Supporting Academics in Conflict: A Conversation with Finland’s Centre for International Mobility

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.

What is CIMO’s mission?

CIMO was established by parliament act in 1991. The idea was to collect internationalization services for education under one roof. The target group has grown since then, but the idea remains the same i.e. our main purpose is to serve internationalization of society, especially in the field of education. Our vision or dream—as we call it—is a Genuinely Global-Minded Finland.

Given CIMO’s general mission, what led you to consider supporting academics from areas of conflict? Why focus on Syria and Iraq?

We have been looking for possible ways to support higher education in emergencies, especially Syria and the region, together with the international community. As a part of the humanitarian response, it is also important to channel support to academia in the region suffering from the crisis.

How did you learn about IIE-SRF?

As we both are members of the Academic Cooperation Association (ACA), IIE is an organization whose activities we at CIMO closely follow. First contact with colleagues in the IIE Scholar Rescue Fund was made in summer 2014 during our feasibility study for a potential scholarship program for undergraduate students from Syria.

What about the IIE-SRF model compelled CIMO to pursue this partnership?

In the end there were many good reasons for this partnership from our perspective. IIE-SRF provides access to qualified and pre-screened candidates and offers an excellent support structure. We also highly value the flexibility of the conditions for a partnership.

What is the significance of the trans-Atlantic nature of the partnership between the government of Finland and a U.S.-based organization?

The trans-Atlantic nature of the partnership is very important to us. It is one of our geographical priorities and we are interested in increasing cooperation between higher education institutions in Finland and the USA. We feel that there is a good possibility of finding other ways for CIMO and IIE to cooperate.

What do you hope will be the result of this partnership?

Given that the practical target of hosting post-doctoral level scholars in Finland is reached in the coming years, we hope we will be able to support individual academics from Syria and Iraq in pursuing their academic career and contributing to the wider academic community in Finland. In the long run, we hope to be able to contribute to the capacity building of higher education in Syria and the region by creating long-lasting networks between IIE-SRF fellows and the higher education community in Finland.

Given that many other countries may want to take action during the Syrian and Iraqi crises, but may not know how, do you believe this model is viable for other countries?

Of course. We are ready and willing to share our experiences as they grow.