Students deemed 'walking advertisements'

Failure not an option at many private Iraqi colleges

BAGHDAD, January 23 —  Do students ever fail at private universities? Professors at private colleges say it’s rare, with students acting as “walking advertisements” for these profitable institutions.

Iraq has 70 recognized private universities, according to the Ministry of Higher Education’s website. These include over 570 departments spanning fields like medicine, engineering, and media studies.

The country has roughly half the number of public universities as it does private ones, though government-run institutions are usually far larger.

Officials from four private universities – Al-Farahidi, Al-Turath, Al-Farabi, and Al-Esraa – refused to respond to 964media’s inquiries about failure rates in recent years, often claiming that such data was “currently unavailable.”

Some private universities, however, openly share detailed success rate statistics, divided into categories like good, very good, and excellent. For example, Al-Maqal University in Basra claims on its website that its failure rate is “zero.”

A lecturer at Al-Turath University told 964media: “Failures in private colleges are rare and limited to exceptional cases. There’s a widespread belief that the student, as the university’s main source of income and advertising, should not be blamed or reprimanded, much less failed.”

Success rates depend on the college’s field and specialization, often surpassing those of government colleges. The quality of teaching in private colleges is high, attracting more skilled professors with salaries to match: “It’s undeniable that many private institutions have standout teaching and professors, partly due to higher salaries than in the public sector.

“Private colleges are increasingly becoming social and recreational hubs. They’re seen as elite, places to showcase luxury cars and high-end brands, which in turn enhances the institution’s image.”

An Al-Nisour University lecturer says outcomes are perceived by prospective students as preordained: “In private colleges, student failure is virtually nonexistent. Students are aware from admission that they will graduate.

“Administrations often rationalize their actions by emphasizing the student body’s role as the college’s financial backbone and reason for existence, including the continued employment of faculty.”

Curricula are intentionally simplified, the lecturer said, with struggling students still advancing.

At many private colleges, if a student fails one or two subjects, grades are often adjusted to allow progression. Some institutions set a minimum GPA of 20 out of 40. The lowest exam score recorded is usually 25 out of 60.

“Success rates are near 100 percent for humanities and 95 percent for sciences, with ‘stricter’ grading in the latter.”

Students often choose private colleges for assured success and access to courses unattainable in government institutions.

Educational researcher Haider Al-Mousawi says government policy is a factor: “The growth in private universities stems from the government’s halt in establishing new public institutions, despite increasing student numbers. This has spurred investors to open more private colleges.

Public universities are far more selective than private ones, especially for in-demand courses. But Logistics also play a role in private outfits attracting prospective undergraduates: “Students often opt for nearby private colleges instead of moving to faraway towns to attend public universities, considering the additional costs of transport, lodging, and living expenses.

“Given the current Iraqi government’s openness to private education, I foresee a bright future for private colleges,” Al-Mousawi says, ending on a positive note.

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