Assisting Iraqi academics

30 November 2006

An emergency appeal to assist Iraqi academics was launched at UCL last night by the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics (CARA), of which UCL is a member.

Reception

The appeal was made at ‘The Plight of Academics in Iraq’, an open discussion – co-organised by UCL, CARA and the Scholars at Risk Network – designed to provoke the exchange of ideas on how the international academic community can aid Iraqi academics and higher education, both immediately and in the long term.

Introducing the event, Professor Michael Worton, UCL Vice-Provost (Academic & International), announced the creation of a scheme to provide places for up to ten Iraqi academics taking refuge in the UK, in which individuals’ needs will be assessed in relation to the UK higher education sector, and personalised ‘upskilling’ – including new learning technologies and best academic practice – will be offered, along with specialist department-based skills and support. Fees for this and, if desired, for the UCL Postgraduate Certificate in Learning & Teaching in Higher Education will be waived.

The aim is to prepare Iraqi academics to be productive in the UK higher education sector and, eventually, to return to Iraq.

Iraqi higher education – in the 1960s and 1970s the best in the region – has deteriorated since the 1980s. Speakers at the event highlighted the extent of the crisis since the 2003 invasion. Many described the targeting of academics as part of a cynical and ruthless campaign to destabilise Iraq.

The grim statistics cited included:

  • 84 per cent of higher education institutions burnt, looted and destroyed since 2003
  • 472 academics killed since 2003
  • more than 3,000 academics and 17,000 physicians having fled the country since 2003
  • 73 per cent of mental health professionals having fled the country since February 2006.
[image reference is broken]

UCL contributors included Professor Roger Matthews (UCL Institute of Archaeology), who co-organised the recent UCL conference on Archaeology in Conflict, and Professor Lewis Elton (UCL Centre for the Advancement of Learning & Teaching), who spoke of how CARA’s predecessor, the Academic Assistance Council, saved his parents from persecution in Prague in the 1930s.

One of CARA’s key areas of focus is helping people who were lecturers or researchers in their home countries to gain appropriate qualifications to continue their careers in the UK. In November 2005, CARA joined forces with Scholars at Risk, an alliance of universities which campaigns for scholars’ rights around the world, to form the UK Universities Network. The network aims to provide lectureships, research and postgraduate opportunities, and to enhance awareness of the contributions made by refugee academics to society.

The Council of CARA includes Professor Robert Pynsent (UCL School of Slavonic & East European Studies) and Professor Peter Ucko (UCL Institute of Archaeology).

Image 1: The reception

Image 2: The Iraqi dead