The Syrian conflict reached its fourth year in 2014, while the outcome remains unclear. The numbers of internally and externally displaced Syrians continues to increase, with millions seeking refuge in neighbouring countries. A high percentage of the refugees are youth, whose educational lives have been disrupted by the conflict and who now lack prospects for the future. It is this generation that will play a crucial role in the reconstruction and transition processes of the country. Investing in them lays the foundation stone for the future of Syria and the broader region.
Several initiatives have been launched to bring Syrian students and scholars to Western Europe and North America, which are highly valuable. However, in regard to cost efficiency, sustainability and achieving impact on the ground, SPARK believes that resources should be predominantly invested in neighbouring countries hosting Syrian refugees and inside the war-affected regions of the country. By investing locally, an initiative not only impacts the selected Syrian students, but also refugee communities. Furthermore, local Syrian organisations are included and their capacities are strengthened through an approach that focuses on the region and contributes to long-term institution building.
SPARK has established a collaborative relationship with the University of Gaziantep (UoG) in Turkey, and aims to involve other regional universities. Since 2003, the UoG has pursued an active internationalisation strategy for Turkish education. As part of this strategy, the UoG had an established partnership with the University of Aleppo, Syria, prior to the conflict. The UoG is interested in further strengthening its constructive role in supporting Syrian refugee students and providing support to the Syrian tertiary education sector.
In 2014, SPARK also worked with the Ministry of Education (MoE) of the Interim Syrian Government and local NGO partners to develop the capacity to deliver education in the region. Many institutions are in the region of Gaziantep, which was a contributing factor to the choice of location for SPARK’s activities with Syrian refugees. For all projects, SPARK aims to reach a diverse group of participants, covering all regions of Syria and achieving equal participation by men and women.
Quick Facts ISSUE
|Spent in 2014||€191,743|
|Objective||To offer opportunities for higher education to Syrian students and activists in order to enable them to contribute to the reconstruction and transition of their society|
|Partners||University of Gaziantep, Civil and Social Relief Organization (CSRO)|
|Business plans supported||10|
This first collaborative project between SPARK and the UoG was the International Syrian Summer University in Exile (ISSUE), which was initiated in 2013 in order to give students and activists the opportunity to contribute to the reconstruction and transition of their country. Courses offered as part of ISSUE have an applied focus, offering skills and knowledge that participants can immediately utilise to address emergency humanitarian needs or in preparation for the phase of transition. A model of co-teaching is applied, and Syrian, international or Syrian professors in exile have been coupled to develop and teach courses together. SPARK’s local partner, the Civil and Social Relief Organization (CSRO) provided significant support in the selection process for both programme participants and educators.
Together with the UoG, SPARK provided all stakeholders with access to knowledge and support for institution building and networking. Core among these were Business Skills Trainings (BST) and Business Plan Competitions (BPCs).
In 2014, a winter course took place from the 17 to 31 March. Five courses were offered:
For the BST and BPCs, SPARK adapted its experience and knowledge to the local context. 40 participants received training, and ten of the resulting business plans were selected for financial support until June 2014. These plans were considered to be income-generating and sustainable; to provide value to local communities and to compensate for the lack of related services in Syria.
Pre-course, interim and after-course evaluations for both students and professors delivered valuable insights: participants appreciate the inclusivity, spread throughout Syrian regions, the freedom of expression and the learning opportunities. The evaluation also raised areas for improvement: participants recommend organising the events more regularly to provide more substantial training and a longer-term learning experience. Furthermore, participants suggested, academic recognition of the certificates should be an objective, as well as the training of trainers inside Syria.
In 2014 there were 2,200 Syrian students in the refugee camps around Gaziantep who followed Turkish-language training in order to apply for Turkish graduate and undergraduate programmes. As the refugees live relatively far from the university and have only limited income, SPARK and UoG initiated a scholarship scheme to support them with their study and living expenses and to enable them to enter higher education. Furthermore, a support desk for Syrian students has been established to provide them with pastoral care beyond the financial scholarship.
Quick Facts SSRT
|Financed by||NLMFA (project contracted by University of Gaziantep)|
|Overall budget||€434,275 (total for consortium)|
|Objective||To offer scholarships to Syrian refugee students so they can pursue higher education in Turkey|
|Partners||University of Gaziantep|
|Scholarships granted||68 out of 80 (12 scholarships pending at the end of 2014)|
The students have the opportunity to work pro bono for the Ministry of Education and to participate in a competition linked to social activities targeting both the Turkish academic community and the refugee communities. This aims at building stronger links to the students’ communities and thus alleviating some of the specific needs of the refugee communities. Lessons learnt from this model programme will also be used for similar programmes for students in refugee situations.
By the end of 2014, scholarships have been granted to 68 students out of 80 available scholarships, with the remaining places to be filled by the end of January 2015. 40% of the students are female, which exceeds the target percentage of 30%. Concerning their ethnic background, the students comprise a mix of Arab, Kurdish, Turkmen and Circassian students. As the origin of the Syrian refugees in Gaziantep is mainly Aleppo, this is reflected in the group of scholarship students.
Quick Facts SYRIN
|Spent in 2014||€15,356|
|Objective||To give young Syrian refugees an opportunity for higher vocational education and build the capacity of local Syrian institutions|
|Partners||Ministry of Education (of the Interim Syrian Government), Civil and Social Relief Organization (CSRO)|
This project aims at supporting the newly appointed Ministry of Education (MoE), as well as local Syrian NGO partners, in establishing the first Higher Vocational Institute for Syrian Civil Responders –targeting men and women equally, from various ethnic backgrounds. This allows young Syrian displaced persons to continue their higher education and receive training for a future role during post-conflict reconstruction. Another objective is the strengthening of the (financial) management capacity of the MoE and local Syrian NGO partners.
To achieve the stated objectives, this project follows a stepwise approach. Since October 2014, SPARK has been working to achieve the following plan:
Another SPARK activity in Syria was the Observation Mission (OM) of the baccalaureate exam administered by the Syrian Interim Government in June 2014. SPARK observed the examination centres Syrian Guest Urfa City, Haran Refugee Camp – Urfa and Adjakale City – Urfa, focusing on the final stage of the examination process. The OM also included several meetings with stakeholders in the process: the grading centre of the MoE, the International Institute for Education and focus groups of Syrian students, the delegation of the EU in Gaziantep and the NGO Watan Syria. Major difficulties arose due to the lack of teaching materials, stressful examination environments due to heat and dust, delays in grading and the fact that not all students had the opportunity to attend the exams. Moreover, the question arose whether the examination results would be recognised across Turkey.
The recommendations developed on the basis of this OM include an increase in the number of teachers involved in the grading process, the adherence to set deadlines in order to give students enough time to apply to universities after they receive their grades and more support to students during the application process, as they indicated they felt lost during this process.
SPARK also participated in key events concerning education in crises situations, focusing on the Syrian refugees. In order to connect with relevant partners and establish collaborations, SPARK attended:
One of the collaborations resulting from these events is an entrepreneurship programme for Syrian refugees in partnership with the UoG, which will take place in 2015 and is being funded by the Asfari Foundation.