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, in 2016 Cara launched its regionally-based Syria Programme, to provide support to academics affected by the Syria crisis. Most Syrian academics in exile, in Turkey, Lebanon or elsewhere, intend to return to Syria when they can, but for now they urgently need opportunities to work and to continue to grow professionally, through a very difficult time, so they will be able to help re-build a better system of higher education when they do go back.
With the active participation of a growing number of UK, Turkish and other universities Cara has recently organised workshops in Turkey on ‘English for Academic Purposes’ and ‘Academic Skills Development’, to lay the foundations for future research collaborations. The first Syria Programme Fellows are already being hosted by UK universities, on short-term ‘research incubation’ visits. Cara is also working with UK and Syrian academics and others to help establish the true state of Higher Education in Syria, before and since 2011, to get a better sense of how exiled Syrian academics can be helped to prepare to return, as they want, when it is safe to do so.
A second phase of the Programme, to be launched in early 2018, will support a greater number of exiled Syrian academics and maximise the Programme’s impact and outcomes. A new research strand will draw on the experience of Cara’s Iraq Programme, with two ‘open calls’ for research proposals of relevance to Syria or to Syrian refugee communities. This will allow the Programme also to reach beyond Turkey, to Syrian academics in exile in other countries in the region.
Cara is enormously grateful to the many participating UK and other universities, and individual academics, for the enthusiastic support they are already giving to this Programme, in many cases pro bono, and has ambitious plans for the future. One major funder is already providing support to Cara’s Syria Programme, and a substantial private donation has also been received; 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.
“These workshops gave me the opportunity to meet with a group of Syrian and British academics and work with colleagues at Cambridge University to prepare a study on higher education in Syria… I hope in the future that Cara will help me get an academic post or research grant that will help me return to the academic field and improve my English further in the hope of returning to Syria and contributing to post-war rehabilitation projects.”
Dr Fateh Shaban, Cara Syria Programme Fellow