Closing the Gap between Syrian Refugees’ Demand & Supply of Higher Education: 1-The Problem

Low secondary level completion rates mean that prospects for HE are jeopardized.  Those who have been out-of-school for over three years are considered in most MENA region countries not eligible for re-integration in the formal schooling system. This is a big challenge, especially in countries where informal education is scarce and of low-quality.

In most cases, the refuge decision was taken hastily without thinking of the necessary transcripts, diplomas, and other academic papers that will be required in the new host country for university enrollment.  Not having those documentations, left the SRY with three options: 1) going back to Syria to get those documentations, risking their lives, which some did especially during 2014 (AlAhmed, 2016) 2)to repeat grades 11 and 12 to sit the Tawjihi exam, 3)to take the easier route and enter the ‘labor market’. In Lebanon for instance, grade 12 Syrian students are allowed to sit official exams but “ but cannot receive official certificates by MEHE until they provide all required documents including ID, passport, and transcripts and attestations of previous enrolment in Syria” (Ahmadzadeh et al., p.45).
Additionally there is the language barrier. Especially in Turkey, language is considered to be an obstacle for SRY aspiring to enroll in HE. However, even in Arabic-speaking countries, universities often require English for enrollment in some faculties, such as medicine and engineering, or for graduate degrees (British Council, 2016). Even online courses are predominantly in English. Syrians study the whole curriculum in Arabic up to secondary level.

 According to UNHCR and UNESCO (2013) there is a clear lack of opportunities provided to SRY to learn what is relevant to their situation, i.e. to learn “the skills and gain the experience relevant to domestic and global labour market needs”.

For any refugee family, cost is a huge deterrent to formal or informal learning. In Jordan for instance 86% of Syrian refugees live under Jordan’s poverty line ($US 96 / month) and one in six, live on less than $US1.3/ day, which is considered by UNHCR to be absolute poverty line (UNHCR, 2015). Despite that, Syrian students have to pay foreigner rates to enroll in universities, costing an estimated range of US$ 7,000- 19,000 dollars over four years (including tuition, books and a living stipend). (Dhingra, 2016; Khalid, 2017) .

SRY often suffer, when enrolling into HE, from discriminatory practices that are rooted in segregative communal identity. These practices are reflected in universities where staff, faculty and students all belong to the same confessional groups, excluding Syrians from opportunities and places that they are ‘legally’ entitled to (Watenpaugh, Frieke & King, 2014).