The number of students has increased dramatically since the fall of the former regime in 2003 and Kurdistan Regional Government has faced a great challenge. The government universities were full and the alternative was private colleges and universities.
Kurdistan’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Researches decreed that final examinations for Dijlah University would be prepared by the ministry instead of the Dijlah University examination board and exams would be supervised by the ministry.
Dijlah University is licensed by Kurdistan’s Ministry of Higher Education. The university opened in 2008 and offers morning and evening classes. The ministry took control of the university after the head of the university disappeared.
Students were angry about this change, and were informed only days before the final exams. The ministry told the students the final exams would constitute 60 percent of their final grade and the other 40 percent would be based on two sets of exams taken during the year.
Some education experts told the Globe there is no rule that authorizes the Ministry of Higher Education to prepare the final exam questions for either private or government-run universities.
“All in all, we do not accept these results. Why did the final examination questions for our university need to be set by the ministry and not the other three private universities, We didn’t see this coming,” a student told the Globe.
“The problem started when the students refused to take the examinations. A delegation from Secretariat of Kurdistan Student Union visited the Ministry of Higher Education and discussed the problem with the officials. They promised to take exams for 60 percent of their final grad and the other 40 percent will be on the first and second exams taken during the year. But they took the exams out of 100 percent. This angered the students. This wasn’t what we had agreed upon,” said Irfan Aziz, secretary of Kurdistan Student Union.
After waiting for their results, students were shocked by their scores. Only 3 percent of students passed the exams. Students decided to protest the decision.
As the exam date neared, 80 percent of the students refused to take the examinations. “We could persuade the students to participate in the final examination round,” said Aziz. Aziz said it doesn’t make sense that only 3 percent of the students passed.
In trying to find a solution, Fuad Ali Ismail, the spokesman of the ministry, said the questions were set by staff in the ministry, but he was not sure how good the evaluation was because of the low numbers of students who passed.
After proclaiming the results, the university board sent an announcement to the ministry and rejected the results.
Hundreds of angry students took to the streets of Erbil, Kurdistan Region’s capital, to protest the decision. Riot guards stood shoulder to shoulder along the route to the ministry, trying to prevent the students from reaching the ministry.
Several students were injured during the protests. Some threw stones at the university, injuring other students.
The demonstration of students ended with violence after the minister refused to speak with the students. “The minister could not talk to them because there are protests every day,” said Director of Private Colleges Dr. Jamal Kamal.
Ministry security guards opened fire to disperse the students and attacked some of the protestors. One of the students injured with gun stock and was taken to hospital.
“We were surrounded by angry students and there was no way to disperse them without firing. The shooting was because of that,” said Dr. Kamal.
Hussein Mahmud Mustafa, who was injured by security guards, returned to the protests later. He said, “We went to the ministry to demand our rights and the minister was not ready to talk to us.”
“We are here to meet the minister but he has hidden himself inside. The security guards hit the students,” said an anonymous student.
Another student said: “The minister always almost talks about improving the quality of the education system and uses big words, but he is not ready to come here to talk to us.”
Brig. Gen. Abdulkhaliq Talat, the Executive Chief of Erbil Police, said a commission has been formed to investigate the incident and find out who opened fire on the students.
“Students are free to take to the streets to demand their rights,” said Aziz. He did not respond the question of whether the final exam will count for 60 or 100 percent of the final grade.
“Students gave the ministry until Sunday to make its mind up. If not, they say they will not be responsible to what might happen,” said an angry student.
Aziz said the Student Union is planning to hold a meeting to discuss the problem next week, but did not give an exact date.
The Higher Education Commission, which consists of all Kurdistan university heads, decided that monthly exams during the academic year will count for 30 to 40 percent of the final grade for the year.
Dr. Kamal said the ministry supervised the exams because the university had lost its independence. So, the students had basically no right to demonstration, but they did anyway. He said there was no other way to disperse the students.