Iraq Assessment Working Group

Education in Iraq October 17, 2017


This education profile describes Iraq’s education system, and trends in inbound and outbound international student mobility. It includes sample educational documents, and discusses credential evaluation challenges specific to the Iraqi system. 


Iraq is a fast-growing multi-ethnic country of 37.2 million people (2016, World Bank) neighbored by Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Iran, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. The country is home to a variety of ethnic groups, including Arabs (75 to 80 percent of the population), Kurds  (15 to 20 percent), Turkmen, Assyrians, Shabak, and Yazidi (5 percent combined). The most dominant religions are Islam (Sh’ia Islam followed by 55 to 60 percent of the population and Sunni Islam (40 percent).[1] Minority religions include: Christianity, Yazidism, Sabean Mandaeanism, Baha’i faith, Zoroastrianism and others (less than 1 percent combined). The different languages and dialects spoken in the country include the official languages of Arabic and Kurdish, as well a Turkmen, Syriac (Neo-Aramaic), and Armenian, which are considered official languages only in areas populated by these minorities, predominantly located in the north of the country. (CIA World Factbook) Arabic is spoken or understood by the vast majority of Iraqis.


The Higher Education In Iraq Challenges And Recommendations



بعثات وزارة المعارف لسنة 1933


Literacy in Iraq Fact sheet September 2010

Literacy and Non-Formal Education in Iraq


Iraq historically has had high literacy rates. A comprehensive literacy campaign in the 1970s and 1980s helped reduce illiteracy to 20 percent in 1987. However, since then, most adult and non-formal education programmes have stopped, and today illiteracy is widespread with almost 30 percent of the rural population unable to read or write. In Iraq, an estimated five million people are illiterate; this includes 14 percent of school age children currently out-of-school as they have no access to suitable schooling or are obliged to contribute to household income. Overall, 22 percent of the adult population has never attended school, and only nine percent of adults have completed secondary education. Significant gender disparities are also a matter of concern with illiteracy rates reaching higher than 47 percent among women in some areas.

Once proud, Iraq’s schools reel from decades of setbacks

Published online 7 September 2014

Kira Walker

Schools in Iraq continue to struggle, limiting learning opportunities for the country’s youth. Educational indicators show a marked decline as wars, sanctions and sectarian strife have stripped Iraq’s education system of resources.

Eleven-year-old Maryam Bednam from Qaraqosh, Iraq, should have started secondary school this month. Her dream is to become a doctor so she can help people in her community. 

That goal has been put on hold by the latest wave of conflict to hit Iraq. Along with her family, Maryam is now seeking shelter with her family in a hot, crowded tent in the courtyard of Mar Yousef Church in Erbil, capital of the Kurdish region of Iraq. Along with more than one million displaced children in Iraq, Maryam will not be returning to the classroom this year.


Higher education and the future of iraq


Iraq’s  higher  education  sector  has  the  potential  to  play  an  important  role  in overcoming  the  country’s  widening  sectarian  divides  and  fostering  long-term peace and stability. As a leading actor within Iraq’s civil society, it could offer an institutional venue for resolving the country’s political, social, and economic problems  while  promoting  respect  for  human  rights  and  democratic  principles both on campus and in the wider society.• Iraq’s universities flourished in the 1960s and 1970s. However, after the rise of Sad-dam Hussein to power in 1979, they gradually lost their intellectual dynamism and became increasingly politicized in the service of the regime. UN sanctions imposed after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 helped to isolate and impoverish the higher education sector.• 

Universities, many of which were already in poor physical shape, were looted in the chaos that accompanied the invasion of 2003. Hundreds of millions of dollars are needed to rehabilitate campuses, but the budget for higher education is meager and most is earmarked for wages and salaries. Universities have also been hit hard by the violence that has followed the invasion. Hundreds of university professors and administrators have been killed and thousands have fled abroad.

Where they are now: higher education in today’s Iraq

Last updated: April 29, 2013
In addition to its important intellectual contributions during the height of Islamic civilization, Iraq was heralded as a leader in the region for higher education in the earlier stages of Hussein's regime. Today, the post-war factors are complex and sometimes troubling, though not particularly unusual if one considers any survey of a state and its relationship with education.
According to Herbert Davis of George Washington University, who recently led a US government-funded study of Iraqi business schools, Iraq has 59 public and private universities, with 41,000 of 383,000 university students attending private universities. Needless to say, Iraq's public university system is a key player in the country's higher education.
In evaluating the state of Iraq's higher education today, it's essential to bear in mind that an entire generation of academics has fled at some point, either from the Hussein regime or during the most recent war. And while accusations of Ba'ath party biases were made during Hussein's reign, current accusations are flung as the new Shi’ite minority has assumed power and as the country struggles for post-conflict stability, those who work in education still feel vulnerable and targeted.