New direction for TiU aid to threatened scientists

Tilburg University largely stops the international Scholars at Risk (SAR) program, which provides support to threatened scientists. The amount of one hundred thousand euros that the university annually reserves for SAR will remain available to help scientists from unsafe areas.

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It was Ruud Lubbers who alerted the university to the existence of Scholars at Risk (SAR) in 2009. An international aid program that offers protection and support to scientists who face serious threats and, therefore, cannot live and work in freedom in their home countries. At the time, Lubbers was chair of the TiU Board of Governors and chair of the Foundation for Refugee Students (UAF), which coordinated and placed researchers in the Netherlands for SAR.

Tilburg University decided to join SAR and opened its doors for researchers to (temporarily) continue their work or studies in a safe environment. Since then, a total of seven scientists have made use of this opportunity.

“We offer help by providing a temporary paid appointment in a safe work environment, with guidance from a professor from the Department involved,” the university described the process in its 2017 Gender and Diversity Roadmap.

UAF objectives not achieved

Now, twelve years after joining, the university has decided to no longer actively participate in the aid network, but to use the earmarked money in a different way for scientists in need. The document in which this intention was presented to the University Council on December 16, 2021, shows that this decision came about primarily after the publication of a critical confidential evaluation report. That revealed that SAR/UAF was not achieving its key objectives.

The Council documents show that scientists experience difficulties in safely returning to their home countries. Furthermore, they lack the perspective of a sustainable scientific career after the temporary position via the project. There is also sometimes insufficient connection between the scientist’s level of knowledge and the host Department.

Tilburg University indicates that, in recent years, there has been little supply from the target group and that it was also very difficult to achieve a good (substantive) matching. In the past three years, no match was realized between candidates from the network and the Departments of the university.

For the UAF, the results of the evaluation report appeared to be reason enough to say goodbye to its coordinating role. Subsequently, the fifteen Dutch educational institutions affiliated to SAR received a proposal in which another organization, Nuffic (the Netherlands organization for International Cooperation in Higher Education), succeeds the UAF as coordinator in the Netherlands.

New direction for the university through Hestia and Mosaic

However, the university let it be known that it will not participate in the possible SAR/Nuffic cooperation. Tilburg University believes that the researchers are less well served in the new plan. Where previously they were entitled to a temporary TiU contract with rights and obligations equal to those of fellow researchers, they would now receive a modest Nuffic stipend scholarship. The university does not consider this desirable. Moreover, the new implementation plan carries a price tag that is substantially higher.

Therefore, TiU has decided to take a different path. The University Fund of one hundred thousand euros for refugee projects remains intact, but the focus shifts to supporting talented scientists who already have immigration status in the Netherlands. The university wants to support them so that they can rebuild their scientific careers. Scholars at Risk will still receive an annual contribution of one thousand euros to support the practice of free and independent science.

“The most important thing for Tilburg University is that we want to offer threatened scientists opportunities to resume academic careers,” says Ilja Hijink, until recently policy officer for gender equality, diversity, and inclusion at the HR Policy Staff, about the new direction.

“To find suitable candidates we will focus on NWO programs, such as Hestia and Mosaic. When the NWO has insufficient budget for the number of positively assessed applications, Tilburg University can step in. For example, last spring, a refugee scientist was linked to Tranzo through the Hestia project.”

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