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Friday, 7 March 2014

Higher education under violent attack in 28 countries - University World News

Original: Higher education under violent attack in 28 countries - University World News

Attacks on higher education institutions, students and staff are much more widespread than previously thought, according to a study published last Thursday by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack.

The study, Education Under Attack 2014, is the most comprehensive yet on the issue of violent attacks against schools, universities, students, teachers, academics, education officials and education trade unionists worldwide by armed groups, armed forces and security forces.

The study found that attacks on higher education were reported in 28 out of 30 countries profiled. Attacks damaged or destroyed university and college buildings in 17 of the 30 countries.

“Education facilities, students and staff are not just caught in the crossfire,” said Diya Nijhowne, director of the Global Coalition. “Many individuals are deliberately burned, shot, threatened and abducted, and many institutions are deliberately attacked.”

The Global Coalition members include the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics (CARA), Human Rights Watch, the Institute of International Education, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Protect Education in Insecurity and Conflict – a programme of Education Above All, Save the Children, the Scholars at Risk Network, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

UNESCO had previously published two global studies on such attacks, but the latest study is far more comprehensive in its reporting of two areas: attacks on higher education and the military use of education facilities, which makes them a potential target for attack by opposing forces.

Although many attacks on higher education occur in countries in conflict, many others occur in situations without a recognised conflict, under a repressive or undemocratic regime.

The types of attack include the shelling of university buildings; the bombing and shooting of groups or the killing of individual students and academics in targeted attacks; deaths and injuries caused by the use of excessive force, particularly against protesters; and arbitrary arrest, imprisonment and torture of students, academics and trade unionists.

There were also incidents of universities being taken over or shut down by force. In some cases university buildings were used as military bases, barracks or firing positions.

These attacks were carried out both by government armed forces, security forces or police and by armed non-state groups, including guerrillas, rebels, paramilitaries and militias.

Serious incidents

Some of the most serious incidents involved raids carried out on student dormitories or other forms of campus residence in Côte d’Ivoire, Indonesia, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sudan and Syria.

For instance, in September 2013 gunmen stormed a dormitory in the middle of the night at a college in Yobe, Nigeria, and opened fire, killing at least 50 students.

In Ethiopia, in June 2012 security forces reportedly stormed dormitories and arrested engineering students at Haramaya University in Oromia to break up a demonstration and held them outside without food for two days.

The country that was perhaps the most affected by incidents against higher education was Sudan, where 15 students were killed in 2009-12 and 479 injured due to excessive force used by security forces, mainly in protests starting on campus and protests about education. At least 1,040 students were arrested and some were tortured by national security forces

In one incident on 11 December 2012, during protests at Omdurman Islamic University in Khartoum over tuition fees, around 140 students were arrested, another 180 injured and 450 student rooms were burned down, allegedly by security agents and supporters of Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party.

Some of the most lethal incidents took place in Syria, where in January 2013 two explosions at Aleppo University killed 82 students and staff and wounded up to 150, and a mortar attack at Damascus University in March killed 10 students and wounded 20 others.

There were attacks on higher education facilities – damaging, destroying or threatening university buildings in 17 countries: Afghanistan, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel-Palestine, Libya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

In Nigeria, at least 15 universities were reported to have received an email message in September 2011, apparently from the violent militant Islamist movement Boko Haram, warning that their campuses were on a target list for bombings.

In Mexico, parcel bombs were sent to six university campuses or research institutes, in some cases causing injury. The attacks were reportedly by a group opposing nanotechnology research, which also threatened six other universities.


The motives behind attacks are often difficult to prove because the perpetrators are rarely investigated or brought to trial.

However, as the Scholar Rescue Fund has reported, many attacks on higher education appear to be connected to a government’s desire to prevent the growth of opposition movements, restrict political debate or criticism of policies, and prevent alternative points of view from being expressed or gaining support.

Others relate to government authorities’ wish to restrict education trade union activity, silence student protests, prevent certain subjects being researched by academics – ranging from human rights issues to concerns about HIV-Aids – or limit the influence of, or exposure to, foreign ideas.

Education Under Attack 2014 also documented many cases of sectarian attacks and ethnic groups being targeted.

In addition, attacks on higher education were carried out as a show of strength or in retaliation for military gains unrelated to education, the study found.

For instance, the Pakastani Taliban said it launched a double suicide bombing on the International Islamic University in Islamabad on 20 October 2009, which killed two female and three male students, in retaliation for a Pakistani army offensive in South Waziristan.

The study said the effects of attacks can be devastating for research and teaching because they trigger retreat, fear and flight and may silence a whole academic community. Attacks may also limit the subjects that can be studied or researched, restrict international collaboration and undermine the university as a learning institution.

“They have wider consequences for society, too, in restricting development, particularly the emergence or strengthening of political plurality, accountable government and open democracy,” the study said.

Key recommendations

Its key recommendations include a call for more and better monitoring of the scale and impact of attacks on higher education.

The study also calls on all states to promote the security and autonomy of higher education institutions at all times, and prevent violence and intimidation against academics.

“To this end, states should encourage, within higher communities and society generally, a culture of respect for institutional autonomy, including rejection of external ideological or political interference,” the study says.

“Suitable measures may include new policies, regulations and laws that promote both institutional autonomy and the security of higher education communities.”

* Brendan O’Malley was the lead researcher for Education Under Attack 2014 (Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack) and author of two previous Education Under Attackstudies published by UNESCO in 2007 and 2010.

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