Stronger to­gether

Through in­ter­na­tional part­ner­ships, King’s Col­lege Lon­don is sup­port­ing com­mu­ni­ties across the globe, writes

THE (Times Higher Education) - - KING'S COLLEGE LONDON - Sanya Burgess

Over the past two decades, the global pop­u­la­tion of forcibly dis­placed peo­ple has grown from 33.9 mil­lion in 1997 to 65.6 mil­lion in 2016, ac­cord­ing to UN fig­ures. The sum­mer of 2015 saw shock­ing im­ages plas­tered across UK tele­vi­sions and news­pa­pers show­ing the harsh re­al­ity of life in a con­flict zone and the dan­ger­ous routes many were fol­low­ing in a bid to es­cape dan­ger in Syria.

One of those im­pacted by the im­ages was Bron­wyn Parry, head of the School of Global Af­fairs and lead for the King’s Sanc­tu­ary Pro­gramme. “I was ap­palled when I first saw the im­ages of refugees bleed­ing and cov­ered with bomb dust strug­gling out of Aleppo, at­tempt­ing to lead their in­jured chil­dren and carry rem­nants of their for­mer lives with them as they left,” she says.

Parry was par­tic­u­larly trou­bled by the trauma chil­dren were be­ing put through. “I thought a lot about the dis­rup­tion and ter­ror they had ex­pe­ri­enced and won­dered what I and my col­leagues at King’s could do to al­le­vi­ate their sit­u­a­tion and get them on the road to a new life.

“Find­ing them se­cure liv­ing ar­range­ments but also a way to pick up their ed­u­ca­tion and of­fer new, per­haps pre­vi­ously un­dreamt of, op­por­tu­ni­ties seemed not only pos­si­ble but vital. I felt that, with some imag­i­na­tion and ef­fort, it was some­thing we, as an ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion, could po­ten­tially de­liver.”

With 51 per cent of the refugee pop­u­la­tion in re­cent years be­ing be­low the age of 18, staff and stu­dents at King’s recog­nised that the con­flict could re­sult in a lost gen­er­a­tion with­out the skills needed to one day re­build their coun­try and have a ful­fill­ing life. King’s set up the Sanc­tu­ary Pro­gramme, which in­cludes English lan­guage teach­ing, le­gal ser­vices and den­tal care for dis­placed in­di­vid­u­als.The pro­gramme evolved in 2016 to in­clude the Sanc­tu­ary Schol­ar­ships, which en­able tal­ented refugee stu­dents to ful­fil their po­ten­tial.

Muham­mad Arkam Babar is one of the first Sanc­tu­ary schol­ars. A res­i­dent in the UK for nine years, he was blocked from ac­cess­ing higher ed­u­ca­tion be­cause he was not el­i­gi­ble for stu­dent fi­nance ow­ing to his im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus.

“There is no more cru­cial time to act as a community of in­ter­na­tional schol­ars and thinkers”

turned to Le­banon and the large num­bers of in­for­mal refugee camps in the coun­try.

They found that many Syr­ian refugees were emerg­ing from their ed­u­ca­tion there with­out the skills in English or IT they would need to suc­ceed in a univer­sity. They also were not re­ceiv­ing ad­e­quate sup­port and men­tor­ing, if at all.

Al­most a year after an­nounc­ing the schol­ar­ships, King’s part­nered with the Amer­i­can Univer­sity of Beirut, the Al al-Bayt Univer­sity, in Jor­dan, the on­line learn­ing plat­form Fu­tureLearn and the sup­port or­gan­i­sa­tion for refugees in Ger­many, Kiron Open Higher Ed­u­ca­tion. To­gether, they launched the Padileia (Part­ner­ship for Dig­i­tal Learn­ing and In­creased Ac­cess) Pro­gramme, funded by the Strate­gic Part­ner­ships for Higher Ed­u­ca­tion In­no­va­tion and Re­form Pro­gramme, a grant scheme es­tab­lished by the UK Depart­ment for In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment.

King’s and its aca­demic part­ners are de­vel­op­ing a foun­da­tion pro­gramme in Jor­dan and Le­banon specif­i­cally aimed at bridg­ing the gap be­tween school and univer­sity, as well as run­ning on­line ed­u­ca­tion plat­forms for Syr­ian refugees.

The univer­sity has a his­tory of lead­ing trans­for­ma­tion in the world as ex­em­pli­fied by the King’s Health Part­ners’ work on de­vel­op­ing ed­u­ca­tion, re­search and ca­pac­ity-build­ing pro­grammes along­side or­gan­i­sa­tions in Sierra Leone, So­ma­liland and Zam­bia.

The pro­grammes aimed at the refugee cri­sis are mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial, help­ing to in­crease un­der­stand­ing of mi­gra­tion issues among the univer­sity’s staff and stu­dents, and al­low­ing them to learn and de­velop while work­ing with in­ter­na­tional part­ners.

Funmi Olonisakin, vice-pres­i­dent and vice-prin­ci­pal (in­ter­na­tional), ex­plains: “We live in an era where un­cer­tainty, dis­trust and cyn­i­cism seem to con­tour geopo­lit­i­cal in­ter­ac­tion. There is no more cru­cial time for King’s and its part­ners to act as a community of in­ter­na­tional schol­ars and thinkers that are will­ing to chal­lenge any march to­wards iso­la­tion­ism.

“At King’s, we are pas­sion­ately com­mit­ted to work­ing ac­tively with ed­u­ca­tors, re­searchers and in­no­va­tors from across the world to de­liver a safer, peace­ful and sus­tain­able fu­ture.”

She be­lieves that through com­bined ex­per­tise with in­ter­na­tional part­ners, King’s can take an ac­tive role not only in cross-bor­der mi­gra­tion but also other issues, in­clud­ing cli­mate change, global health, haz­ards and dis­as­ters, the chal­lenges fac­ing emerg­ing economies and the com­plex­i­ties of global gov­er­nance.

These part­ner­ships al­low stu­dents at King’s to ben­e­fit from col­lab­o­ra­tive work that gives them ac­cess to the lat­est re­search and a truly global ed­u­ca­tional ex­pe­ri­ence, she adds.

As the Sanc­tu­ary Schol­ar­ships re­open for ap­pli­ca­tions this year, it’s clear that their im­pact has al­ready been felt by many.

“One of the things I am proud­est about with the Sanc­tu­ary Project is how the whole community at King’s... has pulled to­gether and worked in ded­i­cated and in­no­va­tive ways to cre­ate in­ter­ven­tions that will di­rectly ad­dress the refugees’ most press­ing con­cerns,” says Parry.

“To­gether we are us­ing our strengths and our priv­i­lege to ac­tively em­power them and build new path­ways into what I hope will be happy and ful­filled fu­tures.”

Con­flict zone King’s Col­lege Lon­don is work­ing to help refugees es­cap­ing the Syr­ian war to re­build their lives

Vital work King’s is help­ing to im­prove health­care in So­ma­liland

Community spirit Funmi Olonisakin pro­motes col­lab­o­ra­tive projects

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