What does a University in Exile look like in the 21st century?

École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in 1930’s New York

The driving concept behind much of jamiya.org ’s work is reconnecting displaced communities and networks. 70 years ago during World War II (and a comparable time of human displacement), the University in Exile and École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales were established in the New School in New York. But what should a University in Exile look like in the 21st century?

Networks, whether they are business, social or education, do not disappear during conflict and displacement. They are disrupted: the institutional support or infrastructure on which the network relied upon is destroyed or dismantled during war. But they exist before, during and after war.

At Jamiya we’re asking:

  • how to make these networks more resilient before war;
  • how to reconnect them during displacement by conflict; and
  • how they can be re-established and contribute to reconstruction after conflict.

And we’re focussing on higher education networks.

During World War II, several networks of academics re-established themselves in the US, having fled conflict in Europe. French and German academics found a new place to work and reconnect with each other at the New School in New York. Two mini universities set up: École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (see picture above) and the University in Exile — French and German respectively.

These academics were able to re-establish themselves as researchers and teachers by making use of existing infrastructure despite tragedy in their own countries. It also allowed academics to retain an identity and focus around studies relevant to their country and its future despite the shut down of intellectual thought.

Fast forward 70+ years and we are witnessing a level of displacement not seen since World War II. Connected to this is significant curtailing of academic freedom, restriction of higher education opportunities for students, and denial of free thinking, primarily in the Middle East.

It is estimated that conflict in Syria alone has displaced approximately 4,000 academics and 100,000 potential students. Plus those displaced due to ongoing instability in Iraq, destructive conflict in Yemen, political oppression in Egypt and Palestine.

Such instability has significantly disturbed both the work of academics and ambitions of students. In such circumstances, the Jamiya Project is asking: “What should a University in Exile look like in the 21st century?”

Look again at the picture above. Try to list all the network enabling technology that we now have compared to the 1930s. The fact you found and are reading this blog online tells you quite a lot.

We now have the technological capability to create a fully functioning university in exile. What if we could use block chain for accreditation? All the MOOC technology and knowledge to support the continuation of learning…. Micro-learning to support those exiled and on the move…. Open source content and materials to supplement and build new courses for those in exile.

But a University in Exile should not only makes use of technology to empower efforts equivalent to those seen in the WW2. We should also be creating mechanisms to make university networks (note: not universities) more resilient before disaster and conflict and be able to prepare and implement the rebuilding of academic thought after conflict.

And we want your ideas of how to do this. We have some already. But we want more to work on. Next week I’ll be running a workshop at OuiShare Fest to brainstorm the question above: What should a University in Exile Look Like in the 21st Century?