News & Reports

In The Midst of War, Syria Raises Enrollment Fees

DAMASCUS—At a time when power outages in Syrian cities last more than 14 hours a day and the public water supply to Damascus has been cut, the Syrian Ministry of Higher Education has announced that it will almost double the registration fees at public universities. Students do not technically pay tuition at public universities, but do need to pay fees to enroll each year.

“Nobody cares about us,” said Obeida al-Aham, a second-year student at Damascus University’s Faculty of Science. “They increase the fees while we are hardly able to study.”

Although public universities in most of the cities under the control of the Assad regime continue to operate, harsh living conditions have made studying extremely difficult, amid long power cuts, a shortage of heating fuel, and an increase in the cost of transportation due to gasoline shortages.

On top of that, the value of the currency has dropped to 512 Syrian pounds to the U.S. dollar at the time of writing. Syria has seen nothing but conflict since 2012, and in May 2016 the United Nations reported that poverty here has reached 83 percent.

Social media have been filled with criticism for the ministry’s decision, but the latter has shown no intention of changing  its decision.

“This is an emergency increase, and it is less than we originally expected,” said Riadh Tayfur, deputy minister for student affairs. “It is  incomparable to the tuition fees at private universities or in any other educational program or system.” He said the increase would be applied from the academic year 2017–2018.

The ministry said its decision to raise fees follows an increase in the cost of the services it provides to students, such as examination papers and laboratory materials.

“The amount paid by a student during his or her years of study still does not exceed $25 at the current exchange rate,” Tayfur said. “This indicates that education is still free at Syrian universities.”

According to the decision, the fee for first-time registration will be 1,800 Syrian pounds, raised from 1,600 Syrian pounds. In the final academic year, the fee will be 5,000 Syrian pounds, up from 2,400 Syrian pounds. Additionally, every student will have to pay 3,000 Syrian pounds for each course for which the examination would take place at another university. This charge would affect students who are obliged to transfer to Damascus University from universities in Aleppo, Homs and Deir ez-Zor because of the war.

“That sum of money does not seem huge for officials in the ministry,” said Lara, a student who came from the faculty of commerce at the University of Aleppo to study at Damascus University. “But it is very expensive for me and my colleagues, who are displaced from other cities. I can hardly pay for the cost of my transportation to the university.”

Studying has become a luxury for many, she says. “We spend long hours without electricity or any heating. And recently we have begun to have to buy drinking water. We do not even have running water in our homes for bathing or washing, and then they raise university tuition fees and ask us to study and graduate.”

The number of displaced people inside Syria has reached 6.5 million people, according to statistics issued by the United Nations last year. Since the outbreak of the war in 2011, thousands of families have been displaced, at a rate of 50 families every hour, which means about one family every minute, the highest displacement rate in the world. In 2016 alone, the number of displaced people reached more than 1.2 million, most of whom were displaced for the second or third time.

In addition, the ministry’s recent decision included an increase in the fee for issuing an academic transcript, to 2,000 Syrian pounds, from 1,000 Syrian pounds; a fee of 5,000 Syrian pounds for issuing an alternative certificate for a missing original copy; and a fee of 10,000 Syrian pounds for issuing a certified copy as a replacement for a lost copy for the second time. Most Syrian students abroad need to get transcripts in order to be able to complete their higher education in their new place of residence.

“I was unable to complete my studies in Jordan as I do not have a document to prove my previous university studies,” said Samer Al-Agha, a Syrian who was studying law in Damascus, and is currently living in Zarqa in Jordan. “Of course, the cost to get it today is expensive for me.  But my biggest problem is that none of my family members remain in Syria to help me to get it.”

Enrollment in master’s and doctoral degree programs in Syria requires passing an English assessment test, the cost of which has increased to 3,000 Syrian pounds from 1,000 Syrian pounds. Also, the fees in parallel education, where students who have not passed entrance exams for admission to particular academic programs pay higher fees to take them, have increased to 70,000 Syrian pounds, up from 35,000 Syrian pounds, in the theoretical faculties, and 100,000 Syrian pounds, increased from 50,000 Syrian pounds, to study in applied science faculties. Tuition fees for open learning programs have also doubled.

“We were expecting decisions that would make studying easier for us, such as  lowering the grades needed to pass, or providing students with affordable interest-free loans, or even increasing the capacity of university housing,” said Sanaa, a pharmacy student at Damascus University. “Nobody cares about our lives, so nobody will care about our study.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button