“I am a project coordinator in an international program at Bard College Berlin.” When Aysuda Kölemen introduces herself this way, you can feel her pride in an academic career, which she pursued from political science studies at Bosphorus University in Istanbul to her PhD at the University of Georgia, Athens in the US and back. in Turkey – as a professor at the Altinbas University in Istanbul.
But if President Erdogan and his power apparatus were successful, his career would have ended three years ago. Without income and with the real threat of being arrested, tried and imprisoned.
Kölemen owes the fact that things have turned out differently to her academic standing, her international network and her language skills, which have included German and English since she was a guest in Heidelberg. And the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, from which she received a scholarship from the Philipp Schwartz Initiative after being nominated by Bard College Berlin.
The program was established five years ago with funds from the Federal Foreign Ministry in response to the movement of refugees, mainly from Syria, but also from a number of other countries where academic freedom and the life and work of researchers are severely affected. threatened. Since then, 280 scientists have been and have been funded by the Philipp Schwartz Initiative.
The namesake helped colleagues exiled during the Nazi era
175 come from Turkey, 65 from Syria, six from Iraq, six from Iran, six from Venezuela, five from Yemen and 17 from other countries. The scholarships are initially limited to two years with a basic amount of 2650 euros per month (plus numerous additional benefits, for example for family members traveling with you) and have the possibility of an extension of one year.
The initiative is named after the Frankfurt pathologist Philipp Schwartz, who had to emigrate in 1933. He founded the Emergency Association of German Scientists Abroad and taught at Istanbul University. After 1945 he was not allowed to return to his professorship in Frankfurt, after which Schwartz emigrated for the second time in the early 1950s – to the United States.
The five years of the Philipp Schwartz Initiative are undoubtedly a celebratory occasion for the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. For example, the funding of up to ten million euros per year, made permanent by a decision of the Bundestag in 2018. But also a reason for a critical review, as program manager Frank Albrecht says.
The decisive question that the foundation had to face after the first round of fellows: what options do the beneficiaries have to permanently integrate into the German science system after three years? The criticisms were expressed around 2019 at a demonstration in Berlin by Turkish “Scientists for Peace”.
Fierce competition for permanent positions
They are persecuted at home because in 2016 they signed the peace declaration “We will not be part of this crime” – against the attacks by the Erdogan regime on Kurdish settlement areas. Scholarships or, at best, short-term contracts offer exiles “no security or realistic prospects in Germany,” said a historian at Bebelplatz opposite Humboldt University.
Aysuda Kölemen also signed the appeal for peace and lost her job at the University of Altinbas. In the whirlwind of purges partly forced and partly deliberately supported by universities, Kölemen’s employer still tried to be fair, advised her to take a “research trip” abroad and then never extended her stay. contract.
As wonderful as it was to be accepted into Bard College Berlin and to have “the freedom to research and arrive” for three years: the knowledge of working with countless, better networked German colleagues, who usually have a longer list of publications. Competing for the few permanent positions in the system are extremely stressful.
The response of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation on the occasion of the 5th anniversary is a “roadmap for future funding” with “better long-term prospects for researchers at risk”. One step is the partial conversion of grants into employment contracts.
“The new employment contracts are also limited to two years with the possibility of an extension of one year, but they also open – in addition to health insurance through the employer and the establishment of a pension plan – the road to the Blue Card for permanent residence in Germany, “says program manager Frank Albrecht.
The foundation is “able to finance an employment contract for all”. However, it is up to the receiving institution to decide the type of support. Many have switched to contracts. But a scholarship remains the quickest way to bring critically endangered people to Germany.
Attempt to place more alumni in the private sector
Further steps in the roadmap are increasing networking at EU level by placing alumni in other European countries, more coaching regarding the academic job market, but also in the direction of the private sector. “Here we are talking with institutions and associations”, says Albrecht.
For many researchers in war and crisis zones, it will remain nearly impossible even to leave their country, let alone obtain a scholarship or employment contract at a German university or research institute. “Many do not have passports or cannot leave their families at home. Not everyone speaks English or German, and abroad you can’t achieve much with Turkish or Arabic, “says Aysuda Kölemen.
Few possibilities without local working methods
Indeed, the requirements of the receiving institutions in Germany are high, not only in terms of language skills. “We prefer to support those with whom we have already maintained scientific contact in the past,” says Ulrike Freitag, director of the Leibniz Center for the Modern Orient in Berlin, in an interview in the foundation’s anniversary brochure. Otherwise, scientific working methods and interrogation styles would differ considerably from each other.
According to AvH statistics, 67 of the 112 researchers who received the Philipp Schwartz scholarship for two or three years found employment, 49 in the academic field in Germany, eight outside Germany and another ten outside academia.
The need is far greater and is growing day by day. In Turkey, the situation remains extremely dangerous for academics who are critical of the regime and Frank Albrecht cites just two of too many examples around the world. Even today, the Philipp Schwartz Initiative can only consider one third of applications from institutions that are willing to accept them.
In Europe, the French PAUSE program is the only program comparable in size to the Philipp Schwartz Initiative. The network of “Scholars at Risk” needs to
be further expanded. In Berlin, the state launched its program through the Einstein Foundation in 2017.
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New projects to help at-risk researchers include the Threatened Scholars Integration Initiative launched by the Open Society Foundation’s Open Society University Network in early April, with the participation of Bard College in New York and Berlin and the launch of the Central European University of New York Vienna.
The program initially offers 25 scholarships in European countries, but also in Colombia, Ghana, Kyrgyzstan and Bangladesh. This means that languages other than English and German are also required, says Aysuda Kölemen. She coordinates the program in Berlin – and is thus one of 50 percent of Philipp Schwartz’s alumni with a subsequent direct job.
“It is and remains very difficult to start over in exile,” says the 44-year-old political scientist. In view of the political persecution, but also due to the growing economic pressure on science, even in Western countries, new and fair opportunities for researchers are unfortunately desperately needed for the foreseeable future.