IRAN: Students protest on first day of new term

Students at Tehran University have staged protests against the government of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad as the university opened its doors for the new academic year. BBC News reports that the demonstrations occurred after the students were denied entry to an opening ceremony attended by a government minister.

An eyewitness who spoke to BBC Persian claimed that up to 300 demonstrators gathered on the morning of 28 September, waving green balloons and chanting anti-government slogans. Although there was reportedly a heavy police presence, the protesters were apparently not met with violence nor did they clash with pro-Ahmedinejad factions staging a counter-demonstration nearby.

The protests seem to confirm official concerns that the re-opening of universities will lead to renewed unrest over June's bitterly disputed election result. There have been reports that universities are taking punitive action against students identified as having been involved in the summer demonstrations.

SPAIN: Israeli scientists expelled from solar energy competition

A group of Israeli scientists have been expelled from a solar energy competition funded by the Spanish state. The Guardian reports that the scientists, from the Ariel University Centre of Samaria, were among 20 finalists competing in the Solar Decathlon Europe, which aims to promote the design of solar powered housing. However they were subsequently informed that they would no longer be able to take part in the competition as the university they represented was based in occupied land.

Spanish officials claimed they were implementing EU policy, which does not recognise the occupation of the West Bank. According to The Guardian, a Palestinian campaign group had written a letter to the Spanish government protesting that the scientists should not be able to compete as they represented an institution based in 'stolen land'.

The university claimed that the decision contravenes international charters on academic freedom. Jewish groups, including the New York-based Anti-Defamation League, interpreted the decision as evidence of the 'mainstreaming' of anti-Semitic opinion in Spanish society.

SAUDI ARABIA: New university a test for commitment to academic freedom

The opening of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Thulwa, Saudi Arabia, on 23 September will serve as a test of the kingdom's commitment to issues of academic freedom and women's rights, reports Human Rights Watch.

KAUST is being promoted as an independent, elite graduate research facility, with links to prominent international universities and academics. This would seemingly challenge restrictions imposed by the Saudi Ministry of Higher Education in March of this year that prohibit academics from having "communication with foreign parties or cooperation with diplomatic missions or international organisations in the kingdom".

It has also been reported that the university's classes will be co-educational, a dramatic development in a country that adheres to a rigidly patriarchal form of society. University campuses have traditionally been segregated on the basis of gender, with male lecturers delivering classes to female students via video-link. Women must currently seek permission to study and are prevented from taking up scholarships abroad unless accompanied by a male guardian.

* See also our Round-Up brief: SAUDI ARABIA: King's co-ed university slammed

IRELAND: Iranian Nobel winner launches university network to protect academics

The Irish Section of Scholars at Risk was launched by Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr Shirin Ebadi at an event in the Robert Emmett Theatre at Trinity College, Dublin on 22 September. This new partnership between Universities Ireland and the global Scholars at Risk network will provide support to threatened academics around the world, by arranging temporary placements in Ireland to allow them to safely continue their work.

Ebadi was appointed Iran's first-ever female judge in 1975 but was forced to resign in 1979 after the revolution. Since then, in spite of imprisonment and multiple death threats to her and her family, she has devoted her life to the protection of women's rights and the defence of children and political activists.

Robert Quinn, Executive Director of Scholars at Risk, said: "The practical help from Irish universities that will now be available to courageous intellectual leaders at risk in many countries today will help to save joining the Scholars at Risk network, Irish universities and academics are sending a strong signal of support and solidarity to universities and colleagues in situations where academic freedom is restricted, and research, publication, teaching and learning repressed." For more information visit

* Jonathan Travis and Daniel Sawney work for the Network for Education and Academic Rights (NEAR)