Supporting Tertiary Education in Iraq through Stronger Connections to the Labor Market
BAGHDAD – The World Bank has approved US $5 million for tertiary education in Iraq, its first investment in the sector. The Support to Tertiary Education Project aims to make tertiary education more relevant to the country’s development while addressing climate change and graduate employability.
Iraq’s tertiary education has experienced rapid expansion in recent years, with a 25% increase in enrollment in public universities. However, its overall access among the college-age population is only about 19%, still low in comparison with other countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), e.g., 32% in Tunisia, 34% in Jordan, and 39% in Morocco. Even with its lower participation level, over a quarter of tertiary education graduates are unemployed or inactive in Iraq’s labor market.
Although emerging economic sectors, such as renewable energy, present new job opportunities for appropriately skilled workers, Iraq’s tertiary education sector is not currently prepared to meet such demand. The education sector is unable to keep up with global trends or respond to local or national socio-economic development needs.
“As more youth enter the labor market, Iraq has an opportunity to prepare students for more and better jobs that also contribute to the country’s development priorities,” said Saroj Kumar Jha, World Bank Mashreq Regional Director. “The new project will help Iraq connect its education institutions, particularly at the tertiary level, to those sectors that will enable long-term sustainable economic growth. To achieve these goals, reforms and innovations for improving quality and relevance of education are urgently needed.”
The project will develop greater institutional capacity in key disciplinary areas, matching tertiary education to the labor market by fostering partnerships with the private sector and international institutions. Specifically, the project will support the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research to develop centers of excellence in two priority sectors, agriculture and renewable energy, and encourage innovative approaches to improving graduate employability with a competitive fund pilot program, benefiting ten public universities in the country. Almost half of project funding will go to increasing capacity and training in solar energy and green skills.
During its implementation, the World Bank will also provide technical assistance to support the government’s reform agenda in areas such as quality assurance, financing, graduate labor market surveys, and data improvement.
The Support to Tertiary Education Project is financed under the Iraq Recovery, Reform, and Reconstruction Fund (I3RF). The I3RF was established in partnership with the Government of Iraq in 2018 and is funded by Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Sweden. It provides a platform both for financing and strategic dialogue for development and reconstruction, with a strong focus on targeted reforms and public and private investment in socio-economic recovery. The fund seeks to support the climate change agenda, gender equality, peace building, and citizen engagement.