Erasmus Project for Academic Freedom: Academic Refuge
Today – June 19th - I had the pleasure of welcoming to the University of Oslo a number of delegates from several collaborating partner institutions and organizations on the occasion of the Academic Refuge Straff Training Week. What a prelude to June 20th: the World Refugee Day! On June 20th the world commemorates the strength, courage, and perseverance of millions of refugees.
Academic refuge is an EU financed project that is led by the University of Oslo and that aims to provide better support for refugees and for scholars under threat. The overriding goal is to improve the capacity of European universities to assist refugees and threatened academics on campus and to promote understanding and respect for academic freedom and the values on which our research and higher education are based.
The Academic Refuge project is closely tied to our Academic Dugnad – an initiative that dates back to the very beginning of the refugee crisis. Now delegates from all over the world come together in Oslo to learn from each other and to discuss how we as academics can live up to the very idea of a university: a community of scholars that is truly universal and that sees it as an imperative to stand up in solidarity for those that cannot any longer pursue their research and ideas in their own countries.
When we serve as sanctuaries for scholars and students that have lost their academic freedom in other countries we send a strong signal to the responsible governments: suppressing academic freedom is of no avail. The unwelcome ideas and research will be pursued nevertheless. But in a different institution, and in a different nation.
What we need to communicate in no uncertain terms is that universities must not be seen as part of an annoying opposition, but as hotbeds for the critical voices that are required to maintain the quality and integrity of institutions and state. To attack universities and higher education is to pull the rug from under the nation’s and the region’s future. No less.
When I soon step down as Rector of the University of Oslo, I will look back with pride on our Academic Dugnad and our initiatives to provide a safe haven for refugees, and for scholars and students at risk. Our university – and any university - is at its best when it defends academic freedom worldwide – not only in rhetoric, but in action.
Tomorrow the UiO Board will have its last meeting this semester. Last year our board decided to quadruple its support for Scholars at Risk. This was a wise decision of a board that has been consistent in its support of internationalization and international solidarity.
UiO has long cooperated with Scholars at Risk, UNICA, SAIH, HiOA and other Norwegian educational institutions on academic freedom and freedom of expression. With the new project I hope that we can bolster this cooperation and strengthen knowledge of and respect for the freedoms that are the very essence of a well-functioning democracy.
Let me conclude with a couple of quotes:
“No future … can be built on despair, distrust, hatred, and envy.”
“In my opinion, the only avenue to salvation lies in cooperation between all nations on a basis of honest endeavor.”
These are the words of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Fridtjof Nansen, in his Nobel speech in 1922. They ring true almost 100 years later, on the World Refugee Day.
Academic Dugnad for Refugees and Asylum Seekers: Joining Forces for Academic Inclusion. A report from the project team at the University of Oslo (June 2017)
The Refugees Welcome Map from the European University Association gives an overview over efforts to assist refugees in European countries.
UiO’s partners in Academic Refuge are Scholars at Risk, Network of Universites from the Capitals of Europe (UNICA) and the University of Ljubljana. The European Association for International Education (EAIE) and the Europan University Association will contribute to the project as associate partners.