the charitable missions; they feel that it is their job to make a difference helping people and communities in need. We are intensively engaged in the NGO’s activities in the Region as well as the Embassies and Consulates that seek local English speaking volunteers with management and administrative capabilities.

In the business field, the UKH commitment is to engage with the international companies and investors in the Kurdistan Region in order to identify and implement the key programs of our nation.

You have an extensive international career as lecturer and researcher in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Germany and Sweden. In 2004, you became Vice President of this university maintaining teaching attributions.  What do you feel most proud of in your career?

I am very proud of being at UKH; after achieving a PhD in Bio-organic Chemistry in Sweden, where I collaborated with pharmaceutical companies, and working as Scientist and Professor in Essen, Germany, I came back in 2005 to serve my nation. The Kurdistan Region is the right place to be.