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Syria Toughens Entry Requirements for Those in the Health Professions

DAMASCUS—Many students in Syria already have a difficult time, studying through power outages, Internet downtime, and dangerous travel to their campuses.  Now those who want to study in health-related fields have an additional hurdle as a result of a new policy adopted by the Higher Education Council.

The new policy requires students who want to enroll at faculties of medicine, dentistry, or pharmacy to attend a preparatory academic year. The policy takes effect this academic year.

The introduction of a new preparatory year is a result of the increasing demand on higher education and the need to make university admission more selective, said Riyad Tifour, assistant minister of high education for student affairs. “The secondary school certificate granted by the Ministry of Education is no longer a proper criterion for university admission, as exams are now given in two parts, and the results do not reflect the true academic performance of students,” Tifour said in a press conference held last month.

Previously, the secondary-school exam results, the Thanaweya Amma, were the only criteria used to determine which majors students could choose, or specialize in, when they entered universities. But under the new policy, students’ university education will also be determined at the end of the preparatory year, with 50 percent of their admission being judged by their grades on the secondary-school test, and 50 percent on the grade they earn on a test administered after their preparatory year. “This is a crucial step. Thanaweya Amma exams used to determine students’ university education, but now students have a whole year to test their capacities, capabilities, and choices for higher education,” said Abdel Hakeem Natouf, dean of the faculty of pharmacy at Damascus University.

About 9,500 students are enrolled in the medical faculties in Syrian universities. During the preparatory year, students will study common subjects, such as chemistry, physics, biology, ethics, communication skills, and English. The preparatory year counts as part of students’ university education.

Many students are anxious that the new decision will just add a barrier for them.

“I earned high grades in the Thanaweya Amma, which qualifies me to enroll directly at medicine school according to the old system, but I am afraid I would lose this chance with the new system,” said Alaa Teamma, a student at the preparatory year.

Nesrine Klass, who believes that this resolution was hastily taken, said: “They should have waited until the coming year to give us enough time to understand the new system and to answer our questions and ease our fears.”

Another student, Samer Al-Pacha believes that the decision serves the best interests of students. “It is unfair to use Thanaweya Amma results as the only factor that determines university admission. Studying amidst the current circumstances is very difficult, and we need more chances to evaluate our academic capacities,” he said.

Al-Pacha thinks this decision should be applied across all specialties in all universities to ensure equal opportunities for students to join universities, but knows that change would not come easily. “Applying this resolution across all universities needs huge capabilities, especially with the lack of scientific equipment and shortage in classrooms due to the current circumstances,” Natouf said

Since 2010, the Ministry of Higher Education has conducted a unified national exam before students can graduate from some faculties, such as the faculties of medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, nursing, information technology, architectural engineering, commerce, and law. The stated goal has been to ensure the quality of education, achieve international accreditation requirements, and create an atmosphere of competitiveness between universities. Still, higher education in Syria has witnessed severe decline in areas where there have been aggressive conflicts, such as in Aleppo, Homs, Idlib, Deir ez-Zor, and Al-Raqqah, as professors have fled abroad, leaving education in the hands of instructors and master’s degree students.

“We seek to take all the steps that would maintain the academic status of Syrian universities and provide students with required knowledge and necessary skills,” Natouf said. “Adding a new preparatory year before joining medical faculties and sitting for a unified national exam serve the same purpose.”


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