March 9, 2016

International cooperation for access to higher education for Syrians

Support Syrians Turkey conference
SPARK together with Al-Fanar media and the British Council successfully organised a conference on March 1-2 to synchronise efforts in delivering higher education to Syrian refugees. The conference, held over two days, sparked new ideas in cooperation and tackling challenges to provide higher education for Syrian refugees. Attendees included large scholarships programme likes the German Academic Exchange Service, but also local universities from Beirut, Istanbul and Gaziantep along with their students and teachers.

This year SPARK, with support from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently granted scholarships to 1,500 Syrian students. It plans to grant a total of 3,500 scholarships in 2016 andeventually, ten thousand scholarships with its current funding. ‘We are reaching the next stage where a lot of programs are scaling up’ said Yannick Du Pont, director of SPARK. ‘A lot of resources have become available since the migration crisis to Europe. It is now important to focus on synergy and on working very efficiently and cost-effectively.’

The day began with an overview of emerging and existing scholarship programmes aimed at Syrian refugees as a broad range of actors aim to improve access to education in the MENA region. UNESCO consultant Abdel Moneim Osman explained how, ‘A shift happened in the last few years and now higher education is increasingly considered a right during humanitarian emergencies.’ Scholarships are increasingly including a subsistence allowance as well as targeting equal numbers of men and women in order to ensure gender equality. Syrian refugees can apply online for the scholarships offered through SPARK and partners Al-Fakhoora on the new site.

Building partnerships

During the conference debates were held on how to build more productive partnerships between donors, NGOs and universities to adapt to the influx of migrants and continue to leverage resources. The importance of reducing overlap and keeping each other up to date with their latest success and failures was also discussed. Particularly it was noted that Syrian academics can play a bigger role in educating Syrian youth, as one Syrian professor wrote recently for Al-Fanar media in a plea to include teachers into the solution. It was agreed that more funds are needed to create more educational opportunities and to work together to increase Syrian refugees’ awareness of the availability of education by working inside refugee camps more. Educational institutions found during the conference an opportunity to ask the donors and partners for more support in areas they felt were needed such as low capacity and supporting Syrians after their study.

Overcoming problems together

A key part of the days were to find out how other organisations were dealing with similar challenges which they are facing in delivering higher education. These included soliciting students to ensure the selection process is fair and transparent and ensuring the scholarships will have the greatest impact; the language barriers which many students face studying in a second language and the lack of formal documentation as a barrier to enrollment. It was also noted that financial support needs to be complimented with psychological support in order to ensure the students are successful in their studies. Some of the solutions pitched included using online tools to reach out to Syrian refugees, as well as offering a more mixed approach to learning by allowing more hands on learning and targeting youths who may not have a traditionally strong educational background. The conference focussed on how to overcome these obstacles and enabling access of Syrian refugees to higher education.

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