Universities Of East Euphrates: Educational Programs Without International Recognition
Despite the universities’, built-in north-eastern Syria, attempts to adopt new education systems, the universities are facing many difficulties, most notably international non-recognition. This makes the students’ future foggy and triggers them to come up with solutions to obtain a certificate, allowing them to work outside the region in spite of the availability of local jobs.
After the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)- the military arm of the Autonomous Administration- took over areas in the northeast of Syria, the Administration established three universities: The University of Rojava in Qamishli, Kobani University in Ain al- Arab and the University of Afrin in Afrin. These universities accommodated over 1500 students, the Foreign Relations Commission in Rojava University informed Enab Baladi.
Afrin University stopped working completely after Operation Olive Branch in January 2018, and its students were divided between Aleppo University, Kobani University and Rojava University.
In a research paper conducted by the Omran Center for Strategic Studies on November 15, 2016, it was stated that the universities established by the Autonomous Administration suffer from several difficulties. First, the universities are not accredited by regional or international countries.
In this regard, Massoud Mohammed, deputy of the co-chairmanship of Rojava University, told Enab Baladi that in the meantime, there is no regional recognition. However, the university management has good relations with other universities, precluding that these relations with universities in Iraqi Kurdistan, Europe and America, are not built on a political basis, but on a scientific grounds where scientific agreements have been signed.
Walid Bakri, a member of the foreign relations committee, pointed out that the university had signed scientific agreements with California University in the United States, Vienna University in Austria and with Sulaymaniyah University in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.
Bakri added, telling Enab Baladi, the university’s priority is not gaining international recognition, but rather training academic specialists who would widen the range of services offered to institutions in the Autonomous Administration areas and society, as he put it.
Winning the international recognition is not the only challenge the universities of Euphrates face, as they are also attempting to address staff-related obstacles: in terms of low salaries paid to them on one hand and fear of working at these universities, being affiliates of the institutions of the Syrian regime themselves on the other hand. That prevents them from working comfortably as mentioned by Bakri.
Furthermore, the nature of the educational system of the two Euphrates’ universities caused the teaching staff problems at first because they adopt an evaluation-based system, not exams. “The main challenge is the education system adopted by the two Euphrates universities which is different from the system of the Syrian universities and other universities spreading in the region. The universities adopt the evaluation system, not an exam-based one, which is completely new even to university professors with doctorates, bachelor’s degrees or master’s degrees from Syrian universities,” according to Massoud Mohammed.
The political disagreements between the regime and Autonomous Administration affect the entire education process, in addition to the condition of the university professors which affects the students as well.
The Rojava University officials denounce any significant problems facing students except in terms of providing them with enough scientific references.
Massoud said: “After three years of establishing Rojava University, we could secure the references via the internet or through our good relations with regional and European universities and the problem was resolved.”
Massoud Mohammed confirms that education at Rojava University is free of charge, and the student has rights and duties, which define his/her relationship with the university.
There is also a Student Council, representing the students and participating in the University’s decision-making process. Additionally, Massoud indicates that there is a free student dorm for students coming from regions far from the city of Qamishli.
However, this reality does not seem entirely rosy. The Omran Center for Strategic Studies has pointed out in a research paper, published on its official website, about the educational reality in the areas of Autonomous Administration, to corruption in the education sector, such as the sale of exam questions ahead of the exam and the negligence of the practical dimensions of the education process, where the focus is mostly on theory.
Safia Mohammed, a student at the Faculty of Agriculture at Rojava University, denies that there is a default in the practical side, assuring to Enab Baladi that the education system is mostly based on practical approaches and fieldwork, unlike the public Syrian universities that do not have laboratories or departments that satisfy practical pursuits, not to mention that their interest is limited to the theoretical dimension of the educational process.
Safia has pointed out that the disadvantages of the Rojava University are a few in comparison to its establishment period, especially since the students feel valued and recognize the importance of the joint work to maintain the infrastructure of their university, and know that teachers are liable to punishment upon breaching any of the students’ rights.
She has also clarified that each department has an official spokesperson, responsible for defending the students and submitting complaints to the university administration. Any abusive practices committed by employees or university administrators are subject to accountability.
Future Of Students?!
A student’s biggest concern after completing his/her studies and joining the labor market is the future, particularly under the political and military conditions prevailing in Syria. In addition to that, there are high unemployment and an economic downturn in all Syrian areas, regardless of the forces in control.
However, students of the Autonomous Administration have no such fears. Safia said that the university provides the students with job opportunities, explaining: “I study in the Department of Agricultural Engineering, and all the students of this department will be employed in the Agriculture Authority under the Autonomous Administration, for the latter is obliged to do so. This is in addition to the fact that the student is entitled to open an agricultural pharmacy.”
Walid Bakri, a member of the university’s foreign relations committee, telling Enab Baladi, said that college graduates’ employment is guaranteed, as they are employed by the institutions of the Autonomous Administration according to their field of study.
The engineer Massoud Mohammed affirmed: “In the last year, the first batch of students graduated after two intensive years and they got hired directly in the institutions of the Autonomous Administration, where there is an urgent need for qualified scientific staff and by other institutions as well. Massoud explained that “the area needs considerably all the specializations provided by the university, so all graduates are directly hired in the departments of the Autonomous Administration”.
The Autonomous Administration controls areas, ranging from east of the Euphrates River in Deir Al-Zour to Al-Hasakah in the north, down to the east of Aleppo, supported by the United States of America. Regional development projects and services are activated with the support of European and American organizations.