The Vrije Universiteit Brussel feels particularly connected to the Iranian struggle. Not only because Iranian students and citizens are fighting for the values we believe in, but also because it has an impact on our Iranian student and research community. This is why the university is strengthening its commitment. On behalf of the rector’s policy team and the Committee of Iranian VUB Students and Researchers, VUB rector Jan Danckaert shared his views via an opinion piece for De Standaard (17 October, page 26). Read it in full below.
VUB hopes to inspire other institutions with its support for Iranian students, writes Jan Danckaert.
A struggle for freedom and women’s rights and against oppression is raging in Iran. The Iranian battle for emancipation is carried out by courageous women and men, students and citizens, who fully realise that the price is paid in human lives, with reprisals affecting themselves and their families.
There are many reasons why VUB feels strongly connected to the Iranian struggle. One is our origins. In 1834, the Université Libre de Bruxelles was founded to enable freedom of research in a church-dominated society. A guiding principle of our university was – and remains – the separation of church and state. A religious norm is something you impose on yourself of your own free will, never on someone else. This should apply to government, to education and to all of society.
Iranian students and citizens are fighting for the same values. The struggle is important, the impact great. That impact also touches our campuses. The Committee of Iranian VUB students and Researchers includes about 200 Iranian students, PhDs and alumni. They are very concerned about the fate of their loved ones, their studies, their plans for the future.
In recent weeks, Iranian members of the VUB community and the policy team have engaged in discussions to support the Iranian resistance and offer help. We hope this will inspire other institutions. We call for the heart-warming support displayed since the Iranian regime sentenced to death our VUB colleague Professor Ahmadreza Djalali to be extended to the wider struggle for freedom in Iran.
Specifically, this means the following. For several years there has been an academic boycott, with no institutional collaborations between Flemish universities and Iran. Continuing that boycott is necessary given the current state of affairs.
Iranian students are facing delays at the start of this academic year that are detrimental to their studies and their time in Belgium. The issuing of visas to Iranian students needs to be much faster. Meanwhile, VUB will make lecture recordings available to them wherever possible and keep enrolment open for as many courses as possible.
Many cries of financial distress are also reaching us. Students are suffering from the devaluation of the Iranian currency and the difficulty of transferring money to Belgium. Moreover, when they arrive in Belgium, only the more expensive student rooms are available. We will try to meet those needs through the Caroline Pauwels Emergency Fund for Students. Iranian master’s students and alumni can also apply for a grant for financial support to write a PhD proposal. We established that scholarship so that students who are struggling can still focus on developing a doctoral project. Talent should not be lost.
But there are not only worries about money. The violence, the uncertainty about family, friends and one’s own future create a heavy mental burden. We’re organising opportunities for students to meet each other, providing counselling through our VUB psychologists and assigning them a buddy who supports them within the university. In November, we’ll celebrate solidarity with an Iranian week of film screenings, solidarity actions and Iranian meals in the student restaurant. Finally, there is also legal assistance for our Iranian researchers who are suffering harassment or intimidation on social media.
A warm university is not only a welcoming university where everyone feels at home. It is also a university that actively shapes the values of freedom and equality, and stands up when the cause demands it. We think the Iranian struggle for freedom is such a cause.