Syria’s higher education ministry on Saturday suspended classes and lectures at public and private universities until mid-April, citing rising numbers of coronavirus cases. But students say the real reason behind the suspension is an acute fuel shortage that has paralyzed the war-torn country, making it difficult and expensive for professors and students to reach campuses.
“Going to universities and schools has become almost impossible for the majority,” said Rahaf, a student at Tishreen University in Latakia. “The fuel shortage has affected all aspects of our lives. Public transportation is rare and becomes more expensive, and many prefer to stay at home.”
With the shortage of subsidized fuels such as gasoline and diesel fuel, affordable public transportation has become almost non-existent, pushing students to share taxi rides that cost half their weekly allowance for one round trip, according to many students Al-Fanar Media interviewed.
The fuel crisis is not new in a country which has suffered from savage conflict since 2011 and international economic sanctions. (See a related article, “In Syria, the Complicated Web that Sanctions Weave.”)
But it reached a peak late March after a ship blocked the Suez Canal for nearly a week, preventing tankers from reaching Syrian ports, the oil ministry said.
“Students commuting on the back of pick-up trucks has become a normal scene of life in Damascus,” said Ammar Alali, 21, a civil engineering student in Damascus. The two-week suspension of classes gave students a break in this crisis, he added.
An Abrupt Decision to Suspend Classes
Sahar Al-Fahoum, deputy minister for scientific research affairs at Syria’s higher education ministry, said the suspension decision came suddenly but was kind of expected.