How we built sustainable partnerships with education institutions
SPARK has now awarded over 10,000 scholarships in the Middle East. But this milestone could never have been achieved without key partnerships with universities and education institutions.
Since the start of the Syrian civil war, almost 10 years ago to date, the neighbouring countries surrounding Syria have absorbed millions of fleeing refugees, the majority of them youth. Lebanon’s population, for instance, has doubled in size. The strain this population boom has had on education providers, from elementary schools to higher education, is significant.
“Above all, a trait that I have personally enjoyed while working with SPARK is the high level of empathy” – Wael Mikdash
By partnering with universities and educational institutions in Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq (including Kurdistan Region of Iraq) and even the occupied Palestinian Territories, we’ve been able to support not only youth affected by Middle Eastern conflicts, but the institutions that support these youth. In turn, this two-way relationship allows SPARK to better understand the realities and needs of the most vulnerable youth and address them in the best way possible.
In Turkey, SPARK partners with the Council of Higher Education (YÖK) and five Turkish state universities along the south eastern border with Syria, including Gaziantep, Hatay, Şanlıurfa, Mersin and Kahramanmaraş. Dr. Nur İncetahtacı, Head of International Relations Office at the University of Gaziantep, says: “We are cooperating with many institutions, but our partnership with SPARK is unique. We both share the same vision: identifying the needs of Syrian refugees and providing what they need. SPARK did a great job to help refugees settle in at our university as soon as possible.”
SPARK’s cooperation with Salahaddin University, in Erbil, Kurdistan Region of Iraq, dates back to 2015. Isam Abdullah, Head of International Relations Office at the university acknowledges: “the funds from SPARK are essential for students because without this support they might be unable to finish or complete their studies.”
The impact of COVID-19 on education bodies around the world has been heavily felt, with the vast majority of teaching now being conducted online. In many regions however, this is simply not possible due to student’s lack of digital equipment like phones or laptops, reliable internet and suitable home working spaces. Despite the challenges, SPARK and its university partners have been supporting each other throughout the pandemic to find solutions.
In 2020, for the first time ever, Iraqi universities conducted online exams after training for academic staff, and SPARK boosted the digital capacities of many university partners by providing donations of digital equipment, such as servers, computers and software. Celal Dikici, Head of IT Department at the University of Gaziantep in Turkey, says: “Thanks to the servers we received from SPARK, 8,000 students can now log in to our online courses at the same time. Previously, our IT servers were only able to host up to 2,000 students.”
With youth unemployment rates in the Middle East among the highest in the world, SPARK and its education partners, including Education Above All, are conscious of the need to provide post-graduation support for the 10,000 students to successfully access the labour market.
In the recent RewirEd Talk by SPARK, part of an online series by Dubai Cares and Expo 2020 Dubai, the speakers discussed the short and long term solutions to the “skills gap” problem facing employees and recent graduates throughout the Middle East.
By working with universities and the local private sector, we’re able to provide much needed soft skills training for recent graduates, such as communication skills, digital skills, language courses and even CV writing workshops. Similarly, SPARK, financed by the European Union, has supported Kahramanmaraş Sütçü İmam University in Turkey to start a career counselling centre for students. The centre provides students with a library to study in, and gives alumni access to vital career counselling services to support them in their futures.
Trust is the key for all the NGO/education institution partnerships we’ve built. Wael Mikdash, Vice President of Administrative Affairs at CIS College in Beirut, Lebanon, says: “We at CIS College value the relationship with SPARK and recognise it as one of the most promising and fruitful partnerships that CIS College enjoys with INGOs. Building on notions of transparency, communication, mutual social and education objectives our partnership has been thriving and continues to do so. I can proudly say that the mutual trust between CIS College and SPARK has made all the accomplishments possible.”
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