Launching the Syrian Academics and Researchers Network in the UK

Group photo of Syrian academics and researchers in the UK

The Higher Education (HE) sector can play an essential role in supporting Syria emerging from a conflict to recover. It has the potential to promote peacebuilding by sending messages of peacebuilding, addressing inequalities, teaching peace studies, promoting participatory learning, and providing a space for research on peace-related topics[1]. Therefore, building the sector’s capacity appears crucial for it to play its vital role in post-conflict reconstruction and recovery[2]. If properly supported, the sector can empower individuals and communities by providing them with the advanced capabilities necessary for societies to assume genuine ownership over the recovery process[3]. However, the HE sector in Syria has been impacted severely by the conflict and is facing immense challenges. Amongst many problems, it is facing fragmentation, militarisation, corruption, academic brain drains, and low-quality education[4]. This creates a challenge for the sector to perform its important role in the future of Syria.

As Syrian academics, exiled and not exiled, witnessed what happened to our country and the higher education sector, we feel a strong and deep feeling and desire to contribute to Syria. However, in order to contribute, we need to build our capacity first as Syrian academics and researchers. We need to rebuild bridges, connections, and trust between us and those who stayed in Syria. We need to create the platforms and mechanisms that can leverage our strengths and facilitate our engagement with education in Syria.

With the original support of the British Association for International and Comparative Education (BAICE) and later the support of Ulster University Education, Peace and Politics (EPP), Council for Academics at Risks (CARA), the Center for Lebanese Studies, and the University of Cambridge, we established a multi-disciplinary network for Syrian academics and researchers in the UK. The network’s vision is to become a network that includes and empowers all Syrian academics and researchers in the UK to enrich research, knowledge production, and education towards a revitalised future in Syria. It aims to foster and facilitate collaboration and communication between Syrian academics and researchers, both within the UK and with the wider international academic community. The network has six objectives:

  1. Creating a platform that enables Syrian academics and researchers in the UK to connect, communicate, debate and collaborate locally and internationally.
  2. Contribute to the knowledge production and shaping the discourse on Syria.
  3. SupportSyrian exiled academics and shed light on an underrepresented strand of the Syrian exodus.
  4. Support Syrian early-career researchers to become established academics and contribute to the future of Syria.
  5. Bridging academia, policy making and the community by translating our academic research into tangible projects with an impact beyond the academy.
  6. Support HE in Syria bycreating infrastructures and mechanisms to enable supporting education in the future.

With the support of our supporters, the network met online 20 times, organised an in-person brainstorming workshop, built a website and social media channels (Twitter and LinkedIn), expanded the network to include 30 members, and organised a conference to launch the network officially. Our conference in Cambridge attracted 40 Syrian academics and researchers from 25 universities in the UK, and it was a wonderful event that brought Syrian academics closer. Additionally, we drafted our aim, objectives, and vision collectively as a network.

So far, our network has led to multiple fruitful connections. We have some colleagues about to start to work on a book together, and other colleagues applied to and won an AHRC fund to keep our activities going. Building on our success, we are planning next year to establish the network as a legal entity (NGO), double the number of members, organise another conference in Sep 2024, increase our media presence, and build an online library that includes all writing of all Syrian academics in the UK.

[1] Barakat & Milton, 2015; McCowan & Unterhalter, 2015; Millican, 2018; Milton, 2018; Milton & Barakat, 2016

[2] J. Dillabough et al., 2019

[3] Milton & Barakat, 2016

[4] Tozan, 2023b; Dillabough et al, 2019


  • Oudai Tozan

    Oudai is a Doctoral Candidate, researcher, and tutor at the University of Cambridge researching the potential role of exiled Syrian academics and researchers in rebuilding the higher education sector of Syria. He is also an Associate Lecturer in the Sociology of Education, Migration and Mobility, and Research Methods at Anglia Ruskin University.

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