USI welcomes its first Scholar at Risk from Afghanistan

(L to R) Maurizia Ruinelli, Parwiz Mosamim and Prof. Jean-Patrick Villeneuve at the Lugano train station, on November 28
(L to R) Maurizia Ruinelli, Parwiz Mosamim and Prof. Jean-Patrick Villeneuve at the Lugano train station, on November 28

Institutional Communication Service

20 December 2021

The call issued in August seeking the willingness to host Afghan scholars at USI within the Scholars at Risk (SAR) programme was heeded and at the end of November, Afghan doctoral researcher Parwiz Mosamim was received in Lugano and has now joined the research team of Prof. Jean-Patrick Villeneuve at the Institute of Communication and Public Policy (ICPP, Faculty of Communication, Culture and Society).

In the months prior to the withdrawal of U.S. troops from war-torn Afghanistan, which occurred at the end of August, Scholars at Risk (SAR) had been receiving a high volume of applications from Afghan scholars and practitioners due to the rapidly deteriorating conditions in the country. Most are individuals who have publicly supported, through their teaching, research, publications or public activities, a pluralist, rights-respecting, democratic future for Afghanistan, and as a result, face a grave and immediate risk of retaliatory violence. SAR is the international network of institutions and individuals that seeks to protect threatened academics and promote academic freedom by, for instance, arranging temporary academic positions at member universities and colleges.

As a member of SAR (since 2016), USI issued a call in August addressed to all faculty to investigate the interest and willingness to host Afghan scholars within their research teams. Professor Jean-Patrick Villeneuve, who leads the Institute of Communication and Public Policy at USI, heeded the call and, with the essential support of the USI International Relations and Study Abroad Service, the USI HR Unit, the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), the Swiss Academy of Sciences (SCNAT) and ETH, managed to hire Parwiz Mosamim as a PhD assistant.

“I received a first communication from Parwiz in summer 2021. He was completing a short stay at ETH Zurich and was going back to Indonesia, where he was taking his Master’s degree in Public Administration at Universitas Padjadjaran. He inquired as to the options of doing a PhD within my research team”, explains Prof. Villeneuve. “The arrival of the Taliban accelerated our discussions. His academic background and research interests are very much what I was seeking for my team, and I was not only pleased to heed the SAR’s call, but I am also very excited to have him at USI”.

Parwiz Mosamim holds a Bachelor's in Journalism and Mass Communication from Herat University in Afghanistan, and a Master’s degree from Public Administration at Universitas Padjadjaran in Indonesia. From January to April 2021, he was as a visiting scientist at ETH Zurich within the "Spatial Development and Urban Policy Research Group" - a project that continues as he has now been accepted in the ETH4D Doctoral Mentorship Program. Since late 2020, he collaborates with the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and UNESCO – MGIEP as a young researcher in the “Preventing Violence Extremism in South Asia through Education” research project. In addition, Parwiz has been working as a journalist in different types of media networks including newspapers, radio, and TV in the last 5 years in Afghanistan and in other countries, and is a writer and local coordinator at Students for Liberty Organization.

“At USI I will be an assistant PhD candidate in Public Administration, working in Prof. Jean-Patrick Villeneuve's research group and focusing on my research project ‘Women’s Representation in Decision–Making Positions of Public Administration’, with a case study of Afghanistan. The research project explores women’s representation barriers and opportunities in the bureaucratic system of the Afghan government through the concept of Representative Bureaucracy - explains Parwiz, who comments – At USI I found this wonderful academic environment with really helpful and expert people and, although I have been in Lugano only a few weeks, I know that working and studying here will represent a great and unforgettable experience in my academic career”.

The successful outcome of this event was the result of the swift actions led and coordinated by the USI International Relations and Study Abroad Service and endorsed by the Pro-Rector for Internationalisation, Prof. Cesare Alippi. “After issuing the call in August, Prof. Villeneuve immediately contacted us to tell us about Parwiz's situation and together we took action to have Parwiz continue his academic career at USI - his study visa for Indonesia was in fact expiring and he would have had to return to Afghanistan. His academic profile, in addition to being a good fit in Prof. Villeneuve's research group, was also a perfect match for the very mission of SAR, which aims to foster and guarantee the principles and values of academic freedom”, explains Maurizia Ruinelli. “As our Service is the point of contact for SAR at USI, we immediately contacted the organisation and submitted Parwiz' application documents. At the same time, we approached the SNSF to apply for the special 'scientific mobility funds' allocated to SAR candidates. This proactive approach is not common; normally it is up to the researcher to submit the application and the organisation then evaluates and forwards it to the interested partner universities or institutes. The response time of the SNSF, as well as that of the federal and cantonal immigration authorities for the study visa, was incredibly short, allowing Parwiz to finally arrive in Lugano on 28 November”.