Because of the large numbers of refugees who continue to come to Europe, the attention to reception in the region has increased sharply, as demonstrated during the European summit in Turkey. The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs has allocated financing to SPARK for the first year of this project which aims to provide 10,000 young Syrian refugees with educational opportunities at universities in the region. Other donors are currently being sought to contribute to the continuation of this project.

SPARK’s educational initiatives are currently being implemented in Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraqi Kurdistan, though 30 universities in the region, with who SPARK has already prepared concrete agreements. A further six higher education institutions in Syria itself have opened in partnership with SPARK, in order to train thousands more young Syrians. There is also the possibility that this Dutch financing may be supplemented by other donors. This decision is the result of a programme, which is funded by the Foreign Ministry, including 250 youths who have already been given such an opportunity.

Hundreds of thousands of Syrian youths who have fled Syria as a result of ongoing conflict are currently living in the countries surrounding Syria and have access to neither higher education nor employment. The figures are dramatic with only 6% of young refugees (18-24 years old) enrolled in higher education in these regions. This situation has already been ongoing for four years, and it is crucial that efforts are made to redress such circumstances, as without educational opportunities for Youth, there may not be a labour force capable of rebuilding Syria and its economy when the conflict ends.

This situation is reflected in the current exodus of refugees, as more and more students choose to travel to the Netherlands or other European countries. This situation is a very cost-inefficient: “With the same amount of money that it costs to receive and finance the education of a single refugee in the Netherlands, we could support up to 20 refugees regionally, and provide them with accommodation, food and a good university education” says Yannick du Pont, Director of SPARK. “It’s so much more cost-efficient to invest in the region rather than to wait for people to get tired of having no hope in the region and move to Europe or the U.S.,” Du Pont said. “Investing now in creating opportunities [in Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraqi Kurdistan] is essential for these people so they have hope they can contribute to the reconstruction of their country, so they can involve themselves in something besides just existing.”

As well as tackling migration flows and contributing to the future reconstruction of Syria, this initiative will also prevent many young people reverting to the armed struggle. A reality articulated by a former Syrian student in Gaziantep, who stated: ‘If I do not get accepted to university (in Turkey) this year, I’m going back to Syria to fight. At least then I can do something useful rather than just hanging around all day.”

SPARK has been working in the region for the last three years to set up long-term training opportunities for Syrian refugees in Turkey. At present there are two projects, one in collaboration with the University of Gaziantep which offers 150 scholarships to Syrian students. The second project aims to open six colleges in Syrian opposition areas which teach subjects such as agricultural technology and frontline healthcare. This initiative is designed to increase the number of skilled Syrian practitioners capable of responding to emergency reconstruction, development, and the recovery needs of Syria’s devastated centralized economic sectors

SPARK recently launched its scholarship programme online, and within 10 days we have had more than 3,000 students register.