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