Baghdad once reigned as the intellectual center of the world. In 2013, it became the center of an academic emergency.
It is estimated that more than 3,000 professors fled Iraq starting in February 2003. Thousands more were threatened or trapped in the country; They were unable to teach, conduct research, or carry out their academic responsibilities.
Rescuing threatened scholars has long been a part of the IIE mission. From the Bolshevik Revolution to the Hungarian Uprising, IIE has demonstrated a commitment to protecting academic freedom.
In 2006, when security concerns in Iraq reached unprecedented levels, the IIE Scholar Rescue Fund began receiving hundreds of requests for assistance from threatened Iraqi scholars at major higher education institutions across the country and it became clear that the scope and scale of the Iraqi crisis required special attention. With generous funding from the private and public sectors, most notably, the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Richard Lounsbery Foundation, the IIE Scholar Rescue Fund responded by launching the Iraq Project. From 2007 to 2014, the Iraq Project provided support to Iraqi university professors and scientists to resume their teaching and research in safety. The Project’s goal was to rescue more than 200 of Iraq's most senior academics – in any academic discipline – by placing them temporarily at institutions of higher learning in countries within the Middle East and North Africa region. (Some exceptions were made for university positions in other world regions.) By the Project’s completion in September 2014, over 280 Iraqi scholars had received fellowships to help them resume their teaching and research activities in safety.
Iraq Project scholars represented a wide array of the academic world, coming from a variety of different disciplines.
Iraq Project fellows found safe haven in a number of different countries, most significantly the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Through a special relationship formed between the Jordanian royal family and IIE, Jordan played a major role in the rescue of threatened Iraqi scholars.
During their fellowships at host institutions around the world, most Scholar Rescue Fund scholars maintained their academic connections to Iraqi students and colleagues. To broaden these connections, the program established the Iraq Scholar Lecture Series (ISLS) in 2009, which recorded academic lectures by Iraqi scholars in the diaspora for distribution and presentation—in DVD format or via live feed—at universities throughout Iraq. Over 300 much-needed lectures in fields such as pediatrics, environmental biotechnology, and molecular genetics were made available to thousands of faculty and students at more than 20 Iraqi public and private universities. Some lectures have been incorporated into official course curricula. University presidents and deans alike have remarked on the impact the program has had by giving its students exposure to the country’s best academic minds no matter their geographic location.
In addition to their academic fellowship funding, Iraqi fellowship recipients received a range of benefits to help them adjust to their host countries and to prepare them for their ongoing work beyond the fellowship term. Generous donors made it possible to extend additional grants to Iraqi scholars seeking professional skills training, language training, membership in academic associations, and assistance with publishing costs. Partnerships with local training programs in the scholars’ host countries enhanced these benefits by reducing costs and tailoring trainings to the particular needs of Iraqi scholars.
To help address the needs of Iraqi scholars before, during, and after their fellowships, the Scholar Rescue Fund organized tailored training workshops in 2009 for Iraqi scholars in Jordan; in 2011, these workshops expanded into training conferences held in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdish region. Bringing together participants from Iraqi universities and education ministries, fellowship recipients, and other international education experts, the conferences covered topics ranging from education quality assurance and accreditation of universities to building institutional linkages and modern teaching methodologies.
While some Iraqi scholars continued to face threats and seek support, over 40% were able to return to their country to contribute to a globally engaged higher education community. Over 50 returning fellows had either resumed their previous academic positions or taken new posts in Iraq. The Iraq Scholar Rescue Project ended in 2014, but amid the country’s changing dynamics Iraqi scholars continue to be served by the IIE Scholar Rescue Fund. Academics interested in applying for an IIE-SRF fellowship should refer to our eligibility page.