Last week, the British Council held its annual "Going Global" conference for the first time in Africa. It was a good opportunity for all of us to meet with colleagues who bring different perspectives on the most urgent challenges facing higher education today. An IIE team member, Caitlin McNamara, who works on the Fulbright Scholar program, had an IIE Traveling Fellowship to attend and present a poster session on the impact of the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program. I was invited to offer some perspective on the role of higher education in today's refugee crisis on a panel with European and Lebanese colleagues. In war zones, and in crisis zones under repressive regimes, the international community often thinks first of humanitarian aid, providing food, shelter, and medicine to displaced persons and others. Education usually comes last. At IIE, we have been working to help students and scholars in crisis, so I welcomed the chance to join this conversation.
The conflict in Syria has become the 21st century’s worst humanitarian crisis. The numbers are staggering:
- Over 300,000 killed
- close to 4.5 million refugees
- more than 9 million internally displaced peoples
Combined, that’s over half of Syria’s pre-war population.
Tuesday, December 1, 2015
The Institute of International Education (IIE) recently released new Open Doors data showing that the number of international students coming to the United States had jumped by 10 per cent to total almost 1 million students from more than 200 countries.
Zina Ammar grew up in Gafsa, Tunisia, where she learned how to make the region’s famous Margoum carpets from the women in her family. Zina eventually started her own carpet-making business, but her lack of confidence and business skills limited her success. Hoping to grow her business, Zina enrolled in Leadership, Entrepreneurship and Financial Education trainings at the Women's Enterprise for Sustainability (WES) Center for Women’s Business Development in her community.
Chadleya Idriss began making toys for her children using recycled wood, which was “safer, more environmentally friendly, and more affordable than store-bought toys,” she explains. Chadleya went to the WES Center for Women’s Business Development in Kairouan, Tunisia, with a dream of starting a toy business. She participated in the WES entrepreneurship training and worked closely with the WES Center staff to conduct market research on the local toy industry. Last November, Chadleya launched her new business, Toy Story.
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.