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Refugee Status Forces A Student to Switch His Studies

AZ-ZARQA—After every exam, students in the Arabic department at Jerash University crowd around Basim Abdallah, a 33-year-old Syrian student, to find out the correct answers to exam questions.

Basim enrolled at the university in 2013. He is widely respected by fellow students for his academic excellence. But his educational path has been difficult since he came to Jordan as a refugee.

In 2012, he was about to graduate from the University of Aleppo’s faculty of law when the country’s civil war forced him and his family to move to safety in Jordan. He now works as an accountant for a number of businesses in the city of az-Zarqa, 25 kilometers northeast of the capital, Amman, where he is a legal resident.

“It’s not possible for me to be a full-time student because I am the main provider for my family,” he says. “I also had to save for the tuition, which is extremely expensive.” The cost of his first year’s tuition was 2,000 Jordanian dinars, about $2,800.

High tuition is the main obstacle for refugees who aspire to an education, and who are classified as international students in Jordan.

“In Syria,” Basim said, “university study was almost free.”

So far, Basim has paid around 8,000 Jordanian dinars (about $11,000) for his three years of study. He owes about $2,000 that he has borrowed from friends.

The number of Syrian students at Jordanian universities has risen substantially in the past three years, from 3,127 in 2013 to 5,718 in 2015, out of a total of 313,500 registered students, according to figures published by the Jordanian Ministry of Higher Education.

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, there are 656,000 registered Syrian refugees in Jordan. Recently, a group of Jordanian universities began offering scholarships to Syrian students, with funding from a variety of international organizations, many of them supported by the European Union.

But like many Syrian refugees in Jordan, Basim was unable to apply for these scholarships because he does not have the original document of his high school diploma. Copies are not accepted.

Basim was also unable to transfer credits from his years of study in Syria, despite having an official transcript from the University of Aleppo. Jordanian law does not allow universities to recognize more than 40 hours of credits from another institution, meaning he would have to start law again from the first year. Even if he could transfer the law credits, he would not be able to work at all as an attorney in Jordan or any other Arab country. Studying Arabic at least gives him the option to  tutor others privately in the subject.

“I was determined to complete my studies, even in another subject,” he said. He is studying Arabic literature.

He sees a difference in teaching styles between Jordan and Syria. “In Syria, the curriculum is wider, but it involves a considerable amount of memorization. Here the curriculum is more concise, and involves research and writing reports,” he said.

His teachers and colleagues admire Basim. Saif Bani Hamad, Basim’s colleague at the university, said his friend is “diligent.”

“Basim’s determination to continue his studies makes us respect him. Everyone at the university loves him for his academic excellence and gentle manners,” Bani Hamad said.

Amer Rabei, a professor of Arabic language at Jerash University, said, “Basim is a hard-working student. I hope he will be a distinguished colleague of mine in the future.”

But Basim sees little prospect of a career in Jordan after graduation. Although the Jordanian government has begun issuing work permits to Syrian refugees, opportunities in licensed professions, including teaching, are still not possible. As a result, he hopes to be able to travel to Qatar after graduation, where his brother lives and where he hopes to find work as a teacher.

Basim’s educational dreams are endless. “ I want to pursue graduate study, if I get enough financial support, as I dream of being a university professor of Arabic one day.”


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