Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)’s engagement with Scholars at Risk began in 2011 with the Norwegian rectors’ formation of a national section. Since then, NTNU has hosted eight scholars from Iran, Eritrea, Turkey, Syria, Yemen, and Pakistan.
Initially, NTNU’s rector provided funding for one scholar. However, after consultation with the board in 2017, the university allocated funding to host two scholars at a time. The Norwegian rectors mutually inspired each other, and when one university increased the number of scholars, it induced other rectors to match. We also saw an extraordinary mobilization following the Afghan crisis the past autumn.
In NTNU’s experience, the first concern of prospective hosting departments is usually how they may provide a fruitful work environment for the scholar. Some overlapping academic interest between the department and scholar is desirable as it makes it easier to include them in ongoing research and educational activities. “Our most important contribution is to provide an inclusive work environment and meet the scholar with support and curiosity,” said a faculty member at NTNU In return, faculty and students may gain new academic perspectives and insights from the scholar’s life experiences. Providing a safe space is also important for the mental health of the scholars and their families.
The hosting departments’ main regret is not being able to do more for their scholars’ careers. One year is too short to settle in, understand the work culture, learn the language, and apply for jobs inside and outside academia. Immigration and onboarding are also cumbersome for all parties, including the university researcher support services. In light of this and based on the advice of the hosting departments, NTNU has begun to offer two-year contracts, if preferable to the scholars. They have also been given a mentor who may help them adapt to a new environment.
SAR scholars at NTNU have been engaged as researchers or associate professors at the departments, but with institutional funding. Additional funding is provided to cover working costs such as relocation expenses, international conferences, or laboratory fees. If possible, they are also offered to rent furnished apartments. It can be tough to live off one income, particularly if you have a family with children in need of winter clothes and so forth. In such cases, NTNU has adjusted the salary to support a family more realistically.
The continued support of the rector and the positive attitude of department leaders and faculty are key to NTNUs ability to host future scholars. The Pro-Rector for Research, therefore, has invited new scholars and their department heads to a reception in appreciation for the important work the hosts are doing. It is also an excellent opportunity to learn to know the scholars and to discuss how the university may support them during their stay at NTNU.
The scholars give a human face to a serious challenge in the world and remind us of the importance of defending basic university values which we otherwise tend to take for granted. In the bigger picture, NTNU’s contribution is a drop in the bucket. It is nevertheless an act of solidarity in line with the university’s vision – Knowledge for a better world, says Kristin Wergeland Brekke, SAR institutional contact person at NTNU.
Kristin Wergeland Brekke, Senior Adviser, HR Division
Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Norway