Facilitators: Tom Parkinson (University of Kent) & Marion Heron (University of Surrey)
This session showcases the work of three doctoral researchers, Oudai Tozan, Nidal Alajaj and Ahmad Akkad, whose studies focus on related aspects of Syrian academia in diaspora and/or exile. Through individual presentations followed by roundtable discussion, the presenters will explore themes of diaspora and exilic identity, liminality, professional development and belonging, centre the experiences of Syrian academics and challenge dominant discourses of academic mobility and internationalisation.
The key objectives of the session are:
- To challenge and enrich the discourses surrounding internationalisation and academic mobility in higher education through a focus on diasporic and exiled Syrian academics
- To discuss the complexity of diaspora identity, belonging and motivation to contribute to homeland development
- To consider the role of diasporic and exiled academic communities in the safeguarding and reconstruction of higher education in their countries of origin
- To consider the balancing of, and possible tensions between, asset-based and needs-based approaches to academic development for academics in exile
11:00 – 11:10 General introductions [LTA Convenors]
11:10 – 11:20 Introductions and overview of topics [Tom Parkinson & Marion Heron]
11.20 – 11.35 Presentation 1: The potential role of Syrian academics in the diaspora in reforming the higher education Sector in Syria [Oudai Tozan]
11.35 – 11:50 Presentation 2: The needs and assets of Syrian academics in exile [Nidal Alajaj]
11.50 – 12.05 Presentation 3: “It is not up to you if you wanted to work in academia”: Insights from academic scholars’ transitions in exile [Ahmad Akkad]
12:05 – 12.20 In discussion [chaired by Tom Parkinson and Marion Heron]
12.20 – 12.45 Q & A with participants
Presentation 1 (Oudai Tozan): Based on interviews with 15 Syrian academics in the UK, Oudai will discuss the potential role of Syrian academics in the diaspora in developing the higher education sector in Syria. In doing so, Oudai will explore topics such diaspora identity, belonging and motivation, and the barriers faced by Syrian academics in diaspora in contributing to the Syrian HE sector’s development.
Presentation 2 (Nidal Alajaj): During their challenging journeys in exile, Syrian academics utilize their knowledge, skills, expertise, networks, and commitment to their country – among other salient assets – to survive the precarious and complex situations they encounter. At the same time, they have ongoing, often unmet needs, including recognition of qualifications, academic employment, institutional affiliation, and opportunities for continuous academic development. This presentation will follow an autoethnographic approach combined with analysis of in-depth interviews to elucidate the lived realities and professional survival strategies of Syrian academics in Gaziantep, a city in Southeastern Turkey close to the Syrian border where over 500,000 Syrians are domiciled.
Presentation 3 (Ahmad Akkad): The movement of international academics is often celebrated within research relevant to the internationalisation of higher education, globalisation and transnationalism, and understood according to neo-liberal and market-oriented terminology. This paper offers a nuanced understanding of the experiences of displaced scholars as occupying academic liminal spaces. Drawing on narrative interview data from an in-depth examination of three contrasting cases of displaced early-career Syrian scholars in the UK, this paper challenges dominant discourses on movements of academics and draws on lessons learned from within liminal spaces of knowledge production to advance more responsive and equitable higher education institutions.
Oudai Tozan is a PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge. His research focuses on reforming the Syrian higher education sector from a peacebuilding and social justice lens, and the potential role of the Syrian academic diaspora in reforming the sector.
Nidal Alajaj is a Syrian academic whose academic background spans English literature, linguistics, and education. He was previously a lecturer at the Faculty of Arts and Humanities and at the Higher Institute of Languages at Aleppo University, Syria. He is currently a PhD candidate in the Centre for the Study of Higher Education (CSHE) at the University of Kent, focusing on academic development in higher education.
Ahmad Akkad is a Doctoral Researcher and Research Assistant in the Department of Education Studies, University of Warwick. His doctoral project explores the experiences of displaced Syrian academics and their potential role in post-conflict reconstruction. His research interests relate to international higher education, academics and the academic profession, displacement, and post-conflict reconstruction.
Marion Heron is Associate Professor in Educational Linguistics at Surrey Institute of Education, University of Surrey. She teaches PG courses and supervises PhD students in areas related to language and education. She researches in the areas of classroom discourse, classroom interaction, genre and writing.
Tom Parkinson is Reader in Higher Education at the Centre for the Study of Higher Education (CSHE), University of Kent. Tom’s teaching, supervision and research interests relate to internationalisation, migration and movement in higher education, academic development, and music education.