In the wake of the Syrian refugee crisis, SPARK has awarded almost 7,700 scholarships to vulnerable young people in the region under our Higher Education programme, out of which approximately 2,500 are funded by the European Union, including for Technical and Vocational Education and Training in Syria (SIG), Turkey, Lebanon, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. While access to higher education through scholarships remains a vital tool in the rebuilding of young people’s lives, we must now also consider the next steps for them.
Our Bridging the Gap conference held at the esteemed American University of Beirut recently, tackled key issues such as: how scholarships can work to benefit both refugees, hosting communities and the future reconstruction of Syria and Iraq; how to provide sustainable job opportunities in a region with high rates of youth unemployment; and job creation and entrepreneurship options in the region.
The conference, organised in partnership with the EU Madad Trust Fund and the Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut (AUB), was attended by students and stakeholders from across the Middle East – NGOs, policy makers, entrepreneurs, education experts, private sector, and government representatives. European Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn delivered a keynote speech, alongside the Lebanese Minister for Education, H.E. Marwan Hamadeh.
Commissioner Hahn’s speech focused upon how to improve the access to quality training, higher education and entrepreneurship, while their countries are affected by conflict, mass displacement and economic stalemate. He said: “Beyond education and skills development, additional measures are needed to allow for more jobs to be created and to increase the employability of graduates. Entrepreneurship and start-ups are new tools to be used. An enabling environment and policies to allow the reduction of inequalities, the increase the number and competitiveness of SMEs and the promotion of sustainable growth are key.”
Other notable keynote speakers included Jan Waltmans, Ambassador of the Netherlands for Lebanon; Rahmi Er, Deputy President of YoK (Council of Higher Education) Turkey; and Director of the Issam Fares Institute, Tarek Mitri.
Participants also had the chance to hear directly from students and interns about the impact of current and new educational programmes. Knowledge-sharing and sustainable solutions were also defined in a range of morning and afternoon breakout sessions; with networking opportunities available throughout the day to share ideas and establish connections.