University of Sheffield academics run voluntary projects to help refugees

David Read, the Director of Technology-Enhanced Learning at the English Language Teaching Centre (ELTC), is one of three UK academics running a project to teach English to Syrian refugee academics in Turkey.

David Read, ELTCThe voluntary project aims to provide the Syrian refugee academics with English language skills so that they can reconnect with the global academic community. The project leaders also hope to improve the Syrian academics' employability in Turkey.

David works with two other academics from the University of Edinburgh and the University of Reading to direct the programme. He has also set up the online system through which the academics study English for six hours a week.

Roughly 30 Syrian academics are currently enrolled on the programme. Each refugee is paired with a UK-based academic who voluntarily tutors them for one hour a week through David's online system.

So far, David has been to meet the Syrian academics twice in Istanbul. In order to leave the cities in the south of Turkey where most of the refugees currently live, the Syrian academics had to receive special permission from Turkish authorities.

David also trains the UK tutors in the technical skills required to teach the Syrian academics online and in how to deal with the technical difficulties the Syrian academics sometimes experience. Internet connection in the cities where the refugees are largely based is unreliable and sometimes affected by fighting south of the border.

Funded by the Open Society through the Council for At-Risk Academics (CARA), the project has also received support from two Turkish Universities; Boğaziçi University and Kadir Has University. Next year, the project directors are planning to submit a bid to Erasmus+ for further funding.

David said of the project: "Developing and improving the language and academic skills of Syrian academics is absolutely vital if the country wants to rebuild its higher education system in the future.

"Many of the Syrian academics living in Turkey feel isolated from their profession and from their colleagues. This programme provides them with the chance to increase their academic visibility and share experiences and knowledge with each other."

Muneer Aboud, ELTCMuneer Aboud, who also works at the ELTC, is one of the online tutors on the programme. He also voluntarily runs a programme to teach English to refugees in Sheffield.

Muneer is originally from Syria and studied for his Masters in Applied Linguistics at the University of Sheffield in the early 2000s.

Once every week, Muneer leads a two-hour session in Sheffield's St Mary's Church in order to help Sheffield based refugees to pass the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam. This qualification is mandatory for all university applicants in the UK for whom English is not their first language, and is required for applicants of many high level jobs.

The class Muneer leads consists of roughly 12 refugees whose English skills vary. Many of the group already have degrees and want to embark on further study.

Muneer said: "I am glad to be able to help students at St Mary’s. I hope that my help will enable them to contribute positively in the community.

"My contribution in teaching at St Mary’s and the CARA programme is quite rewarding and satisfying. I am proud to be a member of the team that supports refugees and asylum seekers and contributes to the delivery of the ELTC’s and the University of Sheffield’s public responsibility role."

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