symposium poster

At a moment of intensifying crises for universities across the globe, this symposium asks how can we both support and learn from universities in times of conflict and war? Organised by the Political Economy of Education Research Network (PEER) and hosted by the Centre for International Education at the University of Sussex, it brings together scholars, students and academic networks in contexts of conflict around the world.

Call for Papers

  • In what ways are universities, academics and students in conflict-affected countries supported or isolated nationally, regionally and internationally?
  • What factors shape the patterns of public spending and international aid to higher education and what implications does this have for universities in societies affected by conflict?
  • If universities are recognised as significant spaces of political contestation and democratic struggle how does this inform how we support them in times of conflict and post-conflict recovery?
  • What roles do transnational academic networks play and how can/do these networks support universities, academics and students in times of conflict?
  • How can the knowledges and experiences of universities, academics and students in contexts of conflict be valued, harnessed and documented through research?
  • How might such research contribute to illuminating and facilitating wider debates about the challenges and opportunities facing universities in increasingly polarised, unequal, authoritarian and anti-democratic contexts across the globe?

These are some of the questions that have led the Political Economy of Education Research Network (PEER) to host this symposium on Supporting and Learning from Universities in Times of Conflict. Having been neglected for many years in research, policy and practice, there is an emerging realisation that the economic and political abandonment of universities in times of conflict not only degrades national capacities and blights potential for economic recovery, but also forecloses the rebuilding of critical spaces where young people can encounter and contest different ideas, ideologies and identities in the aftermath of war.

The circumstances facing universities in times of conflict differ greatly according to context, relations with the state, the nature of the conflict itself, and the types of threats to universities, academics and students during civil war, foreign invasion or military occupation.  Yet scope for the resilience and resistance of universities, academics and students in times of conflict is almost always shaped by the relative presence or absence of support, connection and solidarity both internally and externally and how this translates into defending and reimagining the university and its role in society.

In Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Nicaragua, Colombia, Palestine, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Kashmir, Sri Lanka, Lebanon, Bosnia, Ukraine and countless other contexts, the trajectories of universities are powerfully shaped by the ways in which they have been supported or abandoned by national and international actors in times of conflict, with enduring consequences for post-conflict recovery and rebuilding a democratic society.

From neglect to reimagined futures
Marginalised as a ‘luxury’ by international aid agencies, universities in times of conflict were for a long time assumed to be non-functioning or the domain of corrupt political elites. This was not an oversight but an ideological position, rooted in arguments for focusing exclusively on access to basic education in the global development goals of the 1990s and 2000s, alongside the neoliberal rejection of higher education as a public good.

At the same time, escalating threats to university autonomy and academic freedom, the persecution and imprisonment of students and academics, brain drain, infrastructural damage, political territorialisation, institutional division, corruption, clientelism and financial crisis ravage higher education systems in countries affected by conflict, risking long-term, chronic decline of universities in the times they are needed most.

This politics of neglect ignores the fact that universities often continue to function in the midst of intensive, protracted violent conflict, surviving through strategies of resilience and resistance in the most adverse of circumstances. This includes the ways in which institutions and individuals have navigated and resisted extreme threats to teaching and learning in times of conflict, often creatively and sometimes radically.

Supporting and learning from universities, academics and students in conflict
In a moment of intensifying political and economic crises for universities in many different contexts, the experiences of universities affected by conflict can powerfully illuminate challenging questions of university autonomy and academic freedom, the role of universities in reproducing and potentially transforming societal inequalities, and old and new forms of colonisation in higher education structures and processes of knowledge production across the globe.

While international efforts to scale up the provision of university scholarships for refugees offer an important escape route for many students, this individualisation of support does not engage with the institutional, systemic challenges for higher education in times of conflict. Universities in ongoing conflicts remain largely invisible in policy discourses with little support for the resilience and resistance of institutions ravaged by war.

Call for papers
This Symposium asks what does it mean to support and learn from universities, academics and students in times of conflict? The papers will be loosely grouped according to the following themes:

1. Academic isolation and transnational solidarities
2. The politics of international aid to higher education in times of conflict
3. Universities as spaces of resilience and resistance
4. Universities, conflict and rebuilding publics

We particularly welcome contributions from academics and students living and working in contexts of conflict, refugee students and scholars in exile, universities in exile, transnational academic networks, solidarity movements and inter-university partnerships. Depending on the scope of the papers, we intend to publish a special issue of the journal of Globalisation, Societies and Education.

Please send your paper title, an abstract (maximum 500 words) and a short biography to Helen Murray The deadline for paper submissions is 28th April 2023. There is a small travel fund available to subsidise expenses for selected speakers coming from overseas. If you would like to apply for the travel fund, you should include this with your submission.

This symposium is organised by the University of Sussex hub of the Political Economy of Education Research Network (PEER), an AHRC GCRF funded 3-year research collaboration between the Universities of Cape Town, Nazarbayev, Sussex and Ulster on issues of education, conflict and crisis. It is hosted by the Centre for International Education (CIE) and the Centre for Higher Education Equity Research (CHEER) at the University of Sussex.


Day 1: Thursday 6 July 2023

TimeSession (IDS Convening Space)Session (IDS Room 120)
9.30-10.00Welcome remarks
Mario Novelli, Co-Principal Investigator, PEER Network, University of Sussex
Janet Boddy, Deputy Head of School, School of Education and Social Work, University of Sussex
10.00-10.45Keynote 1: Savo Heleta, Durban University of Technology: ‘Neglect of higher education in conflict-affected settings: Realities, challenges and possibilities of transnational solidarity and support’

Chair: Mario Novelli, University of Sussex
10.45-12.15Panel 1: Resilience and resistance of universities during warPanel 2: Academic isolation and transnational solidarities
 Daria Malchykova and Ihor Pylpenko (Kherson State University): ‘External occupation and internal liberty: Resilience and resistance of universities in times of war (Kherson State University experience)’

Sansom Milton (Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies): ‘Resilient Higher Education Systems during conflict: Emerging evidence from the Arab region’

Arif Sahar (Sheffield Hallam University): ‘Universities as spaces of resilience and resistance amid violence: The case of Afghanistan’

Olha Homonchuk (ODI Global): ‘Ukrainian Universities as Spaces of Resilience and Resistance’

Chair: Tristan McCowan, UCL-Institute of Education
Murtaza Mohiqi (University of South-Eastern Norway): ‘Overcoming Academic Isolation through Digital Global Universities in Conflict Zones – A Case Study of Empowering Afghan Girls’ Education under Taliban’s rule’

Wesam Zarka (Ankara Yildirim Beyazit University) and Alhakam Shaar (The Aleppo Project): ‘The Academic Teaching of English in Rebel-held North-western Syria: Difficulties and Successes’

Juliet Millican (IDS), Tom Parkinson and Fateh Shaban (University of Kent): ‘Academic isolation and transnational solidarities: CARA’s support to universities in Syria’

Chair: Tahir Zaman, University of Sussex
1.15-2.45Panel 3: Academic repression and networks of solidarityPanel 4: The politics of aid to higher education in conflict
 Encieh Erfani (International Community of Iranian Academics (ICOIA) / International Centre for Theoretical Physics): ‘What is happening at the Universities of Iran during the “Women, Life, Freedom” Revolution?’

Swati Kamble (Independent researcher), Laila Kadiwal (UCL-Institute of Education) and Sruti Bala (University of Amsterdam): ‘“Ideas behind bars”: Writings from imprisoned Indian students and academics’

Daniel Hernández Rosete (Department of Educational Research, CINVESTAV): Surviving State Terrorism in Mexico: Anthropological narratives of criminalized students

Sonya Smylova (University of Cambridge): ‘Higher education in exile: connecting imagination with praxis in the midst of political crisis’

Chair: Birgul Kutan, University of Sussex
Phyu Khaing Htut (FCDO, Myanmar): ‘Education aid’s role in Myanmar Higher Education (HE) after Covid19 and military coup’

Lee Rensimer and Tristan McCowan (UCL-Institute of Education): ‘Seeing the forest for the trees: Comparing international aid to and through higher education in the Global South’

Rachel Caterer, Monica Pereira and Pauldy Otermans (Brunel University): A Qualitative Exploration of the Barriers Asylum-Seeking Students Face When Accessing Higher Education in the UK

Jee Rubin and Zeina al-Azmeh (University of Cambridge): ‘Foreign Aid, Higher Education and the ‘Right to Meaning’ in Syria’

Chair: Juliet Millican, Institute of Development Studies
2.45-3.30Keynote 2: Samia Al-Botmeh, Birzeit University: ‘Palestinian higher education under colonialism – between survival and resistance’

Chair: Helen Murray, University of Sussex
4.00-5.30Roundtable: Policy directions on issues of higher education, conflict and post-conflict recovery
 Maddalaine Ansell, Head of Education, British Council

Min Zhang, UNESCO Qualifications Passport Initiative, Section for Migration, Displacement, Emergencies and Education, UNESCO

Denise Roche, Advocacy Manager, Scholars at Risk-Europe

Kate Robertson, Middle East Programme Adviser, CARA
Mark Crossey, Assistant Director, Policy and Global Engagement Universities UK International

Annabel Boud, Association of Commonwealth Universities

Chair: Helen Murray, University of Sussex
5.30-7.00Evening Reception – IDS Restaurant and Bar

Day 2: Friday 7 July 2023

TimeSession (IDS Convening Space)Session (IDS Room 120)
9.30-10.15Keynote 3: Sardar Saadi, University of Rojava: ‘Reclaiming Knowledge, Rebuilding University: Higher Education against War and Repression in Autonomous Northeast Syria/Rojava’

Chair: Birgul Kutan, University of Sussex
10.15-11.45Panel 5: Defending academic freedom in times of conflictPanel 6: Universities, conflict and rebuilding publics
 Fatma Gök (Bogaziçi University): ‘Protecting academic freedom and university autonomy through a pedagogy of resistance’

Saimum Talukder (BRAC University): ‘Laws Declining Academic Freedom of Universities in Bangladesh: Can Judicial Review be Used as a Resilience Strategy?

Sevgi Dogan (Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa): ‘Between Revolt and Revolution: Academic freedom and Repression in Neoliberal Authoritarian Turkish University’

Joel Mark Baysa-Barredo (SHAPE-SEA, Thailand): ‘Defending Knowledge for and through Human Rights: Investigating Academic Activism in Philippines and Myanmar’ 

Chair: Susan Robertson, Emeritus Professor, University of Cambridge 
Nimi Hoffmann (University of Sussex): ‘In defence of witchcraft: the academic project in the era of structural adjustment’

Monica Almanza (Universidad de los Andes), Larisa Kasumagic Kafedzic (University of Sarajevo) and Juliet Millican (IDS): ‘Peace pedagogies in higher education’

Helen Murray (University of Sussex): ‘Universities, conflict and rebuilding publics: post-civil war struggles for the future of the national university in Lebanon’

Kot David Adhal Naduar (University of Bologna): ‘Universities as a civic space in South Sudan? Towards peace and socio-economic empowerment through higher education’

Chair: Azeem Badroodien, University of Cape Town
12.15-1.45Panel 7: Universities as spaces of resilience and resistancePanel 8: Universities, geopolitics and global crises
 Amy Kapit (Swarthmore College) and Selma Bratberg (Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund): ‘Activism Under Attack: Understanding the Repression of Student Activism’

Adnan El-Amine (American University of Beirut / Lebanese Association of Education Studies): ‘Arab Spring and Arab Universities’

Laraib Niaz and Kusha Anand (University of Cambridge and UCL-Institute of Education): ‘Reclaiming or Resisting Academic Freedom: Universities as Spaces for Dissent in India and Pakistan’

Isha Dilraj and Azeem Badroodien (University of Cape Town): ‘The Paradox of Erasure: Transformation and Unequal Economic Relations at a South African University’

Chair: Fatma Gök, Bogaziçi University
Sherzod Khaydarov (University of Edinburgh): ‘Political economy analysis of factors influencing the expansion of Russian International Branch Campuses in Uzbekistan’

Zhiyuan Sun and Yang Wang (Institute of International and Comparative Education, Zhejiang Normal University): ‘Flowing into Skill and Employment? Comparative Policy Analysis of ODA to TVET in time of Uncertainty’

Tristan McCowan (UCL-Institute of Education): ‘Universities in the climate crisis: fragmentation or creative multiplicity?’

Chair: Nimi Hoffmann, University of Sussex  

Download Programme (PDF)

Keynote Speakers

Keynote 1: Dr Savo Heleta, Durban University of Technology

Title: ‘Neglect of higher education in conflict-affected settings: Realities, challenges and possibilities of transnational solidarity and support’

Abstract: Universities are often among the casualties in violent conflicts and wars. Instability and fighting affect students and staff and force many to flee, while campuses and infrastructure are destroyed. Universities in conflict-affected settings need support and assistance to continue functioning, as well as to recover and rebuild once the fighting stops. However, higher education systems and institutions are not a priority when it comes to foreign aid and assistance. Hardly any funding and support goes to higher education as part of rebuilding conflict-affected societies; when aid is provided, it is largely in the form of scholarships to take students out of their countries. This way, only a few benefit, while the institutions and systems remain destroyed and dysfunctional. This talk will unpack the neglect of higher education in conflict-affected societies over the past few decades, highlighting the lack of prioritisation and funding for rebuilding higher education. The dangers of politicisation of foreign aid and imposition of externally designed solutions will also be discussed. Finally, the talk will explore what we need to do to provide meaningful transnational support for universities, academics and students in in-conflict and post-conflict settings. Key here is to find ways to develop networks of solidarity and provide support despite the challenges and pressures linked to neoliberalism, geopolitics and dominant development policies and agendas such as the Sustainable Development Goals which [still] do not see the need to rebuild and strengthen higher education in fragile and conflict-ridden settings.

Biography: Dr Savo Heleta is a researcher and educator with more than ten years’ experience in South African higher education. His research interests include decolonisation of knowledge, higher education internationalisation, international research collaboration, higher education in post-war settings, climate justice, and social justice advocacy and activism. Apart from his work in higher education, Savo has worked on post-war peacebuilding and youth leadership development in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1998-2002) and post-war capacity building and leadership development in South Sudan (2009-2013). Survivor of the Bosnian war, he is the author of ‘Not My Turn to Die: Memoirs of a Broken Childhood in Bosnia’ (AMACOM Books, 2008). Savo works as a researcher and internationalisation specialist at Durban University of Technology in South Africa. He lives in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Keynote 2: Dr Samia Al-Botmeh, Birzeit University

Title: ‘Palestinian higher education under colonialism – between survival and resistance’

Abstract: The paper explores the impact of Israeli colonialism on education in Palestine, before the peace agreements were signed in the mid-1990s and afterwards. It considers the emergence of the higher education system as a mechanism of resistance to colonialism and how Palestinians utilized education not only to survive economically, but also to assert their indigenous rights, articulate their aspirations for liberation and formulate strategies aimed at decolonisation. A closely related paradigm is the continued interaction between Israel’s apartheid-colonial policies on the one hand and neo-liberal policies enforced by international aid under the auspices of the World Bank, on the other. The paper will touch upon how these instruments of repression had their compounded impact on the Palestinian educational system, but also led the way to articulating mechanisms that work to challenge colonialism and neoliberalism.

Biography: Samia Al-Botmeh is an assistant professor in economics at Birzeit University. She has completed her PhD at the School of African and Oriental Studies- University of London, in labour economics.  Her areas of interest and publications are gender economics, labour economics, and political economy of development. She engaged in research on alternatives to neo-liberal development in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the political economy of development under colonialism and gender differentials in labour market outcomes.  

Keynote 3: Dr Sardar Saadi, University of Rojava

Title: ‘Reclaiming Knowledge, Rebuilding University: Higher Education against War and Repression in Autonomous Northeast Syria/Rojava’

Abstract: With the Rojava revolution beginning in 2012, a new hope was born for the northeast region of Syria, also known by its Kurdish name Rojava. Devastated by war, sectarian conflicts, mass displacement, and destruction, Rojava promised to rebuild life against death and to revive the society based on principals of social justice, grassroots democracy, women’s freedom, and co-existence of communities. This region is where the majority of the Kurdish population and other ethnic and religious communities such as Arabs, Assyrians, Armenians, Syriacs, Chechens, Yazidis, and other live. The diversity of this region was shattered by colonial mappings in the early 20th century. It was followed by the rise of newly established nation-states and nationalist politics of ethnic cleansing, assimilation, and exclusion against other communities, which eventually brought war and devastation for the people. The education system of Syria followed (and in many parts still follows) this politics. In this system, knowledge is considered as a property of the state, and universities are means of promoting the state politics and creating desired citizenship. The Rojava revolution disrupted this politics with the pledge to build an education system that reflects the diversity of the region, reclaims knowledge for the people, and promotes peace with justice. Since 2015, four universities have been established in the region: the University of Afrin in 2015 (currently under Turkish occupation), the University of Rojava in 2016, the University of Kobani in 2017, and the University of Al-Sharq in Raqqa in 2021. These universities and the new higher education system have proven that an alternative higher education system based on democratic values can be built even in the most impossible war-torn places.

Biography: Dr. Sardar Saadi is the director of the Institute of Social Sciences at the University of Rojava. He is also one of the co-founders of the Center for Solidarity with Alternative Universities (CSUA) in Paris. Dr. Saadi has a PhD in Sociocultural Anthropology from the University of Toronto. He recently completed a SSHRC postdoctoral fellowship at Wageningen University. His research focuses on urban dynamics of Kurdish struggle for autonomy, left and revolutionary movements in the Middle East region, education and self-determination, and alternative universities. He has published in different journals and online publications, and he is actively engaged with grassroots solidarity movements in Canada and around the world. He is also the host and producer of “the Kurdish Edition” podcast.


Panel 1: Resilience and resistance of universities during war

‘External occupation and internal liberty: Resilience and resistance of universities in times of war (Kherson State University experience)’

Daria Malchykova and Ihor Pylpenko (Kherson State University)

The large-scale military intervention and temporary russian occupation of Kherson (Ukraine) have caused numerous direct and indirect destructive consequences for the whole city, and for Kherson State University in particular. The militarisation of urban space; destruction of the living environment; blatant human rights violations; transformations of urban identity during the occupation; deterioration of the demographic structure; and collective psycho-emotional trauma have determined the background of the processes that have taken place at the university since the first days of the war.

The academic community, however, demonstrated a strong educational resistance to war: Kherson State University not only continued its educational and scientific activities, but also became a centre of social communication during the crisis, with the spread of altruistic practices and moral support, international cooperation, academic solidarity and partnership. What challenges did the occupation and relocation of the university cause for the population and the academic community? What transformations have taken place in the functioning of the university under occupation and during the displacement? What managerial and social experience, what new everyday practices of the academic community have helped the educational resistance to war?

The search for answers to these questions points to new aspects in research on the impact of military conflicts, including the special role of academic communities in strengthening global citizenship and social resilience during war. Narratives of the (non)opportunity to universities functioning in the times of war and conflict should take into account proven successful practices: 1) changes in social roles and daily functionality in the occupied/displaced university; 2) changes in the university’s strategy for surviving in the occupation, working in the conditions of displacement, and modeling work of the post-war period; 3) institutional innovations and educational practices that allow for the fulfillment of traditional university functions: education, research, and social contribution; 4) transnationalisation of education, academic solidarity, and partnerships as mechanisms for inclusion of vulnerable university communities in war zones and military conflicts.

The study offers a new perspective on social sustainability, which, combined with national and patriotic consciousness, becomes the foundation of educational resistance to the challenges of war. Solidarity initiatives (professional, local, regional, national, international), altruistic volunteer practices, institutional and educational innovations that were developed during the global challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic (in particular, the digitalisation of education and the opportunity to work online) contribute to the progressive development of global citizenship of students, academic and support staff in times of war. At the same time, ambitious conclusions have been drawn regarding the strengthening of global citizenship and the social resilience of the international community, which has mobilised and united, providing comprehensive support to Ukrainians – in occupation, in forced migration, and in war zones.

Key words: war, higher education, relocated university, social resilience, global citizenship, educational resistance to war, Kherson State University.


Daria Malchykova, Doctor of Sciences (Geography), Full Professor, Vice-Rector for Educational, Scientific and Pedagogical Affairs, Kherson State University, Kherson, Ukraine,

Ihor Pylypenko, Doctor of Sciences (Geography), Full Professor, Dean of the Faculty of Biology, Geography and Ecology, Kherson State University, Kherson, Ukraine

‘Resilient Higher Education Systems during conflict: Emerging evidence from the Arab region’

Sansom Milton (Doha Institute for Graduate Studies)

The paper contributes towards knowledge on the growing study of resilient higher education systems during conflict and crisis. It does so through a comparative analysis of emerging evidence from the Arab region across the three cases of Syria, Yemen, and Iraq. The paper will begin with a theoretical contextualisation of the concept of resilient higher education in conflict-affected and post-conflict contexts. It then outlines the methodology and data collection which draws on years of empirical research including through interviews, direct observation, and extensive professional engagement with students and scholars from the three country case study contexts. The paper then presents the comparative case analysis structured around the three countries. Firstly, recent research on the impact of conflict on higher education in Syria has shown that, contrary to narratives that the sector had collapsed, Syria’s higher education in fact adapted and persisted under the strain of wartime conditions – and even expanded quantitatively, albeit with negative consequences for quality, equity, and socio-political function. Secondly, despite Yemen suffering more attacks on higher education than any other country during 2015-2020, experiencing the ‘world’s worst humanitarian crisis’, and severe conflict-related impacts, its higher education system has continued to function. Thirdly, Iraq has also experienced decades of isolation, conflict, and “post-conflict” instability that have severely affected its higher education system. Following the case studies, the paper will present the findings of the comparative analysis in terms of factors influencing resilience, the role of regional and international support, and the scope of the significance of the research for conflict-affected and post-conflict contexts globally.

Biography: Sansom Milton is a Senior Research Fellow and Head of Research at the Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies, a research institute within the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies. He is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies. His research interests include humanitarian policy, conflict mediation, post-conflict recovery and peacebuilding, and higher education in conflict and emergencies. His book “Higher Education and Post-Conflict Recovery” was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2018.

‘Universities as spaces of resilience and resistance amid violence: The case of Afghanistan’

Arif Sahar (Sheffield Hallam University)

Historically, Afghanistan has been a hub of contestation, negotiation, struggles, and compromise over power and resources waged by a range of domestic and foreign actors espousing and pursuing competing ideologies and politics. In the post-2001 years, the higher education (HE) sector received significant technical and financial investments, besides a spectacular social support. The education sector marked its impacts in fostering a new generation/ pool of talent, and potentially a space to facilitate critical debates and discourses surrounding national politics and relations. However, these impacts did not materialise into lasting impacts. The collapse of Afghanistan to the Taliban in August 2021 after significant international investments has generated a great deal of recrimination, disappointment, and anger. Whilst it is impossible to gauge exactly what could have been done to prevent the failure, the potential of HE in aiding the international intervention to undermine the tenets of violence by aiding the spaces for social and cultural resilience and resistance merits attention. HE is a multifaceted construct, playing multiple roles. In conflict-affected contexts, it can contribute to building a stable nation and contribute to the construction of the phenomena that are co-constituent parts of an intervention such as stabilisation, reconstruction, peacebuilding, and statebuilding. Also, HE can function as a means of promulgating violent ideas, norms, and politics by providing a platform that violent radical actors manipulate to advance their ideological or political aspirations.

Currently, Afghanistan is at a critical juncture where most of the progress made over the past 20 years is at serious risks of destruction or manipulation for political, cultural, and social domination that could lead to renewed cycle of violence. It could also be interpreted as an opportunity for a fresh start to foster a new narrative and a new social contract to create conditions for a sustainable peace and lasting social harmony. This paper assesses the role of HE in peacebuilding and in fostering spaces for resilience and resistance in the post-2021 Afghanistan. Drawing on other cases than Afghanistan, the paper situates the role of HE within the general citizenship, peacebuilding, and conflict mitigation debates, followed by a critical inquiry of ways HE might contribute to, or undermine, the efforts aimed at curbing the underlying factors of violence, fragility, and social grievances. The paper draws on the findings of extensive empirical work carried out over many years with a wide range of academics, policymakers, administrators, and researchers working within the HE sector in Afghanistan. The paper highlights the processes, ways, and mechanisms available within the HE sector that can be utilised and manipulated in creating and sustaining spaces for resilience and resistance to help the country to transition to a more peaceful nation.

Biography: Dr Arif Sahar is currently a researcher at Sheffield Hallam University, UK where his research focusses primarily on political violence such as international security and terrorism and violent extremism. Arif holds a PhD in the political economy of education in Afghanistan from University College London Institute of Education, UK. Arif held senior positions (2010 – 2015) in his native Afghanistan with various national and international organisations. Arif has researched and published widely on Afghanistan, covering higher/education, politics, society, culture, and security in numerous reputable journals such as Central Asian Survey, Terrorism and Political Violence, Asian Journal of Political Sciences, European Journal of International Security, and Peacebuilding.

‘Ukrainian Universities as Spaces of Resilience and Resistance’

Olha Homonchuk (ODI Global)

Ukrainian universities have been largely financially abandoned by the national government and remain overlooked by humanitarian and development donors when it comes to war relief efforts. With 60% of Ukrainians losing their jobs and the inflation spiking to 20.5%, many students are now unable to pay private university tuition and have dropped out of university (EDUCO, 2023). At the same time, university staff are struggling to provide quality education online during wartime, with no adapted curriculum in place (Radinova and Usyk, 2022; Ma et al., 2022).

Despite these challenges, Ukrainian universities remain a lifeline of resilience for Ukrainian youth and communities. In the face of relentless missile shelling and displacement, access to hybrid education gives young people a sense of connection with past and future peaceful times, a network of emotional support, and an opportunity for nonviolent resistance through volunteering. Teachers and students have adapted to attending virtual lectures from the frontlines (BBC, 2022), bomb shelters, and while being abroad. Universities’ physical spaces have been transformed to serve as points of humanitarian aid reception; distribution of medical, psychological, and food support; temporary shelters and registration points for internally displaced people; and hubs for the handmade production of food and protective gear for regional defence troops (Shokina, 2022). 

This research explores the question of ‘What should the support for Ukrainian universities look like given their significant role in Ukraine’s decolonising struggle and post-war reconstruction?’ To answer this research question, the study builds on 35 in-depth interviews including students in Ukraine and abroad who are enrolled in Ukrainian universities, university academic staff (lecturers and professors), Ukrainian education policymakers, and international donor agency staff working on education (UNESCO and UNICEF).

Based on preliminary findings, the paper argues that humanitarian education programs in Ukraine need to be more holistic, broadening their approach to higher education and building on local expertise. Furthermore, the national education sector needs to adapt the university curricula because EdTech solutions cannot simply replicate in-person traditional programmes.

Biography: Dr Olha Homonchuk is a Ukrainian comparative social policy scholar and a Senior Research Officer at ODI Global. Olha’s current work focuses largely on education political economy analyses as part of the ERICC Research Consortium on Education in Conflict and Protracted Crisis. In addition, Olha holds a Research Affiliate role with the Department of Social Policy and Intervention, University of Oxford. Before this, as a Senior Research Officer at Ipsos, Olha managed large mixed-methods policy evaluations on behalf of the UK government departments, including the Department of Work and Pension and the Department of Culture, Media, and Sports. For her graduate research, Olha explored the lived experiences of insecurity and multidimensional poverty in Ukraine (2022). In her spare time, Olha manages aid deliveries to Ukraine and fundraises for Ukraine-led NGOs, including Voices of the Children and Come Back Alive. Olha holds a DPhil and MSc from the University of Oxford and a BS from Cornell University, US.

Panel 2: Academic isolation and transnational solidarities

‘Overcoming Academic Isolation through Digital Global Universities in Conflict Zones – A Case Study of Empowering Afghan Girls’ Education under Taliban’s rule’

Murtaza Mohiqi (University of South-Eastern Norway)

Access to education is a critical issue for girls in conflict zones, especially when they face gender-based discrimination like the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which prohibits them from attending schools and universities. This denial deprives girls of the chance to acquire an education, perpetuating cycles of poverty and inequality. However, digital global universities are leveraging technology to provide online courses that can transcend physical and social barriers, making education accessible to students in remote areas, including marginalized communities in conflict zones. For Afghan girls, these universities can break the cycle of poverty and inequality by empowering them to achieve their full potential. The study demonstrates that digital global universities are an effective tool for promoting access to education and overcoming academic isolation, thus breaking down the barriers that marginalized communities face.

Despite the potential of digital global universities to provide education to girls in conflict zones, there are still significant barriers that need to be addressed. In addition to gender-based discrimination, girls in Afghanistan face challenges related to access to the internet and electricity, which limit their ability to participate in online courses. Furthermore, cultural norms and expectations may also pose challenges to their participation in digital education initiatives. Addressing these barriers requires a multifaceted approach that includes investing in infrastructure to improve access to technology, providing support to girls and their families, and addressing cultural norms that may limit their participation in education. By working to overcome these barriers, policymakers, educators, and NGOs can ensure that girls in conflict zones have the opportunity to acquire an education and break the cycle of poverty and inequality that perpetuates their marginalization.

The study’s results carry significant implications for policymakers, educators, and NGOs working in conflict zones. The findings demonstrate the value of investing in technology-based education initiatives that can break down the barriers that marginalized communities face, promoting access to education. This case study highlights the importance of prioritizing access to education in conflict zones and emphasizes the potential of digital global universities in empowering marginalized communities. The study underscores the need for continued investment in technology-based education initiatives that can overcome physical and social barriers and promote access to education, particularly for girls and other marginalized communities in conflict zones.

Keywords: Access to education, Digital global universities, Marginalized communities.

Biography: Murtaza Mohiqi is an Afghan legal columnist, law lecturer, and human rights researcher who has accumulated extensive experience teaching in several countries, including Afghanistan, Iran, India, and various European nations. Also, his record includes years of working alongside esteemed research institutes and NGO in Afghanistan, focusing on advancing the rights of girls and women. He is currently an assistant professor with the Human Rights and Multiculturalism master’s program at the University of South-Eastern Norway, where he actively works with students to develop their understanding of human rights and multiculturalism. Mr. Mohiqi has published his work in numerous publications and presented his research at many international conferences. He is also a volunteer teacher in exile, teaching human rights and civil law online to girls in Afghanistan, providing them with access to education and helping them understand their rights as citizens. Additionally, Mr. Mohiqi is an expert in the field of Human Rights and Diverse Societies, as well as Artificial Intelligence and Human Rights.

‘The Academic Teaching of English in Rebel-held North-western Syria: Difficulties and Successes’

Wesam Zarka (Ankara Yıldırım Beyazıt University) and Alhakam Shaar (The Aleppo Project)

At the end of 2015, hundreds of thousands of high school students felt desperate in North-western Syria. They were wondering about the point of attending and studying at high school with no hope of university study. Most students in Eastern Aleppo (rebel-held since 2012) dared not go to regime areas after many university students were arrested while taking their exams or at checkpoints. Earlier in 2015 the rebels managed to control Idlib city, which had hosted a campus of Aleppo University that would later be restructured to establish Idlib University. Only then did the hopes for higher education flourish and rebelling academics started a serious effort to establish new universities to cater to the needs of the students in the area. These efforts were also meant to meet the academics’ needs, especially the financial ones. Free Aleppo University, Idlib University, and Sham University are three examples of diverse administrative backgrounds, and all started actual teaching in 2016. Other universities were established later but all were smaller and were labelled as private universities by the local authorities.  

The shrinking of the rebel-held areas and the political changes there negatively affected both the students and the academics. The lack of cooperation and sometimes the conflicting political-ideological affiliations of the universities have repeatedly restricted the availability of qualified academics for all the students in the area. In addition, the fear of angering the Syrian regime made many academics hesitant to work with these universities or at least cooperate. The academic teaching of the English language is exemplified in this paper to better understand the difficulties and obstacles of higher education. Since Sham University has no English department, the focus will be on the development of both Free Aleppo and Idlib Universities. Intersecting the development of both universities is the Institute of Language Studies (ILS), of which one of the co-authors, Wesam Zarka, is a co-founder. It was launched before the two universities on a less formal basis. This paper aims to provide a descriptive account of the inception and evolvement of higher education institutions in rebel-held northwest Syria. Taking an ethnographic approach, it will rely on first-hand accounts, an analysis of the institutional discourse of academics and students through the examination of founding manifestos and social media posts, as well as interviews with students and fellow academics. Finally, our paper will examine available statistics that will demonstrate the trend in academics’ involvement and student enrolment.

Through the lens of English language education, this paper will provide a history of major universities in North-western Syria and reflect on these experiments. Our working hypothesis is that despite the challenges faced (tumultuous political and security environment, academics too hesitant or afraid to join as staff, relatively high tuition fees, and an obsession with degree accreditation / recognition), these newfound institutions have sustainably succeeded in providing quality education that is otherwise unavailable to most students. Primarily, they gave them a sense of hope and purpose.


Wesam Zarka has an MA in TESOL (Aleppo University, 2011) and another MA in post wars/disasters rehabilitation (Ankara Yildirim Bayazit University, 2022). He works at Ankara Yıldırım Beyazıt University as an English Instructor. Wesam is married with four little children and is based in Ankara, Turkey. He likes swimming and teaching English.

Alhakam Shaar is a linguist and urban sociologist. He is researcher at The Aleppo Project (CEU, 2015 – 2020; now independent), and currently contributes to research on preserving Aleppian cultural heritage Facebook groups, as part of the Modern Endangered Archives Program, UCLA. He holds master’s degrees in TESOL (University of Aleppo, 2012) and Sociology and Social Anthropology (CEU, 2021). He is now training in computational linguistics, aiming to contribute to the documentation of Aleppo’s linguistic heritage. Alhakam also enjoys interpreting at conferences and workshops.

‘Academic isolation and transnational solidarities: CARA’s support to universities in Syria’

Juliet Millican (IDS), Tom Parkinson and Fateh Shaban (University of Kent)

This paper draws on round table events organised by Cara (the Council for At Risk Academics) between 2019 and 2022 as part of its Syria Programme. It looks at the challenges faced by Syrian academics following the outbreak of conflict across Syria in 2011, which left them either working within conflict areas; or displaced, exiled or positioned in refugee contexts in the North West. The paper also reflects on the strategies developed by institutions and academic communities to sustain higher education under fragile conditions, and the potential of international partnerships in providing support and developing resilience. Many of these were discussed and formulated in a series of round table events involving Cara representatives, academics and managers from Syrian Higher Education and international academics who offered support.

A first roundtable in 2019 focused on broader issues facing Syrian higher education including the politicisation of HE in conflict; curriculum stagnation, constrained internationalization, the disappearance of research; and challenges of access, transition and progression to employment. A second brought academics with direct experience of maintaining higher education in conflict contexts (such as Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina and OPT) together with Syrian and UK academics participating in the Syria Programme. A third roundtable in January 2020 brought together senior representatives from Sham International and Free Aleppo Universities, UK-based facilitators and exiled or Turkey-based Syrian academics, for focused discussions around how they and their institutions might be supported through international partnership and collaboration. 

When face-to-face meetings were not possible due to the pandemic, teams of Syrian academics working at Sham and Free Aleppo universities received online mentoring support to undertake five action research projects, each addressing a practical challenge relating to higher education in NW Syria that had emerged at the earlier round tables.  The findings and implications of these studies formed the basis of a fourth roundtable in Gaziantep, Turkey, in the summer of 2022.  Here, a collaborative partnership between Sham, representatives from the Syrian Interim Government, Cara, and a consortium of UK universities was consolidated, and a programme of ongoing action research relating to quality enhancement was initiated. A final round table was held at Sussex University in December 2022 forging further links with key UK universities and their networks to support the development of a quality management strategy for Sham. 

In this presentation, we begin by describing the NW Syrian conflict and the impact of conflict on the sector post-2011, going on to look at the establishment of new universities in the northwest and the challenges faced by academics and these institutions in terms of responding to local demand.  We will introduce the aims and objectives of the roundtable series and subsequent action research collaborations and facilitate discussion on lessons that arose from this work under four key themes:

  • Exile as a space for dialogue
  • Brokering and relational expertise
  • International involvement and networks
  • The (de)politicisation of higher education

Biography: Juliet Millican is a research associate at the Institute of Development Studies, and coordinator of Re-Alliance, a UK based network promoting regenerative response to disaster, displacement and development. Her research interests include the role of higher education in conflict, peace and resistance, participation and social change and the need to integrate development approaches into humanitarian response. She was recently PI on an AHRC Network project ‘Pedagogies for Peacebuilding’ in Bosnia, Rwanda and Colombia, and has written on the role of higher education in conflict, peace and resistance.  Her doctoral research focused on the role of a university following conflict, conducted in a university in exile in Bosnia and Herzogovina between 2005 and 2009. She has significant experience of education and community engagement in conflict and fragile states, including Iraq, OPT, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Myanmar and has led a research strand and multiple round table events for Cara (Council for At Risk Academics) on their Syria programme. She has also worked extensively in Higher Education in the UK, particularly in engaged learning, co-constructed and participatory action-research, experiential and reflective learning and the promotion of community/university partnerships. She was formerly academic director of Cupp (The Community University Partnerships Programme) at the University of Brighton for which she received a National Teaching Fellowship.

Panel 3: Academic repression and networks of solidarity

‘What is happening at the Universities of Iran during the “Women, Life, Freedom” Revolution?’

Encieh Erfani (International Community of Iranian Academics (ICOIA) / International Centre for Theoretical Physics)

Following the passing of Mahsa Amini on September 16th, 2022, students in support of the ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ protests in Iran have encountered governmental crackdowns that have impacted universities throughout the nation. In response, Iranian academics overseas established the “International Community of Iranian Academics (ICOIA)” in October 2022 as a completely volunteer-run organization. The primary aim is to create a community and a forum to serve the interests of academics of Iranian heritage worldwide. However, given the current circumstances, our main focus is on being a voice for students and academics who are experiencing severe suppression and assisting those at risk.

Over the last seven months, the Islamic Republic regime has organized daily violent attacks on Iranian campuses and university dormitories across the country. Students’ safety and security have been at severe risk of violent assaults day and night, even within university buildings, libraries, and cafes. The regime’s forces have attacked dormitories and assaulted students in several instances. University students who protested have been beaten, tortured, arrested, forced to suspend their studies, or even killed by security forces. Many detained students have been imprisoned for weeks or months without access to medical care or legal representation. They have been prevented from contacting their own families, while authorities provide no updates on their cases to the public or their families.

As the sole organization dedicated to the events of Iranian universities, ICOIA has published two in-depth reports (mid-January and mid-March) by gathering data from various human rights organizations. In this speech, I will present these reports, which include the following:

Since September 17th, 2022, protests have taken place in 144 universities, and 723 students have been arrested. Attacks have occurred in several universities and dormitories. Among the 529 protestors who were killed, 21 were students, and some of them died as a result of their participation in student protests. More than 60 students received prison sentences of 1-7 years. Some of these students were subject to up to 74 lashes and a travel ban of 2-5 years. Over 450 students have lost their right to education, and around 100 faculty members have had their contracts suspended or terminated.

In mid-November, ICOIA and several other academic groups and university professors outside of Iran called for an end to student oppression and the violation of university campuses. I will also discuss the history of suppression in Iranian universities, focusing on the ‘Cultural Revolution’ (1980-1983), which resulted in the closure of universities for three years and the expulsion of hundreds of faculty members.

Lastly, I will explain how the scientific community can support Iranian scholars and outline actions that can be taken to reduce academic suppression in Iran.

Biography: Encieh Erfani was an Assistant Professor of the Physics Department at the IASBS, Iran since December 2015 and she resigned in September 2022 in support of protests in Iran. She obtained her Ph.D. degree from Bonn University, Germany in 2012. Her research area is Theoretical Physics and in particular Cosmology. She is an ISC Fellow, an Advisory Board of the IAP, a Junior Associate of the ICTP, Italy, a TWAS Young Affiliate member, and an executive committee member of the Global Young Academy. She is a co-founder of the International Community of Iranian Academics (ICOIA). Since November 2022, she is visiting researcher at ICTP, Italy.

Due to my resignation and threat by the security forces of the regime, I am an exiled scientist in Italy. Kindly refer to my interview with Nature regarding my resignation.

‘“Ideas behind bars”: Writings from imprisoned Indian students and academics’

Swati Kamble (Independent researcher), Laila Kadiwal (UCL-Institute of Education) and Sruti Bala (University of Amsterdam)

A growing number of students and young academics are being incarcerated in India, and academic works critical of the ruling powers are being repressed. Students from minoritized backgrounds face systemic discrimination and exclusion from higher education. Women, queer people, Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims, Nomadic groups, and regions such as Kashmir, the Andaman and Nicobar, and Lakshadweep islands make up these social groups.

Research and activism that highlight casteism and minority issues have become increasingly difficult in India as academics and activists are criminalised and monitored by the state. Students and academics are being silenced, campuses are being militarised, books, plays, and film screenings are being banned, and activities detrimental to the government’s image are being censored. Many public intellectuals who advocate for Adivasi communities and fight against dislocation, expropriation, and ecological destruction are also regularly silenced as critics of corporate-friendly policies.

In this paper, we, the activist researchers from minoritised communities, amplify the voices of incarcerated students and scholars to shed light on egalitarian imaginations found in their works for transformative justice and emphasise the importance of student, academic and civic activism in educational spaces.

The paper stands in solidarity with International Solidarity for Academic Freedom in India’s (InSAF) campaign demanding the release of all jailed scholars, students and civic activists in India, including the Bhima-Koregaon 16. If you are not familiar with the BK-16 case, we recommend watching the 5-minute video ‘The Strange Case against the Bhima Koregaon Political Prisoners’ released by The Polis Project for an excellent introduction to the case. The title of the paper borrows from reading group and podcast series “Ideas Behind Bars”, produced by InSAF India in collaboration with nether quarterly, a journal for literature and the arts.


Dr Swati Kamble: I am an independent researcher-activist. My research broadly focuses on human rights and social justice movements, decolonisation and intersectionality. I have a PhD in socio-economics from the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Geneva. My research focused on the political mobilisation of India’s caste-affected, caste-oppressed communities, their movement history and how this movement has shaped oppressed caste women activists into agents of change.

Dr Laila Kadiwal: I am a Lecturer in Education and International Development at the UCL Institute of Education. I work on the intersections of identity and education in conflict. I have researched in India, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and the UK. In addition, I co-direct Best Foot Music, an intercultural music and arts organisation. It connects refugee and marginalised musicians with extensive music networks and communities in the UK. I have also co-founded the Theatre of the Privileged decolonial movement in education and international development.

Dr Sruti Bala: I am Associate Professor in Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Amsterdam. I research participatory theatre and community arts and am interested in the intersections of the arts and political praxis, as well as in feminist and postcolonial theorisations of theatre. I am a member of InSAF India, international solidarity for academic freedom in India since 2020.

‘Surviving State Terrorism in Mexico: Anthropological narratives of criminalized students’

Daniel Hernández Rosete (Department of Educational Research, CINVESTAV)

Approach. Some student movements in Mexico have been violently repressed, such as the massacre of university students in 1968, the Corpus Thursday massacre in 1973, and the disappearance of students from the Normal Superior of Ayotzinapa in 2014. In all three cases, these are crimes of state that could be classified as crimes against humanity. The regime of President Enrique Pea Nieto is emerging as one of the contexts where state violence has been particularly severe when repressing student mobilizations in secondary and higher education. Aim. The purpose of this text is to analyze the narratives of three students who survived extrajudicial arrests and experienced physical and psychological torture. Emphasis is placed on the counterculture resources that allowed these people to face state terrorism and obtain their freedom. Method. An ethnographic study based on three life stories of university students who were illegally detained while participating in student political protest marches against the government of Enrique Pea Nieto Results. The social protests analyzed, carried out by university students of secondary and higher education, were repressed with violence. The narratives suggest state terrorism practices similar to those practiced in the 1970s, during the Dirty War period. The threats of disappearance with which the police intimidate the students stand out, in addition to the legal discourses with which the students were accused by equating them with drug traffickers. Despite the pictures of depression that the people interviewed describe, there are resources and strategies that they used to defend themselves against police accusations that criminalized them and sentenced them to prison sentences of up to 30 years. The responses shown during the first hours of detention suggest fears instilled through police methods; however, support networks are observed that arise spontaneously in the context of detention and imprisonment. The friendship networks that arise in the first hours of detention stand out and gave rise to interaction through platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, resources that allowed them to articulate containment and support systems that are essential to facing the anguish and depression inherent to detention. isolation of the accusatory system from the police system Conclusions. The repression of youth social protests seems to have sharpened significantly during the government of Enrique Pea Nieto. The extrajudicial processes used evoke police and military practices like those used in the years of the Dirty War. The narratives allow us to suggest a model of an organized response through kinship systems and friendship networks that allow the articulation of an organized civil response around the legitimate defense of young students illegally detained and accused of serious crimes they did not commit.

‘Higher education in exile: connecting imagination with praxis in the midst of political crisis’

Sonya Smylova (University of Cambridge)

This study investigates education in exile, focusing on two primary areas: the educational projects of Russian emigrants who left their home country after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and the ‘relocation’ of higher educational institutions that fled Russia due to political pressure and persecution. Drawing on Lefebvre’s spatial trialectic (1991), the research explores the ’breaches’ between utopian ideas and everyday learning experiences in such an exiled education, studying conceived, perceived, and lived spaces. Conceived space, relating to abstract mental constructions, is connected to utopian dreams and ‘future-thinking’, while perceived encompasses tangible everyday experiences. Lastly, lived space captures how individuals interpret and respond to their surroundings. The research investigates the continuity of structures in educational practice, enabling conditions and factors that disrupt it, and the extent to which this continuity allows for radical change in the context of political and humanitarian crises.

The methodology follows spatial trialectic and employs three groups of methods related to each of the ‘parts’ of trialectic; participatory research (Kesby et al., 2007) and creative methods (Leavy, 2015) could allow participants to share their visions and dreams, to uncover conceived. The study utilises rhythmanalytical observation (Lefebvre, 2004; Lyon, 2020); to understand tangible everyday experiences (‘perceived’), focusing on embodied observation, sound analysis, and reflection on temporalities in education (Alhadeff-Jones, 2017). The research also explores the unique ways in which individuals interpret and respond to their surroundings (‘lived experience’) through reflexive interviews and art-based explorations (Gauntlett, 2007). This multi-perspective approach includes perspectives from leaders, teachers, students, and ‘host’ communities, uncovering personally valuable meanings.

Overall, this study could offer valuable insights into education in exile and inform educators in designing more inclusive and transformative educational initiatives, connecting utopian dreaming of radical change and on-the-ground learning and teaching methods in the context of forced emigration. By exploring the intricacies of these spaces and uncovering structural constraints, this research empowers participants and contributes to the broader understanding of exiled education in the context of political crises.

Note: This is an ongoing study, focusing at this stage on the methodological aspect, i.e. how the experiences of higher education leaders, academics, and students in contexts of conflict could be valued, harnessed, and documented through research while empowering and supporting participants.

Biography: Sonya Smyslova holds an MPhil in Education with a distinction from the University of Cambridge and an MSc in Innovation Management from the Higher School of Economics. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Education at the University of Cambridge, being awarded the Hill Foundation Scholarship. Her research focuses on education in exile and critical learning experience design in the context of political pressure. Sonya is a member of the Knowledge, Power and Politics research group.

An Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (HEA) in the UK, she also has a strong teaching and learning experience design background. Her teaching experience spanned various roles and institutions, from serving as a Program Leader at the School of Education (Universal University) to a Visiting Lecturer at various Moscow-based universities. She previously served as an Academic Director of Universal University, supporting the continuous improvement of the student learning experience. In 2022 Sonya published a book, ‘Learning experience design’ (in Russian). She currently lives in Cambridge with limited availability to continue teaching due to the Russian criminal invasion of Ukraine and subsequent oppressive measures against critically-oriented teachers.

Panel 4: The politics of aid to higher education in conflict

‘Education aid’s role in Myanmar Higher Education (HE) after Covid19 and military coup’

Phyu Khaing Htut (FCDO, Myanmar)

This paper contributes to the conference theme of Supporting and Learning from Universities in Times of Conflict: Towards Resilience and Resistance in Higher Educationfrom the angle of education aid agencies in a conflict context, Myanmar.

It aims to highlight the limited support for HE in Myanmar and explores the implications of it against the background of the scale of education needs in Myanmar after Covid19 and military coup. It sees Myanmar’s education in multiple crisis: 1) legacy low-quality provision since 1960s; 2) learning gap caused by almost 2 years of nation-wide school closures from March 2020 due to Covid19 pandemic; and 3) conflicts and divides caused by military coup in February 2021. Then, it looks at the education aid agencies’ response to the crisis especially in HE. In Myanmar HE, 19,500 educators and staff were not in service anymore after going on strike in opposition to the coup (Reuters, 2021) meaning more than half of Myanmar HE teachers and staff were lost.  The lack of experienced and sufficient educators is just one observable symptom of the scale of education crisis in Myanmar HE. Compared to the unprecedented crisis, there has been limited support as Education aid agencies focus more on primary and secondary levels, not HE, for various reasons. Based on observations of the current context, the paper speculates the impact of limited support on HE in areas of quality, equity and inclusion. It ends with an assessment of implications on commercial HE services or private Higher Education Institutions (HEIs).

Key words: Myanmar education, crisis, Covid19, military coup, HE, aid agencies

‘Seeing the forest for the trees: Comparing international aid to and through higher education in the Global South’

Lee Rensimer and Tristan McCowan (UCL-Institute of Education)

Despite higher education’s re-emergence as a priority area for the global development agenda, as recognised in part by its inclusion in the 2015 SDGs, the overall volume of international aid allocated to higher education has not changed substantially over the past two decades. While 37% of 2021 ODA to education went to supporting tertiary education in some form, the majority of this funding went to Middle-income countries (71%) and to international scholarships in donor countries (77%). The minority of this funding – USD 1.17 billion only – supported universities and related agents in the Global South, including quality enhancement, staff training, curricular inputs, and international partnerships. This relatively small proportion of the overall aid landscape, which increases in volume and donors each year, would suggest a minor role for higher education in donors’ global development priorities.

International aid interventions, however, are diffuse, and are not neatly categorised into single sectors or purposes. Likewise, looking only at ODA purposed as higher education aid misses the larger pool of ODA resources given to other sectors which still involve universities and higher education staff – what we might call ‘aid through higher education’. ODA-funded research is a core component of this broader pool of resources, typically supporting construction of new research infrastructure, training for researchers, postdocs and PhD students, and access to knowledge repositories. One high-profile vehicle for this form of support is the UK’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), a GBP 1.5 billion bilateral ODA package concentrated on research partnerships between UK and Southern universities to tackle urgent SDG-relevant problems. Support to higher education in the GCRF is secondary and not always explicit, but nevertheless contributes to institutional and individual capacities and careers in academic research, in the same manner as targeted aid to higher education.

This presentation will explore the conceptual purchase and empirical limitations of ‘aid through higher education’, articulating its value for understanding the broader impact of unspecified ODA on universities and academics in the Global South. It will illustrate the key areas of convergence with ‘aid to higher education’ and where this concept allows for a broader understanding of the international aid landscape and its relationship with universities in service to the SDGs. It also offers a critique of ‘aid through higher education’ initiatives like the GCRF, many of which fund universities and research in the Global North while counting against ODA commitments, offering in reality another form of tied aid that arguably makes greater contributions to donor country higher education systems than to their purported beneficiaries.


Lee Rensimer is a Lecturer at IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society and a Research Fellow in the ESRC-funded Centre for Global Higher Education. In the latter role, he contributes to two research streams investigating (1) the international flows of ‘aid’ to and through higher education (with Prof Tristan McCowan) and (2) the role of supranational actors in the European higher education space (with Prof Rachel Brooks). His research bridges international education and international development, with critical interest in transnational and nonstate education formations across the Arabian Gulf and globally. He has led studies for foundations and government agencies on the impact of private and international education providers on educational access and equity in the MENA region, including a pioneering case study on transnational graduate outcomes in the UAE commissioned by Universities UK International.

Tristan McCowan is Professor of International Education at the Institute of Education, University College London. His work focuses on higher education and international development, particularly in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa, including issues of access, quality, innovation and sustainability. His latest book is Higher Education for and beyond the Sustainable Development Goals (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), and from 2015-2021 he was editor of Compare – a Journal of International and Comparative Education. He is currently leading the multi-country GCRF project Climate-U (Transforming Universities for a Changing Climate).

‘A Qualitative Exploration of the Barriers Asylum-Seeking Students Face When Accessing Higher Education in the UK’

Rachel Caterer, Monica Pereira and Pauldy Otermans (Brunel University)

Since 2015 there has been a sharp upward global trajectory in the number of applications for refugee status. This has generated an increasing societal expectation that education will assist refugee inclusion. However, accessing education after the age of 18 for refugees and people with an asylum-seeker background has been under researched. Current studies tend to focus on compulsory education for this group of learners. This qualitative study added to the body of knowledge as to why those from an asylum-seeker background are underrepresented in Higher Education (HE). In addition, the research responds to the Department for Education’s 2018 request for research into why there are differences in participation rates in HE with particular focus on obstructions to access for underrepresented students. Considering the growing numbers of refugees resettled in response to the Syrian, Afghan and more recently Ukrainian crisis, researchers believe there is an increasing urgency to address this gap in knowledge. Furthermore, research has identified a strong positive correlation between higher levels of education and improved socioeconomic outcomes for asylum-seekers not just on a personal level but also to their communities. This research looks at identifying barriers to HE with recommendations for dismantling impediments thereby leading to improved outcomes.

Three key themes emerged through focus groups and semi-structured interviews, involving fourteen participants of their experience of attempting to access HE. Firstly, a lack of knowledge as to their rights in accessing HE; secondly, poor, and inaccurate information being circulated by gatekeepers to HE; thirdly, the timings of offers of places being uncoordinated with access to scholarships. In conclusion, this study uncovered several barriers for refugees accessing HE in the UK, some of which are systemic. It is suggested that further research is carried out from the perspective of university admissions and widening participation departments. It is recommended that there is an official, reputable source of information for those from asylum-seeking backgrounds wishing to apply for HE.


Rachel Caterer, Brunel University London, and Otermans Institute 

ORCID ID: 0000-0002-1893-2098

Rachel is a final year undergraduate at Brunel University London studying Education with a place at Sussex University to study for a Master’s in International Education and Development in September 2023. Her research interests are in the fields of refugee access to Higher Education and English language acquisition. Rachel teaches English as a foreign language and has been instrumental in the set up and running of classes and social groups for asylum-seekers housed in the hotels surrounding Heathrow. During her time at Brunel, she has been involved with volunteering as a researcher, for which she was awarded Volunteer of the Year, 2022. In addition, Rachel worked as a Programme Assistant managing project teams working on solutions to issues faced by Mayukwayukwa refugee camp in Zambia.  Whilst at Brunel, Rachel has also held the positions of Course Representative, Widening Access Student Ambassador, Student Representative, Work Placement Development Officer and Peer Assisted Learning Leader. Prior to retuning to full time education, Rachel worked at institutes of education for over a decade and before that in project management.

Dr Monica Pereira, Brunel University London, and Otermans Institute

ORCID ID: 0000-0003-2583-4522

Dr Monica Pereira completed her undergraduate degree at London Metropolitan University and was awarded the British Psychology Society Undergraduate Award. Dr Pereira then went on to study clinical neuroscience at University College London and had a particular interest in brain injury and electrical brain stimulation. Her journey to becoming a chartered psychologist was finalised when she went on to complete a PhD at Brunel University London in Affective Computing. Dr Pereira began her academic career in the Psychology Department at London Metropolitan University, University of Westminster, and Birkbeck University. Now, Dr Pereira is a full-time lecturer in the Computer Science Department at Brunel University London and is a Chartered Cyberpsychologist. Dr Pereira is also involved in several external academic service activities.

Pauldy Otermans Brunel University London, and Otermans Institute

ORCID ID: 0000-0001-8495-348X

Dr Pauldy Otermans is a Senior Lecturer (Education) in Psychology at Brunel. She is the Deputy Division Lead for Psychology, and Employability Lead for the Division of Psychology, a Recognised Programme Developer, Academic Professional Development Unit Panel Advisor, and Fellow of the Brunel Academy for the Transformation of Teaching. Dr Otermans’ research focuses on Innovative Teaching & Learning in Higher Education; Student Success and EDI; Employability & Student Outcomes; Student Experience and Student Satisfaction; Assessment and Feedback; and Student Engagement.  Dr Otermans is also the co-founder of Otermans Institute (OI) which is an international organisation based in London, focusing on research, and developing affordable educational tools for a global audience using Artificial Intelligence (AI).

‘Foreign Aid, Higher Education and the ‘Right to Meaning’ in Syria’

Jee Rubin and Zeina al-Azmeh (University of Cambridge)

This paper addresses two somewhat oppositional aims within research and practice on ‘Higher Education in Emergencies’. The first is to better incorporate universities into the international aid apparatus as a way to address its abandonment by humanitarian actors. The second is to cultivate critical awareness and political solidarity with HE institutions operating under conditions of crisis. Reconciling these objectives, however, often results in reformist approaches, with widespread calls for aid to become more inclusive and just. Yet such efforts are consistently limited by the aid industry’s political threshold, which is enduringly low and partial. In Syria, for example, HE actors often conceal or disavow their political positions in order to jockey for international aid and support. Their success in doing so is nonetheless curbed by patterns of ‘selective solidarity’ that benefit some Syrian actors over others—as well as some country contexts or conflicts over Syria altogether. We propose the framework of ‘the right to meaning’ (Al-Azmeh, 2022) as one way to make sense of these issues. This framework understands inequality as resting on ‘a perceived dichotomy between those entitled to “meaning” and those whose lives are accepted and treated as devoid of it or denied it’ (p. 402). In this light, the aid system’s superficial claim to impartiality is a disciplinary device, one that denies Syrians a right to political meaning as a necessary trade-off for funding. In translating this framework to HE and aid, we query the uneven material worth of competing knowledge systems by drawing on literature regarding the moral orders of markets. Doing so recasts the demarcation of ‘un/fundability’ as a marketized logic, in turn raising questions about the relationship between values and value, meaning and worth.


Jee Rubin is a Gates-Cambridge scholar and PhD student at the University of Cambridge. Their disserta/on research examines the geopolitics of higher education in Syria, including Turkish and Russian efforts to securitise the sector. Prior to their doctoral studies, Jee spent five years working as an education consultant for UN, government and international organisations in the Levant.

Dr. Zeina al-Azmeh is a Centenary Research Fellow at Selwyn College and guest lecturer at the Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge. Educated in Syria, the US, and the UK, Zeina completed her PhD in Sociology from the University of Cambridge where she examined the role of exiled Syrian intellectuals in civil resistance since 2011.

Panel 5: Defending academic freedom in times of conflict

‘Protecting academic freedom and university autonomy through a pedagogy of resistance’

Fatma Gök (Boğaziçi University)

This paper intends to do two things. First of all it will explore the longest resistance movement in history, as far as universities are concerned, which is taking place since January 2021 at Boğaziçi University in İstanbul. This is a struggle for academic freedom and against the destruction of university autonomy by the policies of the President Erdoğan.  Secondly, it will discuss the Pedagogy of Resistance: the transformative character of this longstanding protest for the members of the university.

As a public University, Boğaziçi University is one of  the top research university in Turkey. Additionally, Boğaziçi University has a reputation to have academic freedom and an oppositional cultural climate that is critical of the government. This opposionality is not the case for most of other universities in the centralized Turkish Education system.

In January 2021, President Erdoğan appointed a new rector to the Boğaziçi University which was traditionally chosen by an electoral process. This undemocratic decision was widely protested by faculty and students. That rector survived only six months and was replaced by a new one who was one of the only three faculty members among about 400 who was willing to cooperate with the government. 

This new administration carried out many autocratic decisions acting as if it was at war to capture all the democratically working institutions and to destroy Boğaziçi University.

Since then, Boğaziçi University has been standing up for the university in many different ways. The most outstanding one which has become the symbol of the resilience is the meeting of faculty, in their gowns, each weekday in front of the rectorate building in a silent vigil while turning their backs to the rectorate with signs that say “We do not accept” and “We do not give up”. There are also many court cases filed by faculty members against the rectorate for the unlawful decisions and appointments. 

In this paper I will try to explore the damage and the process of destruction by those who are attempting to takeover the university which includes the high cost of the resistance incurred by faculty and students such as arrest and imprisonment.

The second part of the paper deals with the impact of this resistance process and in what ways it changed the participants over the course of two and a half years. In this part, I will discussed the rich experience of solidarity and its contribution to transformative learning, including the changing relationship among the members of the different groups and its impact on the idea of the university we dream of.  

‘Laws Declining Academic Freedom of Universities in Bangladesh: Can Judicial Review be Used as a Resilience Strategy?

Saimum Talukder (BRAC University)

There is no explicit mention of academic freedom in the text of any international human rights convention. In its place, it has emerged as a distinct human right. The 1997 UNESCO report identifies four key elements of academic freedom: “freedom to teach and discuss,” “freedom to conduct research, publish the results, and disseminate them,” “freedom to express opinions about the academic institution or system in which one works,” and “freedom to participate in professional or representative academic bodies without being censored.” Individual academicians’ and researchers’ liberty, as well as the administrative independence of universities, are embedded in Bangladesh’s existing constitutional framework. The Bangladeshi constitution recognizes freedom of thought, speech, and conscience, as well as the right to life and liberty, as fundamental rights enforceable in court. In addition, the “Doctrine of Basic Structure” safeguards such fundamental rights against alienation.

However, the Academic Freedom Index compiled by the V-Dem Institute indicates that academic freedom in Bangladesh has decreased since the country’s independence in 1971. According to the Democracy Index of the Economist Intelligence Unit, Bangladesh is a “Hybrid Regime” at present. In addition, Bangladesh ranks poorly on the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index and Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index. Teachers and students in Bangladeshi universities are dissuaded from teaching and learning, conducting research, publishing results, and expressing extramural or intramural opinions due to the widespread politicization and corruption of university leadership and administration. Recent laws pertinent to newly established universities also demonstrate a growing trend toward limiting institutional autonomy and imposing a tighter bureaucratic grip. Although early laws granted universities autonomy, modern laws impose greater restrictions on universities’ institutional autonomy. As a result, there are currently three types of universities in Bangladesh: autonomous public universities, government universities governed by laws that impose greater bureaucratic control, and private universities governed by a Board of Trustees with vested interests in the bureaucracy, industry, and political parties.

Article 102 of the Bangladeshi Constitution provides for Judicial Review, whereby any law conflicting with fundamental liberties can be declared null and void. This has also opened the door for “Judicial Activism” in Bangladesh through “Public Interest Litigation” (PIL). On the request of aggrieved parties, the judiciary has already rendered some remarkable decisions regarding environmental protection, women’s empowerment, access to education, public health, employment rights, etc. This paper argues that it is also possible to demonstrate that “Academic Freedom” is an integral component of certain constitutionally protected fundamental rights. Consequently, any violation of academic freedom can be viewed as a violation of constitutional rights, which can be challenged in court pursuant to Article 102 of the Constitution. Thus, the concept of PIL can be utilized in this context by ordinary citizens and academic institutions that have been wronged. In addition, the judiciary of Bangladesh should uphold its already-established tradition of judicial activism to safeguard academic freedom. Using the concept of judicial review, universities, citizens of the country including faculty and students, can develop a strategy for resilience in this manner.

Biography: At the BRAC University School of Law, Mr. Md. Saimum Reza Talukder holds the position of Senior Lecturer. He is a member of the Dhaka Bar Association and registered as a lawyer with the Bangladesh Bar Council. Mr. Saimum is a member of the Artificial Intelligence Working Group (AIWG), an initiative of the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities at Bard College, USA. The AIWG focuses on the intersections between Philosophy and Artificial Intelligence, emphasizing their societal impact in a democratic environment. He also participates in the Bangladesh Internet Freedom Initiative Working Group, a civil society project backed by regional and global non-governmental organizations.

Mr. Saimum now concentrates on the legal facets of Big Data, AI, digital rights, and net neutrality. Mr. Saimum possesses a specialized Master’s degree in Law and Digital Technologies from Leiden University, Netherlands. He has finished his LLM and LLB at the University of Chittagong. From Lund University in Sweden, he also received a Post-Graduation Diploma in Social Innovation in a Digital Context.

‘Between Revolt and Revolution: Academic freedom and Repression in Neoliberal Authoritarian Turkish University’

Sevgi Doğan (Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa)

University is one of the places in which antidemocratic implementations have been recently witnessed in different countries. Turkey is among these countries where the authoritarian regime by taking advantage of 2016 coup amended the higher education law about the appointment of rectors by way of the delegated legislation or decree law. This paper is focused on scholars and academics currently working in Turkish universities. While previously the rectors could be elected by the universities member, by this law they are appointed directly by the president of republic. As a result, Boğaziçi University’s students and academics, since January 1, 2021, are collectively standing out against this antidemocratic decision by which their rector was appointed by the president. Starting from an analysis of these protests and collective actions taken by students and academics of Boğaziçi University to defend university’s autonomy and academic freedom, first, the paper will try to argue whether one can consider these and similar movements, happening all around the world, despite everything as Rosa Luxemburg said, as a sort of “a spectre […] haunting” world. Or is it possible to discuss, following Herbert Marcuse’s reflection about the 1968 student revolt, that “they have […] raised a specter (and this time a specter which haunts not only the bourgeoisie but all exploitative bureaucracies)?” Secondly, another important question is whether there was/is a response from society, without which this specter could not be transformed into revolution. In other words, how much these movements lead “the translation of the potential into the actual” which was considered by Marcuse as “the work of political practice”? The paper will make use of Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man (1964) and An Essay on Liberation (1969) in order to analyse these political movements and struggles. In addition, the paper explores what the changes are that higher education is facing following the 2016 coup d’etat, in particular, in terms of pressures and barriers to academic production; how attacks affect scholars’ possibilities to create, lecture, and resist government’s policies. Drawing on Gramsci’s theory of intellectuals and his notion of hegemony, the paper explores the relationship between authority and knowledge. In this respect, the paper try to explore that the government’s aggressive politics against Turkish scholars is a result of the failure to consolidate its power and hegemony through knowledge, and to establish an intellectual base in a Gramscian fashion. These all attacks on academics and academic freedom is the result of this failure and of the authoritarian government’s aim to construct a cultural and intellectual hegemony in its manner.

Biography: Sevgi Doğan gained her doctorate degree from Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa. She is currently a precarious post-doctoral researcher at the same university, where she also collaborates with the Scholars at Risk Network (SAR) – Italy. Her doctoral thesis, Marx and Hegel: On the Dialectic of the Individual and the Social, was published by Lexington Books (2018). Her fields of research are modern and contemporary political philosophy, (Italian) Marxism, Hegelianism, German and Italian idealism, Rosa Luxemburg, authoritarianism and totalitarianism, gender and feminist studies, the social and political modernisation of Turkey, and academic freedom. She has translated Gramsci’s Letters from Prison from Italian into Turkish and submitted it to Alfa publishing house. Her most recent book La grande malattia dell’Europa (2023), about HR violations in contemporary Turkey and with texts by Gustaw Herling, has been recently published by Rubbettino.

‘Defending Knowledge for and through Human Rights: Investigating Academic Activism in Philippines and Myanmar’ 

Joel Mark Baysa-Barredo (SHAPE-SEA, Thailand)

On the night of the National Elections in May 2022, a well respected political science academic shared her insights about the imminent victory of Bongbong Marcos on live TV. Her “belittling” views earned the ire of his supporters, which manifested in attacks on social media. A year prior, a Yangon-based lecturer, was removed from her teaching position for joining the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) in protest against the military junta. She was forced to seek refuge in Thailand, with her husband and infant child. Academics continue to face opposition and reprisals (Flood, 2013), while, as Freire (2005) puts it, holding the line, and raising critical consciousness on oppressive regimes and norms.

Academic activism has become an increasingly critical form of resistance, where governments often restrict civic spaces and violate human rights (Lagoutte and Soskin, 2018). It often involves using scientific expertise to address inequalities and injustices, challenging power structures and advocating for change. Apart from knowledge production, academics have been participating in social movements, conducting research with a social justice agenda, and engaging with policy- makers and the public to advocate for change (Flood, 2013; Lennox and Yildiz, 2020).

Still, not much has been highlighted, debated and analyzed about its concept and lived experiences, particularly in Southeast Asia. Neither has there been solid recognition, by scholars and civil society—all the more public agencies, of academics as human rights defenders. Moreover, discourses and knowledge surrounding academic activism in the Philippines and Myanmar is limited, albeit growing. Existing studies have centered on educational institutions as spaces for human rights awareness and advocacy (Brems, 2019; Rose, 2017; Lagoutte and Soskin, 2018), and sources of threats to safety and security of academics (Flood, 2013, Lennox and Yildiz, 2020). SHAPE-SEA (2019) found that apart from scarce resources, weak political support, disruptions to academic freedom had affected the delivery of human rights and peace education.

My paper is envisioned to increase understanding on the diverse experiences of, and multiple roles academics play in producing (and protecting) knowledge, as well as raising social consciousness and action. By focusing on the Philippines and Myanmar, the paper shall deeply examine structures, norms, and policies that facilitate and/or constrain academic activism, amid the recent rise of popular authoritarianism, and in the latter, a breakdown of democratic institutions. It shall eventually investigate its impacts on rights-holders, as well as social conditions, and structures. The paper shall also look closer into one’s agency, as well as conditions, norms and structures that influence it. The following are the main questions:

  1. What is the nature of academic activism in the Philippines and Myanmar? How is it perceived, approached and manifested across different actors and contexts?
  2. What are the factors that enable and challenge academic activism in these two countries? How do socio-political and economic structures, norms and conditions shape one’s strategies and actions?
  3. What have been/should be the roles of universities in addressing challenges faced academic activists, particularly those at risk?

Biography: Joel Mark Baysa-Barredo is a Southeast Asian queer-feminist academic activist. Holds an International Master’s Degree (Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies, Mahidol Univ., Thailand). He is the Executive Director of the Strengthening Human Rights and Peace Research/Education in Southeast Asia Programme (SHAPE-SEA) and an Obama Leader for Asia-Pacific 2022.

Panel 6: Universities, conflict and rebuilding publics

‘In defence of witchcraft: the academic project in the era of structural adjustment’

Nimi Hoffmann (University of Sussex)

Driven into a corner, we discovered local communities … To them, we must appear like potted plants in greenhouses – of questionable aesthetic value – or mere anthropological oddities with curious habits and strange dresses, practitioners of some modern witchcraft. (Mamdani 1993)

Structural adjustment represented a sustained assault on African universities. It eroded the material basis for research and training, and threatened the intergenerational renewal of the academic community. In response, universities became hotbeds of resistance to structural adjustment. Yet, instead of protecting their universities, states often repressed and brutalised them. Spurned by the state, the academic community turned towards society for support. It was then that they discovered the extent of their social alienation, for the academic project appeared at best irrelevant, and at worst, a kind of colonial witchcraft practiced against society.

It was within this context that African scholars began a period of intense self-reflection and introspection. Academic Freedom in Africa, an edited collection of papers, represents the first fruits of this analysis. This paper focuses on a central claim in the volume: that the lack of freedom in the academic community is closely related to its lack of social relevance. Paying careful attention to contributors’ debates over this claim, I argue, suggests a conceptualisation of the university as a potential space for society to argue with itself, where public argument is a critical component of an autonomous and flourishing society. As such, the book presents an alternative to the market logic of the World Bank and the developmental logic of the state. Viewed this way, intellectuals’ defence of the academic project was indeed a kind of witchcraft, which attempted to peer beyond the veil, to see not only what universities are, but what they could become, and thereby bring them into being.

‘Peace pedagogies in higher education’

Monica Almanza (Universidad de los Andes), Larisa Kasumagic Kafedzic (University of Sarajevo) and Juliet Millican (IDS)

This paper speaks to three of the four conference themes: Academic isolation and transnational solidarities; Universities as spaces of resilience and resistance and Universities, conflict and rebuilding publics, by sharing findings from a research project involving scholars from the universities of Sussex, Rwanda, Sarajevo (Bosnia-Herzegovina) and Los Andes (Colombia) conducted between 2018 and 2020.  This GCRF funded research looked at how universities in different conflict affected contexts could support each other in confronting the legacies and continuation of serious episodes of violence within their communities. As such the project explored the role of universities in partnership with communities and civil society organisations in addressing violence, and ways in which response to conflict and violence might be addressed within Higher Education.

As an action research project colleagues from the different institutions met in a series of webinars and peer learning discussions, sharing approaches to pedagogy and ways in they could confront the social divisions and trauma that persisted in their publics. We focused on the significance of teaching students about past and present conflicts and possible ways forward who are at a crucial point in leaving familial identities and forming their own, the need for communities to repair the damage caused by conflict while avoiding a return to conflict and the role universities can play in this and the importance of context based theoretical/practical knowledge. This allows the design and development of valuable bottom-up educational projects and initiatives. When universities support an approach to research and pedagogical practice that responds to context, professionals from all disciplines can play a role in the reduction of conflict and violence. By bringing together academics from different conflict affected areas, the commonalities in potential approaches and the contextual specifics became apparent. Pedagogical practice is situated knowledge, it takes into consideration the moment of intervention (before, during or after the conflict), the type of population being served (survivors, victims, demobilized, spectators, heirs) and the context in which it takes place (rural/urban, formal/non-formal, etc.). Recognising this provides a better understanding of the ways in which universities can contribute to the transformation of conflict, enriching the pedagogical repertoire of colleagues in other places and the options for joint work. 

The outcomes of this project included the establishment of a Peace Education Hub at the University of Sarajevo that works with and alongside community partners in peacebuilding, the development of courses on pedagogies of memory and peace at Universidad de los Andes in partnership with community activists and the adoption of peacebuilding as a priority theme at the University of Rwanda.

This paper will share experiences from two of these contexts with partners from Los Andes and Sarajevo universities, exploring strategies used for students from the four universities to share their knowledge and reflections, internal seminars held with colleagues in pedagogy and community practice, the value of inter-university collaboration and academic solidarity in facing challenging issues and the ways in which our universities were able to provide spaces for resilience and resistance.

‘Universities, conflict and rebuilding publics: post-civil war struggles for the future of the national university in Lebanon’

Helen Murray (University of Sussex)

For much of the last two decades, higher education has been absent from research and policy priorities within the field of ‘Education in Emergencies’ (EiE).  This is now changing but within what paradigm and with what purposes?  This paper argues that the newly emerging discourse on ‘Higher Education in Emergencies’ (HEiE) risks being constrained within an economic paradigm that focuses almost exclusively on questions of access and human capital, marginalising the political democratic significance of universities in processes of post-conflict recovery. 

The paper draws on case study research that follows the history of Lebanon’s only public university, focusing on the post-civil war struggles over the meaning and future of the Lebanese University as a public institution.  Posing the question ‘what makes a university public’ in a democratic political sense, the paper offers a political theoretical framing for understanding the ‘publicness’ of universities. The suffix ‘ness’ indicates that a university’s publicness is not fixed but inherently fragile and contestable, closely related to wider struggles of democracy.

Emerging from the case study data in a dialogue with political theory, four conditions of publicness are explored in relation to post-civil war contestations taking place within the Lebanese University between 1990 and 2019. These include struggles over difference, autonomy, accountability and space/place, which the paper concludes are key to the making and unmaking of the Lebanese University as a public sphere. Reflecting on the Lebanese University case, the paper further argues that to build a compelling literature on higher education, conflict and peacebuilding, this emerging field needs to go well beyond current preoccupations with human capital and securitisation, to engage with the public purposes of universities in the democratic fabric of society. 

Biography: I am a Research Fellow at the Centre for International Education, University of Sussex, working with the Political Economy of Education Research Network (PEER), a 3-year collaboration between the Universities of Cape Town, Nazarbayev, Sussex and Ulster, aiming to strengthen critical political economy analyses of education systems in societies affected by conflict.  My ESRC-funded PhD looked at the relationship between universities, conflict and the public sphere through an extended case study of the national university in Lebanon. Tracing the trajectories of the Lebanese University over the ‘longue durée’ from 1959 to 2019, the research explored what makes a university ‘public’ in a political democratic sense, alongside shifting historical relations between higher education and the state.

Prior to my PhD, I worked for 15 years on issues of education justice, conflict and development. My particular interest in higher education was ignited by experiences of studying and later working at Birzeit University in Palestine, where I coordinated the Right to Education Campaign between 2004-2006. I subsequently worked for a range of local and international organisations in policy, programming and research roles, most recently with the Open Society Foundations on their education and higher education work. 

‘Universities as a civic space in South Sudan? Towards peace and socio-economic empowerment through higher education’

Kot David Adhal Naduar (University of Bologna)

The importance of higher education in conflict-affected states cannot be over emphasized. Higher education institutions have been instrumental in providing knowledge and skills that enable people to be productivity citizens in many socio-economic activities (Milton and Barakat, 2016; Yizengaw, 2004). Moreso, many universities have been centers for crusading peace and harmonize coexistence among the citizens especially in the war and conflict-affected countries (Omeje, 2015; Breidlid, 2019). Furthermore, it is argued that higher education can be a good conduit to promoting peace and socio-economic empowerment through strengthening civility and enhancing participatory engagement in the society (Schweisfurth, et al., 2018; Brown and Watkins, 2012). Moreso, higher education study has enabled university students to learn and acquire knowledge and skills that can make them creative thinkers, entrepreneurs, peace ambassadors as well as to make independent decision that can promote peace and socio-economic transformation (Yizengaw, 2004). As a result there is an overwhelming demand to establish higher education institutions in post-conflict areas in order to help with strengthening and fostering peacebuilding and promoting socio-economic empowerment (British Council 2013; Murithi, 2006). However, little is empirically known regarding this topic especially in South Sudan, a country that is ravaged by many civil wars and conflicts since its independence. This study aim to provide a comprehensive understanding of higher education in a state where peace and socio-economic empowerment is direly needed.

This study adopted an econometric model by using a binomial logistic regression to provide a clear understanding of peace and socio-economic empowerment through analysing different variables on the response variable i.e. peace and socio-economic empowerment. The data was collected in a survey conducted in November 2022 by the author, in four different universities in Juba city and Wau town. This research adopt higher education theory as well as Bradford model and the centralized unitary model about conflict and peace education in the higher education institutions. The study found that gender, social origin and political dispensation significantly influence peoples’ perceptions toward peacebuilding and harmony. Especially, if the entangled people come from the same social class and ideologies. However, the study did not find the level of higher education, corruption implicated people, work experience, skills and knowledge significantly influencing the socio-economic empowerment because of the high level of political polarization, favouritism and nepotism in the country. Hence, meritocracy is not considered in job employment and other socio- economic supports. This study present those factors that can foster peace and socio-economic empowerment and provide some relevant policy recommendations to the practitioners and academic fraternity.

Keywords: Higher education, post-conflict states, peace, socio-economic empowerment, civic space, South Sudan

Panel 7: Universities as spaces of resilience and resistance

‘Activism Under Attack: Understanding the Repression of Student Activism’

Amy Kapit (Swarthmore College) and Selma Bratberg (Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund)

Since October 2022, Iranian university students have been at the forefront of nationwide protests demanding regime change. The Iranian government and security forces have met these protests with brutality. By early January 2023, at least 685 students had been arrested, according to the Volunteer Committee to Follow Up on the Situation of Detainees. Of these students, at least 44 had been sentenced, most to multiple years in person, with at least one student facing the death penalty if convicted. Students who disappeared during protests have been later found dead. Other students have been suspended, expelled, or banned from taking exams. As in the case of Iran, university students are often at the forefront of movements for social and political change and leaders in efforts to envision post-conflict reconstruction and societal transformation. Yet governments, university authorities, and the media often play a role in repressing student activism in ways that are overt–as in the case of Iran–as well as in ways that are more subtle.

This paper draws on research done in partnership with the Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund (SAIH) and has two purposes. First, it argues that facilitating student activism is an important function of institutions of higher education. Universities are centers for development of knowledge, transmission of ideas, and critical debate. According to progressive theorists of education, such as John Dewey, educational institutions are supposed to prepare students to become active participants in political and civic processes. Moreover, it is well established that some of the most transformative educational moments happen outside of the classroom. Engaging in student activism is an important way for university students to learn, develop skills, and gain experience. Some argue that student activism itself is a form of civic education. This discussion poses questions for the application of academic freedom. While academic freedom protects student learning, student activism is more often viewed as obstructing academic freedom (e.g. a student strike prevents students from learning) than as something that should be protected by it.

Second, this paper draws on interviews with students and human rights advocates, as well as a literature review, to analyze the ways in which student activism is most commonly suppressed. It focuses in particular on four subtle mechanisms of suppression: 1) Lawfare, the use of law prohibiting public disturbance or terrorism to constrain student organizing; (2) Delegitimization, the use of rhetoric that labels student activists as “terrorists,” “hooligans,” “criminals,” “idiots,” or “perverts;” (3) Co-option, the establishing or empowering of government-controlled or -aligned student organizations or the incentivizing student support for government policies in ways that neutralize political opposition by students; and (4) Factionalization, the inflammation of broader political or social tensions within the student population. This analysis has important implications for efforts to understand the ways in which universities are being caught up in increasing social and political polarization, shrinking civic space, and rising authoritarianism, and the extent to which student activism is protected by existing normative frameworks.


Author – Amy Kapit: Amy Kapit is a visiting Assistant Professor in Peace and Conflict Studies at Swarthmore College. She holds a PhD in International Education from New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development and a BA in Religion and Peace and Conflict Studies from Swarthmore College. Her research and teaching focus on the relationships between education, armed conflict, and violence; paradigms of humanitarian aid; and critical analysis of global indicator frameworks. Dr. Kapit previously worked as the Research Director for the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack and as Research Director of the Assessment of Learning Outcomes and Social Effects of Community-Based Education in Afghanistan, a research project led by Dana Burde and Cyrus Samii (NYU) and Joel Middleton (University of California, Berkeley). She has consulted with a variety of organizations, including the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies, Scholars at Risk, UNESCO, and USAID.

Co-Presenter – Selma Bratberg: Selma Bratberg is the President of the Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund (SAIH). She has been active in Norwegian student movements for several years, and has previously served for two years as the Vice President of SAIH. Selma holds a bachelor’s degree in International Development Studies from Oslo Metropolitan University. She has worked on advocacy related to access to higher education, academic freedom, intercultural education and human rights.

‘Arab Spring and Arab Universities’

Adnan El-Amine (American University of Beirut / Lebanese Association of Education Studies)

  1. Perhaps hundreds of studies and reports have been published on the Arab Spring (2011). Yet little reference has been made to the role of Arab universities in these movements. When the term “universities” was mentioned, it was often to refer to the participants in the demonstrations (university students, university graduates). They appear alongside with other categories such as university professors, employees, civil servants, teachers, etc. In this respect, there is no difference between the two countries in which the uprisings led to the overthrow of the rulers (Egypt and Tunisia) and the countries in which the protests against the rulers turned into armed conflicts (such as Yemen, Libya, and Syria) and countries where uprisings ended without significant regime change (Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon).
  2. This intervention attempts to provide a preliminary explanation of this phenomenon, including the transformations that the university and the protests have witnessed.
  3. Following the setback of June 1967, the student mood changed in all the Arab countries and the agenda of their movements became a mixture of academic demands and political requests. In the case of Egypt, for example, a major student uprising took place on February 21, 1968, during which, for the first time since 1952, slogans were raised calling on the leader (Jamal Abdel Nasser) to resign from the power. A similar demonstration took place at the time of Sadat (1971). But it was, it is said, “the last real uprising of the student movement”.
  4. The first half of the 1970s saw a fundamental shift in university governance in many countries of the Arab Levant, towards the establishment of what might be called the political governance of universities. This governance is based on the top-down appointment of all university leaders, loyal to the ruling party. On the other hand, it relies on the support of student organizations hostile to left-wing student currents (such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the militia parties in Lebanon). It is also based on the restriction of academic freedom and the establishment, openly and secretly, of security services on university campuses (Egypt and Syria). This type of governance is still dominant today.
  5. In the 1990s, with the rise of neoliberalism, there was a transformation in the role of the university. Market-oriented private universities and institutes began to appear and spread in Arab countries. Within public universities, the emphasis has shifted towards “useful” colleges and institutes, that is, those of a professional nature, while marginalizing the human and social faculties. It is evidenced by the growing disparity between these two types of colleges, in terms of allocated resources, student admission criteria and degree of openness to the outside world. As a result, the role of the university in providing an environment for reflection and interaction with public social affairs has diminished, and conflicts over the distribution of capital and competition for power have increased. At the student level, interest in the profession and responsibility has increased.
  6. But student involvement in public affairs could not be extinguished. At the dawn of the new millennium, technology and social media have provided a new platform for public affairs interaction. This has been accompanied by growing alienation from political parties, both in power and in opposition. These have been replaced in the public sphere by civil society organizations. In both online platforms and civil society organizations, students engaged with university graduates and other residents, in addressing self-general issues (unemployment) and public issues (political power). They have been freed from the supervision and restrictions of state agencies in universities. Instead of the university being the setting for the rebellion against academic authority and political authority, digital platforms and public squares have become the space for the movement. And “youth” replaced “students”.
  7. What happened in the Arab Spring turned out to be part of a global phenomenon. From the “Occupy Wall Street” uprising in New York, through Spain (indignadas), Mexico, Brazil, Turkey and Chile to Moscow and Iceland, among others. It is estimated that 951 cities in 83 countries witnessed protests that year, and the number of protests in the United States itself exceeded 600, so much so that Time magazine named the “Protester” as Person of the Year for 2011 and wrote on the cover: “From the Arab Spring to Athens, from Occupy Wall Street to Moscow”. In all these events, public squares replaced university stadiums.

‘Reclaiming or Resisting Academic Freedom: Universities as Spaces for Dissent in India and Pakistan’

Laraib Niaz and Kusha Anand (University of Cambridge and UCL-Institute of Education)

Background: As postcolonial states borne out of a violent conflict, India and Pakistan have witnessed the consistent fashioning of national consciousness through the medium of education. This is often actualised through the politicisation of the education system and the curbing of dissent from students. Since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in India under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, there has been an unprecedented curb on student voices in universities. Similarly in Pakistan, higher education has witnessed a lack of academic freedom perpetuated by a ban on student unions and surveillance of academic voices.

Objectives: The authors will illustrate how students in universities in both countries to reclaim or resist spaces for dissent in two ways. First, the article will show how the Citizenship Amendment Act protests in 2020 in India and student solidarity marches (2018- present) in Pakistan have been used by students as a medium for protests. Second, it will discuss how the physical spaces of universities in India and Pakistan were used as platforms for channelling student voices (in the form of art works, graffiti’s, slogans etc).

Methodology: The authors will use secondary data sources such as documents, policies, visual data to presents the ways in which students in higher education institutions in both countries have attempted to reclaim or resist universities as spaces for dissent. The authors will use the case of contrast approach to illustrate the findings and show how students across the border supported each other in the times of protests.

Contribution: The article will add to conversations around the agency and sense of community and collective resilience afforded by universities for students as a space for dissent.

Keywords: Universities; India; Pakistan; Dissent; Resilience; Resistance


Dr Laraib Niaz is a post-doctoral researcher at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge where she is working as part of the Independent Evaluation relating to the Girls’ Education Challenge (GEC). She is also working on evaluating an inclusive education intervention in Bangladesh, funded by UKAID, and on a TASO funded evaluation of disability inclusive initiatives of higher education institutions in the UK. She is also an education consultant at the World Bank where she focuses on gender and disability inclusive education in Pakistan. She completed her doctorate from the UCL Institute of Education where her research focused on the intersection of religion and education in schools in Pakistan. Her research interests lie in the area of inclusion and exclusion in education, with a particular focus on gender, disability, and religion.

Dr Kusha Anand is an Associate Lecturer and Master Dissertation Lead at the UCL Institute of Education. As an international policy sociologist, she specialises in researching education reforms in India. She has recently published three books: Teaching India–Pakistan Relations, Delhi’s Education Revolution, and Bridging Neoliberalism and Hindu Nationalism. Her research findings have been shared with policymakers and parliamentarians in the UK, as well as the UN Special Rapporteur on Digital Education. Additionally, she has contributed to interdisciplinary research projects focusing on minorities, refugees, and migrants in the UK.

‘The Paradox of Erasure: Transformation and Unequal Economic Relations at a South African University’

Isha Dilraj and Azeem Badroodien (University of Cape Town)

Existing in a neoliberal, precarious higher education environment shadowed by apartheid and colonialism, the university space in South Africa is yet to escape its colonial and patriarchal underpinnings. One of the biggest challenges within the post-apartheid higher education sector has been how to develop higher education policies that contribute to a free, fair, equal, and democratic society, while at the same time contributing to the knowledge project within universities and different forms of knowledge and skills produced amongst graduates. The goal has been to reconcile creating a fairer and equal system of access to higher education that consider past injustices and generate new forms of knowledge that feed and contribute to economic and sustainable growth.

The paradox, however, is that in seeking to transform, the neoliberal university structure is reproducing the very past inequalities and violence it arguably seeks to undo. The student protests which erupted in 2015 re-emphasised the damning issues which perpetuate the devastating inequalities that continue to marginalise and exclude students. Over the years, the severity of the problems raised with regard to high fees, financial exclusions, university housing shortages, decolonisation of the curriculum and university space, and access and equality concerns continue to be ignored within a landscape that privileges neoliberal agendas. Student concerns and efforts to help reshape the university space are often regarded as countering the operations of South African Universities. Positioned in this way unequal economic relations bring transformation agendas into direct conflict with financial operational approaches. Is transformation possible as a lived reality given the unequal power relations and neoliberal environment that drives policy at the university?

The paper raises critical questions about the current state of higher education in South Africa, with a focus on how violence and erasure play out within student lived experiences as well as through the university structure and neoliberal environment. Depicting how transformation is a hallucination of scarred black bodies whose blood-stained resilience and fight for social justice, and a quest for an equal, fair, free, decolonised university space is constrained by the deeply problematic neoliberal environment within which the university exists. We apply a critical Political Economy Analysis lens to engage with and explore issues

tied to: (a) recent student struggles around funding that mirror concerns tied to the 2015 #FeesMustFall and #RhodesMustFall protests, (b) the constant refrain from South African universities about the lack of funding to address the concerns, and (c) the effects of this on student transformation agendas across the education system. The analysis is offered in relation to bigger debates about the changing form of public education in South Africa and whether the university system in its new, evolving form serves the public good.


Higher Education, University, Political Economy Analysis, Student Protests, Violence, Erasure, Neoliberalism


Isha Dilraj: Isha Dilraj is a doctoral candidate in the School of Education at the University of Cape Town, and a National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS) Scholar. She is also the Research Manager for the Political Economy of Education Research (PEER) Network Africa Hub which is funded by the Global Challenge Research Fund (GCRF) to support ground-breaking, impactful research in conflict-affected regions in Africa, and is engaging in research using Political Economy Analysis within Education.
She is passionate about social justice issues pertaining to education policy, transformation and access, decolonisation debates, and gender equity/equality issues. Her doctoral study is focused on the political economy of higher education in South Africa with an emphasis on issues of access, inclusion and transformation in a neoliberal South Africa given the impact of the complex history of apartheid and colonialism within the country. Isha has worked in the higher education sector in South Africa where she engaged in project management, administration and planning, staff-and-student development, system development, and policy formulation and implementation. This experience drives her resolve to engage in research to further understand and contribute to research in the complex higher education arena. Her research interests include political economy of education, education policy, higher education, theories of power, violence, resistance and transformation.

Azeem Badroodien: Azeem Badroodien is Professor of Education Policy and the Director of the School of Education at the University of Cape Town. He is also the Co-Principal Investigator for the Political Economy of Education Research (PEER) Network Africa Hub which is funded by the Global Challenge Research Fund (GCRF) to support ground-breaking, impactful research in conflict-affected regions in Africa, and is engaging in research using Political Economy Analysis within Education.

His research interests are in education policy sociology and the enactment of education policy within education and training practice, institutional provision, and in the workplace. His main intellectual interest is in youth, race and criminalisation in South Africa, looking specifically at youth socialisation in residential settings in South Africa and the links between race, vocational education provision, discipline, inequality and poverty, and social welfare and crime in educational discourse. His work explores both the empirical data level and the underpinning theoretical discourses of education, work and skills development – both in academic writing and for various consultancy projects.

Panel 8: Universities geopolitics and global crises

‘Political economy analysis of factors influencing the expansion of Russian International Branch Campuses in Uzbekistan’

Sherzod Khaydarov (University of Edinburgh)

The International Branch Campus (IBC), as part of transnational education, is the fastest expanding higher education (HE) sector in Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan has more IBCs than any other post-Soviet countries, which makes it fertile ground for researching the internationalization of HE. Within the last five years, the number of IBCs in Uzbekistan has increased more than fourfold reaching to 30 by 2022. Russian universities account for the largest share of this surge. Until 2016, there were only three Russian IBCs, rising to 15 by 2022. Significantly, western countries such as the USA, the UK and Italy have only one IBC each, raising further questions as to why Uzbekistan is particularly relying on Russian universities to internationalize its higher education system.

The internationalization of higher education in Uzbekistan is an under-researched area, both in terms of the role of Russian IBCs and understanding the long-term potential implications for the country’s educational, social, economic and political development. By exploring these questions through a political economy lens, this study seeks to understand both the rationales for importing HE through IBCs and the implications of internationalization.

The research aims to understand the factors influencing the expansion of Russian IBCs in Uzbekistan through a critical discourse analysis of relevant policy documents and interviews with an official of the Ministry of Higher Education, university administrators and faculty at 3 IBCs in Uzbekistan. It brings a critical political economy perspective in a field that is largely framed within a knowledge economy paradigm, as well as highlighting the under-researched perspective of the Central Asia region with a focus on Russian IBCs. To evaluate the changing HE landscape and the role of Russian IBCs, the combination of Verger et al.’s (2016) cultural political economy framework and Qiang’s (2003) and Knight’s (2012) typology of rationales were employed as theoretical and conceptual framework.

Findings indicate that Uzbekistan’s main agenda was fulfilling the shortage of university places, training professionals for key industrial sectors, internationalization and integration with other countries, and enhancing the Russian language, whereas Russia was more interested in (geo)political influence and domination, securing supply of cheaper labour, ‘humanitarian cooperation’ (supporting the compatriots), and training the labour force for certain industry sectors which are mutually beneficial. However, the interviews revealed some concerns with the operation and management of Russian IBCs which imply that they become more ‘local’ rather than international. In other words, for Uzbekistan importing of Russian HE has become the tool of developing public diplomacy and cultural links between countries, and serving for the benefits of small Russian speaking community rather than developing the internationalization strategies by bringing home country’s pedagogies and education policies.

Key words: International branch campuses; internationalization; cultural political economy analysis; (Russian) higher education

‘Flowing into Skill and Employment? Comparative Policy Analysis of ODA to TVET in time of Uncertainty’

Zhiyuan Sun and Yang Wang (Institute of International and Comparative Education, Zhejiang Normal University)

Global economy has been suffering from the crisis due to long term impact from pandemic and regional conflict. One of its consequence is severe unemployment massively emerged worldwide, which led to economic decline and social instability, especially in low-income countries. It facilitated the changes of international education aid. More states currently are stressing the role of TVET in development assistance and enhancing investment in skill for employment. However, the policy of aid to TVET is complicated, as it is interconnected with the institutions in labor market, industry and human resource management of one country, which means donor would encounter bigger challenge to intervene receivers’ skill development. Thus, it is always a puzzle for development agencies to design and implement ODA to TVET, that needs comprehensive understanding of effective policy.

  “Intervene” and “Transfer” were proposed as two core conceptions, by which every case nation could be defined typologically. “Intervene” refers to how much donor’s ODA policy has impact on receiver’s practice. “Transfer” was used to imply the extent and range of international transfer of system and knowledge from donor to receiver. Case nations were classified into four group of donors: a. Strong Intervention-Strong International Transfer; b. Strong Intervention-Weak International Transfer; c. Weak Intervention-Strong International Transfer; d. Weak Intervention-Weak International Transfer. Eight nations, including Australia, Finland, Germany, Japan, Netherland, Switzerland, US and UK were selected as cases in this comparative study. Their official policies about ODA to TVET were analyzed with theoretical framework, which was constructed in four dimensions.

   Two categories of data would be collected for comparative analysis: The first is measurements adopted by donor countries in their aid policies, guiding the practical action. The second is data displaying the effectiveness of ODA to TVET, majorly from evaluation report.

Tristan McCowan (UCL-Institute of Education): ‘Universities in the climate crisis: fragmentation or creative multiplicity?’

Commentary on the role of universities in the climate crisis and sustainable development shows strong consensus around the need for joined-up thinking. Received wisdom is that the potential for positive impact of the higher education sector is being hampered by fragmentation: between the organisational units of the institution (faculties, departments etc), between the modalities of action (teaching, research and community engagement), and between disciplinary areas. To counter this, institutions are seen to be faced with the pressing task of aligning their activities towards (say) the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), achieving carbon neutrality and ensuring a cohesive curriculum through which all students can develop carbon literacy.

This paper presents a theoretical engagement with these assumptions, interrogating the apparent common sense of the joined-up thinking thesis. It analyses the various ways in which universities can engage with the climate crisis, categorising them into three types: projective, expressive and constructive. Projective engagements are the most prominent, referring to the role of educational institutions in achieving positive impact outside themselves, in time and space. Common examples include the development of climate-related knowledge, skills and attitudes in students, who then apply these attributes in their later lives and work as professionals, or the application of research for generation of low carbon technologies for use in society.

Expressive engagements, on the other hand, are internal to the workings of the university, involving most commonly efforts to ensure environmentally-friendly campuses, reducing carbon emissions and promoting sustainability and regeneration. Yet they can also relate to the human community of the university, embodying the positive values of cooperation, equality and freedom from exploitation. Finally, constructive engagements are those in which the university serves as an arena for scrutinising and recreating the idea of climate action. Instead of simply carrying out a task defined elsewhere, the university serves as protagonist of forming our conceptions and practice.

All of these three forms of engagement are crucial, and higher education sectors and their institutions should act tirelessly to reduce their negative impacts on the climate emergency and enhance their positive contributions. Nevertheless, calls for unity and coordination fly in the face of the nature of the university as institution. The relative autonomy of universities, the protection of academic freedom, the malleable management structures and the diversity of functions and actors mean that top-down efforts at alignment are unlikely to succeed.

However, all is not lost: in fact, this fragmentation can be interpreted in an altogether more positive light, as an opportunity for creative multiplicity. By valuing and nurturing grassroots initiatives we can ensure both a deeper rooting of climate action in higher education institutions, the involvement of different populations as agents rather than instruments of climate action and the diversity of approaches that are needed for solving ‘wicked’ problems. Finally, the relevance of these ideas for understanding the role of higher education in conflict and crisis more broadly is drawn out.

Biography: Tristan McCowan is Professor of International Education at the Institute of Education, University College London. His work focuses on higher education in the international context, including issues of access, curriculum, alternative models and sustainability. His books include Higher Education for and beyond the Sustainable Development Goals (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), Education as a Human Right (Bloomsbury, 2013) and Rethinking Citizenship Education (Continuum, 2009). From 2015-2021 he was editor of Compare – a Journal of International and Comparative Education. He is currently leading the multi-country GCRF project Climate-U (Transforming Universities for a Changing Climate).


Admission is FREE for this event and tickets include refreshments and a light lunch.



The symposium will take place on 6-7 July at University of Sussex, Institute of Development Studies, Library Road, Falmer, Brighton, BN1 9RE.

The nearest station is Falmer (approx. 5 minutes’ walk from our building) and the train takes less than 10 minutes from both Brighton and Lewes.

How to get to the venue
Photo route from Falmer station
University Campus Map


Brighton offers a variety of hotels for different budget options. University of Sussex has discounted rates with some nearby hotels in Brighton, subject to availability. You can see the list of hotels at

In addition to this, these are some hotels that we would like to recommend:

  • YHA Brighton, Old Steine, Brighton, Brighton and Hove, Brighton BN1 1NH
  • Premier Inn Brighton City Centre (North Street) hotel.
  • Travelodge Brighton Seafront West Street, Brighton, East Sussex, BN1 2RE, United Kingdom
  • Leonardo Royal Hotel Brighton Waterfront
  • Leonardo Hotel Brighton – near to the Brighton railway station


All catering during the symposium including coffee breaks and lunch on the first day will be covered by the PEER Network.  At the end of the first day, we will be hosting a reception with drinks and snacks at IDS.

There will be vegetarian options provided. Please let us know if you have any additional dietary requirements (email

Notes for presenters

  • The symposium will start at 9:30 and finish 5:30 on the first day (Thursday, 6 July) and 9:30 to
    1:45 on the second day (Friday, 7 July). We will start on time, so please make sure you arrive at the venue on time.
  • Each participant is allocated a slot on a panel of 3-4 presentations with a dedicated chair. Each presenter has strictly 15 minutes to present their paper. Following all the presentations, the chair will open the floor to the audience for questions and
  • If you are presenting online then we will share with you a Zoom link to join your panel. You can also join Zoom links where they are available for other panels. Please note, however, that these links are for your own use only as this is not a hybrid event, we just wish to include those panellists who are not able to attend in person.
  • The conference venue will have the necessary facilities for PowerPoint presentations. We may ask you to share this with us prior to the event.
  • The event will be recorded. If you would prefer that your session is not recorded please let us know in advance.
  • The final programme will be shared with you and on the website of PEER Network.
  • If you have any problems/issues on the day, please call us on 07415663683 (Helen) or 07917 360 569 (Birgul).

We are very much looking forward to welcoming you at Sussex!