There has been much debate in universities and wider society about how to respond to the desperate humanitarian crisis in Syria and beyond. That debate has of course also taken place at the University of Bath over the last few months with calls for the creation of scholarships for refugees and a petition signed by staff and students. We believe that after careful reflection over this period we have a unique proposal for meaningful support to use our strengths to strengthen others.
Although our research shows that about 25 UK universities have offered scholarships or bursaries for Syrian refugees – amid some measure of publicity - the benefit of such scholarships is questionable, especially as government regulations often made it difficult for students to take them up.
The shared view of our community at the University of Bath is that the principle of action is in itself not contentious. Indeed, far from it. Achieving impact – and at scale – is the bigger challenge. In a thoughtful debate at University Senate last week we took the view that the University should use its academic expertise to engage in new ways in the wider region. The University has already committed its resources to provide doctoral training for the future leaders of all public universities in South Africa and takes its international partnerships very seriously.
But the situation in the Middle East is even more complex and has been for some time. So, how can the University of Bath best respond in the face of such complexity while ensuring that its actions will not be a drop in the ocean?
In late January, the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Dame Glynis Breakwell, and Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Internationalisation), Professor Colin Grant, visited Jordan, a key frontline state in the region. Being there really underscored the extreme gravity of the situation and helped crystallise our response. Jordan, after all, has accommodated over 1,000,000 Syrian refugees, more than 30,000 Iraqis, 5,000 Somalis and Sudanese and also absorbed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, granting the majority full citizenship. Jordan’s population is 6.5 million.
The strongest response we can make to much larger stabilisation efforts in the region is to commit to long-term partnership with trusted local partners. Our intent? To build the resilience of people and systems. That is our history.
Following our discussions in Amman two weeks ago we now undertake to make a range of brand new commitments in Jordan to build that resilience:
- Working with a local University in Amman with a focus on STEM we will support the training of faculty to doctoral level in areas such as engineering and mathematical innovation, essential for the development of resilient systems.
- We will commit to partner with the Royal Scientific Society of Jordan to conduct research in areas of national priority.
- We have now launched a Study Centre in partnership with the Amman Baccalaureate School where we will deliver our MA in Education. We will teach the teachers to provide future leadership in education.
- We will strengthen our partnership with the British Institute in Amman to develop research which can inform how governments, NGOs and other parties might more effectively respond to the long-term impacts of the crisis.
- And we will provide scholarships on our postgraduate MA Education programme in Amman to refugees displaced by the crisis. These scholarships will complement work being undertaken by the British Council, whose EU-funded LASER (Language, Academic skills and E-learning Resources) Project is developing English language skills with refugees and host communities in Jordan and Lebanon.
These are all new initiatives for the University. Together, they form a multi-layered commitment to Jordan in its vital stabilisation efforts in this deeply troubled region.
Our community started out with a call for support for refugees. We are going far beyond what was sought.
Professor Dame Glynis Breakwell, Vice-Chancellor
Professor Peter Lambert, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Learning and Teaching)