Academic research and studies gather support for development and progress in northern countryside of Aleppo 

Young Researchers’ Conference in the city of Azaz, northwestern Syria - 5 November 2020 (Azaz Media Office)

Young Researchers’ Conference in the city of Azaz, northwestern Syria - 5 November 2020 (Azaz Media Office)

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Enab Baladi – Aleppo countryside

Three young men have gone up on to the stage of “the Cultural Center” in the city of Azaz, to receive an honor in a rare event occurring in northern Syria for carrying out theoretical research and studies about political, economic, and social issues in Syria, which is going through its tenth year of the war. 

Azaz’s Conference to “Support Young Researchers for Building Future of Syria” was held over a two-day period commencing on the fourth and fifth of this November, intending to discuss research and determine the winners. Two days later, the Free Aleppo University announced a research partnership with international and UK organizations and associations for studying northwestern Syria’s reality, starting with higher education research. 

With cautious steps, and with the aid of training courses and educational seminars, researchers (graduate students and their professors) began preparing academic research studies based on development progress globally, facing difficulties from international ignorance and lack of local interest.

From local universities…  global conditions

Naji Radwan had compulsorily studied physics in the Syrian regime-held areas for three years. Radwan told Enab Baladi that he always wanted to study political science, but his parents did not allow him. His parents’ opposition was not the only thing that prevented him from studying the “political science department.” Still, the theoretical future far from the realistic impact was what he feared most. 

Naji Radwan (aged 28) changed his specialization and studied political science in Aleppo’s northern countryside, whose educational institutions lack international recognition. Radwan conducted several academic research. He was honored for his research titled “Political Acceptability in Syria,” which studied the reality of people’s participation in politics over the last hundred years and its vulnerabilities. 

Radwan’s exist from the Syrian government-held areas was not the only motive that helped him to see the feasibility of the political study and improve his research, but his professors at university, who believe in the significance of supporting researchers, offered him their encouragement and trained him to carry out qualitative research.  

Radwan and his colleagues, who submitted ten papers in the research competition conducted by the “Mari Center for Research and Studies” adhered to basic research methodologies, but they also faced the problems of securing references and the lack of transparency by the governing administrative authorities, as scientific research requires information to ensure its completeness, “Most official bodies do not respond via email. And when we, researchers, ask the authorities to provide us with contact numbers, they apologize,” Radwan stressed. 

The director of “Mari” Center for Research and Studies” Maarouf al-Khalaf, told Enab Baladi that the purpose of the conference was to link the theoretical aspect studied by the participants, most of whom were graduates of the region’s universities such as the International Sham University and the Free Aleppo University, with the practical aspect, according to International academic standards and specifications, and after a course that took more than a month to qualify and train researchers.

The center granted a financial reward of 250 USD for the winning research proposals with commemorative shields. And in return, the region can benefit from the academic research and studies in improving the development services and educational system via local councils and educational institutions.

 Al-Khalaf believes that research in many different areas must be done in northwestern Syria to help diagnose problems and find solutions. He pointed out that the center continues to hold workshops and events for research and development.

Defining reality based on education 

Even though the international community has condemned the Syrian regime’s systematic human rights violations, this does not stop recognizing its political and educational institutions. Therefore, the Syrian opposition linked-institutions faced constant problems in proving their eligibility and relevance for the millions of Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons outside the Syrian regime-controlled areas. 

The Free Aleppo University has not been more fortunate, since it was established by the “ Syrian Interim Government (SIG) at the end of 2015, it has not been able to obtain international recognition for its degrees, and has not been able to provide all the required specializations for its students, but its curricula and the high quality of its education are receiving global review today. 

The local university cooperates with the UK universities in conducting five academic research about higher education in north-western Syria, intending to develop education in northwestern Syria and introduce the true challenges of higher education to the international researchers, assistant minister of education for higher education affairs in the SIG, Fateh Shaaban told Enab Baladi. 

Professional standards for higher education, student enrollment system for higher education, quality of education, educational gaps faced by students, the role of women and their empowerment in the role of higher education in the region are the five topics that are supervised by international academics, including experts who have worked with more than 100 educational institutions to raise the level and quality of education.

Personal relations and efforts were the keys that led to the start of the partnership and research programs that aim to publish research in international journals, which indicates scaling up the academic level of local educational institutions, Shaaban said.

Shaaban indicated that he was able to publish a report in a UK magazine that focused on the state of higher education in the region and highlighted the difficulties encountered by students such as life of displacement, high prices, insecurity, and instability, “The role of this research is to introduce our case because many academics know nothing about Syria and its situation except that there is a war going on.”

Universal supervision of research means obtaining “credibility,” as Shaaban put it.  Some professors participating in these research pieces receive weekly courses by international experts to develop their scientific research mechanisms and academic writing; the UK partnership allows for academic development in the region.

According to Shaaban, Northwestern Syria requires scientific research in all disciplines because of its “new exceptional circumstances,” indicating that the international community did not care about the region as required, fearing the imposed international sanctions and lack of knowledge of the real situation. Shaaban concluded that he hopes that these pieces of research will be able to break isolation.

Asim Melhem, Enab Baladi’s correspondent in the city of al-Bab, contributed to preparing this article

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