Pope Francis travelled recently to the Greek island of Lesbos, where thousands of Syrian refugees are housed in detention centers as they await updates on their asylum applications. The Pope called on people around the world to, “...heed these scenes of tragic and indeed desperate need, and respond in a way worthy of our common humanity.” Beyond the basic human needs of food, water, and shelter, there are also unprecedented educational needs, which IIE has played an active role in addressing. Today, the Syria Consortium is answering this call by encouraging universities to provide scholarships to qualified Syrian students. The IIE Scholar Rescue Fund is offering funding to host institutions that can offer temporary academic positions for Syrian scholars to continue their teaching and research until it’s safe to return home. This work not only has short-term impact by finding placements for many qualified Syrian academics, as well as hundreds of other threatened scholars around the world, but it also has long-term benefits for training teachers and future leaders who will go on to create the educational infrastructure for Syria’s future. As much as the work of supporting refugees is future oriented, it is also a vital part of IIE’s history.
On Friday, April 29th, I sat in the rear of the 12th floor banquet hall at IIE’s New York Headquarters, humbled to be a part of the 2016 Scholar Rescue Fund Forum, "Scholar Voices and University Action." Surrounding me were highly accomplished individuals from education, human rights and government sectors, paired with persecuted scholars from all around the globe, each with a story to tell and a profound determination to make an impactful change.
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.
IIE-SRF’s recently announced partnership with Finland’s Centre for International Mobility (CIMO) is the beginning of a trans-Atlantic cooperation that will better serve scholars from Iraq and Syria displaced from their homes by war and violence. To mark this unique partnership, IIE interviewed CIMO’s Director General, Samu Seitsalo and CIMO’s Head of Unit, Higher Education Cooperation, Maija Airas about their mission, the importance of supporting higher education in emergencies, and what attracted them to the IIE-SRF model.
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.
On October 19th, IIE Scholar Rescue Fund (IIE-SRF) supporters and guests celebrated the art and work of IIE-SRF alumna Jumana Jaber at a reception at IIE’s headquarters in New York City. Dr. Jaber is a Syrian artist and professor of visual art and design whose artwork has been exhibited in Poland, the United States, and Syria, including at the Syrian Ministry of Culture and the National Museum of Damascus. Her portfolio spans architecture, interior design, and the foundations of Islamic art, including pieces that explore the relationship between ancient and contemporary architecture in Syria.
Here in Germany it is clear that they cannot take all refugees traveling their direction, or even all that have already arrived. It is also clear that Angela Merkel is in real trouble for trying, and that the Germans in the higher education space want their country to lead the way in helping.
Daniela Kaisth, Vice President for External Affairs and IIE Initiatives, and I were honored to represent the Institute at a celebration in Berlin for the 90th anniversary of the founding of the German Academic Exchange Service, or DAAD.
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.”
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.