Displaced young Iraqis whose education was halted by the Islamic State’s violent seizure of territory are receiving a vital opportunity to catch up academically and train for professional life, thanks to the local Catholic archdiocese and charitable donations.
The Catholic University of Erbil (CUE) opened in October 2016 with around 250 students and, unusually for the region, a majority are non-Muslims and women. Stephen Rasche, the university’s vice-chancellor, said the student body was mainly comprised of Christians, but there were also Yazidis and Muslims enrolled.
The new Catholic University of Erbil seeks to create a diverse and inclusive community, already the campus has more female than male students. He said the university’s primary focus was on young people who have been displaced by the jihadist violence in northern Iraq, and whose education has suffered as a result. When non-Muslims were chased out of their homes in the Nineveh Plains in 2014, many were accommodated in tents. They were forced to leave behind homes, land, jobs and education.
A statement on the university’s website explains, “CUE seeks to prepare leaders who are ethically, conscientiously, and administratively prepared to serve society and the common interest . . . CUE actively teaches tolerance and acceptance of others. It welcomes students from all faiths, and the teaching and administrative staff come from various traditions and religious backgrounds.” Speaking in London last week, Mr Rasche added that the university’s gender imbalance, which is about 60 per cent female and 40 per cent male, was “intentionally sought after, because it’s a critical thing, the education and treatment of women in the Middle East”.
Unlike most other Iraqi universities, instruction is carried out in English, and the first year is a remedial year to focus on language study.
Mr Rasche said their goal is to have around 500 students per year, “teaching as close to a Catholic liberal arts education as we can, within the context of a Muslim country that’s Islamic by law.” Courses and books have to be approved by the Ministry of Higher Education, he said, and to be approved, university officials have to demonstrate that the courses are not being offered at another institution and that there is a need for them. “It’s an uphill climb,” he said.
Mr Rasche with the Archbishop of Erbil, Bashar Warda, whose diocese has been caring for thousands of displaced families
The university has so far been funded by charitable donations from various Christian organizations around the world. Its founders, including the Archbishop of Erbil, Bashar Warda, will draw on the experience of the university in Baghdad that was founded by Jesuit priests, to see “what can be possible,” he said. That institution attracted students from many faith backgrounds before it was nationalized under the Baathists in the 1960s. A Jesuit priest will join the new university’s staff.
At the opening ceremony in December, Archbishop Warda said the university symbolized Iraqi Christians’ determination to remain in their home country despite recent years of violence.
“The university is a message to those who want us thrown out of the circle of history. It means we are staying because we are deeply rooted in this soil for thousands of years,” he said.
Our Father, Iraqi people who have been displaced by the Jihadist opposition have suffered much over the last some years. And You heard the cry of their hearts and sustained them during those dark years. We pray for those who have had to set aside their education during this time and give thanks for the opportunity before them now to complete it. Pour out Your blessing, Lord, on the faculty and administrators as they work to provide quality education for their students and train them up to be a part of rebuilding of life in Northern Iraq. In the name of Jesus who hears our cries and answers. Amen.
Source: World Watch Monitor