The Scholar Rescue Fund brings scholars threatened or persecuted in their home country to Finland

Experiences Higher education Scholar Rescue Fund Internationalisation
The Scholar Rescue Fund (IIE-SRF) programme established by the U.S. Institute of International Education (IIE) offers scholars threatened or persecuted in their home country the chance to continue their work in a safe environment. The Finnish National Agency for Education has been participating in and co-funding the programme in Finland since 2016, coordinating cooperation with Finnish higher education institutions. The programme has provided support to 11 scholars from Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan.
Fahim Fayaz, Sweeta Akbari & Maija Airas
Tampere University grant holders Fahim Fayaz and Sweeta Akbari and Counsellor of Education Maija Airas from the Finnish National Agency for Education.

The first Finnish universities to host SRF scholars – the University of Turku, the University of Helsinki and Aalto University – have carried out pioneering work in welcoming scholars from conflict areas, playing a key role in developing operating models to support them.  The activities have required close cooperation between the Finnish National Agency for Education and the IIE. In Finland, all universities are also members of Scholars at Risk, and supporting scholars threatened or persecuted in their home country is becoming an established part of university activities in general. This has also manifested as a willingness to support scholars who have fled Ukraine. 

Tampere University has also been an active contributor to the programme, as a result of which there are currently several scholars in Tampere who have received funding through the SRF programme. 

“We do not see this model as one-way aid for scholars in a difficult position. Instead, the dynamic works both ways: SRF scholars are full-fledged members of our academic community who provide major contributions to the scientific quality and impact of the university's work,” says Juha Teperi, director of the Tampere Institute for Advanced Study at Tampere University.


Afghan scholar developing new cell culture methods in Finland

Grant holder Sweeta Akbari, who has a background in chemical engineering, works at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Technology at Tampere University. Hailing from Afghanistan, Akbari is developing new methods for producing porous materials needed in cell culture. The capacity to produce cells and tissues in a laboratory has become increasingly valued in recent years as we have learned to use cells differentiated from human stem cells to grow human tissues for the purpose of studying the effects of diseases or drugs, for example. These models are replacing animal models and may even work for evaluating the drug dosages of patients. Akbari's research will provide more comprehensive possibilities to control cell culture media and the growth of cells and tissues.

In the past, Akbari has been involved in establishing the International Journal of Innovative Research & Scientific Studies (IJIRSS), the first Afghan multidisciplinary and peer-reviewed journal focusing on engineering sciences. Since arriving in Tampere, Akbari has also been involved in setting up Afghan Women Scholars, a non-profit organisation aimed at helping female Afghan scholars continue their research in other countries. Indeed, Akbari emphasises that education and research are equally important for both women and men and should be possible for both. To support this, it is important to provide opportunities and support for building a safe future to female scholars at risk, in particular.


Programme funding providing opportunities for scholars in the early stages of their careers

The Finnish National Agency for Education visited Tampere University to engage in discussion with the university’s SRF scholars about their experiences. Settling in a new country and a different research environment takes time and adaptation. As the duration of SRF support is one to two years, the SRF scholars at Tampere University stress the importance of being active during the funding period and focusing on long-term future planning from the outset and, where possible, networking with research teams and participating in both national and international research funding applications. In Finland, funding especially for early and middle-stage scholars is subject to intense competition, which is one of the reasons why the Finnish National Agency for Education has wanted to allocate SRF grants specifically to this target group.

SRF funding is applied for by the scholar’s host institution from the Finnish National Agency for Education, and the funding has a rolling application period.