Syrian Professor’s Plea: Make Us Part of the Solution
The basic situation of Syrian university professors is not that different from that of any Syrian refugee. The fifth year of a war has forced us to flee to neighboring countries. We all suffer from poor living and economic conditions regardless of our educational status, especially with the shrinking humanitarian aid provided by international organizations and the absence of ability to work legally in the host countries.
Before the outbreak of the revolution in Syria in 2011, the five public universities there employed about 7,500 professors. Today, more than 2,000 university professors have been forced out of the country. Very few of them returned to the university where they got their doctorate degree, and most of them are struggling to find jobs. For example, in Turkey, I would estimate there are more than 600 unemployed Syrian university professors. There are also 250 academics in Jordan and Lebanon, and dozens in Egypt and Iraq. There are about 500 professors in the liberated areas of northern Syria, who are also jobless as a result of the continuous indiscriminate bombardment and the difficulty of moving between cities.
As most academics in the region already know, there are also hundreds of thousands of Syrian students who are not able to finish their higher education because of the war. On the other hand, many international reports refer to the difficulties facing Syrian students in neighboring countries—the difficulty of coping with the new curricula, language, and ways of studying. But these challenges can turn into an opportunity for us, Syrian professors.
A Syrian professor has extensive experience in the curricula and teaching methods that Syrian students are used to. Besides, a Syrian professor is the one most able to understand the psychological and living conditions facing Syrian students, because he is usually living in the same conditions. Opening the door to Syrian professors to participate in educating Syrian students in the neighboring countries could create great opportunity to help Syrian students, first and foremost, and secondly the professors. Such an opportunity would have both economic and psychological benefits. In addition to the experience we have, we would like to help our students and, eventually, our war-weary homeland, to rescue it from the war that took it dozens of years backwards.
I should stress that granting Syrian professors the opportunity to contribute to educating Syrian youths does not mean excluding local professors. On the contrary, what is needed is collaboration between local professors and their Syrian counterparts to ensure the empowerment of Syrian students. This also could help to integrate them into the host societies.
We are also looking for an opportunity to resume our research. Because many studies need to be conducted about the Syrian situation today and future reconstruction plans, involving Syrian researchers in such studies would make them more relevant to the Syrian situation.
Unfortunately, most programs intended to help Syrians treat us as mere aid recipients. Changing this perception and starting to consider us the main component of a solution would largely decrease the burdens on the host countries and international institutions. It would also help to find real solutions with which Syrians would interact as partners, and not just recipients.
Similarly, the recently increased interest of Arab governments and international organizations to create educational opportunities for Syrian refugees offers good opportunities to improve the situation of Syrian refugees’ education. Perhaps this could help improve the situation of Syrian professors if they pay attention to us and consider us a part of the possible opportunities.
* Ammar Al-Ibrahim is a Syrian professor who holds a doctorate in agricultural economics.