SPARK – along with another active NGO in the region, Qandil – was recently invited to participate in the first annual conference held by the Department of NGOs in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region, the Kurdistan Regional Government, and supported by Al-Khanjar Foundation for Development. The event aimed to tackle “the role of civil society and NGOs to restoring stability”.

Over fifteen national and international organisations joined the conversation on 30th July, alongside parliament and embassy representatives, jouralists and presidents of various Iraqi universities. Our contribution to the discussion focused on the importance of higher education in the region, for both Kurdish nationals and Syrian refugees. 

Hogar Bebane, Higher Education Coordinator at SPARK

Syrians continuing their education

Currently in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KR-I), there are 28,000 Syrian youth between the ages of 15 and 24 who are registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). At the moment, we are only able to support 269 enrolled students; 254 of whom are studying BA university degrees and 15 of whom are studying for vocational diplomas. The reason being that, as a result of decades of conflict in the region, the economy has been badly affected. This had lead to tuition fees in KR-I becoming very expensive, around $2,500 per year.

However, we’re proud that, with support from the Ministry of Higher Education, since 2015 we have built partnerships with 9 higher education instutions* across the region, and hopeful that we can scale-up the number of scholarship opportunities on offer for Syrian and Kurdish youth.

Challenges and solutions

During the conference, we highlighted some of the main practical challenges that students are facing on a regular basis, as well as some solutions that SPARK has implemented.

MOVEMENT: Firstly, that Syrian students living in refugee camps face logistical challenges in getting to their classes everyday. The camps are located outside of the cities and freedom of movement between areas for Syrians was not always possible or safe. We were able to build partnerships with local authorities to enable students to move legally and freely. 

ACCOMMODATION: We also found that during the summer vacation, when the universities and the dormitories were closed, some students did not actually have any home to return to for the summer. Therefore, we arranged for these students to remain in their university accommodation.

LANGUAGE: Another challenge was the language barrier. The curicula of the universities are taught in one of two languages; English or Sorani Kurdish. After many meetings with our university partners we have been able to agree that Syrian students may complete their exams in Arabic and SPARK provides extra-curricula English and Sorani Kurdish language courses.

EQUIVILENCY: Finally, another main obstacle has been the equivilency of Syrian certificates. The education systems between Syria and KR-I differ vastly, which causes issues when attempting to assess student’s capabilities and achievements. However, SPARK was able to work with the Department of Equivalence of Certificates to equalise the qualifications of all of our Syrian students. 

Iraqi peace

The discussions had at the conference reflect the common vision of NGOs and other organisations that are supporting youth, fighting extremism and contributing to the reconstruction process of KR-I and it’s surrounding areas. One possible solution that was recommended by he Al-Khanjer Foundation, was the establishing of an inter-organisational partnership to focus on restoring stability in liberated (from Islamic State group) cities. Such a network would strengthen the social unity and promote cross-learning between organisations. 



*Salahddin University, Duhok University, Erbil Polytechnic, Bayan University, Cihan University, AUIS, University of Human Development, Noble Institute, and Rojava Students Union. 

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