SSAHE (Social Scientists Against the Hostile Environment) invite you to a webinar on Monday, 14 December 2020 at 5pm on:

Higher Education, Hostile Environment and Covid-19 – perspectives on displacement and decolonising

To register please go to the EventBrite

Higher education in the UK promotes itself as being built on the foundation of equality, diversity and inclusivity; however, a look into the experiences within universities –whether that be staff and student body, curricula, research that is funded –all show that these institutions are shaped by deeply ingrained hostility.                                                                                                                                   Higher Education is a multi-billion business in the UK. In 2017 the figures reached an amount of £ 95 billion.[1] Against a widely acknowledged tradition of welcoming international staff and students to the UK, the Immigration Acts 2014 and 2016 installed the policy of hostile environment in Higher Education. It led to increased monitoring of international students when members of staff were asked to control Tier 4 (international students) attending university courses. As part of the Hostile Environment policy implementation, external examiners of PhDs for example, have been asked to submit their passports to the Home Office. Such a hostile environment in higher education can also be traced back to different moments and experiences from across the world, where university academics are most often targeted and forced into displacement. As example in 1933 many leading academics were subject to expulsion from Germany’s universities; during the anti/de/post-colonial moments, the universities were sites to create loyal subject who would submit to colonial coercion, yet it created scholars who wrote back and rejected the hostility; more recently academics have been targeted, tortured and silenced across university in Turkey, Syria, Iran, and beyond. Many of these at-risk academics took refuge in the UK, only to experience a new level of hostile environment, as in the examples mentioned above.  These hostilities gave way to a host of organisations, councils and research project that aim to support areas of the university that prevent an inclusive hospitable educational environment. An example of this is the recent trend towards ‘decolonising the university’,  which is to reconstruct teaching and learning sites – the curricula, classrooms, faculty staff, student body, research – that preserve the Europe-centred hostilities, so to create a more diverse hospitable environment that goes beyond prioritising a commercialised enterprise.                                                                               

The 2020 Covid-19 pandemic was projected to hit the commercialised Higher Education system hard through reductions in numbers of high-paying international students. In fact, the sector recruited record numbers of international and home students in autumn 2020; but future numbers are uncertain. Another Covid-era challenge is for members of staff and students to go online and adjust teaching and learning practices, where inclusive community-led education has been put at risk.. Another fundamental problem arises when we ask in what ways this commercialised education system can or should be sustained or reformed in and beyond the Covid-19 era, considering that it is a highly exclusive – classed, gender and racialised – institution.  The urgency of putting a spotlight on Higher Education in the Covid-19 context comes from fears that the current crisis may be used by university managements to get rid of critical and decolonial studies of race and migration, black studies, and feminist sociology.  At the same time, HE inclusion and justice strategies have found imaginative new articulations during the pandemic.              

This SSAHE webinar brings together a range of perspectives on Higher Education and the Hostile Environment, exploring anti-racist, decolonising and justice-focused practices in the UK around higher education, alongside the racialised and xenophobic hostile environment in HE that also characterises this pandemic conjuncture.

Speakers Include:

Stephen Wordsworth, Cara – a lifeline to academics at risk

Deborah Gabriel Lessons from The Ivory Tower Project: Why critical leadership and 3D Pedagogy are liberatory tools for Black academics  

Gargi Bhattacharyya Risky bodies and rational racisms – what pandemic does to our relations to each other

Aura Lounasmaa and the OLIve (Open Learning Initiative) Conference Group: A Life in Lockdown: OLIve Students on Education, Hostile Environments and Covid-19

The webinar is chaired by Dr Ulrike M Vieten, Dr Bahriye Kemal and Professor Corinne Squire


Professor Gargi Bhattacharyya (UEL) has been Professor of Sociology at the University of East London since 2013, after previously working at the universities of Aston, Birmingham and Wolverhampton. She is a co-director of UEL’s Centre for Migration, Refugees and Belonging. Her research interests are in the areas of ‘race’ and racisms, sexualities, global cultures, the ‘War on Terror’, austerity, and racial capitalism.

Dr Deborah Gabriel is a self-defined leader in race, education, and social justice as the Founder and Director of Black British Academics – a global network of scholars focused on tackling racial inequality in higher education. Her intellectual work is interdisciplinary and broadly focused on the dynamics of race, gender and culture in media, communication, and higher education. These areas of inquiry are approached from a critical race and Black feminist standpoint to analyse the relationships between race, power, privilege, and inequality. As a consultant, she specializes in strategic approaches to equity, diversity and inclusion centred on social justice and transformation in higher education and society. 

Dr Aura Lounasmaa, is a lecturer in Social Sciences and the director of the Erasmus+ funded Open Learning Initiative (OLIve) Course for refugees and asylum seekers at the University of East London. She is also a research fellow at the Centre for Narrative Research.

Stephen Wordworth has been Executive Director of Cara (the Council for At-Risk Academics) since 2012. Cara, a UK charity, was founded in 1933 as a rescue mission for academics in Germany who were being forced out of their posts by the Nazis. Today, through its Fellowship Programme, Cara works with over 120 UK universities and others abroad to rescue university teachers and researchers around the world from discrimination, persecution, violence and conflict. Some 300 ‘Cara Fellows’ are currently being supported, many with their families, until they can return home. In addition, Cara’s Syria Programme, the third such regional programme, works with Syrian academics who have been forced into exile in countries neighbouring Syria, notably Turkey; some 170 Syrians are currently actively engaged with the Programme. Previously, Stephen was a member of the UK Diplomatic Service, where his last two posts were as Deputy Head of Mission in Moscow (2003-2005) and Ambassador in Belgrade (2006- 2010).

Dr Bahriye Kemal is an academic, writer/poet, and activist. She has published widely on space/place, displacement, decolonial education, borders, conflict, and solidarity/activist movements as related to postcolonial east Meditereanean and Britain. She is author and editor of various books, including Writing Cyprus Postcolonial and Partitioned Literatures of Place and Space (Routledge, 2020), Nicosia Beyond: Barriers: Voices from a Divided City (Saqi, 2019), and Visa Stories: Experiences between Law and Migration (2013). She is a lecturer in Contemporary and Postcolonial Literatures at the University of Kent. She is an active member of organisations that work with displaced people, including serving as trustee for Kent Refugee Help and a mentor for CARA’s Syrian Programme.

Professor Corinne Squire is Professor of Social Sciences and Co-Director of the Centre for Narrative Research, University of East London, and research associate at the University of Witwatersrand. Her research interests are in HIV and citizenship, refugee politics and education, and narrative theory and methods. Recent publications include Stories changing lives (ed., OUP, 2020) and Researching family narratives (with A. Phoenix and J. Brannen, Sage, 2020). She is a trustee of Positively UK.

Dr Ulrike M Vieten is a Lecturer in Sociology, and Fellow of the Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice, Queen’s University Belfast (QUB). Her research focuses on the historical construction and shifting of racialised, gendered and classed group boundaries, after all exploring new configurations of European citizenship, post-migration, and transnational identities in 21st century Europe, and beyond. Key publications include her first monograph, Gender and Cosmopolitanism in Europe, her edited book, Revisiting Iris Marion Young on Normalisation, Inclusion and Democracy and the co-edited special journal issue ‘Contemporary Far-Right Racist Populism in Europe’ (Journal of Intercultural Studies). She is editor in Chief of the European Journal of Cultural and Political Sociology, also active with SSESW, and QUB based Centre for European and Transnational Studies.