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Higher Education Under Assault: Spotlight on IIE’s Scholar Rescue Fund

The Committee on Human Rights (CHR) engages regularly with many scientific and human rights organizations to exchange information, provide referrals, and advance our overlapping missions.  One such partner is the Institute of International Education Scholar Rescue Fund (IIE-SRF).

At the May 2016 meeting of the CHR, James King, IIE-SRF Assistant Director, spoke to CHR members about IIE-SRF’s work, including its vital support of Syrian scholars during the 21st century’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Listen to James King describe the scope of the higher education crisis below:


IIE-SRF aims to preserve the lives, voices, and academic work of scholars from any field or country who are suffering abuse of their fundamental human rights or who are fleeing war and violence.  In 2014, IIE-SRF received more applications for financial and professional support from professors and researchers facing threats to their lives and careers than any year in its history.  The vast majority of these applications came from the Middle East-North Africa region, especially Syria.  IIE-SRF received roughly equal numbers of applications in 2015.

Since the start of the conflict in Syria through March 2016, IIE-SRF has supported 90 Syrian professors and researchers. It arranges visiting academic appointments for its fellows at higher education institutions outside of Syria and provides fellowships of up to $25,000 to support these positions.  The hosting institutions serve as a much-needed safe haven for scholars to continue their teaching and research in a secure environment.  In addition to fellowship grants, IIE-SRF provides health insurance, logistical support, professional development assistance, and post-fellowship support.  The hope is that one day these scholars will be able to return to help rebuild Syria.

Watch James King discuss the challenges facing the few Syrian academics that have remained in Syria: 

Although IIE-SRF anticipates supporting many more Syrian scholars in the months to come, the need far outstrips available resources.  IIE-SRF estimates that there are as many as 2,000 university professionals amongst the refugee population. The support and partnership of the international academic community is critical to its work. IIE-SRF maintains long-standing informal partnerships with both the Council for At-Risk Academics (CARA) and the Scholars at Risk Network (SAR), organizations that have similar missions.  IIE-SRF is also a founding partner in the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation’s Philipp Schwartz Initiative, which will provide fellowships for up to 20 scholars to be hosted at German institutions of higher learning.  IIE-SRF is sharing with these partnering institutions in Germany its expertise in identifying and evaluating candidates, pre- and post-arrival logistics, and transition support for scholars going off the fellowships.

Eligible Syrian scholars and threatened scholars of any nationality can apply for the IIE-SRF fellowship by visiting the IIE-SRF website or emailing

IIE-SRF has a great need for university partners that are willing to host IIE-SRF scholars from Syria.  To host a scholar, universities must appoint the scholar to a visiting academic appointment, arrange for the appropriate visa, and support the scholar with a financial package that matches the IIE-SRF fellowship award, as well as with services to help integrate the scholar into their new community.  Historically, the majority of IIE-SRF fellows are in the sciences, including 59% of IIE-SRF scholars in 2015.  Given this, IIE-SRF has a special need for placements in the STEM fields, particularly in agriculture and engineering.  Thus far in 2016, IIE-SRF has awarded fellowships to scholars in fields ranging from Arabic language and literature to textile engineering, from forensic psychology to mass communications.

To become a host partner, universities should contact IIE-SRF directly at The scholars seeking placement list on the IIE-SRF website is regularly updated.

Hear more from James King about how the academic community can assist IIE-SRF’s work: