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A new effort to aid Syrian academics was announced Tuesday at the Clinton Global Initiative's annual meeting in New York. The Institute of International Education, the Illinois Institute of Technology and Jusoor, an organization dedicated to economic development in Syria, have together committed $2 million for fellowships and scholarships for Syrian professors and students to continue their academic work abroad, and they are seeking to raise $3 million more.

IIE has set the following targets for the year ahead:

  • Awarding IIE Scholar Rescue Fund fellowships to up to 15 senior Syrian academics facing threats.
  • Awarding IIE Emergency Student Fund grants to up to 100 Syrian students studying overseas whose education has been disrupted.
  • Building a global consortium of universities who will offer scholarships to Syrian students, with a target of establishing 50 new scholarships in the next year.

The Illinois Institute of Technology also announced it will offer scholarships for up to 50 Syrian students of up to $25,000 per year (about half the cost of tuition and room and board there). The first scholarships have already been awarded. Megan Mozina, IIT's assistant director of international outreach and engagement, said that more than 450 Syrian students expressed interest in the scholarship program during an expedited admission process this summer; 130 applied, 28 were accepted and 14 are on campus this fall.

“We’re calling upon all universities to help,” said Daniela Kaisth, IIE’s vice president for strategic development. “We think that if we all do a little bit, we can help ‘save the brains’ of a critical mass of people in Syria.”

Since protests erupted in March 2011 against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, IIE has seen a dramatic increase in requests for assistance from Syrian academics. Jim Miller, executive director of the IIE Scholar Rescue Fund -- which in 10 years has provided grants to place 469 scholars from 48 countries at host universities abroad -- said that scholars in Syria are facing any number of threats.

“Some of the threats that we hear about are scholars who have been imprisoned, who have been arrested or harassed, scholars who have had colleagues killed, and a lot of wrongful dismissal [cases] for essentially not being a fervent enough supporter of the  regime,” Miller said.

“There’s also of course the obstruction-of-work issue, because two out of the six public universities in Syria are completely closed and did not open the doors for the current academic year,” he continued. The University of Aleppo’s student housing is currently sheltering internally displaced persons, while Al-Baath University is being used as a detention center.

Miller said applications for assistance are coming from Syrian professors in a wide variety of fields, ranging from soil science to sexuality studies to psychology; medical professors who have treated opposition activists have been specifically targeted by the regime.  

The Scholar Rescue Fund launched a similar large-scale effort to assist scholars from Iraq in 2007. In total, 259 Iraqi scholars received fellowships.

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