[The following report was issued by the University of California Davis Human Rights Initiative and the Institute for International Education`s Scholar Rescue Fund.]
Uncounted and Unacknowledged: Syria`s Refugee University Students and Academics in Jordan
The following is a brief preliminary report on the status of refugee academics and university students from Syria residing in Jordan prepared by a multidisciplinary research collaboration between the University of California Davis Human Rights Initiative (UCD-HRI) and the Institute for International Education’s Scholar Rescue Fund (IIE-SRF). It is based on a field assessment that took place in Jordan during the period 15-21 April 2013. The observations and conclusions are solely those of the report’s authors and are not necessarily those of the University of California, IIE-SRF, or any other organizations and individuals that contributed to this project.
This report is not intended to be a comprehensive account; rather, its purpose is to initiate a conversation across the fields of higher education, international non-governmental relief and humanitarian assistance and government-based foreign assistance programs to address the conditions facing Syrian students and faculty affected by the civil conflict in Syria.
Summary and Key Findings
As the civil conflict in Syria enters its third year, the institutional framework within which higher education takes place has begun to collapse and, in some parts of the country, has disappeared entirely. A climate of civil and political insecurity, state violence and conflict between the state and armed rebels have created conditions that render teaching and research at Syria’s state and private universities not only difficult, but dangerous. The general climate of insecurity has led to the internal displacement of university students and academics. University students and academics are also present in the refugee populations that have fled Syria into neighboring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Egypt. The collapsing nature of higher education inside Syria and the attendant internal and external displacement of faculty and students is a generally unacknowledged and unmet component of the larger civilian Syrian humanitarian disaster.
The dual impact of institutional collapse and worsening security means that Syria faces the loss of a generation of university graduates. These constitute a special group within the conflict’s victims because they include Syria’s brightest and most ambitious young people. They are the human capital that will be critical to the rebuilding of Syrian society after the conflict has ended, and they will have an even more crucial role to play as a modern and moderating force in confronting the religious intolerance and ethnic hatred that increasingly defines the war in their homeland. And in a very real way, their forced separation from their studies constitutes a cause of their suffering, and thus, a violation of their human rights and an assault on their dignity.
- University students are present in all major Syrian refugee populations in Jordan – camp-based; urban refugees; elite exiles.
- Syrian refugee university students are eager to continue their studies and are prepared to travel further afield to do so. Students and their families indicated that they are prepared to make incredible sacrifices for the sake of continuing and completing their education.
- While Jordan has adhered generally to the humanitarian principles of refugee assistance and has generously provided Syrian refugees with a high degree of human security and safety, the country is facing mounting economic, environmental, and social pressures. Therefore, Jordan is an increasingly inhospitable location for refugees, a fact that will impact the ability of Syrians to move about the country and could lead to difficult interactions with Jordanian authorities and the general population.
- Tuition, fees, and the cost of living in Jordan are all much higher than in Syria, so much so that continuing education at a Jordanian university is out of reach for all but a small elite of Syrian refugee students.
- Students often arrive in Jordan without necessary travel documents, records of academic progress, or certificates. The services of the Syrian Embassy in Amman, which remains loyal to the Assad government in Damascus, are generally unavailable to those who have crossed into Jordan without a Syrian exit permit. This has made it difficult for some Syrians to enroll in Jordanian universities.
- Syrian refugee academics have few opportunities to find positions in the Jordanian academy. The support of third party donors will be critical to assisting such scholars in finding positions.
- A broad-based census of Syrian refugee university students should be undertaken in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey that includes both urban and refugee camp-based individuals; this should be matched with the assessment of academic needs of Syrian IDPs.
- Major funding organizations and donors should engage the Jordanian private and public education sector with a view to developing a consortium that would provide assistance to Syrian refugee students.
- A program should be developed to help Syrian students travel to other Arab countries, primarily Egypt, with its robust higher education sector and relatively inexpensive living costs, to continue their studies.
- Ways for Syrian refugee students to take critical national exams, most notably the high school exit exam, in Jordan or other places of safety should be created by the UNHCR in consultation with appropriate educational authorities.
- Many refugee academics are imagining a trajectory in which they will return to Syria, as shown by their activism and community organizing. Therefore, the best strategy for supporting such academics may be regional programming that allows for ease of communication with, and eventually travel to, Syria.
- In addition to the current practice of supporting visiting academic appointments, IIE-SRF, and other groups assisting scholars in peril should collaborate with Amman-based research organizations (for example, the American Center for Oriental Research (ACOR), the Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies, the Arab Thought Forum, Columbia University Middle East Research Center) to create short-term, three to six-month research fellowships in Jordan and the MENA region.
- Colleges and universities outside Syria should support Syrian refugee students and academics to continue their studies and academic work through programs like the IIE-Scholar Rescue Fund and the IIE Syria Consortium for Higher Education in Crisis.
[Click here to view the full report.]