As the territory controlled by groups that oppose the Syrian government shrinks, the estimated 16,000 university students in those areas face increased financial, academic and security challenges. The chances they can finish their studies look dim.
Along with having to worry that the buildings they study in may come under military attack, students find it difficult to pay for university tuition and transportation expenses. They know their degrees, if they get them, may have no official recognition.
Since 2015, when some areas of Syria slipped out of the central government’s control, some universities and higher education institutions were established to replace the government’s educational institutions. Those included Idlib University and Free Aleppo University, which had branches in the northern and western countryside of Aleppo, Homs, Eastern Ghouta, Quneitra and Daraa. After the return of government control over these areas, most of those branches have closed. Both universities are affiliated with the Syrian Interim Government, an alternative government formed by a coalition of opposition groups in 2013 and based in exile in Turkey.
In the northern areas of Syria still controlled by opposition groups, there are also several universities, including Mari University, Ebla Private University and an institution called Oxford University, which has no affiliation with the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.
In addition there are Turkish universities in Aleppo’s countryside established by International Sham University, a university affiliated to the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), and Harran University, a Turkish public university that has opened a branch in al-Bab, north of Aleppo. The latter follows a two-semester educational system and courses are taught in Turkish.
In the northeastern region of Syria, the Kurdish-led administration has created Rojava University, which had 720 students at last report. (See a related article, “A New University Born in the Chaos of War).
Academic life isn’t easy at any of those institutions. “We are facing endless difficulties, starting with no country recognizing the certificates of our institutions and the challenges of funding,” said Wassim Al-Youssef, director of the media office at Idlib University. “We rely on the students’ tuition to secure the employment and wages of the workers.”