The War Follows Them: Syrian University Students & Scholars in Lebanon

Posted on June 20, 2014 by Tadween Editors | 0 comments

[Syrian students at Al Jinan University in Tripoli/IIE.] 

In June 2014 the Institute for International Education and the Syria Consortium for Higher Education in Crisis released a report that details the situation of Syrian university students and scholars who fled to Lebanon. Below is an excerpt from the introduction followed by a link to the full report.

By Keith David Watenpaugh, Adrienne L. Fricke, and James R. King

In April 2014, the United Nations registered the 1 millionth Syrian refugee in Lebanon. He is a nineteen-year-old named Yahya, who fled across the border from Homs, a large city in central Syria that has seen some of the worst fighting and civilian suffering during the country’s three years of conflict. Yahya is only one of 2.8 million Syrian refugees scattered throughout the region as of May 2014. Some 6.5 million more Syrians are internally displaced within Syria itself. Yahya spoke for millions of displaced Syrians when he told journalists gathered at the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) headquarters in Southern Beirut: “For Syrian refugees, life has stopped. Every day, we have hope that things will get better, but it gets worse. Life is very hard here. There's no work or anything to do. Now it's been three years that we haven't been able to study. We haven't been able to work. The Syrian people have lost a lot.”

This report marks the second phase of a broad-based research collaboration between the Institute of International Education (IIE) and the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) Human Rights Initiative. The aim is to understand what Syrians like Yahya have lost, particularly in the fields of higher education and post-graduate training, and to determine how to improve their access to educational opportunities in the front-line states of Syria’s refugee crisis: Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

While this report focuses on Lebanon specifically, we recognize that there are a number of scholarship schemes and program models internationally that are effectively supporting a limited number of Syrian refugees’ higher education needs. In addition, although the report addresses Syrians’ access to higher education within Lebanon, we consider this issue to be the shared responsibility of the global higher education community at large, including universities, educational NGOs, and governments.

The situation for Syrian students and academics in Lebanon is generally bleak. We found that, in addition to severe resource constraints and physical threats, unwritten discriminatory policies make Syrian students and academics vulnerable to exclusion from higher education in Lebanon. At the same time, the country’s weak regulatory system allows for flexibility and innovation in creating solutions at local levels. At present, international organizations, donor agencies, and universities globally are largely absent in terms of programs or policies to address the critical higher education needs of displaced Syrians in Lebanon. While Lebanon’s fragile and ineffective political system, as well as the severe economic problems facing the country, will render any intervention challenging, there is nonetheless a significant opportunity to increase the capacity of a number of existing programs while –potentially – replicating them, as well as to develop new initiatives in alliance with Lebanese and Syrian partners. Any such efforts will need to take into account the problems that Syrian students face in terms of their physical and economic security; the entrenched and complex sectarian system of allocating higher education resources; and the localized nature of networks of support.

The period of field research for this report (March 2014) was marked by some of the most intense fighting in Lebanon between pro- and anti-Syrian government forces in three years of armed conflict. During that period, Syrian government forces captured the strategic city of Yabrud, the main transit point between Lebanon and Syria for anti-government rebels. A few days later, the Crusader-era castle known as the Krak des Chevaliers fell to the Syrian regime. Inside Lebanon, allies and sympathizers of both sides engaged in small-scale violence. At one point during a meeting with Syrian students at an outdoor coffeehouse in the northern city of Tripoli, unknown assailants attacked a nearby building. For members of the research team, that attack, along with personal narratives of terrible discrimination, economic and personal insecurity, and fear, confirmed that, while Lebanon is unquestionably more stable than much of Syria, the conditions are far from ideal for displaced students and scholars. As Dr. Salwa Nacouzi, Director of the Lebanese office of the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF) told us, “The war follows them.”

To read the full report, download the PDF here.

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