Universities in war and conflict zones – the need for more knowledge and long-term collaborations

The war in Ukraine has, with good reason, received a lot of attention over the course of the last months. It has severe consequences for the Ukrainian people and society right now, but also for the country’s future.

Infrastructure and institutions that are essential to the future rebuilding of Ukraine are severely impacted by the war. Universities across the world – including the University of Oslo – have therefore been protesting the bombing and dismantling of schools and universities. Buildings are destroyed and teaching and research activities are brought to a halt, making the rebuilding process increasingly difficult. Educational institutions in Europe seek to reduce negative effects through different support measures for Ukrainian institutions, scholars and students. These are important efforts.

At the same time, though, there are armed and violent conflicts in many parts of the world that also impact local universities and other educational institutions. About a year ago, the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan. The consequences for schools and higher education, not least for women, are grave and worrisome. We recently received reports that Israel launched a week-long attack on Gaza. In these cases, too, it is of outmost importance to express our support for and sympathy with the educational institutions that are affected – and their students and employees.

The value of sympathy and support should not be underestimated. In addition, though, there’s a need to develop more long-term, specific strategies to aid universities in areas where war and conflict is the norm rather than the exception. We already have good surveillance mechanisms in place, including Scholars at Risk, which show us how frequently attacks on educational institutions occur in current times. We also ought to strengthen our research-based knowledge of available ways to help universities in war and conflict zones. For instance, research indicates that a greater degree of autonomy for institutions localized in war and conflict zones is crucial to signal the universities’ neutrality – even though such independence do not always ensure the desired protection. - 1

How can we, as institutions, best get involved? Concrete collaboration projects with educational institutions localized in war zones emerges a promising measure. The University of Oslo partakes in several projects in zones of conflict, for instance in Gaza through the NORHED-supported education project E-Pal. Here we collaborate with and support Palestinian education institutions in their ambitions to develop digital and hybrid education programmes in the Palestinian autonomous areas. The development of knowledge and capacity for a more robust education and research is crucial to building sustainable societal structures – particularly in a society that needs a solid foundation as much as Palestine.

As we welcome our students to a new academic year, we should raise our gaze. We have a duty to concern ourselves with the well-being of colleagues and students in countries where the conditions for teaching and research are far less favourable than at home.

1. Sansom Milton, Ghassan Elkahlout & Sultan Barakat (2021) Protecting higher education from attack in the Gaza Strip, Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, DOI: 10.1080/03057925.2021.1987192

 

Published Aug. 29, 2022 9:54 AM - Last modified Aug. 29, 2022 10:29 AM