Aleppo universities students seek fee exemptions as in Turkish universities

Free Aleppo University in the border city of Azaz in northern Aleppo countryside - November 29, 2022 (Enab Baladi/Dayan Junpaz)

Free Aleppo University in the border city of Azaz in northern Aleppo countryside - November 29, 2022 (Enab Baladi/Dayan Junpaz)


The Turkish government has exempted university students residing with their families in the affected cities from tuition fees for the second semester of 2022-2023, in a move to mitigate the repercussions of the earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria on February 6.

The decision has included Turkish universities in the regions of northern Syria, while the Syrian universities remained on their old system as before the earthquake.

The Turkish government also announced that it would refund the fees paid by students for the same semester. The decision issued by the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Official Gazette, on March 3, included university students and primary and secondary school students who reside in the government-run student housing.

For one term 

Students from Gaziantep University, north of Aleppo, expressed to Enab Baladi their satisfaction with the decision, despite the exemption from tuition fees for one semester, especially with the state of displacement that some of the region’s residents are suffering from.

The Director of Student Affairs at Gaziantep University in Azaz city, Mustafa al-Shawi, told Enab Baladi that the exemption from fees came for one semester only, and was issued by the president of the university in Turkey, based on the instructions of the Turkish President.

Mohammad Haj Ali, an Islamic Shariah student at Gaziantep University in Azaz, told Enab Baladi that the university exempted students from an amount of 730 Turkish liras, indicating that the amount is not large, but it relieved students of a burden, even if it was small.

He added that his colleagues at the university, who came from the cities of Jarablus, Azaz, and al-Bab, had their tuition fees returned to them, as they had previously paid them to the university administration a few days before the earthquake.

According to Haj Ali, the annual tuition for Gaziantep University is average in comparison to the universities scattered in the region, as the tuition fees of some universities reach many times this amount in the same region.

In February 2021, a presidential decree was issued, published in the official newspaper, bearing the signature of the Turkish president, stipulating the opening of a college of medicine and a higher institute for health services in the city of al-Raee, northeast of Aleppo, affiliated to the state University of Health Sciences in Istanbul.

Subsequently, subsidiary universities affiliated with Turkish ones spread in Azaz, al-Bab, and Jarablus.

Free Aleppo University assesses the damage

Local universities in the areas of influence of the Syrian opposition have not taken measures similar to those issued by Gaziantep University, as they still charge fees for students and assess cases of exemption individually.

The official of the media office at the Free Aleppo University, Ahmad al-Dughaim, told Enab Baladi that the university administration formed a working team after the Feb.6 earthquake that hit Syria and Turkey to assess the students’ needs.

The work of this team focuses on collecting data and conducting a survey about the conditions of the affected students, while the work is still ongoing, according to al-Dughaim.

Although more than a month has passed since the earthquake, this type of data collection cannot be finished in a week or two, as the team needs time to complete the assessment, al-Dughaim said.

He added that the university submitted lists of names of some of those affected to several organizations depending on their condition, noting that some students died as a result of the earthquake, and some of them left behind children or wives, without indicating the type of assistance that can be provided for these cases.

Some organizations contributed to securing some medical or logistical aid for the students affected by the earthquake, and the aid is still continuing in this context, al-Dughaim explained.

While no official decision has been issued by the university in the context of aid or exemptions that may be provided to students, this type of decision is not announced by the university administration and comes in the context of the work of administrative affairs, and the task of implementing it is carried out by working committees or teams assigned by the university, al-Dughaim said.

Students’ hopes

The devastation left by the earthquake in opposition-held areas north of Aleppo made entire families live in tents, a tragedy that made the need for housing greater than it was before, especially since the camps for the displaced are not new to the region, which has witnessed military operations and repeated bombardment over a decade.

Students from the Free Aleppo University who were interviewed by Enab Baladi said that the accumulation of problems related to financial need made it necessary for them for the university to initiate exemptions or aid, especially since some students were left with their entire families in the streets.

Hassan, a student at the Faculty of Dentistry, told Enab Baladi that most of the students who were displaced from their homes after the earthquake live in the hope of exemptions offered by the university in terms of annual tuition, especially with the great financial need among the residents of the affected areas.

From Al-Nahda University in the city of Azaz, north of Aleppo, student Abdul Aziz al-Mahmoud told Enab Baladi that the earthquake has placed an additional burden on the students and their families, different from the previous situation.

With the deteriorating living conditions in the area today following the earthquake, al-Mahmoud, who lost his family home in the city of Azaz, said that the students were waiting for an initiative by the university administration to exempt students from fees, but no decision was issued in this regard until the date of publishing this report.

Chronic problems

On December 12, 2022, administrators at the Free Aleppo University in the city of Azaz in the northern countryside of Aleppo prevented a number of students of the Faculty of Dentistry from taking their exams for not paying the tuition fees.

Students from the same college told Enab Baladi at the time that the administrative affairs at the university prevented about 25 students from taking exams for the Preventive Oral Medicine course because they did not pay the fees.

On the same day, the university issued a number of decisions related to installments, fees, and academic duration. The decisions angered many students who resorted to social media to express their resentment, accusing the university and its administration of having turned into a “profitable, not educational institution.”

The educational process in the areas controlled by the Syrian Interim Government (SIG) in the northern and eastern countryside of Aleppo, and the cities of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn, is witnessing much turbulence.

The most prominent of which is the lack of support for the educational staff, and this was evident in the demonstrations of teachers that continued for months in early 2022 and demands for an increase in monthly income and an improvement in the educational process.

University students in northwestern Syria face difficulties and obstacles that burden them and make studying a burden on them, such as housing rent, high transportation costs, and lack of job opportunities.

Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Azaz, Dayan Junpaz, contributed to this report.


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