Private Universities in the Kurdistan Region: Economic and Political Drivers and Inhibitors 

Abdurrahman Ahmad Wahab, Ph.D. 

English Language Teaching Department, Tishk International University, Kurdistan Region, Iraq

Email: [email protected] 

Published: February 22, 2023


Private universities mushroomed in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) after 2003. Two overarching goals led to their inception: responding to the high demand for university diplomas and offering the higher educational sector a new educational model. Both these goals emerged because of the increased number of high school graduates and the lack of capacity in and low quality of the existing public universities. The policy framework that allows the private universities to operate in the KRI has shaped them as private businesses in the higher educational sector, the growth of which is associated with the region’s economic and political dynamics. 

By critically analyzing the political, economic, and sociocultural drivers of the private universities in the KRI, this study argues that the KRG’s policy framework for private universities is flawed because it incentivizes an instructional model that will never equip graduates to participate locally and on the international stage. The instructional university has been translated into a business-first model that minimizes cost and maximizes quick profit within a political economy that supports and is supported by powerful economic and political elites. 

Data for this report has been obtained through a desk review of KRG policies and semi-structured interviews with private university students, professors, owners and administrators, political party leaders, KRG policymakers, and private sector businesses in Erbil, Sulaimani, and Duhok. A roundtable discussion that included key stakeholders in the sector was also conducted at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani to support this study. 

Keywords: private university, educational policy, KRG, political economy