BAGHDAD- Amal Hadi, a university student from Fallujah, could not achieve her dream of completing her undergraduate studies at the Faculty of Law. She and her family were displaced from the city, which was overrun by Islamic State (ISIS) forces two years ago.
“I was an outstanding student at the University of Anbar, but the entry of ISIS terrorists forced us to escape the city in order to save our lives,” she said.
Huda is one of thousands of Iraqi students who were forced to abandon their studies because of ongoing military campaigns in the country, escaping the hell of battles that have taken place since ISIS militants occupied the city of Mosul on June 10, 2014. ISIS has taken control of 40 percent of Iraq’s territory, resulting in the halting of classes at seven Iraqi universities located in Nineveh, Tikrit, Salah ad-Din, Anbar, Fallujah, Kirkuk, and Diyala.
According to Iraqi government estimates, the number of displaced Iraqis now stands at more than 3.5 million. A third of these are students, who were displaced to the central and southern regions of Iraq and the Kurdistan Region. Earlier this month, UNICEF announced that more than half a million Iraqi children are working instead of attending school, a result of violence and displacement that have harmed the incomes of millions of families. According to UNICEF, violence has forced around 10 percent – 1.5 million – of Iraq’s children to flee, since the beginning of 2014.
Still, a number of displaced students have managed to enroll at universities in the cities to which they have moved. Mohammed Al-Ani was able to enroll at the Faculty of Science at Kirkuk University. He says the university has so far hosted more than 20,000 displaced students from Mosul and the Anbar governorate (university officials could not be reached to verify that number). “I thought I had lost everything, but joining the university again brought me back the hope for a better tomorrow,” he said.
Al-Ani believes that displaced students have largely adapted to their new academic communities, and most of them have been able to make up their missed lectures. “However, we want to go back to our city and university after liberation, for sure.”
Most Iraqi public universities have, like Kirkuk University, received hundreds or even thousands of displaced students.
“Admitting displaced students to the universities of the cities they moved to is essential to ensure they would not stop their education despite the crowding in classrooms it causes and the great pressure it puts on professors,” said Nazhat Al-Dulaimi, a professor at the Faculty of Mass Media at Baghdad University.
According to Iraq’s ministry of higher education, displaced students retain their affiliation with their home universities, and all of their papers and exam results are issued by those universities.
So far, there are no official statistics on the cost or extent of the damage to affected universities and other educational institutions in Iraq. But news media have reported serious damage to some, such as the University of Anbar in Ramadi. Despite the city’s liberation from ISIS control, the ministry of higher education has postponed reopening classes at the university until further notice.
Students from Al-Hamdaniya University are able to study at a temporary campus opened by the university administration in Erbil, an alternative to its main campus in Mosul. Only two faculties are up and running at the satellite campus, education and business management and economics. The United Nations Human Settlements Program (UN-Habitat) has opened a temporary campus for the University of Fallujah, within Baghdad University’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, in the Abu Gharib district west of Baghdad. That location offers 25 classrooms and 128 residential units that can accommodate 512 students.
“Depriving young people of education is one of the factors feeding the cycle of poverty, helplessness, and frustration,” said Erfan Ali, head of UN-Habitat Iraq.
He hopes that the new buildings of the University of Fallujah will help young students move forward with their education and play an active role in bringing about positive change and building a better future.
Students who were displaced from Nineveh and the Nineveh plains to Kurdistan face unique challenges, given the differences between the Kurdish educational system and that of other Iraqi cities, as well as the use of Kurdish as the language of instruction. High costs also make attending private universities difficult.
While the ministry of higher education has called on private universities to admit displaced students free of charge, students from Fallujah and Sharqat – which have witnessed military operations recently – ask the ministry to allow them to take their final exams later.
“The ministry of higher education has to give displaced students another opportunity to take their final exams, especially given the constant and continuous increase in the number of displaced people in the country,” said Raad Al-Dahlaki, a member of the Iraqi parliament’s committee on migration and displaced persons.