Regional initiatives allow Cara to provide innovative and effective support to academics who are working on in their country despite the risks, or who have been forced into exile nearby.
The 2003 coalition invasion of Iraq, and the insecurity that followed, resulted in around 40 percent of the pre-2003 university faculty cohort being internally displaced or forced into exile. An assassination campaign in Iraq, targeting prominent academics, led to hundreds being killed. In response, Cara established its Iraq Programme (2006-2012), a wide range of cooperation activities designed to help rebuild Iraqi research and teaching capacities by bringing together academics in Iraq with those in Jordan and elsewhere, and with their counterparts in the UK. Within this framework, the Iraq Research Fellowship Programme (2009-2012) brought together over seventy academics from sixteen UK and eleven Iraqi institutions, delivering high-quality research outcomes which influenced policy and practice within Iraqi ministries, the UN and international agencies responding to the crisis, and promoted long-term collaborations. Cara also supported regional ‘communities of interest’ around themes of regional relevance, with a particular focus on the often-neglected social sciences, including gender issues etc.
Cara’s Zimbabwe Programme was launched in 2009 in response to a marked increase in the number of academics fleeing Zimbabwe, amid reports of a dramatic decline in the quality of higher education. The Programme offered grants and fellowships to pay for vital equipment and supplies, and in 2012 established a ‘Virtual Lecture Hall’ at the University of Zimbabwe. This enabled Zimbabwean academics in exile and others to connect in real time with the colleges and faculties of health and veterinary sciences, to plug knowledge gaps identified by the relevant University Deans, to improve standards of teaching and research and to facilitate increased networking and collaboration. In response to demand, a second mobile system was installed in October 2013.
Drawing on this experience, Cara is now developing wide-ranging proposals for a regionally-based Syria Programme, to provide support to academics affected by the Syria crisis. While the majority of Syrian academics in exile in the region retain a strong commitment to return to Syria when they can, to contribute to the rebuilding of Syria’s higher education and research sectors, they urgently need opportunities to sustain themselves and their families over this period of uncertainty, to help them to connect with the wider regional and international academic and scientific communities and to grow professionally. Otherwise, this important intellectual capital will be lost.
On 9 – 10 June 2016 the Swedish Consulate-General in Istanbul, the Swedish Research Institute and Bogazici University, with additional support from the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, hosted a highly successful Cara Round Table, as the first ‘on the ground’ event in Cara’s Syria Programme. The meeting programme is available here. The aim of the Round Table was to bring together potential Research Fellows and a range of international partners and funders, to tease out the issues affecting exiled Syrian academics and to identify solutions.
Cara has since been developing its ideas further, including in a meeting on 21 September 2016 with UK universities hosted by King’s College London, and at a meeting on 17 October 2016 with UK national academies and learned societies, hosted by the British Academy. Cara has also been talking intensively to a range of regional partners. The aim is to include, in the first year of the Syria Programme, a number of inter-related projects with several different partners which will support the development of critical language and professional skills among the Syrian participants and link them to colleagues within the wider academic and scientific community and, just as importantly, to each other, allowing the growth of disciplinary and cross-disciplinary clusters. This essential preparatory work will lead into a Syria Research Fellowship Programme (SRFP), which will draw directly on the success of the Iraq Research Fellowship Programme. The Syrian research team members will contribute their knowledge of the Syrian context, while the non-Syrian participants will contribute their experience of international standards and up-to-date knowledge and techniques in research design and implementation. All projects will be peer-reviewed by external experts before acceptance, and there will be robust monitoring and evaluation at every stage.
One major funder has already indicated that it will support Cara’s Syria Programme; but much more support is needed to do justice to the need and to the full potential of this important project in the years ahead.
“The Cara grant has substantially remedied the situation and the quality of teaching has already improved remarkably, along with an increase in our applications for our Masters in Public Health next year, something I never thought would happen.”
Assistant Dean, Faculty of Sciences, University of Zimbabwe