Refugee academics extra vulnerable at the neoliberal university

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June 22, 2022 † Academics who have fled their home country and want to work in the Netherlands are disadvantaged by the competitive culture. Past work is lost and in a short time they have to meet the standards of their host institution. Lizzy Anjel-van Dijk and Maggi Leung write in the collection Academics in Exile about the experiences of refugee academics in the Netherlands.

Photo: Tima Miroshnichenko

Although there are various programs for refugee academics applying for a position at a Dutch institution, it seems that this risk group does not thrive in Dutch higher education. The competitive culture is particularly detrimental to refugees, making it difficult for them to meet the demands of their host institution and to keep up with their colleagues. In addition, most support opportunities for refugees are temporary, which means that refugee academics also experience a time pressure from the moment they arrive in the Netherlands.

In a contribution to the book Academics in exile Anjel-van Dijk, from Peace Brigades International and Leung, from Utrecht University, write about the situation of refugee academics in the Netherlands. They interviewed several academics, all of whom worked or studied in the Netherlands for at least two years.

lost work

It can be very difficult for refugee academics to get used to Dutch higher education, write Anjel-van Dijk and Leung. According to them, Dutch institutions are very business-oriented because of the neoliberal administration. The focus is on the researchers’ output in quantitative terms; number of publications, impact factors, citation indices and number of grants won. To be able to work in the academic Netherlands, refugees must adhere to these standards.

In addition, other work, such as developed courses or previously written articles, is often lost, something which, according to the researchers, is often overlooked. Academics have to start over in several ways, and sometimes they end up back at the bottom of the career ladder.

Unrealistic and unfair

Support programs in the Netherlands are often short-lived, which means that refugee academics also experience great time pressure. They should quickly have a plan for the future while still struggling with the new environment and bad experiences of the past. A refugee academic stated that she could only be really productive after three years. “I was in a place with a lot of knowledge and a rich academic network, but I could not use it. I was going through one of the darkest periods of my life and I was even suicidal. At that time, I could not take any exams. ”

According to Anjel-van Dijk and Leung, it is not only unrealistic but also unfair to demand that refugee academics compete in the labor market and the knowledge economy of the Dutch education system. After all, Dutch academics also struggle with the competitive culture of higher education.

“What can and must you not say?”

In addition to the often difficult transition to the Dutch academic work culture, refugees in higher education also often have to deal with prejudice. “When something was about Africa, my colleagues expected me to focus on it, which limited my focus on other things,” said one academic. “I work in international law and I want to continue my work in that field without being limited to choices that take place somewhere in Africa or the state of climate change in Kenya. I need to be able to work with my own specialization and have a conversation with my colleagues in international law. ”

Yet the interviews also showed that refugee academics do not always feel like going into discussions with their Dutch colleagues. “What is politically correct? What can and must not you say?” wondered an academic aloud. “I see it at conferences where African people are also present. During the breaks we have our own session where we discuss freely with each other. But during plenary sessions it does not always feel safe to speak out. You feel compelled to say the politically correct and take care of your words. ”

A starting position

Some higher education institutions use a permanent contact person who supervises refugee academics. However, the experience with these contacts varies greatly. Some of the interviewed refugees indicated that they greatly benefited from this comrade and built a friendship, while others had little contact and felt abandoned.

In addition, many academics felt that they were underpaid. One of them indicated that he could barely cope. “I still had a lot to learn in Dutch education, so maybe they thought I should start in a starting position.” Anjel-van Dijk and Leung point out once again that Dutch academics are also struggling with finances, precarious work environments and temporary employment.

Qualified guidance

In addition, for refugees, they are less likely to stand up for their rights. “We have fought all our lives,” said one of the academics. “We’re just tired. That’s how it was with me. When I got the contract, I just said, ‘Okay, fine.’ I accept what they want to give me and if I have some experience I might be able to move on with my life.It also feels like they are doing you a favor by enrolling you in higher education.That kind of situations can limit yourself to standing up for your rights. ”

According to Anjel-van Dijk and Leung, it is important that there is better guidance from qualified employees. Institutions must also have the support to appoint people for this purpose. Researchers point out that academics from host institutions often accompany someone who has fled for the first time. The interviewed academics stated that they were satisfied with the guidance they received from the University’s Asylum Fund (UAF), but as this support was limited to practical matters such as housing and job search, it is still necessary to have a contact person at the institution itself.

Asylum or no asylum?

There are various programs in the Netherlands to receive refugee academics. UAF offers, among other things, support to students and professionals in the Netherlands. Through workshops, personal guidance and financial support, refugees are assisted in their search for a job or an institution. However, to qualify for support from this fund, you must apply for asylum in the Netherlands.

This is not necessary for the Scholars at Risk (SAR) program; through this program, refugee academics can get a temporary employment. SAR is a worldwide network to which up to 440 institutions in forty countries are affiliated. In Europe, the SAR was conducted by the European University Association. But in 2021, the program will mean that academics who do not apply for asylum will no longer be supported in the Netherlands.

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