News

Universities in War Zones Can Recover From Their Wounds News
Despite appearances, the damage suffered by universities during a war is usually only the start of their problems.

Universities in War Zones Can Recover From Their Wounds

December 31, 2015 1203

Catholic University of Leuven

Despite appearances, the damage suffered by universities during a war is usually only the start of their problems.

Universities are almost always among the casualties when a country goes to war. Ultimately, they become hotbeds of repression. As conflict deepens, academic freedom is threatened or curtailed. Teachers, researchers and students flee, prompting a brain drain their countries can ill afford. Buildings are bombed. Sometimes entire campuses are destroyed.

University teaching in Libya has practically ground to a halt in the past 18 months. Some institutions in the North African nation have closed their campuses entirely. Students from the country’s International Medical University have moved to Egypt’s Suez Canal University to continue their degrees while waiting for peace to return to Libya.

The Conversation logo

This article by Savo Heleta originally appeared at The Conversation, a Social Science Space partner site, under the title “How to rebuild higher education in countries torn apart by war”

But as many other African countries – among them Liberia, Sierra Leone and South Sudan – can attest, the end of a war brings new battles.

After a long conflict, universities simply cannot produce the human capital that is needed to begin repairing a country. Post-conflict planning rarely talks about rebuilding higher education systems and institutions. It is simply not a priority.

It should be. Quality higher education is crucial for recovery, peace building, economic development and stronger governance in post-conflict societies.

A pattern of neglect

In a report about post-conflict education, the World Bank warns against prioritizing basic education at the expense of higher education. It says this skewed focus creates deeply rooted imbalances and:

… directly affects economic and social development in the longer term.

Barely any humanitarian aid is spent on repairing even basic education systems in war torn societies. The total spending on rebuilding basic, secondary and higher education systems after a conflict accounts for just 2% of overall humanitarian assistance.

When money is spent on higher education in post-war nations, it usually actually benefits other parts of the world. About 70% of aid to post-secondary education is intended for scholarships to study in donor countries. This means that hardly any money is spent to directly strengthen higher education systems in recipient countries.

This is not to say higher education in post-conflict settings is entirely neglected. Universities in the developed world, international and nongovernmental organizations do get involved – but most of their initiatives are isolated, happen only on a small scale and take a very short-term approach.

There is no coordination or collaboration, a situation that often stems from “turf wars” and heated competition over funding.

Collaboration and solidarity

Nations emerging from violent conflict need immediate, substantial and long-term support to repair and reform their higher education systems and institutions. This will allow them to produce the graduates needed for rebuilding: critical thinkers, administrators, civil servants, technicians, scientists, doctors and teachers.

Universities in the developed world seem to be recognising that they can help. The 2015 York Accord sets out important recommendations for protecting and rebuilding higher education systems and institutions after armed conflict.

Higher education institutions from Europe, the US and Africa’s academic powerhouses like South Africa can help universities that are rebuilding after conflict in several ways. These include:

  • establishing support networks;
  • collaborating on research;
  • raising funds;
  • organizing staff and student exchanges; and
  • developing mechanisms for accreditation and quality assurance.

Universities cannot do this alone, and donor funding will be hugely important.

Inclusion, not imposition

Organizations and academic institutions that want to work with universities in post-conflict countries must be culturally sensitive. They cannot simply impose their own ideas, values and ideologies onto these spaces.


This article is based on …

Heleta, S. 2015, Higher Education in Post-Conflict Societies: Settings, Challenges and Priorities. Handbook Internationalisation of European Higher Education. Vol. 1. 2015. Stuttgart: Raabe Verlag.


Instead, they need to fully understand a country’s systems, problems, needs and challenges. They must work closely with local actors to design, develop and deliver country-specific projects informed by local needs and challenges.

Wherever possible, they should involve local academics and experts in their programs. This has the added benefit of training for locals, who can then share this knowledge with other academics, students and experts.

Curricula also need to be changed. Alongside mainstream academic disciplines such as economics, engineering and science, universities must also promote conflict management and peace studies. These disciplines can develop individuals and institutions that are capable of changing divisive discourses and contributing to conflict prevention and stabilization.

None of this implies that the rest of the education sector must be neglected in favor of rebuilding universities. Primary and secondary education are crucial to any society’s well-being. On their own, though, they are not enough to sustain a country’s development and progress in the wake of war. That is the job of universities and their graduates. The Conversation


Savo Heleta works as the manager of Internationalisation at Home and Research at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s Office for International Education (OIE). He is also researcher in OIE’s Research Unit for Higher Education Internationalisation in the Developing World. heleta's research focuses on higher education internationalization, higher education in post-war settings, conflict analysis and post-war reconstruction and development in general.

View all posts by Savo Heleta

Related Articles

Biden Administration Releases ‘Blueprint’ For Using Social and Behavioral Science in Policy
News
May 17, 2024

Biden Administration Releases ‘Blueprint’ For Using Social and Behavioral Science in Policy

Read Now
Survey Suggests University Researchers Feel Powerless to Take Climate Change Action
Impact
April 18, 2024

Survey Suggests University Researchers Feel Powerless to Take Climate Change Action

Read Now
Daniel Kahneman, 1934-2024: The Grandfather of Behavioral Economics
News
March 27, 2024

Daniel Kahneman, 1934-2024: The Grandfather of Behavioral Economics

Read Now
2024 Holberg Prize Goes to Political Theorist Achille Mbembe
News
March 14, 2024

2024 Holberg Prize Goes to Political Theorist Achille Mbembe

Read Now
New Feminist Newsletter The Evidence Makes Research on Gender Inequality Widely Accessible

New Feminist Newsletter The Evidence Makes Research on Gender Inequality Widely Accessible

Gloria Media, with support from Sage, has launched The Evidence, a feminist newsletter that covers what you need to know about gender […]

Read Now
Contemporary Politics Focus of March Webinar Series

Contemporary Politics Focus of March Webinar Series

This March, the Sage Politics team launches its first Politics Webinar Week. These webinars are free to access and will be delivered by contemporary politics experts —drawn from Sage’s team of authors and editors— who range from practitioners to instructors.

Read Now
There’s Something In the Air…But Is It a Virus? Part 1

There’s Something In the Air…But Is It a Virus? Part 1

The historic Hippocrates has become an iconic figure in the creation myths of medicine. What can the body of thought attributed to him tell us about modern responses to COVID?

Read Now
0 0 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments