Universities’ crisis worsening in northern Syria
The International Rescue University (IRU) in the countryside of Idlib closed its doors; in a series of possibly uninterrupted close downs of private universities that have not received licenses from the Higher Education Council, which has essentially been running the university educational process in Idlib.
The university’s administration issued a decision announcing the suspension of teaching starting from 6 February, in implementation of the decision of the Higher Education Council. This came after the negotiations between the university and the Council failed to grant the license to the university, and amid students’ protests, sit-ins and demonstrations that did not bear fruit.
The Higher Education Council issued on 12 January a decision to suspend the exams process at the IRU, Al Rayan International University, Aram Science University, the Syrian University of Medicine and Shams Elkoulub University. Each of these universities has been given one month to settle its legal situation and complete its license, which has not yet been done so far.
|The Higher Education Council was established in 2017 following an agreement between several universities, notably the University of Idlib and the University of Oxford – Syria, amid the rejection of the Interim Government and the Free Aleppo University, which was the largest university in the opposition-controlled areas at that time.
The Council is not officially affiliated to the “Salvation Government” which has recently took over Idlib after the expansion of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham. The council is nevertheless accused of being affiliated to the Salvation Government.
The Ministry of Higher Education in the Syrian Interim Government started its activities in 2013 and it has been running a number of universities, most notably the Free Aleppo University, and several private universities in the northern countryside of Aleppo.
After students’ protests… IRU in the forefront
Although the Council’s decision included more than one private university operating in the Syrian north, the issue of the IRU, which was opened in 2017, has been recently in the forefront because of student protests and demonstrations opposing the closure of the university.
During the protests that preceded the university’s closure decision, Enab Baladi monitored the points of views of some of the students who reject the decision, including Ahmed Sharfan, who addressed the Higher Education Council, saying: “Our university provides free education to the forcibly displaced people and the children of the martyrs and detainees, which you could not provide. We will not allow anyone to close our university and ruin our future. ”
Faculty of Medicine student Ossama al-Eidu wondered: “Why do you want to close a university that contains more than 1,000 students? What will be the fate of these students?”
Enab Baladi asked al-Eidu’s question to the Chairman of Higher Education Council and inquired about the reasons for the closure of the university. He answered: “In the current academic year, this university issued a trade-off with 26 specialists, with an average of 52 faculties and institutes in the two regions, after getting a license of only three faculties and six institutes.” Therefore, the Interim Government issued a statement not to recognize the new faculties and institutes, as well as the Higher Education Council.
Al-Eidu went on saying: “We have held several meetings with the colleagues at the IRU to settle down these situations and re-study the files, but we have not received any response.”
However, the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the Rescue University, Dr. Mazen al-Saud, stressed to Enab Baladi that the university had submitted all the required licensing standards, but the Higher Education Council did not respond. “The university was ready. The closure decision is lawless and arbitrary, because we are ready to meet any standard they want,” al-Saud added.
He clarified: “There are universities with low standards that have licenses in the Council, while we have better standards. There is a problem in the handling, working mechanisms and decision-making.”
Al-Saud also asserted: “The Council first tried to close the university immediately. After the protest of the citizens of Maarat al-Numaan, a committee was formed to cover a prior closure decision. They have then given the university one month to settle down its situation, and then they decided to turn it into a public university. They eventually insisted on closing the university despite meeting their requirements, and thus the university’s administration was forced to sign the closure decision.”
The Minister of Higher Education in the Interim Government, Dr. Abdul-Aziz al-Daghim, commented on the university’s closure in an interview with Enab Baladi saying: “We have previously given licenses to three faculties and six institutes of the IRU, but they have closed all the new and old faculties.”
Al-Daghim added: “Although it has made some violations, the university should not be closed. There is a difference between assessing the violations and suspending the university’s work.”
Students’ fate in the custody of the Higher Education Council
The Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the Rescue University, Dr. Mazen al-Saud, is concerned about the fate of the students after the implementation of the decision to close the university, saying that they will find themselves “in the street.”
However, Dr. Majdi al-Hasani, Chairman of the Higher Education Council, stressed that the situations of all students of private universities will be settled.
He added in an interview with Enab Baladi that the Council has a preliminary perception that “students of the IRU can be registered in public universities under the advantage of the Council of Higher Education either in the al-Shahba University of Aleppo or the University of Idlib. They can otherwise be registered under the advantage issued by the Interim Government, according to public and private priority for the sons of martyrs and detainees, people with special needs and members of the teaching staff.”
Al-Hasani also insisted that the committee that will study the student files will take into account their situations and will settle down their matters after fully studying their files. In addition, “if the student wants to change his branch or does not meet the criteria of the branch in which he was studying in private universities, he will be given an intensive class or he will skip administrative subjects, which do not influence his failure or success, and which will be compensated in the next academic year.” Al-Hasani pointed out that “this is not a final solution, pending the Committee to study all files.”
In order to join the Higher Education Council, the latter imposes a set of conditions on private universities operating in the north of Syria. If a university is not joined in the Council, it will be closed, as happened with the IRU.
The founders of the university must provide guarantees and criteria determined by the Council regarding the study plan, equipment and staff that will be contracted, Dr. Majdi al-Hasani, Chairman of the Higher Education Council told Enab Baladi.
According to al-Hasani, the Higher Education Council, which was founded about a year and a half ago, started at the beginning of its work by granting temporary licenses to universities for six months to upgrade these institutions and guarantee a good quality of education for the student. After the six months period, “the extension of the license to some of these universities was suspended because they did not meet the requirements of the the license, such as the International Rescue University, while the other universities’ licenses were extended.”
With regard to the legislative framework of the Council, al-Hasani added that “the Higher Education Council sets a number of standards and laws that regulate the education process in these institutions. It was issued in the first session of The University Regulation Law, which regulates the educational process in public universities. The law of private universities followed Law 31 of Council of Higher Education in the Regime Government as a legal document in the process of granting licenses, taking into account the current situation in the liberated areas.
He went on saying that “there have been some amendments to the law in terms of absorptive capacity based on faculty members and contractors, in addition to the standards required in each faculty that belongs to these universities.”
In order for any private university in the governorate of Idlib to license its work, its founders must apply for licensing procedures. Then, the supervision committee of private universities visits the institution and evaluates the technical and academic situation there, Dr. Majdi al-Hasani explained to Enab Baladi.
In its turn, the committee submits its proposal to the Higher Education Council, which issues the decision to create the university, or the decision to establish the faculty at the university if it is licensed, and after completing all the technical procedures based on the committee’s report, the opening decision is given and students are received.
The number of unlicensed universities exceeded those that have been licensed or received an extended license by the Higher Education Council, whose role currently overshadows the role of the Ministry of Higher Education in the Interim Government, whose influence has diminished with the control of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham over much of Idlib.
Unlicensed universities are: The International Rescue University, al-Rayan International University, Aram Science University, Syrian University of Medicine, Shams Elkoulub University, Imam Al Shatby College, The Islamic University of Minnesota, The Faculty of Applied Sciences, The Syrian University in Eastern Deir ez-Zor, Private Samaan University in Darat Izza and Ahl al-Suffah University.
As for the licensed universities, they are Syria University of Oxford, University of Rome, Mary University in Saraqib, The Ottoman University, Alzahra University, Al Hayat University, Academy of Health Sciences, and Syrian Academy of Energy in the area of Deir Hassan.
Aleppo University Resists Despite Charges of “Corruption”
Although the Free Aleppo University has not been asked by the Higher Education Council to have license, it faces the compulsory annexation decision, and the rejection of this decision would impede the work of the university, which includes thousands of students. The university also faces charges of corruption, prompting some students to launch calls to demonstrate against the university presidency.
The student body at the Faculty of Education of Aleppo University issued a statement on 5 February saying that “due to the high levels of corruption in the presidency of Aleppo University, especially the administrative side, and the numerous personal goals, such as the appointment of regime’s Shabiha at the university, and leaking questions to students and other files of corruption, exams are postponed and suspended, and there will be a protest tomorrow in the square of the Faculty of Education in Maarrat al-Numaan against the Shabiha of the regime and its supporters in the liberated areas.”
As a result of the coinciding calls to protest with the deadline set by the Council of Higher Education to include the University of Aleppo, which ended on 4 February, some activists considered the accusations as “fabricated.”
Enab Baladi made an interview with the Minister of Higher Education in the Interim Government and the lecturer at the Faculty of Economics at the University of Aleppo, Abdul-Aziz al-Daghim, who denied the corruption charges.
Al-Daghim said that “we have no corruption at the University of Aleppo. There are administrative errors that do not amount to corruption, and we have no ground for corruption. The whole University of Aleppo is ran by about 150 employees, and the funds come in dollars for staff and operating expenses.”
Al-Daghim denied the presence of people loyal to the regime in the university, and added that “some people say that people graduated from the universities of the regime in 2015 and 2016 and were appointed at the University of Aleppo, but can we refuse the application of those who have a doctorate? He is no longer part of the regime system. If we know that there are people who are affiliated with the regime, we do not appoint them at the university.”
The University of Aleppo is divided into four areas: faculties of medicine in Kafr Takharim in Idlib countryside, six faculties and two institutes in Maarat al-Numaan in Idlib countryside, ten faculties in al-Atareb in Aleppo countryside, and six faculties in Azaz in Aleppo countryside.
In response to a question about the possibility of closing the University of Aleppo, al-Daghim said that “we are not surprised, unfortunately.” He added: “The Higher Education Council requested licenses from all private universities and closed the unlicensed.”
He went on: “They have given the University of Aleppo a deadline because it is a state university and meets the requirements and standards in terms of the teaching staff and buildings. We have about 175 teachers who hold a doctorate degree and 120 holding a master’s degree teaching 7,200 students. These things do not make the closure of the university logical, according to al-Daghim.
If the University of Aleppo is incorporated into the Higher Education Council, the educational process in Idlib will be fully controlled by the Council. This means the end of the role of the Ministry of Higher Education in the interim government in the governorate, which in turn does not have an executive force on the ground that can protect the university.