Thousands of Syrian students to return to campus

Thanks in part to support from the Netherlands and Qatar, thousands of young Syrian refugees will start studying in their own region again. Today the Dutch development organisation for education and entrepreneurship, SPARK, signed an agreement to this effect under the motto ‘Higher Education 4 Syrians’, ahead of the conference on Syria being held in London tomorrow.

Prospects for the future

At present over 400,000 refugees aged between 18 and 24 are living in Syria’s neighbouring countries. Less than five percent of those refugees have access to higher education. ‘It’s vital for this group of refugees to have prospects for the future,’ said the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Lilianne Ploumen. ‘Some of them will now have the opportunity to start studying again in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Education and jobs play a crucial role in giving refugees a meaningful existence until they are able to return to Syria.’

10,000 places

Over the next four years SPARK wants to give 10,000 young Syrian refugees in the region the chance to resume their studies, for example by providing grants that will enable them to attend both short-term and long-term courses. The goal is for half of the students to be young women. The initiative, launched late last year, gained the support of Ms Ploumen, who has made over €5 million available. ‘The reconstruction of Syria will require well-educated young people in many sectors, including construction, technology, agriculture and health care,’ said the minister. The support is for students pursuing academic bachelor degrees and for young people who do not have secondary school qualifications but want to learn a trade.

Qatar

Thanks to this support and SPARK’s efforts, some 1,500 young Syrians have now been placed on a wide variety of courses in the region. Citing the commitment from the Netherlands, SPARK has also successfully approached other sponsors. The Qatari foundation Education Above All, which is already active in the region with its ‘Dynamic Futures Programme’, is now putting all its efforts into the SPARK programme. The foundation is contributing USD 8 million and has asked SPARK to run the programme. An agreement to this effect will be signed today in London. ‘It’s wonderful to collaborate with Qatar to create higher education opportunities for this generation,’ said Ms Ploumen. ‘Hopefully even more donors will come on board. This programme will serve as an example of how European countries can work together with Arab countries to find solutions.’

SPARK operates in several developing countries and regions. For example, it is setting up education and entrepreneurship projects in Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Iraqi Kurdistan, Somalia and South Sudan. In the past 10 years the organisation has helped over 15,000 young people pursue some form of higher education. The courses being offered as part of Higher Education 4 Syrians are taught in Arabic and Kurdish and focus on areas like technology, health care and economics. They include courses at Gaziantep University in Turkey, Al Quds College in Jordan and the American University of Beirut in Lebanon.

Primary education

The programme ties in well with other educational initiatives supported by Ms Ploumen. ‘We’re also looking into primary education for refugee children,’ said the minister. ‘Opportunities are often non-existent, or the schools in neighbouring countries are overcrowded, with teachers often having to work shifts. This places a great burden on the education system for both refugees and local children.’ To combat this, the minister has pledged support to projects like the UNICEF programmes in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.