Reforming the Masters Degree in the Kurdistan Region:
Enhancing Capacity and Quality
Professor Dlawer Abdul Aziz Ala’Aldeen,
Minister for Higher Education and Scientific Research
The Kurdistan Region needs more specialist teachers and postgraduates due to the increased number of students in the universities and colleges, the demands of industry, and Government departments.
Preparing teachers and cadres of graduates with high standards of skilled labour is one of the biggest challenges facing universities today. Fortunately, our academic leaders have worked diligently to create tens of Master’s programs to prepare tutors to fill the many needs in the market place.
It is no secret that creating and executing these Master’s programs was not part of a strategically developed long-term plan. Due to the numbers of courses and the shortfalls in standards, the Ministry of Higher Education has decided to review all Master’s programs in every field of study.
The current state of Master’s Programs
Most of the Master’s programs have strong, modern foundations. The first year of study is divided into two courses. The first encompasses an introduction to the specialist topics; the second focuses on the core aspects of these specialist topics. The second year is set aside for scientific research. This study design is appropriate for our needs and is not in need of restructuring. However, there are some fundamental problems that do need to be addressed:
- At the regional level, there is no central plan to highlight the needs of the higher education institutions, other government institutions and the private sector;
- With regard to capacity and space, most programs are limited and cannot fill market needs easily;
- In terms of quality of teaching, the style of learning is the same as that of the Bachelor’s programs. In that the topics are taught in the classical manner. The syllabi and structure need to be reformed;
- There are numerous problems inherent in the admissions procedures, teaching structure, examinations and graduation requirements. Specifically, there is no modern method of quality-assurance;
- The established faculties are dependent for the most part on internal teachers who have not incorporated knowledge or experience from abroad into the programs.
For planning purposes, the Kurdistan Region will now become one academic body. Geographical space for courses will belong to all universities and departments no matter where they are offered. Admissions policies will apply to all Master’s programs and a Ministry Council for Higher Education will decide how to allocate the places available for programs. For the next three to four years, most of the available places will be set aside for the new universities and colleges in order to meet the needs of these institutions.
Through the Council for Higher Education, the Ministry has requested that the faculties in the various universities and colleges meet to plan the details. In particular, it is necessary for the heads of departments to agree on the following:
- In any specialist field, it is necessary to ensure that Master’s programs continue to be offered in one of the centres (departments/faculties). The other programs must case unless all of the teachers actively participate in teaching the Master’s course as if it were their own. So, one of the centres will host the program while welcoming other students and teachers with the understanding that they will participate in the policy and execution of corresponding scientific work. The certificates will be awarded to students under the name of the host university. If the region’s need for a specific field is in high demand and if a number of centres could teach the Master’s program, then two or three of the centres would receive permission to establish the program and undertake its teaching.
- The first course of the first term will remain the same and it will be an introduction to the specialist field/topic. Teaching these courses will be the responsibility of the teachers at the host centre. They will receive help and the participation of guest teachers from other universities and the region’s other departments.
- Fundamental changes will be applied to the second course of the first year. This requires three things: enrichment with specific specialities, modern knowledge and external teachers. This does not mean that teachers from the same faculty in different universities are the only ones to cooperate. Rather, the host university should try to implement a well-prepared programme to bring in a greater number of specialist teachers (from outside the region) to participate in conducting the specialist courses. None of the Master’s courses should be completed without such participation from the outside in order to benefit from external talent coming to the region, whether Kurd or other. Such a policy or plan must be considered when setting the budget for a particular Master’s program.
- Quality-assurance schemes must be implemented in the same style as at the Bachelor’s level (past and present) before the start of the Master’s courses of the following academic year. Under current policy, once the host university has been decided, a teacher from the department, a course convener and an external teacher are appointed as external examiners. Priority must be given to specialists from outside the region.
- In the second year of the Master’s program when research is conducted, all departments in every university capable of supervising the students must participate. From the early stages, a list of the capable centres (those with test centres, potential and available supervisors) should be prepared at the host universities and others. In the second year students must be distributed across suitable departments in order to carry out their research projects. This will depend on student choice, those with a guaranteed place and the capabilities of the universities. The new universities and colleges that are unable to supervise and support the research of their own students must send their students as guests to another university and meet their expenses and needs.
- For any Master’s degree program, an academic board involving the heads of different and participating faculties should be established. The board’s responsibility will be to form plans, form relationships between the faculties and supervise in conducting the Master’s courses. This board will meet once every three months to evaluate progress and solve any problems that arise.
Studying in a Master’s program is the best, quickest and most effective way to prepare high level teachers and cadres to meet the future needs of universities and industry in the Kurdistan Region. The Kurdistan Region will require a large army of Master’s graduates for many years to come. The Master’s courses in the region have been built on a strong and modern foundation. However, with the improvements listed above and the implementation of the quality-assurance scheme, the region’s ability to educate and produce its own teachers will be improved. This is why enriching and raising standards of Master’s programs is one of the priorities of the Ministry for Higher Education. Updating Master’s studies is a continuing project and subject to continuous review. In the near future, after granting the universities independence, the structure of planning and the shared ownership of the courses will also need to be reviewed.