The University of Oslo (UiO) has been a member of Scholars at Risk (SAR) since 2001 and has received more than twenty scholars on one or two-year stays. Many countries and universities have calls for applications, where researchers at risk apply through transparent but sometimes lengthy processes.
However, scholars often have urgent needs, and UiO has tried to find ways to have a transparent but speedy process to accommodate them. In one case, for instance, a scholar had left his home country for a conference and found out that he could expect the police to arrest him at the airport on his way back. Together with SAR we were able to get him to Norway without having to return home in the meantime. This was an exceptional case, but we know that time is of essence. Here are some of the ways that we try to be swift and flexible when supporting at-risk scholars:
- UiO funds the hosting of researchers at risk through its own funds. The internal university funds allow for rescheduling to receive the next scholar sooner than planned for, if needed.
- UiO receives nominations from SAR and has a SAR committee at UiO that can join on short notice to discuss and decide on urgent cases. It has three academic staff members and one student.
- We have distributed information about SAR widely across the university, so the departments are aware of the scheme and are quick to decide, when asked to host a relevant scholar.
- We have close cooperation between the SAR institutional contact person and the International Staff Mobility Office (ISMO), to ensure a quick process for immigration and to secure housing in university apartments reserved for researchers.
In Norway, as in many other countries, researchers get a prioritized process for work and residence permits, and our SAR-scholars are included in this immigration category. To speed up the process further, we fill in the Offer of Employment form from the immigration authorities (UDI) in parallel with the slower process of preparing the normal university contract. The immigration authorities only want their own form in the first phase. The researcher at risk applies for the residence and work permits online, with close follow up from the International Staff Mobility Office (ISMO). A staff member at ISMO pays the application fee with a credit card, and gets it reimbursed from the university, as many researchers at risk do not have credit cards or enough money ready for that purpose. The researcher gives a letter of attorney to one ISMO staff member, so that they can follow up on the case directly in Oslo, instead of the scholar having to get to the nearest Norwegian embassy and the embassy transferring the application to Oslo. We are open about the exceptional urgency of these cases, and the employer service at the immigration authorities is supportive and tries to prioritize exceptional cases.
The way that UiO secures transparency and equity of access to these positions is by getting the nominations from Scholars at Risk, who assess and check the risk, quality and authenticity of the applications, as well as through our own Scholars at Risk committee, which prioritizes candidates based on a set of criteria. Throughout the process, speed and flexibility is secured through systematic goodwill at the University of Oslo, making the process as simple as possible without compromising rigor.
Marit Egner, Institutional Contact Person for Scholars at Risk, University of Oslo
Erland Nettum, Senior Adviser, International Staff Mobility Office, University of Oslo