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Yemenese researcher Sakhr Murshid considers Finnish culture good for children. He came to Helsinki with his family a few months ago.

The first Scholar Rescue Fund scholars in Finland

Since 2016, Finland has been a partner in the Scholar Rescue Fund programme, which offers scholars threatened or persecuted in their home country the chance to continue their work in a safe environment. The first researchers – one from Yemen and two from Syria – begun working in Finnish universities at the beginning of this summer.

”Every day teaches you new things”, says Sakhr Murshid, a Doctor of Dentistry from Yemen who came to Helsinki with his family a few months ago. Murshid is currently rebuilding his life in an environment where everything is still new to him: the city, practical matters, work at the Meilahti campus of the University of Helsinki, working culture, approaches and instruments, beginning with microscopes. ”This is my first time this far up in the north and I have never experienced midnight sun before, for example. I still sleep well at night as I know my family is safe now.”

Researchers in the programme have strong academic references

Scholar Rescue Fund was established 15 years ago. During its operation, the fund has provided support to over 700 scholars from 56 different countries in finding employment in 370 universities around the world. Finland is the 43rd partner country in the programme. The organisation behind Scholar Rescue Fund is the Institute International Education (IIE), a US organisation established in 1919 which is one of the most significant global actors in the internationalisation of education, being among other things in charge of administering the widely known Fulbright programme.

”CIMO, or what is now known as the Finnish National Agency for Education, had been exploring different alternatives for supporting the students and academic personnel of higher education institutions in crisis areas for a long time when the opportunity to join the Scholar Rescue Fund presented itself,” explains Counsellor of Education Maija Airas of the Finnish National Agency for Education.

”Their operating model felt good as it produced benefits to both the researcher as well as the host institution. The scholars seeking placement have a strong academic background, work in research and education tasks determined by the higher education institution, and bring their personal expertise to the higher education institutions.”

Murshid has built an impressive academic career, including a doctoral dissertation in 2007 and a subsequent period of working at a Japanese university, a return to his home country and an assistant professorship at a local university since 2010; many years of experience in research projects and teaching as well as an extensive list of publications. ”I am looking forward to properly getting on with my work, writing, after the end of the introduction period”, he explains. ”It is still too early to say how things will turn out and how I will be able to put my background and previous experience to use. I am fortunate that I am able to continue my research work here and I wish I can also bring benefits to the university as a researcher.”

Good reception for the programme at higher education institutions

The visiting researcher positions of the Scholar Rescue Fund have the duration of one year; however, the higher education institution and the researcher can also apply for funding for a one-year extension. The grants awarded to the researchers coming to Finland are covered by the joint funding of the Scholar Rescue Fund and the Finnish National Agency for Education. This national financing is a special feature of the Finnish partnership as host universities are typically responsible for the remaining half of the funding in the programme's other member countries. The Finnish National Agency for Education is also responsible for the coordination of the researchers and host institutions as well as the cooperation between the authorities, for instance, in connection with the formalities related to immigration. Cooperation with universities is also close in matters related to supporting the researchers in settling down in Finland.

Maija Airas emphasises the significant role of higher education institutions in the Scholar Rescue Fund activities. In Finland, both universities of applied sciences as well as universities can host scholars, although the first scholars who have come to the country through the programme have been placed at universities. ”Higher education institutions have been interested and motivated; we have been positively surprised by their commitment. In Finland, universities have recently established a national division of the Scholars at Risk network with the support of UNIFI, a co-operational organisation for Finnish universities. The network includes slightly over 460 higher education institutions located in 35 countries around the world.”

”Cold weather, but a warm welcome”

Murshid's first impression of Finland is highly positive. People are friendly, easy to approach and modest in a certain way: for instance, you can call a professor by his or her first name. ”The personnel at the university have provided help in every imaginable thing, including matters not concerned with work. They have been interested in how my family is doing and have discussed things such as my children starting school with me.”

Murshid also generally appreciates how children are taken into account in Finland. ”The Finnish culture is good for children. People care about children very much, for example there are well-equipped playgrounds all around the city and they even serve food there. I find that there is harmony between people, animals and nature here. For example, my children are excited about the squirrels on the Seurasaari island that are so tame they will eat from the palm of your hand.”

The objective of the Scholar Rescue Fund is that the connections built by researchers in the Finnish higher education institution community will eventually support the rebuilding of the higher education sector in the scholars' countries of origin. Nonetheless, for now, Murshid hesitates to look too far into the future. ”It will take decades for my country to recover from war. I am happy that I am currently able to work in Finland. I am prepared to work hard for my academic career and my family and want to also learn Finnish. The future largely depends on how well I will be able to get on with my work and also become part of society.”

Read more about Scholar Rescue Fund in Finland| IIE Scholar Rescue Fund

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