Apart from the umpteen number of casualties, universities in Syria have decayed since the brink of the Syrian war. Corruption, under-funding and brain drain have become a common phenomenon in the Syrian higher education system.
A study was conducted during a 12-month period over 2017-18. Among the team were Syrian academicians in exile and a group of researchers at Cambridge University. The study stated that the Syrian education system has fallen prey to perennial conflict. Moreover, figures revealed that about 2000 university professionals originated from the exodus of refugees. Commissioned by the British organization the Council for At-Risk Academics (Cara), the study is part of the Syria program. Its efforts are dedicated to curriculum stagnation, the militarization of campuses, destruction of university facilities and violation of human rights.
The team members interviewed 19 Syrian academicians who lived in exile in Turkey. Some of these spoke of their detention stories at the hands of Islamic State Group. One of the scientists revealed a statement by his captors, “If we catch him, in any area, we will kill him because he didn’t help us to produce a bomb.”
Other revelations also suggest mass killings of families, where family members are put in IS video before being murdered. One scientist claimed that he feared his life from ‘the regime army and jihadists,’ as he worked in a regime-controlled region.
One of the refugees spoke about his decision of moving out, “Somebody had written an unofficial report saying that I was speaking out against the military or against the president, maybe one of my students. So I was called for interrogation by the military security services. When I was released I told my wife that we had to get ready to move.”
In addition to the refugees, the researchers also spoke to 117 faculty members and students from 11 universities inside Syria. Among these eight were controlled by the Assad regime, while three by non-regime areas. According to the report, the interviews were carried via email or through other apps.
The academicians spoke about inadequate infrastructural facilities and difficult teaching conditions. However, the staff of a private regime controlled university spoke about the university’s “excellent” financial resourcing.
The end result of the research suggested revamp of facilities in Syrian higher education sector. Moreover, the study also recommends international partnerships with other Middle Eastern, Western and European universities, along with replacement of security forces by civilian security personnel on campuses.
The study draws attention to the urgent issue of hemorrhaging of intellectual talent and the security threat to individuals. This adversely affects the noble efforts of academics who are trying to shape the country’s future.
“This collaborative research project was challenging to undertake given the context. The results are important and so is this way of collaborating. Cara’s work to support Syrian displaced academics is vital and we need to remember and honor their work as well as continue to support research into the reality of Syrian higher education,” says Prof Colleen McLaughlin of Cambridge University’s faculty of education.