Universities have a significant role to play in fighting global terror by guaranteeing solid education and boosting access to students seeking education to improve their livelihoods, according to the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).
While arguing that terrorism should never stop students and higher education institutions from fulfilling their mission towards personal and national development, DAAD President Professor Margret Wintermantel said in a statement sent to University World News: “Access to a solid education is a strong weapon against any form of terrorism.”
A greater role
This should see universities playing a greater role in combatting rising cases of extremism in students by countering radicalisation and encouraging peaceful coexistence.
DAAD has been at the centre of a major project in Kenya aimed at supporting survivors of the 2015 terror attack at Garissa University, which left 142 students dead.
At least 300 students of Garissa University College who survived the April terror attack have since been supported by the German government via scholarships for the continuation of their studies. Of these, 150 graduated in December 2018 at Kenya’s third largest university by student numbers, Moi University.
The scholarships were awarded by DAAD and financed by the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.
“With this offer, we want to show our solidarity with the Kenyan students. Many of the Garissa students hail from humble backgrounds. In many cases, they are the first ones in their families or villages to ever attend university. We want to strongly encourage them to hold on to their dreams for their future, despite the horrors they went through,” said Wintermantel.
The programme aims to help students to find a way back into normal life and encourage them to continue with their education. In some cases, DAAD also covered expenses for medical and counselling services. The beneficiaries of the scholarship programme were jointly selected by DAAD, Moi University and the Commission for University Education (CUE), based on a needs assessment.
On high alert
This comes at a time when Kenya is on high alert following a terror attack a fortnight ago that left 21 people dead at a Nairobi-based hotel complex. Somali-based al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack.
On 4 February 2019, the United States issued a security alert for Kenya, citing credible information that Westerners may be targeted by extremists in three Kenyan towns.
Following the rising profile of universities as a key component in terrorism organisations, Kenya’s Ministry of Education and CUE have been pushing for tighter measures to improve security within and around, aimed at preventing a recurrence of the fatal Garissa attack.
The measures include curtailing the potential for student radicalisation and general criminal activity, and the requirement for universities to implement biometric identification systems and automate students’ records. Other security steps include improved surveillance, security screening and installation of security cameras in all institutions.
Some of the universities are yet to implement them, potentially exposing them to higher risk.
Kenyan security report
In January last year, a government security report revealed that at least 58 Kenyan students had abandoned universities to join terrorist groups in Somalia, Libya and Syria since 2015.
Security officials said in the report that the figure could be higher because the authorities have not established the fate of others who have been reported as missing persons. A number of those who fled have since been killed, either in combat or executed after falling out with their commanders, Kenya’s largest daily newspaper Daily Nation reported.
“Gone is the era where terrorist groups targeted vulnerable youths who were illiterate and from poor backgrounds. The changing face of terror has seen the recruitment and radicalisation of the most unlikely targets. The recent trend among the terror groups is the targeting of university students,” the report said.
“With globalisation and the paradigm shift in the digital world, terrorists have exploited social media, among other platforms, to lure university students.”
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