How Lancaster University is providing practical support to help rebuild Mosul University

22 November 2018 08:43
Damaged buildings on Mosul University's campus
Damaged buildings on Mosul University's campus

The University of Mosul in Iraq has experienced a ‘dark age’ but is now rising into the light, according to a Senior Lecturer, who, this week, thanked Lancaster University academics for their invaluable help.

Mosul University was closed down by ISIS in 2014 and used as a base for the terrorist organisation.

During the liberation of the city in 2016, the university was heavily bombed and numerous buildings and resources were destroyed. 

Thanks to voluntary efforts by students and staff and aid from the local and international communities, Mosul University is up and running again, although not in the best of conditions.

“There is a strong need and an immense will to rebuild both structurally and academically,” says Dr Ashraf Al-Allaf, who, this week, urged the international education community to keep the help coming.

“We want to put Mosul back on the map and our academic staff in particular are especially keen on reintegrating themselves into the international academic community.

“We feel the need to update our knowledge and catch up with current research trends so that we can transfer them to our students.”

Dr Al-Allaf added that staff in the English Language Department, at the College of Arts, had been extremely encouraged when they contacted staff at Lancaster University via a mutual contact to ask for help in reviving the study of English and Linguistics.

Professors Tony McEnery and Elena Semino, from Lancaster’s Economic and Social Research Council-funded Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science (CASS) and the Department of Linguistics and English Language, immediately rallied to the cause and offered a carefully thought out toolkit of practical support from which the Mosul University team were able to select what best supported their needs.

CASS have provided valuable insights into the understanding of language by using computers to analyse billions of words - in many languages in both writing and speech - for the past 40 years.

The list of help that has been offered includes video-conferencing mentoring with both staff and students, group supervision for dissertation topics, support by skype for PhD students and spreading the word in the wider academic community to follow suit.

Professors McEnery and Semino also encouraged the Mosul team to take up Lancaster’s highly popular and free massive open online course (MOOC) in Corpus Linguistics run in conjunction with FutureLearn.

The eight-week course teaches participants how to use corpus linguistic methods to analyse large linguistic datasets. It combines lectures and hands-on tutorials with tasks and self-assessments. A team of Lancaster specialists lead the tutorials and provide mentoring and additional material.

Dr Al-Allaf said: “Courses like this provide us with exactly what is needed when it comes to modern approaches to research and tools for data collection and analysis. With the limited resources we have, we are doing our best to engage with the course.”

He added “We would like to take this opportunity to extend this message to the larger academic community, not only for recognition, but also for any other such opportunities whether in the form of training, joint research interest or even study and staff exchange opportunities. We would love to hear from you, even if it was just to say hello!”

Lead tutor and Distinguished Professor of English Language and Linguistics at Lancaster University Professor McEnery said: “All the MOOC tools and the use of the corpora are free and easily installed on available computers – the MOOC has opened doors to people who would not normally be able to access anything like this.”

Professor Semino added: “The team at the University of Mosul are working in conditions that we cannot even imagine. The staff and students are exceptionally enterprising and enthusiastic and we will do everything we can to help them. They know that we are rooting for them, and that we are there for advice, while they rebuild the infrastructure.

“Once it is officially declared safe to travel to Iraq we will be going to Mosul.”

The University of Mosul, one of the largest and finest public education and research establishments in the Middle East, has a student population of more than 30,000. It offers accredited Bachelors, Masters and Doctoral degrees in a broad range of academic fields across 23 colleges, including more than 120 academic departments.

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