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Birkbeck becomes the first UK university to join New University in Exile Consortium

Membership builds on a long-term commitment by the College to support refugee and asylum-seeker communities and expands its activities as a University of Sanctuary.

Photo of books behind a fence guard
Photo by Maria Orlova from Pexels

Birkbeck, University of London has joined over 30 other member universities, including the universities of Yale and Columbia and others spanning North America, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Europe, as a member of the New University in Exile Consortium. This is a first for a UK university and reflects Birkbeck’s history of supporting the educational needs of displaced people. 

Members of the Consortium are publicly committed to promoting academic freedom by helping persecuted scholars and protecting intellectual resources that are threatened by assault. As part of the commitment, members agree to host an exiled/persecuted scholar. Since 2018, member institutions have supported 72 Scholars from 13 countries. 

Professor Julian Swann, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research officially signed up to the Consortium and said: “We are incredibly proud to sit alongside a number of other universities who share our overarching vision to embrace and support diverse communities and to assist those who face persecution, exile or other political challenges.  

Birkbeck has provided an academic home and support for a number of exiled or threatened scholars in recent years and has sought to respond to the needs of others, including those affected by the situation in Afghanistan. Last year, we were the first higher education institution in the UK to gain University of Sanctuary status, recognising our significant work with the award-winning Compass Project, alongside other initiatives including taught programmes and modules exploring migration and exile; and the sponsorship of fellowships through the Council for At-Risk Academics (Cara) programme.” 

The New University in Exile Consortium evolved from the legacy of The New School, the original University in Exile, which was created in 1933 to provide a safe intellectual home for scholars fleeing the growing threat of Nazism in Europe. Under current terms and conditions, an exiled scholar is defined as: ‘Anyone with a PhD or equivalent degree who has held a teaching or researcher position in an institution of higher education beyond graduate school and has faced or fled from severe and targeted threats to their lives and/or careers in their home countries or countries of residence within the last five years.’ 

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