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Queen Mary builds links with Syrian academics at risk

A teaching fellow at Queen Mary University of London has returned from a five-day trip to Istanbul, as part of a programme designed to support Syrian academics in exile.

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The organisation, the Council for At Risk Academics (Cara), was first established by a group of British academics led by William Beveridge in 1933, when Hitler expelled hundreds of scholars from German universities on racial grounds.

Council for At Risk Academics (Cara)

The Cara Syria Programme, which launched in 2012, currently supports around 45 Syrian academics who are in exile in Eastern Turkey. Working with British universities, the scheme aims to equip Syrian academics with the skills needed to rebuild Syria’s higher education and research sectors.

Since May 2017, Mr Will Hutton, who works in Queen Mary’s Language Centre, has been teaching English for Academic Purposes (EAP) through weekly online language lessons and bi-monthly visits to Istanbul.

Mr Hutton teaches EAP to Dr Fuad Alhaj Omar, an electrical engineer from the University of Aleppo. Dr Alhaj Omar, who is currently completing a second PhD at Seljuk University in Turkey, said: “Before the online English lessons I received through the Cara programme, I didn’t have any experience of speaking to native speakers, and I thought that I would not be able to understand the tutor or make any connections. But the online lessons have actually helped to break the ice between myself and the tutor.

“The workshops are like a lifeline”

“During the lessons, I feel like I’m in a real classroom. We cover a wide range of topics, and most of the time we focus on my work field (solar panels and energy). The workshops in Istanbul are like a lifeline that keeps me in touch with academic life. They have also connected me with other Syrian academics from different fields and developed my team working skills. The Cara team are all volunteers, and they’re doing their best to help us. I want to say a huge thank you to the whole team.”

Mr Hutton added: “It has been a tremendous privilege to work with Fuad over the past year and to help him develop his English language skills and his understanding of the UK university sector; I am very pleased with his progress.

“The face-to-face workshops in Istanbul have allowed me to meet and work with the wider group of Syrian academics in exile. Drawn from a wide range of disciplines and with an impressive wealth of experience and insights to share, they are all keen to build connections with UK-based academics who are interested in scholarly work which is relevant to Syria or Syrian populations in exile.”

Queen Mary hosts at-risk academic

Queen Mary has been involved with the Cara initiative since 2015 and welcomed its first at-risk academic in June 2016. Dr Sami Bissau, a Syrian-Palestinian, is Honorary Lecturer in the university’s Institute of Dentistry.

Speaking of his time at Queen Mary, Dr Bissau said: “Queen Mary has spectacular and amazing staff, and I have tried to learn from every one of them. I would like to thank the university and Cara for everything they have introduced me to. Under the supervision of Dr Mike Cattell, I have participated in research about innovative glass-ceramic systems and resin cement, and learned how to accomplish various tests in the dental material field. Most importantly, though, I have learnt about the research methodology and preparing for publication.

“Teaching a range of undergraduate courses (Operative Dentistry, Foundation and Fixed Prosthodontics and Anatomy) has increased my experience in teaching and has given me the opportunity to learn from other colleagues.

“I have also registered for the Postgraduate Certificate for teaching and learning in higher education. I am sure that this certificate will have a great impact on my approach to teaching and on my career in the academic field. In addition to this course, I attended several courses for self-development and English courses which are more focused on academic English.”

Queen Mary hopes to support more at-risk academics through Cara in due course, and has recently welcomed another PhD student from Syria in its Institute of Dentistry.

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