One of the key organisations working across the education and refugees sectors is the Council for At-Risk Academics (CARA). Often cited is the notion that we are now facing the most catastrophic peak in the refugee crisis since WWII. It was during the run up to that now familiar situation of mass displacement, when Hitler was expelling leading academics from Germany on the basis of their race, that CARA was formed to help those individuals and defend the learning they represented.
Today, CARA still fulfils this aim through three key objectives:
1. To offer sanctuary in higher education to those academics who are at risk in their own countries.
2. To provide ongoing support to those individuals to regain their professional status and continue to thrive in academia.
3. To support academics and institutions in places of conflict or instability (for example, programmes in Iraq and Zimbabwe which featured ‘virtual lecture halls’, grants and fellowships to pay for vital equipment and supplies when buildings are damaged).
They work through a network of over 110 universities in the UK and encourage such institutions to host individuals who find themselves seeking safety here with fee waivers, and other financial support where possible through, for example, Alumni funds. Individuals can help by contributing time, energy and expertise to CARA as an Adviser, Champion or Student Ambassador; helping people settle in at a new university and raising the profile of the work CARA does.
Their work is so important because it acts to safeguard not just individuals, but the intellectual capital they hold. When a state is recovering from conflict or instability, and is therefore safe for people to return, it is vital that these people are present and empowered to help re-build society; be it in government advisory roles, as doctors needed to rebuild the health infrastructure or as teachers to safeguard future generations against the loss of potential and falling victim to extremism. As a result, during their time in the UK, it is vital that they are given space to thrive and to continue to develop their skills and knowledge.
In addition, it is all too often the case that refugees take jobs which are below their skill level. This might be because of financial pressures, English language barriers, mental health issues or difficulties in getting qualifications recognised in the UK. But individuals must be allowed to make a contribution to the host society; as a university, a community and a country, we undoubtedly have so much to gain.