If not oil, then what?

The Kurdish Globe - - NEWS - By Luke Cole­man

Last week I ap­proached the no­tion of tourism as a sec­ondary or ter­tiary in­dus­try ca­pa­ble of at­tract­ing in­vest­ment and in­come to the Kur­dis­tan re­gion. Of course it’s un­likely that it would be­come so large as to ex­pect any pri­vate sec­tor worker not in­volved in oil to be wear­ing an an­i­mal cos­tume while goof­ing for pho­tos or sell­ing tick­ets and dreams. A sound econ­omy will re­quire di­ver­sity through in­no­va­tion and en­trepreneur­ship. With such a heavy re­liance on im­ported prod­ucts, one would hope that the op­por­tu­ni­ties are legion and that those in a po­si­tion to seize the chances are ready. Surely, with so many re­turnees bring­ing skills, wealth and un­der­stand­ing back with them, businesses should be spring­ing up to serve a myr­iad of sec­tors. How­ever, out­side of the more cu­ri­ous such as os­trich farm­ing and the com­pletely es­sen­tial like the dairy equiv­a­lent, it’s not ob­vi­ous if there is much bub­bling away un­der the sur­face. How­ever, as a teacher, there is one ray of hope that I en­counter al­most daily. The best grad­u­ates from the best uni­ver­si­ties in the re­gion are able to ap­ply for the Hu­man Ca­pac­ity De­vel­op­ment Pro­gram (HCDP) grant, a gen­er­ous schol­ar­ship that sends the best minds to uni­ver­si­ties all around the world – to places you’d ex­pect like the UK, USA, Malaysia and Aus­tralia as well as some less im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent coun­tries; China and Korea amongst many oth­ers. My job in the process is to teach stu­dents English up to the re­quired level of their univer­sity of­fer (and coach them in exam prepa­ra­tion), whilst the Er­bil Min­istry of Higher Ed­u­ca­tion fi­nan­cially as­sists in the de­vel­op­ment of ‘a highly skilled young gen­er­a­tion in var­i­ous fields of sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy with­out whom Kur­dis­tan can­not progress.’

This is not as sim­ple as it at first seems. For­eign in­sti­tu­tions will take only those qual­i­fied into their Masters or Doc­tor­ate cour­ses, and Kur­dis­tan’s uni­ver­si­ties have had to step up to the mark in pro­vid­ing ad­e­quate ed­u­ca­tion in Bach­e­lor’s pro­grams. This has been achieved with the help of var­i­ous uni­ver­si­ties con­sult­ing in the re­gion, and of course ma­jor in­ter­na­tional uni­ver­si­ties es­tab­lish­ing them­selves, no­tably the Amer­i­can Univer­sity in Iraq (Su­la­maniyah) or AUI-S. Nat­u­rally, once stu­dents have com­pleted their fur­ther (so­cial and aca­demic) ed­u­ca­tion abroad, they are ex­pected to re­turn and con­trib­ute to the Kur­dish econ­omy. And there’s the rub. With­out a con­tin­u­a­tion and ex­ten­sion of the cur­rent pol­icy of trade shows and mis­sions to en­cour­age a vi­brant, strong and grow­ing pri­vate sec­tor, there sim­ply won’t be the jobs here to re­tain the very best of the best. It can’t be ex­pected of ev­ery new Masters grad­u­ate to be­come an en­tre­pre­neur. But there are seeds from which a strong tree can grow, given the cor­rect in­cen­tives for busi­ness.

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