Our experience suggests that fragile states cannot succeed without major investments in higher education. Accordingly, neglecting academic needs during and after armed conflict raises the risk of failure once peace is restored—with security implications for the rest of the world. As noted by IIE Vice President Daniela Kaisth, “there is widespread recognition that education at all levels must be protected during war for the vital role it plays in preserving leadership, stabilizing societies, and once conflict subsides, rebuilding peaceful and prosperous communities.”
Senator J. William Fulbright was a Rhodes Scholar, and the experience gave him the idea that more Americans ought to have the opportunity to study abroad. We know where that led, of course.
You probably have never heard of the Global Platform for Syrian Students. I hadn’t heard of them either until about two years ago when the President of Carnegie Corporation of New York, Dr. Vartan Gregorian, introduced us.
It was a real lesson in globalization. The airplane announcement went something like this:
"The local authorities have asked us to spray the cabin to prevent the spread of disease by mosquitos. Please do not breathe in if you are allergic to spraying. And due to the recent outbreaks of Ebola, MERS, H1N1, and bird flu, please report to local authorities upon landing if you have any of the following symptoms: ..." You can imagine the list.
“Thank God we’re alive, but we are dying an intellectual death.”
Wearing a colorful headscarf and a seemingly permanent look of sorrow, an intense and charismatic professor I’ll call Noora shared with me her tragic story of fleeing Syria and becoming a refugee. I was in Reyhanlı, a dusty border town in Turkey’s southernmost province, to meet with Syrians whose university education and academic work had been interrupted indefinitely due to the conflict in their homeland. Among the more than three million Syrian refugees, including an estimated one million in Turkey, there are tens of thousands of university students and professors.
Doing our best to ignore the rumbling of military tanks outside a Beirut classroom, we listened as a group of Syrian university students shared with us how they had fled their homes and studies in Syria and were struggling to continue their education in Lebanon.
The occupants of seats 15A and B are an Iranian boxing champion and his photographer. Between the three of us (I am in 15C) we have just about that number of words in common. "Doctor" is one of them after the photographer fainted.
The crisis in Syria has created an academic emergency, with the break-down of higher education within the country and major obstacles facing Syrians who are studying or teaching outside of Syria. This week’s violent attacks on the University of Aleppo have underscored the need for urgent action to save the students and scholars who will be needed to rebuild their country. IIE’s Scholar Rescue Fund has been helping scholars from Syria to enable them to continue their work at safe haven universities around the world. Today, we joined with the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics (CARA) and the Scholars at Risk Network (SAR) to issue a joint statement condeming the attacks on the University of Aleppo.
On Friday night here in NYC, I attended the first Gala dinner of a group called Jusoor. Arabic for “bridges,” Jusoor aims to build a more peaceful and prosperous Syria by connecting the 20 million people in Syria with the 20 million people in the Syrian diaspora throughout the world. Like IIE, their focus is education.