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.”
What can the academic community do to help?
We posed this question for our latest edition of IIENetworker, “Supporting Higher Education During Crisis and Recovery,” co-edited by Kaisth and available as a free electronic flipbook. As the collection of articles shows, we can do a lot. Here are a few efforts and recommendations highlighted in the magazine:
1. Advocate and mobilize
Global coalitions and networks like the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) and Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) have brought together academics and institutions to raise awareness about threats to education, elevating the discussion to the highest levels of the United Nations and among several governments taking a leadership role, such as Norway and Germany. In this issue, Norway’s Ambassador to the United States shares about the government’s role leading a consultative process on an international political declaration in support of the “Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use During Armed Conflict.”
2. Conduct research and share best practices
Fulbright alumna Alexa Schmidt notes in her article “Refugee Access to Higher Education” that universities can play a key role in contributing to the much needed data and research to inform policy on supporting higher education in crisis. The University of California, Davis, for example, recently partnered with IIE to produce the first study on the impact of the Syrian refugee crisis on higher education, which revealed an unprecedented proportion of displaced university students and scholars. In his article, IIE’s James King lists 5 recommendations selected from the most recent report on the needs of Syrian university students and scholars in Turkey.
3. Host threatened students and scholars displaced by conflict
The global number of people displaced due to conflict, violence, and crisis is the highest since the Second World War. Universities worldwide play a key role in facilitating access to education on their campuses through targeted scholarships and grants and visa and enrollment support. In this issue, we hear from several U.S. campuses, including from Fanta Aw of American University, about benefits and complexities of providing support. These colleges and universities often partner with NGOs, IGOs, governments, and programs like the IIE Scholar Rescue Fund and Syria Consortium for Higher Education in Crisis to receive additional funding, positive publicity, and vetting support.
4. Form partnerships with host communities
By supporting higher education after armed conflict, international organizations and universities can play a significant role in helping fragile societies succeed. In his discussion about Libya’s post-war challenges, Sansom Milton writes, “Higher education represented a major potential resource that could contribute towards … the process of democratization and civil society development. Many argue that higher education, whether in advanced OECD states or emerging economies, is critical to the long-term health of pluralistic and open societies.”
These efforts often come up against insurmountable challenges, as Milton details in the Libya case, but can also bring many positive outcomes. A few examples featured in this issue include a University of Illinois and Njala University partnership, which boosted agriculture in post-civil-war Sierra Leone and helped prevent a decline in the food security situation due to Ebola, and a partnership with Ball and Kansas State Universities and several universities in Afghanistan, which helped connect Afghanistan’s education sector with its private sector, contributing to growth of a free market economy. Each article emphasizes various ways that partnerships produced valuable research, teaching, and service opportunities in both directions.
Daniela Kaisth notes in her introduction to the magazine, “conflicts and crisis will always occur and students and scholars will be caught in the cross-fire and, often deliberately, targeted for attack.” We at IIE urge the global academic community to work together to replicate and scale up the ideas shared throughout this issue in order to help preserve the lives, voices, and academic work that matter to all.