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Universities failing to co-operate on global refugee crisis

By Clare Melhuish, on 17 November 2015

Competition between universities and market fundamentalism have resulted in a failure of universities to take joint action on the global refugee crisis, writes Rajani Naidoo in University World News (09/10/15).

She says that, ‘While there are important exceptions, the delay in engaging with the current refugee crisis is symptomatic of higher education’s reluctance to engage with wider issues of global wellbeing. The struggle for positional advantage in the global economy and for highly skilled knowledge workers has contributed to a fierce competition within and between national systems of higher education’.

She points out that the refugee crisis is not the problem of one country but has global dimensions and ‘can only be solved by countries and citizens working together’.

She blames global rankings for promoting a ‘competition fetish’, and the encroachment of ‘market relations and market values… into all areas of higher education. There are pressures for deregulation and for success to be measured by the sheer numbers of fee-paying students, research involvement with business interests and the degree of financial surplus acquired’.

Naidoo spoke at the symposium on Higher Education, Global Wellbeing and the Refugee Crisis held at the University of Bath on Sept 30th by the Society for Research into Higher Education (SRHE) South-West Network. The conference called for universities to develop partnerships with universities across the Middle East to help tackle the causes and effects of the refugee crisis, and to participate actively in rebuilding higher education in post-conflict situations more widely.

In Syria, academics, universities and students have been targeted for attack, and many have fled into exile. While some are assisted by scholarships to join universities overseas, many others are living in refugee camps without any prospect of completing their education. Syrian universities used to provide a safe space where religious and cultural differences could be set aside, but became targets of government repression and now lie in ruins. However, those institutions, through their staff and students, will be key to rebuilding the country’s future. In order to reach that point, they need the support of the world’s higher education community.

Rajani Naidoo is professor of higher education and director of the International Centre for Higher Education Management (ICHEM) at the University of Bath, UK.

 

 

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