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Syria’s Academic Exiles Tell Their Stories

Researchers have much to contribute to the study of law, education, engineering and healthcare, suggests new collection


A new collection showcases the stories and research of seven Syrian academics who have been able to start rebuilding their careers in exile. Syrian Academics in Exile, edited by Paul O’Keeffe and Zsuzsanna Pásztor, is a special online publication by New Research Voices: International Journal of Research from the Front-line. 

Unlike many countries suffering a major humanitarian crisis, Syria had “a quite strong and accessible higher education system prior to the war”, James King, the assistant director of the New York-based Institute of International Education’s Scholar Rescue Fund, explains in an interview. Yet today, leading institutions are “not operating at all or…at limited capacity”; they are allowed to hire only faculty who have completed their military service; exams have to be rescheduled for weeks because of bombing; and perhaps 1,500 or 2,000 professors have now become refugees. Although the IIE-SRF has “supported more than 600 scholars from 55 countries”, continues Mr King, its “work has been dominated by Syria” since late 2014. Yet while its one- and two-year fellowships can offer a lifeline to scholars seeking to rebuild careers in neighbouring countries or across the globe, the obstacles remain overwhelming.“As hundreds of thousands of Syrians seeking refuge make their way to our shores,” the editors of Syrian Academics in Exile note in their introduction, “migration systems are collapsing, border fences are shooting up and far right ideologies which demonise all migrants are gaining ground.”

Their collection is specifically designed to “serve as a reminder of the variety of Syrian academic expertise that exists around the world and offer a window into the wide variety of research being carried out by scholars in exile, not only in the social sciences, but also in other natural and applied sciences, e.g. engineering, healthcare, philosophy and in many interdisciplinary fields”.

Topics covered range from the “difficulties of refugee education in Lebanon” to “sexuality and lesbian subjectivity in contemporary Arab literature” and the role of data analytics in “improv[ing] modern healthcare services and online education performance”. Each of the scholars is also interviewed about their experiences in Syria, their life in exile and their hopes for the future.

Agronomist Ahmad Sadiddin, now in the second year of an IIE-SRF fellowship at the University of Florence, for example, describes how he fled Syria after being “regarded as a suspect [by his] commanders” during military service in 2010, who “preferred to keep [him] in the barracks and under their control”.Yet he hopes that what he is learning abroad may yet “help to open a kind of dialogue in the country…one day this exile experience may turn out to become an enrichment to the Syria of the future”.

The volume concludes with an overview of the Jamiya Project, which “aims to reconnect Syrian students with their higher education while in exile”, with a view to “preventing the loss of an entire generation of education”.


Supporting Academics in Exile Nearby is Key to Future


A New Approach to Realize Higher Education’s Development Potential for Syrian Refugees – Editorial 6/5/2016

Education has long been recognized as a central driver of development. With the advent of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, its importance has now been amplified to include the role of lifelong learning in addition to primary and secondary education in the global community’s development arsenal. Higher education can and does offer a better future for societies that embrace its development potential.

As higher education claims its place among the international mechanisms put forward to achieve better and deeper development, it is important to acknowledge that it has a long history of helping societies strive for a better future. From the influence of German and French scholars arriving at New York’s New School in the 1930s and ‘40s to the central role that higher education played in Europe’s postwar development success, higher education has proved itself to be a force for shaping the world for the better.

In addition to its development function, higher education can also provide a solution for resolving some of the world’s most important crises. War and poverty may be an almost unstoppable force disrupting the lives of millions and impeding human progress, but higher education has the power to overcome this and put the lives of millions back on course. In connection with the Syrian crisis, there has been a growing realization among the international development community that higher education offers a real and lasting solution to the destruction that has blighted the lives of millions of Syrians. With millions having fled to the West, universities are beginning to offer more places to refugees in a concerted effort to utilize higher education to integrate new citizens and equip a new generation with the skills and knowledge that will be needed to rebuild the country. In Germany alone, 3 out of 4 universities have applied to take part in a 100 million pound ($145 million) ministry fund to encourage the integration of refugees into the higher education system

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