UW-Madison explores partnerships with Iraqi university

Feb. 11, 2009

by John Lucas

UW-Madison is taking the first steps toward a formal partnership with a university in Iraq.

University officials will hold a teleconference with U.S. Embassy officials associated with the Salah ad Din Provincial Reconstruction Team based in Iraq this Friday (Feb. 13) to discuss the initial details of a possible partnership with Tikrit University in Tikrit, Iraq.

Established in 1987, Tikrit University is one of the largest universities in Iraq with more than 12,000 students. It is located is about 100 miles north of Baghdad in an agricultural area on the Tigris River.

Friday's teleconference is expected to lead to a formal meeting with Maher Saleh Allawi, president of Tikrit University.

UW-Madison's goal is to exchange information and build relationships for future collaboration, according to Division of International Studies Dean Gilles Bousquet, who will be the lead UW-Madison participant.

One possible outcome for the future is a general memorandum of understanding that could result in academic collaboration and study-abroad opportunities for faculty and students in Iraq.

"We believe that this is an exciting opportunity for both of our institutions," Bousquet says. "Education will play a key role in rebuilding Iraq, and UW-Madison has a strong tradition of international service and collaboration."

The relationship between the two institutions has been sparked by a general desire on the part of Iraqi universities to find opportunities for their students and faculty members to receive training and conduct research in the United States.

In late January 2009, Allawi contacted Chancellor Carolyn "Biddy" Martin indicating an interest in pursuing academic cooperation.

Meanwhile, Brett Bruen, a 2002 UW-Madison graduate in international relations and political science, who now serves as a public diplomacy officer with the U.S. State Department, called the external relations office in the Division of International Studies to discuss the potential of collaboration with UW-Madison. Bruen is attached to the Salah ad Din Provincial Reconstruction Team, which is responsible for the Tikrit area.

He has been tasked by Ambassador Ryan Crocker to encourage university partnerships for educational exchange, particularly with Tikrit University. Bruen and other government officials are expected to be on the call Friday.

In future meetings, Tikrit University is expected to present areas of potential collaboration, including medicine, agriculture, journalism, law, and engineering.

Tikrit is also establishing a first-of-its-kind study abroad resource center for students and faculty and has requested information from the Division of International Studies on UW-Madison's programs. They would like to create a special "Wisconsin sub-section" in the center.

In addition to the UW-Madison-Tikrit cooperation, recent coverage in the Feb. 6 Chronicle of Higher Education notes that several Iraqi university presidents attended this week's American Council on Education conference in Washington, D.C.

The presidents are looking for ways to reform their higher education system, improve knowledge of staff members and develop teaching facilities. They are also looking for research activities with partners abroad.