Syrian Students Face Difficult Path to University Education

Stuck Between Unaccredited Institutions in Opposition-Controlled Areas and Expensive Costs Elsewhere
A student holds a notebook as she sits at a makeshift school in a tent in Azaz, Syria January 12, 2020. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

Syria’s Council of Higher Education has decided the new academic year 2021/2022 would start on September 26 in all colleges, higher and intermediate institutes. The announcement coincides with various ongoing problems faced by students who are pursuing their education under dire conditions in many governmental and private universities.

Against the backdrop of the Syrian war that broke out more than a decade ago, thousands of academicians from governmental and private universities left the country, which has led to a deteriorating educational level in Syrian universities, a source in Damascus University told Majalla.


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As a result of the absence of well-experienced educational cadrs, student levels are underestimated by new teachers, especially on admission tests for specific faculties such as architectural engineering, and other faculties of humanities and sciences, some students told Majalla in phone interviews.

A university student who asked to remain anonymous said that the “lack of academicians who have the requisite experience has worsened our problems,” adding that “nepotism is playing a role in admission tests required for students to enroll at certain colleges.”

Universities of Damascus, Aleppo, Tishreen in Latakia, Al-Baath in Homs, Hama, and Tartous, scheduled admission tests for their architectural engineering faculties last week. They also specified a certain grade point average as the main requirement to register for the tests.



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Another student said that “my total grade for the secondary certificate qualifies me to apply for Latakia’s Engineering Faculty, but my family’s finances would not allow me to reside there. So, I will pursue the study of economics at Aleppo University.”

Colleges and institutes of universities located in smaller cities usually accept students who have achieved lower grades in secondary education.

However, movement between cities is a major hurdle for some students who cannot apply for their desired colleges under the country’s current circumstances. It is difficult to travel to and from some areas due to security sectors set up amidst the ongoing war, in addition to the student’s inability to find rooms in the dormitories.

The Ministry of Higher Education has allocated university dorms for students, but these facilities are usually substandard where about 8 to 10 students share the same room. But it remains a good option for those who cannot afford to rent a single room or a shared house with other colleagues.

Requiring specific grades to qualify for certain faculties has forced some students to study specializations they don’t like. But those who are well-off can overcome this obstacle by applying for “parallel education” services provided by the same universities. This kind of education is offered by governmental colleges but requires payment of annual installments.

There are dozens of private universities in Syria, but their fees are extremely expensive. That’s why fewer students can afford them, according to an official in the Syrian Ministry of Higher Education. Examples of private universities in Syria are the Universities of Kalamoon, Ittihad, Cordoba, Arab International University, and numerous others.

Probably the most difficult challenge faced by students is the dire living conditions that prevent them from paying tuition and accommodation costs. Moreover, long commutes between their residences and the university campus are made harder by frequent road lockdowns due to security conditions and fuel shortages.


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The ongoing Syrian war has had a large impact on higher education, where new universities emerged in regions controlled by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, and other regions under armed opposition and jihadists.

The problems for students in these areas that are out of the Syrian regime’s control are the most complicated as no one recognizes these educational institutions.

A number of students who are enrolled at these universities said they don’t know what to do with the degrees they would obtain due to the lack of accreditation.

A female student from Kobane, which is under the Autonomous Administration’s control, said that university admission is a dream for her, as she cannot afford to study in governmental universities in Damascus or Aleppo.

She also pointed out that the major problem she and her colleagues face in the autonomous region is that their certificates are not recognized, so many students seek to join governmental universities in Aleppo, Damascus and Latakia to earn an internationally recognized degree at the end of their academic education.

Students sit together at a makeshift school in a tent in Azaz, Syria, January 12, 2020. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi.

Shukri Baba, the Deputy Minister of Higher Education for private universities, announced a few weeks ago that fees of private universities have risen by about 50% to 75%, adding that some private universities demanded an increase of 200% or 300% due to high costs they incur.

On the other side, higher education institutions in opposition-controlled areas announced higher tuition installments in various colleges that are affiliated with Turkish universities and are branches opened by Ankara in areas under Turkey’s control.

Thousands of Syrian students have dropped out of their Syrian universities as a result of war and immigration and a large number of them have abandoned their education due to the fighting of various militant groups.

Ahmed, a Beirut-based Syrian student, said that he had been studying at Damascus University for two years when the popular protests broke out. “The resulting war forced me to move to Lebanon, and I couldn’t resume my studies,” he recalled.

Ahmed added, “After arriving at Beirut, I worked in jobs very far from my specialization such as in restaurants, hotels, and others because I was not able to complete my university education.” He pointed out that he tried to enroll at Lebanese universities, but failed due to high tuition in Lebanon.

The majority of Syrian university alumni were not able to use their degrees in their new countries of residence, due to these countries’ educational requirements which won’t enable them to work. Thus, most of those graduates had to return back to university education at a high cost to adjust their certificates and be able to work afterward.

Consequently, counterfeit certificates of Syrian universities are increasingly issued for money as a result of administrative corruption inside the government’s educational institutions.

Additionally, the dilemma of Syrian students was exacerbated as the opposition Syrian Interim Government issued certificates of completion for transitional and middle and higher education but the Damascus government refused to recognize them.

Between 2013 and 2017, the Syrian Interim Government issued about 4,466 secondary education certificates and 6,315 preparatory (middle) education certificates, but none of their holders can be admitted to universities outside opposition-controlled regions, particularly since most of the internationally recognized universities are located in regime-controlled areas.

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