Leader: Safe campus havens

March 18, 2005

British universities have a proud record for taking in refugee academics and students. The Council for Assisting Refugee Academics, which has been in business for more than 70 years, counts illustrious names such as William Beveridge and John Maynard Keynes among those who have been involved in its activities. Thousands of displaced lecturers and scholars have been helped and, far from demand easing, the need for safe havens continues to grow. The publication this week of a higher education handbook for the refugee community in the UK is an important step in aiding that process because it provides academics with a wealth of practical information towards reviving their careers.

That they should do so benefits not only the hard-pressed individuals themselves but also the academic community and wider society. The cost of converting an overseas medical qualification, for example, is a fraction of that of educating a doctor from scratch. Yet many refugees and asylum seekers are engaged in menial jobs that make scant use of their skills.

There is also a moral responsibility on academia to do what it can for colleagues in unfortunate circumstances. The Government could do more to support victims of oppression, but so could universities. If every institution put a small part of the income it derives from overseas students into a single post for a refugee academic that would be a start.

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Universities in most nations are now obliged to prioritise graduate career prospects, but how it should be approached depends on your view of the meaning of education. Academics need to think that through much more clearly, says Tom Cutterham


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