Iraqi project starved of investment

Terrorism is stopping funds being distributed

A BRITISH project to help rebuild Iraq's further education system is being held back by the failure of aid groups to invest, organisers say.

International aid is being directed to schools and universities at the expense of vocational and technical teaching, said Jo Clough, manager of the Rawabit project, which links UK and Iraqi colleges.

The project started in 2004 after a British Council seminar which showed photographs of a college in Iraq, she explained. "Bombed out buildings, all the looting had happened, but they were still teaching. We just found it so moving and wanted to do something about it.

"But the focus of that discussion was on universities. And most of the aid money, it seems, has been very much targeted at schools and universities, not vocational education. It's things like vocational education which are close to the labour market that can have an immediate impact in helping Iraqis to rebuild their country."

FE Focus reported last month how the Najaf Institute had been inspired by visits to Greenwich College. The Najaf college has been retraining former militiamen for peaceful work. There are now 17 colleges in Iraq working with nine in England.

A spokeswoman for Unesco, the United Nations educational, scientific and cultural organisation, said the threat of violence was preventing aid from being distributed everywhere that it was needed.

"We work with Governments to work out what they should be doing," she said, "and we approach donors and try to mobilise support. But it's very hard.

The problem isn't necessarily money: it's violence. The education system as a whole is being targeted. Nobody can do anything, in Baghdad at least, because of the security situation."

Iraqi-born Ali Hadawi, the former vice-principal at Greenwich and now principal of Southend Adult Community College, said he believed almost every college in the UK would be willing to help.

"There is a huge amount of goodwill," he said. "The project is particularly keen to draw on the experience of colleges in Northern Ireland in dealing with sectarianism."

Iraqis visiting England this week said no other country was helping their colleges in the same way, and the support of lecturers and managers had made a big difference.

Mahmoud Abdulhussain, president of Iraq's Foundation of Technical Education, said: "All the colleges and universities were isolated before because of the dictatorial regime. This has been a great influence on our society.

"The programme in Najaf is a huge one: we are teaching them how to fix cars and air conditioning, using computers, so they have their own work and will be useful to the community.

"Iraq is a rich country. We think in less than four years we will turn back into a donor country. The difficulty is these few years."

Things were improving, he said, with the building of libraries and laboratories for colleges and universities. But the threat of violence remained. "All of society is under threat from terrorism. The object of terrorism is to stop the improvement of the country and part of that is to stop us teaching."

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