Palacký University in Olomouc has opened its own campus in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. The university currently offers a course in petroleum engineering within its life-long learning programme and hopes to extend its activities by up to six regular BA courses in the future. I spoke to Martin Kudláček, Palacký University’s Vice-Rector for International Relations, and I first asked him how the project was initiated:
“We were approached by investors from Erbil who would like to establish an international campus. They have a vision to create a campus that they call Czech Academic City and they would like to bring Czech universities to join and offer European-quality university degree programmes in Erbil.
“The region is not very developed but there is a great thirst of knowledge. The Kurdish people have experienced many years of oppression and wars and now they are ready to start working hard and developing their society and we are ready to help them with that.”
So what courses do you currently offer and who are they aimed for?
“So we are now providing the course in life-long learning which focuses on petroleum engineering. And these courses are geology, chemistry, math and geoinformatics, so they are the courses that will be needed for a BA programme. So it is aimed at local people who are interested in petroleum engineering.”
What kind of interest have you seen in this programme so far?
“There is a growing interest. It took us a while to obtain a licence to be able to teach and carry out our education activities in Erbil. Currently we have a little over 30 students in this study programme and many more students are interested for the future.
“So if the region remains stable, there is a vision to build a campus for up to 5,000 students.”
In what way will the Palacký University benefit from such a project?
“There are multiple ways how we benefit. First of all we would like to invest in the development of the Kurdish region. So there is no direct added value for the Palacký University from that. We just believe it is the right thing to do.
“But we will also benefit from that. According to Czech legislation, we are charging for those life-long learning and degree programmes so we will also receive some funding from the students.
“Also the number of international students is counted as an indicator of quality according to the Czech benchmarking system and last but not least, we can we can prepare students for future masters or doctoral study programmes that they can study in Olomouc after completing their BA study programme in Erbil.”
Finally, have you been dealing with security issue with regard to recent developments in the US-Iran relations?
“We were with our rector, Professor Miller, in Erbil the day the Iranian rockets were shot there. Luckily no rocket exploded in the city, but still there is growing tension.
“So we are closely cooperating with the Consulate General and we are ready to move our people out of Erbil if the situation would require it. But according to the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the current situation is stable and it is safe to operate our educational activities in Erbil.”