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Accord to protect HE in conflict zones

University leaders and academics from around the world convened this month to formulate and sign the York Accord: a first-of-its-kind agreement laying out the principles for safeguarding higher education in conflict regions.

The meeting was held at the University of York in the UK. Photo: Flickr/Lorelei-.

“HEIs should be safeguarded as inclusive, open spaces where challenging ideas are debated and diversity is accepted without resorting to violence”

The University of York hosted the meeting in the UK, in collaboration with Brookings Doha Center and the Institute of International Education, whose Scholar Rescue Fund has supported fellowships enabling more than 600 threatened scholars from 53 countries to continue their work in safety at partner institutions worldwide.

A series of violent attacks on academic institutions around the world in recent months lent urgency to the meeting

It welcomed representatives from countries that have been affected by violence including Liberia, Kenya, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

A series of violent attacks on academic institutions around the world in recent months lent urgency to the meeting.

Almost 150 people – mostly students – were killed at Garissa University College in Kenya by al-Shabab militants in April. In Iraq, nearly 500 academics have been assassinated and campuses have been looted during the post-war violence.

“Higher education institutions should be safeguarded as inclusive, open spaces where challenging ideas are debated and diversity is accepted without resorting to violence,” the accord states.

It calls upon “state and non-state armed actors” to treat universities as “neutral, safe spaces during conflict, and to ensure that higher education communities are physically secure and free from intimidation”.

It recommends the establishment of national, regional and internationally legally responsible bodies to investigate attacks on higher education, as well as a Rapid Response Mechanism for Higher Education to “mitigate the effects of conflict and ensure students can return to university quickly”.

In the document, states and higher education institutions are instructed to review and update the procedures they have in place in case of emergencies.

A letter detailing the accord’s key recommendations will be sent to the United Nations Special Envoy on Global Education, Gordon Brown.

“We are targeting the higher institutions in the first place but we would like Gordon Brown to take it on board,” commented Sultan Barakat, Director of Research at the Brookings Doha Center.

“My hope is that universities can really stand by those which are affected by conflict in a way that demonstrates an awareness of their cirumstances, but also an understanding of the potential that exists for proper and mutual collaboration,” he urged.

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