by Kate Walker, Young Academy of Scotland Co-Chair
This piece originally appeared in the Spring 2019 edition of the RSE’s quarterly newsletter, ReSourcE. You may download this newsletter here.
In early February, some 17 academics from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Turkey and Yemen convened in the Upper Gallery of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. They travelled from across the United Kingdom to participate in a training day organized by the Young Academy of Scotland (YAS), the first young academy in the world to introduce at-risk academic and refugee (ARAR) professional membership. Since its inception in 2015, our ARAR scheme has sought to support the reception and integration of ARAR professionals in Scotland by recognizing their potential to make an outstanding contribution to Scotland’s prosperity; providing access to the YAS network as full members; and helping them regain some of the professional and social capital lost during displacement.
According to the UN Refugee Agency, nearly 69 million people around the world have been forcibly displaced – an unprecedented number. Scholars are not immune to conflict or persecution. The Council for At-Risk Academics (Cara) – a British charitable organization that assists scholars in their home countries and in exile – currently supports around 300 Fellows in the UK and abroad as part of its Fellowship programme, as well as 150 people engaged in its Syria programme. At present, there are nine Cara Fellows undertaking PhDs or postdoctoral research in seven Scottish universities. For those who plan to establish long-term careers in UK academia, however, the policy and practice landscape can seem impenetrable – the REF, TEF, KEF, Outcome Agreements, Research Pools, QAA and SIMD form part of our higher education lexicon and wider teaching, learning and research culture. Feedback from some members of the at-risk academic community suggested that the application process and/or interview was a major barrier. These comments catalyzed the idea for a training day which could utilize the expertise and skills of our wider YAS membership and RSE staff.
The training day concept was simple: to help attendees secure an academic job in the UK by breaking down the policies and recruitment norms in UK higher education. Over the course of the day, eight YAS members – Nathan Bailey, Aidan Brown, Agomoni Ganguli-Mitra, Faye Hammill, Raphael Heffron, Olof Johannson, Matthew Smith and Kate Walker – led sessions on the Research Excellence Framework, grant applications, preparing an application, performing at interview and development planning before conducting one-to-one mock interviews with participants. The day was prefaced with an overview of the Scottish higher education landscape by RSE CEO Rebekah Widdowfield.
Thanks to the support of Cara and Scholars at Risk, an international network of institutions and individuals that seeks to protect scholars and promote academic freedom, the event was well-promoted to its target audience. In addition to supporting the participation of our YAS members, we funded travel for six additional scholars based in Scotland and England to enable them to take part. Indeed, we reached maximum capacity for the event very quickly, suggesting there is a real need for this kind of support. Feedback from our one-day workshop will be used to shape a larger event for at-risk scholars at Wolfson College (University of Oxford) from 4-7 September 2019. The workshop falls under the remit of the Global Young Academy’s At-Risk Scholar Initiative which is overseen by Karly Kehoe, the YAS alumnus who established the YAS ARAR programme.
Comments from participants were very positive. One attendee wrote that “each session was so relevant and all advice was helpful. I hope that you may continue to organize this kind of constructive and open exchange with refugees and displaced migrants.” Another wrote that “all speakers provided great information and practical strategies on seeking a job in the UK.” The only recurring development point was a request for further training in this field – something that the GYA workshop, delivered in partnership with Cara and Wolfson College, seeks to achieve. For one attendee, participation won’t be necessary. Three days after the training, one of our ARAR members was successful at interview for a full-time position in his academic field at a Scottish university. This is knowledge made useful.