Higher education is often neglected in terms of post-conflict investment yet the sector offers arguably a major resource that can contribute to post-conflict reconstruction, statebuilding, peacebuilding, and related fields – what will be referred to here as post-conflict recovery. In post-conflict contexts higher education sectors can connect to a wide range of post-conflict recovery tasks including re-pooling human capital depleted by war and displacement, research on local social and developmental challenges, and a long-term sustainable approach to capacity building. However, while basic education in emergencies, conflict and reconstruction has recently emerged as a major research area, the issue of higher education in post-conflict recovery remains largely under-studied in academic literature. Existing studies tend to be conducted at the country or project level with few previous attempts at global theorisation of the field.
While the issue remains under-studied and under-theorised, over the past decade there has been increasingly greater global recognition at the level of practice of the importance of higher education in conflict-affected and post-conflict contexts, as evidenced by the expansion of various scholar rescue schemes. Furthermore, over the past decade there has been a growth in projects and programmes designed to build domestic higher education and research capacity in post-conflict countries, for instance university partnership and scholarship programmes. However, this increase in activity has not been followed by a corresponding increase in the number of publicly-available evaluations, reports, and assessments. As a result, the knowledge base on the effectiveness of higher education interventions and policies in post-conflict settings is very weak. There is therefore a need for greater sharing of knowledge on higher education in post-conflict contexts.
While carrying out fieldwork on higher education in post-war Libya it was found that many university and Ministry officials faced the myriad challenges of the post-conflict environment with very low knowledge of how similar problems were addressed in other settings. While Libyan officials should be commended for adapting in often innovative ways to these challenges it remains the case that lessons learned from other cases including Iraq, Afghanistan, or Lebanon could have improved policy and practice. In order that such lesson learning can occur in a way that could enable the higher education sector to be harnessed as a positive resource capable of driving future cases of reconstruction and development, it is vital that knowledge of higher education in a wide range of post-conflict contexts is shared and reflected upon in a much more systematic manner.
Beyond international agencies and universities producing and sharing information and knowledge on post-conflict higher education it is also vital to seek the voices of universities and academic communities in post-conflict settings. As others have argued, ‘Southern’ voices are often excluded from debates over fragility, peacebuilding, and recovery. An inclusive dialogue involving diverse voices and perspectives from across the globe can establish the importance of learning, knowledge, and higher education to the long-term task of recovery and development in post-conflict societies.
The Post-war Reconstruction and Development Unit and the Education in Conflict and Emergencies programme at the University of York are concerned with the role of education at all levels in the recovery and development of conflict-affected countries and would welcome sharing of knowledge on relevant cases and project evaluations in addition to collaborative work on higher education and post-conflict recovery.
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