Our Work


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.

International Syrian Summer University in Exile (ISSUE)

Quick Facts ISSUE

Duration 2013-2014
Financed by NLMFA
Overall budget €210,687
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)
Students trained 91
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).

Syria-Best business plan award-p.33

In 2014, a winter course took place from the 17 to 31 March. Five courses were offered:

  1. Reconstruction planning, logistics and local economic development;
  2. Applied research for transition and social engineering of the conflict society;
  3. Utility management in crisis situations;
  4. Foundations of entrepreneurship in conflict and post-conflict society;
  5. Youth communication in conflict-affected societies.

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.

Scholarships for Syrian Students in Turkey (SSRT)

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

Duration 2014-2015
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.

Setting up a Higher Vocational Institute for Syrian Civil Responders in Crisis Response & Early Recovery (SYRIN)

Quick Facts SYRIN

Duration 2014-2016
Financed by NLMFA
Overall budget €881,318
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:

  1. Set-up a project office in Turkey that will become the office for higher education in Syria;
  2. Conduct a feasibility study of the different options for the establishment of a project office and an educational institute in Turkey/Syria;
  3. Implement a pilot project based on decisions made by relevant stakeholders from the previous step. This also encompasses the provision of inclusive education to 100 Syrians for ten months, culminating in student examination and result registration. Besides this, the management capacity of the implementing partners will be developed. This step also involves an audit and evaluation of the project and the development of future higher-education policies on the basis of the lessons learnt;
  4. Expansion of the pilot to other areas in terms of other locations and different subjects to at least double the size of the pilot (200 students). Continued attention will be given to developing the management capacity of the project partners;
  5. Preparation for future expansion of higher-education activities beyond the life span of the project, focusing on further institutionalisation. This step will also include a workshop with possible interested external parties that have shown willingness to support Syrian higher education, both inside as well as outside Syria.

Other Activities

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:

  • The 26th Annual Conference of the European Association for International Education in September;
  • The export workshop on “Ensuring Quality Education for Young Refugees from Syria” hosted by the Oxford Refugee Studies Centre and the Asfari Foundation;
  • The Hague Institute for Global Justice roundtable on “The Role of Education in Conflict Prevention”;
  • The International Conference on “Higher Education in Emergencies” by the Global Platform for Syrian Students.

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.

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