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.
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.
In the middle of June, when the team at the IIE Scholar Rescue Fund realized we were facing a third Iraq emergency—as well as requests for help from scholars in many other parts of the world—Senator Leahy of Vermont reminded us why we do this work. He told the story of a man walking along a beach where many starfish had washed ashore. The man was picking them up one by one and tossing them back into the ocean. A passerby noted that there were many hundreds and that the effort was pretty much futile. “Not to the one I just managed to throw back,” replied the man.
“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.
Donors regularly ask how their contributions to the Institute advance our mission, impact individuals in need worldwide, and achieve results. This is especially true when we issue our annual appeal for unrestricted gifts.
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.
University budgets for the humanities just about everywhere are declining or the first to be cut. So when a donor—let alone two—want to contribute to rescuing scholars in the arts, I take notice. So thank you to two Institute trustees, Robert L. Dilenschneider and Mark A. Angelson, who have created the new Janet Hennessey Dilenschneider Scholar Rescue Award in the Arts in the IIE-Scholar Rescue Fund to save the lives and work of scholars in the arts.
A scholar from Afghanistan who is on the IIE Scholar Rescue Fund (SRF) fellowship sent the Institute the following piece about education in his country. For the last 60 years, it has been a see-saw ride for higher education in Afghanistan. However, the data proves that the news is not all bad. In fact, educational opportunities have increased, especially for girls and women.