Danielle Alperin, Thomas Qais Osso Faqiri, Ane Turner Johnson, Ivan Pacheco, Sarah Wilcox, Elisabeth Wilson, Louise Michelle Vital
Increasing access to higher education has been linked to economic growth that promotes national stability and development. However, post-secondary education in fragile environments faces unique challenges that weaken and threaten to devastate the entire system. Threats range from armed groups that target universities in order to divert resources, destabilize communities, suppress dissent, and protest the influence of foreign ideology to natural disasters that destroy weak structures once they strike. This panel will look at higher education in fragile contexts—from conflict to natural disaster through data collected in interviews with university students, faculty members, and staff of organizations that serve to strengthen higher education institutions in these places. Text review of policy and historical documents has also been employed by panelists in their research. A wide range of country case studies are represented on the panel, including ones from Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Columbia, Haiti, and Afghanistan.
In Côte d’Ivoire and Kenya, two case studies demonstrate how higher education can function as a mechanism for transformation in conflict contexts and respond to conflict both on campus and in the community. Both cases show infrastructures that assist in creating a university-community connection in which consensus can be built through engagement and reciprocity, establishing local ownership of the process of peace.
Next discussed is the case of Columbia, where over the past decade, higher education has improved significantly despite more than fifty years of armed conflict. The peace agreement between the Colombian Government and the FARC-EP has launched the country into a new era. Nevertheless, higher education institutions, governments, and other stakeholders are still deciphering how to better serve those who have been excluded so long from the benefits of robust educational systems.
In another war-torn country, Afghanistan, education opportunities have rapidly expanded, including for women and minority ethnic groups that had limited chances to study during the rule of the Taliban. However, attacks on campuses are putting the future of higher education at risk. Nevertheless, cross-border partnerships are bringing together university administrators, faculty, and students willing to risk their own safety to expand equal access to higher quality and relevant education.
In 2010, the earthquake in Haiti had a profound impact on the already severely under-resourced higher education system. Perspectives of university students and higher education professionals and researchers on the needs following the earthquake reveal the complexity of the situation that remains.
Finally, in places where higher education cannot operate, organizations like Scholar Rescue Fund partner with universities to provide refuge to scholars threatened by war, repressive regimes, and displacement. Since 2002, the fund has assisted 653 scholars from 55 countries, placing them at over 350 host partner institutions in 41 countries around the world. Discussion about the work of this organization rounds out this panel on the variety of ways in which inequities in higher education are countered in fragile environments.