Universities around the world push for an accord designed to support higher education in conflict-affected countries

In an unprecedented move, academics gathered at University of York to jointly compile an accord defining the basic principles for protection and recovery in post-conflict higher education. The meeting brought together key individuals and academics who have played a leading role in revitalization and drawing the necessary attention to higher education in crisis-affected countries. Attendants included Jorge Sampaio of Portugal, former president of Portugal; Professor Koen Lamberts, Vice-Chancellor of York University; Dr Allan Goodman, President of Institute of International Education; and many other international academic figures from Europe, Middle East, Africa and United States.

The accord calls upon military actors to prohibit the military use and abuse of the higher education and to treat universities as neutral and safe spaces at times of conflict and protect the higher education communities from violence and abuse.

Professor Sultan Barakat, Director of Research at the Brookings Doha Center, said:  “The idea is to get as many universities to sign up to it. We are targeting the higher education institutions in the first place but we would like Gordon Brown [UN special envoy for Global Education] to take it on board.”


“Higher education in Kurdistan Region suffered from the implications of decade long conflicts and brain drain”


Professor Dlawer Ala’Aldeen, President of the Middle East Research Institute was invited to share his experience as former Minister of Higher Education in the Kurdistan Regional Government (2009-2012). Drawing on his experience, Professor Ala’Aldeen highlighted the ambitious programme which he and his colleagues launched to radically reform the system of Higher Education in the Kurdistan Region. The programme focused on improving quality of higher education and training, preparing Universities for independence, modernising research, and reforming the governance system.

“Higher education in Kurdistan Region suffered from the implications of decade long conflicts and brain drain”, he added. “The only possible way forward for the KRG was to launch a Capacity Development Program that included sending thousands of students to continue their masters and PhD studies abroad to shape the quality of higher education upon their return”, Professor Ala’Aldeen concluded.

The accord draws some key recommendations for war-torn countries including:

  • National, regional and internationally legally responsible bodies to investigate attacks on higher education and hold perpetrators to account;
  • Practical steps towards offering safe haven to scholars and academics affected by conflict;
  • States and higher education institutions should review and update emergency protection and preparedness;
  • Proposal to create a Rapid Response Mechanism for Higher Education to mitigate the effects of conflict and ensure students can return to university quickly.

The conference was hosted by the University of York in collaboration with the Institute of International Education and Brookings Doha Centre.

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About MERI:  The Middle East Research Institute is Iraq’s leading policy-research institute and think tank. It is an independent, entirely grant-funded not-for-profit organisation, based in Erbil, Kurdistan Region.  Its mission is to contribute to the process of nation-building, state-building and democratisation via engagement, research, analysis and policy debates.

MERI’s main objectives include promoting and developing human rights, good governance, the rule of law and social and economic prosperity. MERI conduct high impact, high quality research (including purpose-based field work) and has published extensively in areas of: human rights, government reform, international politics, national security, ISIS, refugees, IDPs, minority rights (Christians, Yezidis, Turkmen, Shabaks, Sabi mandeans), Baghdad-Erbil relations, Hashd Al-Shabi, Peshmarga, violence against women, civil society. MERI engages policy- and decision-makers, the civil society and general public via publication, focused group discussions and conferences (MERI Forum).

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