Over the past years, the need to support students and academics at risk has become drastically visible. The tense political situations in Afghanistan, Belarus and Iran, and the Russian war in Ukraine – to name just a few – demonstrate the crucial role of the European Union as a safe haven for those who cannot pursue their education and academic careers.
In many European countries, support is provided by universities, often with organisational and sometimes with funding support of international organisations such as Scholars at Risk (Link), or the IIE Scholars Rescue Fund (Link). The discussion on supporting academics at risk has been continued in different contexts, also through InSPIREurope and its follow-up project (Link), funded under the EU’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA). Besides networking, awareness raising, information development and policy work, in 2021 this initiative provided the basis for launching the scheme for providing fellowships for Ukraine (MSCA4Ukraine, Link).
Some European-level support for students at risk is provided under the Erasmus+ programme. None of these measures has yet resulted in a permanent and well-visible instrument to be used for a more systematic support for students and academics at risk. This has triggered a call for the establishment of European-level initiatives that could provide Europe-wide support, also in terms of coordination and collaboration.
DAAD Brussels and the European University Association (EUA) jointly organised a roundtable on 29 June at EUA in Brussels, seeking to bridge the debate by bringing together interested parties from EU institutions, member states and associations, committed to facilitating holistic actions at the European level. The participants came together in a concerted effort to discuss existing, emerging and planned support initiatives, to share their ideas about what future actions are needed, including the potential for dedicated EU programmes to meet the demands of at-risk persons.
After a warm welcome by Michael Gaebel, Director of the Higher Education Policy Unit at EUA, and Michael Hörig, Director of the DAAD Brussels Office, the 21 participants from all over Europe shared their experience on the topic in a Tour de Table, followed by 13 pitches of targeted programmes and initiatives, providing insight into the aims and recent developments of PAUSE (Link), IIE Scholar Rescue Fund (Link), the Philipp Schwartz Initiative (Link), InSPIREurope+ (Link), MSCA4Ukraine (Link), Cara (Link), MEnS (Link), Hilde Domin (Link) , Student at Risk Norway Link). Emerging and planned student-led initiatives were also presented, by the European Student Unition as well as by representatives from Finland, Sweden and Switzerland. Steven Misljencevic, Policy Offer at DG Research and Innovation, gave an overview of the initiatives taken at the level of the Commission.
Some of the key insights from the roundtable include:
- Stakeholders working on behalf of support programmes and funding schemes are impressively engaged, and interested in collaboration at European level;
- The need for support measures has significantly increased due to the multiple crises the world is facing today;
- There are synergies between the programme aims and support mechanisms required for students and for academics at risk, and it is recommended to diversify, amplify and multiply efforts, and to engage in complementary actions.
In terms of joint stakeholder engagement, the participants recognise the value of:
- Continuing discussions about how to operationalise the collaboration such as through joint elements of selection and nomination procedures across programmes;
- Considering to creating specific tracks differentiated per risk categories, for a target group oriented approach, in light of emergency situations having become more complex and often occurring simultaneously;
- Closely collaborating with ministries and embassies, especially when immigration is a sensitive issue;
- Ensuring transparency about the transition from one academic cycle and the next (e.g. from Master to PhD level), and informing about eligibility criteria of support measures in the next phase.
For the European policy level participants noted that:
- For researchers at risk, the 2023-Call for the Preparatory Action of the European Commission aiming at creating, testing and validating procedures for a fellowship scheme is a welcome step in the right direction;
- A transparent European-level support mechanism such as a hub as a first-contact-point for students at risk to find an overview of existing support mechanisms and opportunities, complementing existing national support structures, would be very useful;
- It is very important to building institutional capacities in politically tense regions/countries such as through twinning initiatives to facilitate reintegration of academics in their home country.
DAAD Brussels and EUA thank all the participants for the fruitful exchange, which will be continued.