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The Student Insider

Internal displacement is a global challenge


Written by
Peter Quinn

Professor David Cantor talks about a new MOOC which helps learners to better understand the humanitarian and development challenges posed by the internal displacement crisis. 

Children in refugee camp

Professor David Cantor is founding Director of the Refugee Law Initiative and the Internal Displacement Research Programme at the School of Advanced Study, University of London. 

Trained originally as a social anthropologist, Professor Cantor has worked as a practitioner, including as Legal Officer for the Refugee Legal Centre and Senior Advisor to the UNHCR. Professor Cantor researches on refugees, IDPs, displacement, disasters and conflict. 

He has published seven books/special issues and 30+ journal articles and book chapters, organised over 100 RLI conferences and workshops and secured research funding for 20+ projects. In 2017–2018, he won the prestigious Times Higher Education Award for Research Project of the Year. He jointly runs the distance learning MA in Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies.

Professor Cantor talks to London Connection about the new ‘Internal Displacement, Conflict and Protection’ MOOC which has launched on the Coursera platform. 

What does the ‘Internal Displacement, Conflict and Protection’ MOOC cover?
Last year alone, 40 million people fled their homes to escape conflict, violence and disasters but remained in their own countries. Such ‘internal displacement’ of people within their own countries, poses humanitarian and development challenges of epidemic proportions in today’s world. This brand new MOOC helps learners to better understand the issues, by connecting them directly with key research and debates about protecting these ‘internally displaced persons’ (IDPs). 

The six weekly sessions allow learners to engage with a wide range of perspectives. We study the key features of internal displacement, the immense scale and impact of it. We see how humanitarian aid and development strategies can help IDPs to overcome internal displacement. We learn about the experience of internal displacement by listening to the voices of artists and IDPs themselves. The MOOC asks learners not only to understand the challenges but to think also about solutions.
Who is the MOOC aimed at?
This free course provides a comprehensive introduction to the key issues surrounding ‘internal displacement’. It is crucial for people living or working in countries affected by conflict or disasters, including researchers, students, government and UN officials, NGO workers, and people from displacement-affected communities. No prior knowledge or experience of work in the field of internal displacement is required – only a passion to learn.

What is your specific role in the MOOC and which other academics are involved?
I am the instructor on the ‘Internal Displacement, Conflict and Protection’ MOOC, together with Dr Agnes Woolley of Birkbeck, University of London. This means that you’ll see us each week introducing the sessions through short and accessible video presentations. In developing the MOOC, I was able to draw on my long-standing experience as an academic researcher and a policy consultant for organisations, such as the UN refugee agency, that work with IDPs in places like Colombia. 

But the MOOC was designed and tested over a period of more than a year by key expert networks in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, led by Francis Obonyo, Dr Beatriz Sánchez Mojica and Dr Hana Asfour. Over the past couple of years, we have been supporting these local expert networks through the Internal Displacement Research Programme (of which I am Director) at the School of Advanced Study with a grant from the Global Challenges Research Fund.

This week, the UN panel launched its long-anticipated report: ‘Shining a Light on Internal Displacement: A Vision for the Future’, and our MOOC supports this initiative. 

What are some of the practical skills that participants gain?
The course is useful if you want not only a deeper understanding of current research and debates on internal displacement, conflict and protection but also if you wish to build key transferable skills in analysis and evaluation in the context of practical challenges. 

Is the MOOC applicable to a worldwide audience?
Undoubtedly, internal displacement is a global challenge, albeit a ‘hidden’ one. Indeed, the global nature of this crisis is so evident that the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, recently established an independent High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement to improve the response to IDPs. This week, the UN panel launched its long-anticipated report: ‘Shining a Light on Internal Displacement: A Vision for the Future’, and our MOOC supports this initiative. 

Is interaction between participants a key feature of the MOOC?
Over the six weekly sessions, the ‘Internal Displacement, Conflict and Protection’ MOOC places you at the centre of an open-access online learning experience through engagement with a range of robust and challenging activities, materials and peer discussions. On the separate ‘Refugees in the 21st Century’ MOOC, which we launched a couple of years ago, we’ve found that these kinds of activities and interactions make up a vital part of this dynamic learning experience.

Is there a natural progression on to another MOOC or another course?
The MOOC is a standalone course. However, learners who wish to develop their interest further should look at our successful distance-based MA in Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies, now the largest programme in this field in the world, with students from over 70 countries. We also recommend checking out Researching Internal Displacement, a new hub for independent research and analysis, which we launched this week alongside the MOOC.