Why Idlib University students can’t get scholarships?
Enab Baladi – Khalid Jar’atli
Suleiman, 23, studies biology at Idlib University. At the beginning of each academic year, he is stressed out that he cannot have enough money to pay for college costs, including application fees, registration fees, examination entry fees, and any resits.
Suleiman told Enab Baladi that he could not get a scholarship that would have helped him finish his studies despite several attempts. He contacted many NGOs operating in the northern countryside of Aleppo to understand why there are no scholarships or grants for the students of Idlib University. The organizations replied that their scholarship projects are small and limited to Aleppo countryside no more, explaining such projects could cover other universities in the future.
Students discuss various reasons why there are no grants or scholarships for the students of Idlib University, the most prominent of which is that Idlib University falls within areas controlled by the Salvation Government (SG). Many NGOs fear coordinating with the SG because it has close ties with Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), militarily controlling Idlib. However, the SG consistently denies that.
Scholarships are available in Aleppo, but not in Idlib
Increasing costs and diminished funding have led to increased obstacles for students intent on attending universities in Idlib. In addition, many university graduates cannot find a job in their chosen profession, given the continuing precariousness of the security situation and harsh economic conditions, the opposition-held areas are experiencing.
Students of Idlib University face challenges finding scholarships that could alleviate the financial burden placed on their shoulders. Scholarships are only available in the northern countryside of Aleppo or within the areas under the control of the Syrian Interim Government (SIG).
According to statistics issued by the university administration obtained by Enab Baladi, the number of students at Idlib University reached 14,700 in 2021.
One of the College of Education students in the Department of Psychological Counselling and Guidance told Enab Baladi that all types of transactions, no matter how simple, cost students money. For example, a student must pay around 15 Turkish Lira (TL) when replacing his lost student ID card. And if he wants to object to one of the exam results, this will also cost him another 15 TL. A student has to pay for all that amid the complete absence of scholarships.
The student, who requested anonymity, added that the Violet Organization for Relief and Development provides scholarships that include university tuition fees and monthly stipends in the universities of the northern countryside of Aleppo. However, these scholarships are not available in the countryside of Idlib, which raises questions among university students about their absence.
In an interview with Enab Baladi, Alaa al-Bakour, Youth and Women Empowerment Manager in the Violet Organization, said that the Violet Organization launched its scholarship pilot project in the countryside of Aleppo. The project could be expanded in the future to cover other areas if it succeeded in the Aleppo countryside.
Al-Bakour added that providing financial support to Idlib University, in particular, is not possible at present because of the political context in Syria; different forces take control of northwestern Syria; in reference to the SG, which takes control of Idlib University.
He pointed out that youth empowerment projects are relatively few in northwestern Syria. Donors suddenly stop providing their support to such projects or direct it to projects existing in different areas. For example, many donors direct their support to the Syrian students wishing to enroll in Turkish universities.
NGOs or entities initiating these projects are often considered responsible for distributing scholarships and grants.
Generally, NGOs adopt a particular policy when providing their support. For example, some NGOs concentrate their support on projects in certain areas, such as the city of Azaz. And other NGOs refrain from providing support to projects in the Idlib governorate.
Some NGOs require that the universities in which scholarship projects are introduced should coordinate with the Education Directorate of the SIG or the SG, for example,al-Bakour said.
Al-Bakour pointed out that the Violet Organization called upon donors and some foreign ministries of several countries interested in the Syrian file to provide youth empowerment programs, mainly scholarship. However, it was clear the donors are not interested in funding such projects.
Unlike other projects that may be fully oriented toward fulfilling one target, such as the orphan sponsorship programme, community resilience programmes are not entirely tailored to their context, as most of their funding is destined to go for the displaced and other aspects, while only a tiny part of is dedicated to supporting youth empowerment projects.
Even projects that include the academic aspect of youth empowerment projects are geared towards supporting primary school students, marginalizing high school students entirely, according to al-Bakour.
“Undergraduate scholarships are awarded on the basis of an evaluation of eligibility”
For its part, Idlib University said that there are many scholarships and grants, but they are awarded based on an assessment of the student’s financial situation. Scholarships are granted to “students living in extreme poverty.”
The Director of Idlib University, Dr. Ahmed Abu Hajar, told Enab Baladi that the university provided scholarships to about three thousand students through the General Authority for Zakat and the Molham Volunteering Team, in addition to a group of other organizations and supporting entities.
The Director of Idlib University considered that the money students are paying for university are just fees, which are “not high.” However, students cannot pay all tuition and fees due to the low per capita income and the deteriorating living conditions in northern Syria.
The SG is currently unable to support the educational process at the university due to the decrease in the financial cluster allocated to the university by the government, according to Dr. Ahmed Abu Hajar,
But, the SG intends to increase the salaries of employees working in the Ministry of Education because this is more necessary.
But we are independent
The university director said that the absence of financial support led to positive results. “Since Idlib University was first opened, it has not received any external support. This has turned to be one of the strengths of the university.
With the help of small domestic efforts, the university made qualitative leaps forward at the infrastructure and academic accreditation level. It also helps students get accepted into the Turkish Scholarship Program. In other words, Idlib University has recognized that it does not need any support. It can formulate its policies independently of any external party.
Abu Hajar pointed out that “political money” could change the university’s general policy. He confirmed that these problems suffered by students have nothing to do with the disputes between the SG and SIG—which control the countryside of Aleppo. But, Idlib University likes to do things on its own.
There was a low level of education in opposition-controlled areas in northwestern Syria. Plus, students had to move to other governorates to access higher education. All these together prompted the establishment of Idlib University at the end of 2015. At the beginning of its establishment, it was affiliated with the Aleppo Free University. It included only three colleges.
After the SG expanded its influence at the beginning of 2018 in northwestern Syria, it canceled the work of universities in the areas it annexed to its power, such as the Free Aleppo University.
The headquarters of the Free Aleppo University was moved by the SIG from Idlib to the western countryside of Aleppo after the SG appointed a new president for the university.
In the wake of closing a series of universities at the hands of the SG, the education file in northwestern Syria developed into a wider conflict between the SG and the SIG, and its negative repercussions on university students continuing
to appear until today, according to what Enab Baladi gathered from the university students’ opinions.
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