Why We Rescue Students and Scholars: IIE’s Century of Emergency Support

By Allan E. Goodman, President & CEO, IIE

Almost everyone can think back to that one outstanding professor, tough-but-fair teacher, or brilliant faculty member whose work inspired you to become who you are today. Chances are, they didn’t just inspire you, but touched the lives of hundreds – or thousands – of students who would go on to become decision-makers, activists, frontline workers, and global citizens, passing the pursuit of higher learning to generation after generation. Education is a powerful gift that has compounding effects on individuals, families, and entire societies. Those who have been displaced or are facing persecution and can no longer teach, perform research, or participate in higher education are not only at risk as individuals, but carry the weight of the many lives they could have touched and knowledge they could have shared with the world. Supporting displaced, refugee, and persecuted students and scholars is one of the most pressing issues of our time and has been at the core of IIE’s mission since our founding in 1919.

In 1920, leaders of the newly founded IIE launched an initiative to help more than 600 Russian university students and scholars in the crossfire of the Bolshevik Revolution reach safety in Europe and the United States. IIE’s Emergency Committee in Aid of Foreign Scholars assisted more than 300 educators and researchers from across Europe from 1933-1945, among whom were eventual Nobel Prize winners and central figures in culture, science, and society. Displaced students and scholars during major 20th century conflicts such as the Spanish Civil War, World War II, and the Hungarian Revolution were also supported by IIE.

The 21st century proved no less turbulent and in 2002, IIE launched the Scholar Rescue Fund (IIE-SRF), IIE’s signature effort to save the lives and academic careers of threatened and displaced professors, researchers, and public intellectuals. Since its inception, IIE-SRF has supported over 900 scholars from 60 countries, providing more than $33 million in grants, and working with hundreds of partner institutions around the world who host the scholars. The IIE Emergency Student Fund (IIE ESF), started in 2010, provides grants to international students in the United States impacted by crises in their home countries, and the IIE Artist Protection Fund (IIE-APF) connects threatened artists with safe havens for continuing their work.

Throughout our century-long history of supporting displaced students and scholars, IIE has developed a deep understanding of the unique challenges of these populations, and has leveraged technology, our global offices, and partners in addressing these needs in innovative ways. When we started the IIE Platform for Education in Emergencies Response (IIE PEER), an online clearinghouse for displaced and refugee students to connect with educational opportunities, a key priority was making it mobile-ready for users who would not have access to a computer. The IIE Refugee EdTech Program – edX MicroMasters® meets refugee and displaced students wherever they are in the world by providing access to advanced education online via edX. The Julia Stasch – IIE Scholarship for Refugees leveraged the power – and partnership – of community colleges in the Chicago region to help resettled refugees complete an associate’s degree. And this week, utilizing our global footprint, IIE is launching a new scholarship for refugees or displaced students in Latin America, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Sub-Saharan Africa through the IIE Journey Scholarship.

If this reads like a history lesson it’s because it is. People have been displaced for centuries and, sadly, will continue to be. On World Refugee Day, IIE is as committed as ever to raising awareness about and supporting the millions of refugee and displaced persons around the world.