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  • Writer's pictureThe Gaudie

Qatar Students Urge University Leaders to Stand With Palestine

Students at the University's Qatar campus have highlighted 'discrepancies' in the University's response to the war in Gaza


By Josh Pizzuto-Pomaco

Members of the University's Senior Management Team, including Principal George Boyne, attended graduation ceremonies at AFG College last autumn. Photo Credit: UoA

Students at UoA's campus in Qatar have called on University leadership to do more to support Palestinian academics and civilians.


The AFG College campus; located in Doha, Qatar, was opened by the University in 2017 in partnership with the Al Faleh Group. As of 2022, more than 700 students from over twenty countries attend the campus.


Qatar-based students have participated in a number of events expressing solidarity with Palestine, including charity intiatives and awareness programmes.


One student noted:


"The students of the Qatar campus have conducted a donation drive and an awareness initiative to raise the awareness into the situation of Gaza. The students have taken initiative to raise awareness of the

Gaza issues but the response of the main campus remains limited." 


Another Qatar-based student added:


"I would like [University leaders] to know that they have a branch in Qatar filled with Muslims, Arabs and international students that actively support and stand in solidarity with Palestine."

"We had a charity week dedicated to Palestine, and everyone is actively boycotting products that help 

Israel. We even had a community for students to express their feelings and showcase that they can talk 

about Palestine at the Aberdeen Qatar campus."


Photo Credit: AFG College

A third student said: "It's important to ensure that the voices of Palestinian students

within the university community are heard and valued. Adequate support for Palestinian students, 

both academically and emotionally, is crucial during times of crisis."


"Notable Discrepancies" with University's Ukraine response


Several students also noted a 'discrepancy' in the University's response to the Russian-Ukrainian war.


One said: "When the Ukraine war happened, students were instantly taken care of, heard 

and were allowed to voice their opinions and stand in solidarity with their country. 


"Does the main campus of Aberdeen not think of a Ukrainian and a Palestinian the same?"

The University flag was lowered to half-mast in November, in "recognition of the horrific suffering caused by the conflict in the Middle East."


However, other than a brief accompanying statement, University leaders have said little about the ongoing conflict.


AUSA Vice-Chair for Postgraduate Education and Qatar-based student Muhammad Faraaz Dheen Mohamed told The Gaudie that University leadership must "implement visible actions of solidarity with Palestine."


AFG College Campus in Doha, as pictured in Jan 2023. Google Street View

He added that the University's response to the conflict had "displayed notable discrepancies between its campuses," noting that pro-Palestinian students and staff in Aberdeen experienced threats and difficulties in expressing their support.


By contrast, Faraaz said that the Qatar branch "exhibited a more proactive response."


"Here, expressions of solidarity with Palestine were readily facilitated through various means, including wearing the keffiyeh and organizing charity events to support relief efforts.

"Notably, similar expressions of solidarity extended to other conflicts, such as the war in Ukraine. However, there was a perceived difference in urgency between responses to the Ukrainian war and the conflict in Gaza, with the former receiving more immediate attention from the parent campus in Aberdeen."


Immigration framework 'constrains' University sholarships


Asked if the University would consider opening up a scholarship fund for Palestinian students, as they did for Ukrainian students in 2022, a spokesperson noted that the University was limited by stringent immigration laws.


They said: "The direct impacts of conflicts on our community and their immediate support needs does vary. Our ability to provide support, as we did in support of Ukraine, is fundamentally constrained by the immigration framework and the sanctions regime of the UK and Scottish Governments.


Protestors gather in St Nicholas Square in October 2023. Photo Credit: Isabelle Hampton-Zabotti

"Recognising that, the University introduced a staff fellowship and a student fellowship for individuals at risk as a result of global conflict in April 2023.


"We also have an ongoing commitment to support students in need through hardship funding.”

Asked to comment on available support for Palestinian students and staff, the spokesperson added: "Student support teams are actively supporting individuals who are distressed and feel at risk or isolated because of the conflict. We continue to remind our community to be considerate of each other. 

 

“All students and staff currently in the UK can receive one-to-one support from the University Counselling Service, while the 24/7 Student Helpline is there for students anywhere in the world. Our Multi-Faith Chaplaincy is also a place of pastoral support open to all. 

 

“Students with concerns over their studies can speak to staff in their School or the student support team, as well as access our wide range of support and information services online. 

 

“Staff can call the Employee Assistance Programme about work and personal issues, as well as our Human Resources team who are on hand to offer support."


Concerns raised over academic freedom


Staff and students in Aberdeen have expressed frustrations over a perceived lack of freedom to comment on the Gaza conflict. One academic senator raised concerns at a recent Senate meeting, noting that a member of staff had been prevented from speaking about the issue.


Photo Credit: Miles Rothoerl

A University spokesperson said that no events had been blocked or cancelled, adding that the University was working with AUSA on developing "opportunities for active learning for both staff and students."


“The killing or harming of innocents, regardless of nationality, race, religion, or any other characteristic, is abhorrent and unacceptable. We are committed to supporting students and staff who are traumatised by the events in the Middle East, or by any other international conflict.


"We simultaneously uphold the right to academic freedom and freedom of speech on campus while having no tolerance for antisemitism or islamophobia.

“It is, however, clear from a discussion at Senate that some colleagues feel that they have been discouraged from discussing the situation in Gaza in classes or informal settings. The Principal was clear that this should not be the case and asked for information on any instances to be shared with him. To date, no instances have been raised.” 


In late March, the University Senate passed a series of motions condemning the effects of the war on Palestinian academics and students.


Senators also expresssed support for 'academic freedom and freedom of expression' in relation to the conflict in Gaza.




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