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. 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 Programme’s first ‘on the ground’ event . 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.
In autumn 2016, Cara developed 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.
Reflecting the key needs identified from these discussions, the Programme’s aim has been defined as ‘to support Syrian academics wherever they are in exile, to help them to develop their research capacity and to facilitate their continued academic contribution through research projects of direct relevance to Syria, until they can return to help re-build higher education and research in their country’. To see a short paper about Cara’s Syria Programme click here. In the early stages, Programme activity is focussed on delivering ‘English for Academic Purposes’ and ‘Capacity-Building’ workshops, with the active support of a range of UK, Turkish and other universities. Progress in these areas will help facilitate Syrian academics’ engagement with the wider international academic community, and lead on to active research collaborations in many areas.
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.
“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