European Commission’s Erasmus+ Project: Internationalization of Higher Education in Iran
Despite of the large network of private and public universities (approximately 200 higher education institutions) included in the Iranian Higher Education System, Iran has to deal with one of the main challenges in the world of academia: to avoid the academic and research isolation experienced in recent years due to sanctions. Lifting of the sanctions as well as the EU opening its doors to Iranian HEIs through Erasmus+ programmes means a way out of this academic and research isolation.
IHEI is a three-year project co-funded by the European Commission through the Erasmus+ programme to set up appropriate structures (IROs) and harmonise internationalisation practices. This harmonisation should include the sharing of basic and current practices, long established already in countries belonging to the European Higher Education Area, which could facilitate the exchange of students and academic staff, the development of joint projects or other international activities.
To increase the International Relations (IRs) capacities of Iranian HEIs to increase their potential to be more open and reduce barriers for fluid international exchanges.
The consortium (3 EU HEI + 6 Iranian HEIs) will work on strengthening the international dimension of the Iranian HE system via transfer of know-how, management, capacities and good practices, plus developing a network to harmonise internationalisation practices at a national level.
IHEI intends to:
Increase the awareness of barriers for credit recognition and international mobility of students and academic staff;
Increase the awareness of different internationalization strategies and models;
Increase the awareness of different internationalization practices and managerial skills;
Increase cooperation between top-level management staff at a national level on internationalization matters;
Increase the number of international activities of Iranian higher education institutions;
Improve IROs in non-partner higher education institutions………
The project aims to contribute to strengthening the international dimension of the Iranian Higher Education by promoting different reforms, some of the most relevant being the following:
Modernization of 6 IROs of 6 HEIs located in the 5 administrative regions of the Islamic Republic of Iran via updating of IT equipment & capacity building.
These HEIs will disseminate the results of the project in each of the regions with the objective of having an impact at national level and setting-up of the first internationalization network for HEIs in the country.
The Consortium will draft 2 important documents with the aim of having impact at macro and micro level:
a) “White Paper for Credit Recognition & International HE mobility in the Islamic Republic of Iran” to contribute to overcoming one of the main difficulties for internationalization of HE in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
b) “IRO Management Guide in the Islamic Republic of Iran” dealing with the harmonization of international practices at institutional level.
First Roundtable Conference on Internationalization Strategies
The International Relations and Scientific Cooperation Office held the FirstRoundtable Conference on Internationalization Strategies for top-level management and academic staff to discuss University of Kurdistan's internationalization strategies. This roundtable conference is also part of the work plan for the Erasmus+ project entitled Internationalization of Higher Education in Iran. This meeting was intended to offer a good opportunity for participants to put forward their views in this regard and obtain greater support for its internationalization activities.
Second Roundtable Conference on Internationalization Strategies
The International Relations and Scientific Cooperation Office held this 2ndRoundtable Conference on Internationalization Strategies for academic staff and postgraduate students to discuss University of Kurdistan's internationalization strategies. This roundtable conference is also part of the work plan for the Erasmus+ project entitled Internationalization of Higher Education in Iran. This meeting was intended to offer a good opportunity for participants to put forward their views in this regard and learn about European Commission's funding opportunities as well as the IRSC's internationalization activities so far.
IHEI Workshop 5: Fundraising and Project Management – Held at University of Kurdistan
This workshop was hosted by the University of Kurdistan and participants included representatives from the other 5 Iranian universities involved in the IHEI project (Allameh Tabataba'i University, Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, Shiraz University, Shahid Chamran University of Ahvaz, and University of Sistan and Baluchestan,) as well as the workshop provider, University of Alicante. The signed lists of participants are attached. Each university brought between 2 to 5 delegates. On the first day of the three-day workshop, the Chancellor of University of Kurdistan, Dr. Fardin Akhlaghian Tab as well as his advisor and head of public relations, Mr. Mohammed Taaher Hosseini were invited to open the meeting and some academic members. The presence of top level management was felt to be necessary to gather greater support for this internationalization project internally. Other participants included a representative of the Iranian Ministry of Research, Science and Technology, Mr. Davoodinia to ensure the support and involvement of higher education policy makers.
Important background information
In western countries like the UK where "teaching budgets and capital spending continue to be cut and research grants become more selective" (Strategic Fundraising, published by Universities UK, August 2014) fundraising is an important issue. Fundraising strategies are fostered to "sustain and widen research and teaching beyond core funding streams". Public universities in the Islamic Republic of Iran receive and are ensured their budgets from the government. Thus, many institutions do not see the need for the concept of fundraising nor is the concept embedded in institutional strategy. The Iranian Ministry of Higher Education has no formal written directives in regards cutting HEI budgets or fundraising but is encourages higher education institutes to obtain other sources of funding in the form of overseas student fees, international research projects, establishment of foreign university campuses in Iran and establishment of philanthropic foundations. University of Kurdistan has no fundraising policy in the overall university strategy. However, since the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology actively encourages internationalisation and as a result the binding of international research contracts and the acceptance of foreign students are seen as an indirect way that the Ministry is encouraging HEIs to raise funds.
If we define fundraising as "the practice of seeking philanthropic gifts" (Universities UK definition) then this is not a new concept in the Islamic World. The idea of philanthropy is deeply embedded in the Islamic faith and culture. Charity is one of the five pillars of Islam (the other pillars are: belief in God and Prophet Mohammed (p.b.u.h), prayer, fasting in Ramadan and pilgrimage to Mecca) and is considered obligatory as well as an act of piety. Of course charity is not always seen as just material but as human acts too since every Muslim is responsible for other Muslims through the concept of takafful. This does not mean that non-Muslims are excluded from charity. Obligatory charity, zakat, is given to Muslims while sadaqa or voluntary charity can be given to non-Muslims. In addition, the concept of philanthropy in Islam is bound to the concept of social justice where not only are governments seen to be responsible for feeding the poor, housing widows and orphans, healing the sick but both rich and poor Muslims in their own capacities are expected to contribute to such efforts. Thus, this offers a great opportunity for channelling enormous wealth to individuals, organisations, and institutions. How this philanthropy is channelled in the Muslim World varies from country to country. In Iran, philanthropic foundations are in great numbers and Kurdistan Province alone has 68 such foundations. Moreover, a Student Charity Fund was established approximately 25 years ago by a group of the university's academicians and is solely to help students in need. This means that the university and region are open to the idea of philanthropy and needs to tap into this concept more strategically as a fundraising source.
Although the university does not currently have a fundraising policy, it wants to increase overseas student numbers, academic and cultural cooperation through joint research projects, greater links with industry and governmental organisations to "sustain and widen research and teaching beyond" the limitations of funding shortages in the light of its internationalisation plans. Based on the above discussions, fundraising and international project management are important and applicable topics for HEIs in Iran.
29th Annual European Association for International Education (EAIE) Conference and Exhibition
Participation in the 29th Annual European Association for International Education (EAIE) Conference and Exhibition which was held in Seville, Spain on 12-15 September, 2017 was a great opportunity to not only establish new contacts and affirm old ones, but also make the presence of the University of Kurdistan known. This conference was part of the IHEI work plan and attended by representatives of the Iranian universities involved in the IHEI project. The University of Kurdistan was represented by Ms Lamiah Hashemi of the International Relations and Scientific Cooperation Office.
The theme of the conference, "a mosaic of cultures" refers to, as the Conference Conversation Starter states, diversity, multilingualism, multi-ethnicity, multi-nationality and Europe's distinct communities as "individual tiles, with distinguishable borders" which presents "a picture of greater cohesion, if not total unity". Seville itself is a symbol of a mosaic of cultures with its rich history of intermingling of cultures and faiths and therefore the right setting for such a conference and theme.
The four-day conference was attended by 6000 participants from 95 countries, 2500 Higher Education Institutes and 250 exhibitors and thus a great networking opportunity. In addition, such conferences and exhibitions provide information on the latest trends, tools and resources available for universities to internationalize.
Participation of university representatives at international conferences such as EAIE, NAFSA, EURIE and APAIE need support of not only the top-level management of universities as there are financial implications but also ministerial level such as the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology's Centre for International Scientific Cooperation to emphasize their importance and to be the means of transmitting experiences and knowledge to universities in the rest of the country. With prior knowledge and planning, such conferences provide fields of communication for international academic and scientific collaborations.