Centre for Open Learning

ELE Chairs Steering Group for Syria Programme

English Language Education at the University of Edinburgh takes leading role in a programme to help exiled Syrian academics improve their academic English.

Cara (the Council for At-risk Academics) works to aid academics who are in immediate danger, forced into exile or choosing to live in their home countries despite the risks they may face. Cara works in collaboration with universities and institutions, trusts and foundations to offer academics a support network and financial and practical assistance with the goal of enhancing skills and ending isolation. In 2016 Cara launched the Syria Programme. This regionally-based programme aims to support academics displaced by the Syrian crisis.

Michael Jenkins, Head of English Language Education, is chairing the steering group managing the delivery of the English language programme. Other members of the steering group are colleagues from Sheffield and Reading universities. The overall aim of the project is to help Syrian academics displaced to Turkey gain the English language skills to allow them to continue their academic lives while in exile. The intention is that this will allow the programme participants to contribute to the rebuilding of the Syrian Higher Education infrastructure in the future.

Michael believes it is important that the University of Edinburgh engages in this particular project because “there has been a comparatively larger amount of support and attention given to younger Syrian students and early career academics since the beginning of the crisis but comparatively less support for established academics who will have the work of rebuilding the HE infrastructure in Syria in the future”.

The academic English language programme is currently being delivered online. Participants receive a one hour face to face online lesson once a week with their tutors in addition to ongoing email guided study. This method of delivery offers its own technical challenges. However, the academics are managing to participate successfully. By the end of September 2017 it is envisaged that participants will have improved in their ability to engage in academic discourse in English.

Most of the participants, who are now resident on the border areas of Turkey, were employed in Syrian universities, notably Damascus and Aleppo. So far, 32 Syrians have been paired with experienced EAP (English for Academic Purposes) tutors from 9 UK universities. Two extended weekend study visits led by Michael, Anne Heller (Deputy Head of ELE) and colleagues from Sheffield and Reading have taken place in Istanbul with Syrians flown in from Turkish border areas. “The academics identify English as an essential skill in being able to continue to engage and develop their academic work outside Syria now and in Syria in the future. Many studied and researched in Arabic, Russian and other languages but not English – the most important language in academic life. The academics are very motivated to participate”.

For further information on the work that Cara do to support at-risk academics, please visit their website.