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College Life in Baghdad: How Much Has it Improved?

As safety returns to some Baghdad universities, political and religious influences are still pervasive.
 
 
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Professor Ali is thinking about the day that he will no longer teach at Munstansariya University in Baghdad following the resolution issued by the Iraqi government that has imposed a mandatory retirement age of 63 year old for university professors. This resolution, according to the university professor who asked to be referred to as Professor Ali, is a concern for him and his counterparts and will push university education towards an abyss.

The professor explained to <i>Asharq Al-Awsat</i> that there are many complaints within academia about the government resolution and he warned that, “It will have a negative impact on education in Iraq and there are Arab and foreign states that are beginning to work to attract these potentials from now because, unfortunately, they have been shelved in their native country.”

The Iraqi government’s official spokesperson Ali al Dabbagh explained that there are age limits to regulate the quality and activity of the individuals who work for it. He told <i>Asharq Al-Awsat</i> that people have certain potentials that “increase for example at a specific period and begin to decrease when they reach a certain age even though there are people who get to 70 years of age but continue to contribute. However, they cannot carry on working until the day they pass away. Therefore, we found that making someone retire at this age is appropriate so that he can rest and be given a chance to take part in other particular activities benefiting from his retirement fund … moreover we must give new blood and young talents a chance as young people have striven, studied and worked to obtain a higher-education degree and deserve to take on their natural role as professors.”

Zayed Mohammed, a student in higher education, explained that he believed in gaining experience and said, “The longer a researcher remains in his field of expertise, the more he will be like an encyclopedia of information and it would be possible to benefit from his experience not only through teaching but through many other ways such as research, publications, books, consultations etc. It is natural to continue contributing in spite of one’s age so retirement is not an obstacle to academic contribution. So I believe that the law is fair to everyone; to us as youngsters and to teachers as well who have contributed significantly and will continue to do so God willing.”

Another problem from which university professors are suffering is the instability and irregularity of university life in Iraq that varies depending on the nature and location of the university.

Professor Ali from Mustansariya University said, “With the provincial elections coming up, you can feel the partisan and religious influences within all Iraqi universities especially Mustansariya where leaflets are still being distributed. There are still religious and political influences but it is unlike that of previous years.”

He stated, “A week ago, some students brought a megaphone into the university and started shouting certain slogans against the political issue of the Security Pact. But as professors, we always say that universities are for education and that education must be respected.”

“There is still apprehension between teacher and pupil but much less in comparison to the past few academic years during which the students had the upper hand because they represented certain religious and political parties,” added Professor Ali.

As for the role of the Ministry of Education and of university deans and professors in raising awareness amongst students of the dangers of partisanship and sectarianism, the professor said, “it is non-existent; not one seminar has been organized in this regard nor has it been studied in certain classes.”

“A university is dominated by a certain party ... for example the University of Baghdad is affiliated to one party and another university is affiliated to another and it’s influence is obvious as soon as you walk through the university’s gates. This puts you off asking the students and professors questions. Their signs and slogans are enough,” said Professor Ali finally.

Taqi Asaad, an Iraqi student at university said, “My studies this year have been better than the past few years ... Even professors feared their students because of their affiliations to political and religious parties but the situation is better now and universities are safer.”

However she complained about the costs of education saying, “It is very expensive because of transportation, clothing, food and the cost of books.” She added, “There are some students who are very poor and we feel sorry for them but unfortunately there is no one who can help them.”

As for the security at university, she said that the situation has improved: “Female students can wear whatever they want. Nobody forces them to wear the Hijab or any kind of Islamic attire.”

 
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