Dr Nahro Zagros is from Kurdistan; he was born in the Kurdish Region in Northern Iraq. He left there in the troubles with Saddam and settled in Hull, UK in 2000 – a place that he calls a home from home. Last year, Nahro returned to live in Kurdistan and is now the Director of Curriculum and International Partnerships at Soran University. Rob Bell caught up with him in Hull last week.
Q1. Tell us about Kurdistan and what skills mean to the economy. There are 30 million Kurds – but there is no UN recognised State. The Kurdish people live in the regions of Turkey; Syria; Iraq and, Iran. There is a significant diaspora – over live overseas. By the way, the Transformational Logistics Blog – that you write, Rob – has an excellent summary of the position.
We can talk about the economy; the key industries such as oil and construction and, even the traditional industries like carpets – the US imports over $2.5 billion every year from cottage based producers (not much from Kurdistan). It all boils down to skills. We just do not have enough. We need help to close the gap – a good skills base will be the platform for sustainable growth.
Q2. What is your role at Soran University? I lead the team developing the curriculum and, building our International partnerships. One big area for me is the Capacity Building Programme – right now, we have eight Universities but we need to improve them. The Government has set up a scheme to send students overseas. At Soran, we have 165 students overseas (145 in the UK) – all studying MScs and PhDs. We are expanding this programme and my job is to look for the best partners – ones that are committed to the vision we have for growth.
Q3. How is the job going? This is an exciting role and I am delighted to say that recently we have signed partnership agreements with Plymouth University – they will be helping us on English Language Skills. This is very important because inside two years ALL our courses will be taught through English. Also, we have signed an agreement with Huddersfield University – this is all about entrepreneurship. We have signed other agreements in the USA and others are in the pipeline. We can’t do this on our own and so, we are looking for ways in which we can strengthen Soran as a key player in Education in Kurdistan.
Q4. Wider than Soran University, what do you see to be the skills agenda in Kurdistan? I am working at Soran and the focus is on building the Faculties and, expanding the Capacity Building Programme. We will be sending more students overseas. However, you are asking me to look at Kurdistan in general. We need skills everywhere but, I’d highlight three areas:
• Oil & Gas. In 2009, the Iraq Oil industry was worth $41 billion – with a significant percentage in the Kurdish Region. In fact, Iraq has about 10 per cent of the world’s proven oil reserves. Mind you, we are far from the peak of 4 m barrels back in the 1970s. In terms of skills – we need a lot of help. The target is to reach 17 million barrels by 2017.
• Construction. Kurdistan is developing fast. I was talking to Richard Scott, of Surface Architects (London and Hull) the other day, and he was telling me that Erbil – the capital city – is the fastest growing city in the Middle East. There is an awful lot of building going on.
• Manufacturing. We need to build up our capability in this area. Components for the oil and gas industry will have to be made. This means all sorts of basic operational skills.
• Traditional industries. We can’t forget Kurdish roots. In fact, tourism could be a massive industry for us. Your Transformational Logistics team is looking at the carpet industry. This is a terrific idea. After all, most people think that traditional rugs come from Iran or Turkey or Afghanistan. In fact – a lot of these carpets come from Kurdish villages within these countries. We need to do far more on branding and skills. After all, as you point out elsewhere, the Chinese are starting to dominate the industry – they use industrial looms and copy traditional designs exactly. We don’t have the skills to compete.
Q5. What do you think the UK can help Kurdistan? That’s a big question with a huge answer – hopefully. This interview is about skills capacity building so, I’ll focus that. We are sending students overseas and we’ve covered that but, I see the need for a massive injection of vocational skills as well. For example, on my last trip Archomai took me to the Simulation and Simulator unit at the University of Hull Logistics Institute. This was very impressive – simulators on trucks; cranes and earth moving equipment. This is the sort of thing that is needed. In fact, we could use more innovation in training in other areas – more video conferencing to mentor small businesses and individual students would be terrific. And finally, we should look hard at all forms of accreditation – we need to work to International standards and the UK is well known for this. Again, Archomai are helping us to find the right partners.
Q6. Nahro, you seem to have a huge affection for the UK. You have many strings to his bow; an accomplished violinist, you are an expert on Kurdish and Armenian music and very versatile – you’ve played at the Berlin Philharmonic, Hull Truck Theatre and local Hull pubs like Pave. Tell us more. I came to this country in difficult circumstances. I had to leave – for political reasons and, when I set off I had no idea where I was going. Most Kurdish refugees were ending up in Sweden or Germany. I ended up in Hull. I remember someone saying to me in Dover – “You’re off to Hull. Not the best place!” How wrong they were. Hull has been welcoming and hugely supportive. It is my home from home and, like other Kurds who live there, we are all determined that Hull can play a role in building back our country – we have had years of war.
What I mean by this is that Kurdistan needs skills and equipment for the oil industry; it needs the same for construction – Erbil, our capital, is the fastest growing city in the Middle East! If Plymouth, Huddersfield and other cities can make the trip – and come away with big orders – why can’t Hull business do the same? This is why we have been working with Archomai – we need to know what is out there and how we can build our skills capacity.
Note: Archomai are planning a public session to discuss opportunities in Kurdistan with Nahro and others on his next trip to the UK.