Extending a Kent welcome across the globe

As many of you will know, the University of Kent is currently applying to join the Universities of Sanctuary, a national movement that seeks to build welcoming communities for displaced and vulnerable people seeking sanctuary from persecution. As a university with a global outlook and reach, this requires us to look beyond our campuses and regions and embed these principles in our international engagements.

Currently, initiatives include our twinning initiative with Kherson State University in Ukraine as well as support for Cara (the Council for At-Risk Academics), in particular through its Syria Programme which supports Syrian academics living across the Middle East to continue their academic work in conditions of exile, conflict and displacement.

Last week the Centre for the Study of Higher Education (CSHE) hosted a delegation of Cara Syria Programme participants working as senior leaders at Sham University to sustain access to higher education in the non-regime northwest Syria. Since 2011, over three million people have been internally displaced into the area, including hundreds of thousands of university-age young people. Sham University was established in 2015 to meet the enormous need for higher education in the region, and its first cohort of students graduated in 2019.  The university is staffed in part by Syrian academics living in exile in southern Turkey who cross the border each week to teach.

Through the CSHE, Tom Parkinson and colleagues are working with academics and senior administrators at Sham, all registered participants of the Cara Syria Programme, to enhance the quality of higher education in northwest Syria in ways that are both culturally appropriate and resilient to the many risks inherent to a conflict-affected context.  This Cara-commissioned action research pilot is a collaboration between academics from Sham and counterparts from Kent, Sussex, London, Middlesex and Leeds universities.  Work began in 2019, with Kent and Cara co-funded roundtables that explored ways of sustaining higher education in contexts of conflict, instability, and mass displacement.

The latest phase of the project centres on staff development and quality management and incorporates knowledge exchange visits to UK universities.  On the morning of the Kent visit, the team delivered an invited plenary at the Society for Research in Higher Education (SRHE) conference entitled ‘Reframing Education in Emergency’.  This was followed by a lunch meeting with members of the University’s Sanctuary Working Group, where we discussed how Kent might offer ongoing support.  The afternoon centred around a leadership and peer-mentoring workshop in CSHE, followed by a discussion around issues of recognition and accreditation led by Dr Anthony Manning.

In the days following the visit, the research team participated in a two-day Cara Syria Programme roundtable hosted by the Sussex Centre for Migration Research at the University of Sussex, at which a UK university partner consortium led by Kent, Sussex and Leeds was initiated under the auspices of the Cara Syria Programme, to provide ongoing support to Sham faculty and staff.  While the precise nature of that support will depend on the priorities identified by Sham colleagues, it will incorporate peer mentorship for academic and administrative staff, external examining, resource sharing and English language tuition.

For further information on the action research project, or to express an interest in being involved, contact Tom Parkinson [t.parkinson@kent.ac.uk]. For further information on Kent’s application for University of Sanctuary status, contact Russell Moul [r.t.moul@kent.ac.uk].

[This story was originally posted here.]