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On 10 December ACA dedicated its last seminar in 2015 to the pressing issue spreading across countries, sectors and institutions in Europe and beyond. The aim of ACA´s European Policy Seminar - The international refugee crisis. What role for European higher education? - was to provide a comprehensive overview of the current initiatives dealing with the large influx of immigrants and to bring together relevant higher education actors in order to jointly search for adequate responses and possible solutions. With more than 100 participants and almost 20 speakers, ACA firmly believes that its objectives have been accomplished and that the seminar has paved the way to a series of follow-up events of the kind.
As a starter, the opening keynote by UNHCR’s Philippa Candler and Johannes Tarvainen provided food for thought as to the opportunities and challenges for diversified and sustainable provision of higher education to refugee students.
A substantial part of the seminar was dedicated to presenting activities currently being implemented or developed at EU, national and institutional levels, from the mapping surveys by the European Commission and EUA that target HEIs in Europe to different types of urgent responses by Ministries and National Agencies in Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands as well as at Universities in Spain, Belgium, Hungary, Finland and Lithuania. The voices of Syria, represented by Dr Kassem Alsayed Mahmoud, postdoctoral researcher at Ghent University and Malaz Safarjalani, former Syrian student based in Brussels, complemented by a succinct overview of the Scholars at Risk network’s activities, brought in another perspective and opened a discussion on the real academic needs of Syrians in Europe and in the Middle East. It also pointed to the harming and burdensome nature of the term ‘refugee’ to students and scholars who make an attempt to integrate in the European academic community.
The thought-provoking discussion in the closing panel - a look into the future and a way forward for higher education – addressed the problem of brain drain in the Middle East with a number of suggestions for future action, including the setting up universities in the neighbouring countries that could accommodate fleeing students and scholars in the region.
The event has confirmed the urgent need for more information exchange and better coordination at all levels. It has also demonstrated that not only is the current issue a pressing one, but it is also one where the borders between aid, support or integration are not always clear, which leaves many actors at a loss about where to start acting. The prevailing conclusion was – the best way to act is to start acting now.