August 9, 2021

Report: Social cohesion of Syrians in Turkey starts with higher education

Syrian and Turkish students with scholarships from SPARK, financed by the European Union during social cohesion activities © 2021, SPARK

SPARK, along with its partners, recently released a report looking at the role higher education plays in improving the social cohesion of Syrian refugees living in Turkey. The findings illuminated both the achievements, and areas that need more development, in integrating young people within higher education.

Due to its geographical position, Turkey is a country where migration is always on the agenda, not just for those moving due to forced displacement but also for students from a variety of different countries, particularly Asian, Middle Eastern and African countries. With 3.6 million displaced Syrians living in Turkey, with over 736,000 between the ages of 15 and 24, the question of how to best educate them is a pressing one. This is because higher education doesn’t just enhance skills and knowledge, it also gives students the chance to develop socially, and instils a sense of belonging in the host country. 

Higher education institutions have a key role to play in creating cohesion between young refugees and the societies in which they have recently resettled. This is the conclusion of a study by SPARK that was conducted with funding from the European Union, implemented by the Hacettepe University Technopolis Technology Transfer Center. The study focused on the experience of Syrian students in higher education and that of selected academic and administrative staff. It found that language barriers, discrimination based on negative media representations and financial difficulties all contribute to a continued lack of integration for young Syrians in higher education in Turkey. The guide didn’t just make assessments, it also offered practical solutions for students and staff to improve integration in and access to higher education.

Language services

Key takeaways from this report focused on the need for improved language services – both in teaching students Turkish and providing interpreters (including sign language) to ensure there is enough guidance information available in native languages. Despite having certified language certificates in Turkish language, it was found that students were still shy speaking in Turkish in academic and social settings.

Social activities

Furthermore, it was found that students have difficulty integrating into university life, and social activities. Among other solutions, the report suggests that a buddy system would be beneficial, where senior students can provide support to newer students. Additionally, inclusive teaching practices could be adopted to better recognise the needs of the students and foster more interaction. 


To lessen financial burdens it was found that additional scholarships to cover fees, services to translate academic transcripts from native languages as well as greater sharing of previously translated documents. 

Psychosocial support

Also important is the need for psychological support for Syrian students to deal with problems arising from war and displacement trauma, as well as adapting to a new setting. Displaced students need to be included in decision making at universities – allowing for a more accurate understanding of the problems they face and find viable solutions. 

Higher education is universally regarded as a clear and obvious good. This report clearly lays out how this is doubly true for those who have been forcibly displaced. Ensuring that students are equipped with language skills; the continued funding of education through scholarships; as well as a greater focus on integrating and involving displaced students into the fabric of university life will all go a long way to improving the experience for those learners and ultimately contribute to greater societal cohesion. 

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