OSU partners with Iraq’s Basrah University

by Terry Tush 
(October 28, 2011 at 9:34 am)

Iraqi visitors Watson Trading Floor
For nearly two weeks Oklahoma State University hosted three professors from Iraq’s Basrah University, showing them American customs and introducing them to western teaching styles and curriculum.

The Iraqi faculty members – Abdul-Khaliq Y. Zaier Al-Badran of Basrah’s petroleum engineering department, Abdulzahra Khu Raheem Alaliawi of the university’s finance department, and Majid Abdulnabi Alwan Al-Tameemi of the computer science department – arrived at OSU on Oct. 16 as part of a $1 million grant OSU and Basrah University received from the U.S. Department of State’s Iraqi Linkage Program. They left to return home Oct. 27.

“I think this visit has gone extremely well,” said John Polonchek, head of the Department of Finance in OSU’s Spears School of Business and co-principal investigator for the grant project. “We are incredibly honored to be a part of this program, and in the next several years we expect additional successful visits by other faculty cohorts.”

Over the next three years, numerous Basrah University faculty members will work closely with Oklahoma State faculty from the School of Chemical Engineering, the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and the Department of Finance to review Basrah University’s current curriculum and to help the Iraqi university develop a more student-centered, interactive pedagogy.

In line with these goals, the three Iraqi professors spent a great deal of their time in the United States attending American classes, speaking with professors from OSU and learning more about how things are done at this university. They also met with OSU’s leaders, including President Burns Hargis and Provost Robert Sternberg, and they participated in several cultural activities, such as a question-and-answer session with students at Stillwater Middle School.

“We are looking forward to the cooperation between these two universities,” Al-Badran said. “We already have about 25 Iraqi students at OSU, two of whom are from Basrah.”

Polonchek said OSU was selected for the grant because the U.S. Department of State wanted to work with a university that was able to deliver quality information in several areas.

“Basrah is basically the functional equivalent of Houston, and it’s located in a major oil area,” Polonchek said. “That’s why they were very much interested in petroleum engineering, computer engineering and finance.”

Basrah is the southernmost province in Iraq, and the area is rich in both resources and culture, said Samar Abid, an OSU doctoral student originally from Iraq who assisted as an interpreter for the visiting professors. Basrah University is also one of the oldest universities in Iraq. Founded in 1964, it includes 15 colleges and six research centers, and it bestows degrees at the undergraduate, master’s and doctoral level. Currently, the university has approximately 25,000 students, making it the second-largest university in Iraq, after Baghdad University.

Abid said education is important in Iraq. Six years of elementary school is obligatory to everyone, and middle school and high school each take three more years. Many people continue into college, and degrees in the medical field and engineering are highly sought after. In this way, their society is similar to that of the United States. In other ways, however, they differ immensely.

“One of the things you have to realize is that Iraq has been pretty much a closed society and a command economy,” said Ramesh Rao, a professor of finance at OSU and Polonchek’s co-principal investigator for the grant. “Everything is centralized. Now, however, the country is moving toward a much more free market country. So they need to upgrade their education so it reflects that change, and I think that is where we come in.”

Al-Badran, who has instructed at Basrah University for more than 30 years, echoed Rao’s ideas, saying that university graduates prefer to work in the public sector because there are very few opportunities available to them in private business.

“There are numerous complications keeping people from opening their own businesses,” Alaliawi said. “Lots of attempts from other countries, including America, have been made to help develop the private sector and help people open businesses. Recent graduates don’t have the desire to work for the private sector because the rules governing it are very old, so we need to change these rules before we can change the mentalities of these graduates. We need more resources so the young people can feel confident opening their own businesses.”

This is one of the many reasons the professors agreed to the grant project with OSU. Polonchek said one of his main goals is to identify the resources Basrah University needs and help provide them, even if the required resources are as simple as textbooks.

“They are living in an environment where their access to the global market is constrained, so we can help them in that department, in terms of trying to figure out how we can get them resources to use in the education process,” Polonchek said. “Though we met with the Iraqis this summer, this is the first time any of these professors have been to America. As the project moves through the next two years, it will be more of a training environment. We’re happy to begin moving forward.”

Al-Badran said he is excited about learning from an American university because he believes the United States has a long history of development and improvement in higher education and technology.

“Our university needs the help of American universities,” Al-Badran said. “So that’s why we’re here. The Iraqi mind does not lack for anything, but we need help with curriculum and technology to excel.”

Abid said she was optimistic about the future of her homeland and about this new partnership between OSU and Iraq.

“We are welcoming of anything that will embrace us and our culture,” she said. “We are building. We are continuing to grow, and hopefully this partnership will help make us great.”

If you would like to learn more about the Iraqi Linkage Program, call 405-744-5199 or send an email to finance@okstate.edu.