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Universities pledge scholarships for Syrian refugees

Institutions across the world are introducing new scholarships and bolstering existing programmes for refugees displaced by the conflict in Syria.

An aerial view of the Zaatari camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan. Photo: Wikicommons/RogDel.

“We all care about the immediate needs of these people, such as health, shelter and food, but the only way to make a lasting difference is through education"

“We all care about the immediate needs of these people, such as health, shelter and food, but the only way to make a lasting difference in the future lives of the individuals, their families, communities and host countries, is through education,” commented Shai Reshef, president of the online University of the People.

The not-for-profit UoPeople will waive its examination fees of US$4,000 for 500 Syrian refugees enrolling on a tuition-free four-year degree in Business Administration or Computer Science.

“Our hope is that these scholarships will give some of them the chance to realise their potential and flourish”

It has so far received a donation “close to US$100,000” to fund the scholarships and the university is “confident” that this figure will increase, its spokesperson told The PIE News.

Michelle Manks, manager of the Campus Engagement & Student Refugee Program at the World University Service of Canada, echoed Reshef’s comments.

“Higher education is often the last thing on people’s minds in terms of humanitarian response, except if you’re going to rebuild a country, if you’re going to provide hope to people who have been displaced, you need to provide these types of opportunities,” she told The PIE News.

WUSC recruits refugees from overseas and places them in postsecondary institutions across Canada, where grants are funded by universities and student unions.

It issued a challenge last week to universities to up their support for refugees in light of the current crisis.

“The response was immediate,” Manks said. “We already have about 20 universities looking into how they can increase their response and we anticipate that that will grow in the next week or so.”

WUSC has placed some 1,500 student refugees from 37 countries in Canada to date, including 86 this year.

Manks said she expects the number will grow “significantly” thanks to media coverage of the crisis. “We’re looking at over 100 students for next year,” she said.

At institutions such as the University of Regina, refugees placed by WUSC are supported by a student union levy, amounting to CAN$100,000 annually, a figure the university will match for the first time.

The funds will cover the costs of rent, tuition, textbooks, computers, clothing and personal allowances for first-year refugee students from Syria and other countries.

Like the University of Regina in Canada, Australia’s University of Western Sydney has announced a scholarship fund open to all refugees – not only those from Syria.

Following the announcement that Australia will accept 12,000 refugees, UWS last week announced a A$500,000 scholarship fund alongside plans to raise $12m through a fundraising campaign, to fund the studies of 400 refugee students over the next four years.

“At the end of thir studies, the young people are not able to stay necessarily or find employment in the country that they’re studying in”

The A$7,500 annual scholarships will be used for study and living expenses on any course including English-language and diploma programmes to PhD study.

Other institutions, such as the UK’s University of East London, have launched scholarships targeting solely Syrian students.

Full scholarships will cover tuition fees for ten Syrian nationals who have been granted humanitarian protection status in the UK to enrol on master’s courses at UEL.

This is the university’s first ‘emergency’ grant, a spokesperson told The PIE News, but builds on a portfolio of existing grants and scholarships and a “commitment to civic engagement”.

As a specialist centre for the study of forced migration and refugees, the crisis “goes to the very core of who we are”, vice-chancellor John Joughin said.

“These people have endured considerable trauma,” he added. “Our hope is that these scholarships will give some of them the chance to realise their potential and flourish in the future.”

The US-based Scholars at Risk Network reports that since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011, it has received more than 120 applications from Syrian scholars seeking help, an average of one application every two weeks.

“Unfortunately the pace of applications from Syria is only increasing,” said Clare Robinson, Director of Protection Services at SAR. “This number underlines the deep effects this crisis is having on the Syrian higher education sector and, as a result, on society as a whole. It’s incredibly concerning.”

SAR works with its network members to provide temporary positions of academic refuge for those at risk that protect their well being as well as their ability to think and express themselves freely.

“Our members have responded so helpfully and positively to our call to help Syrian scholars, but the need remains incredibly high, and will likely continue for the foreseeable future,” commented Robinson.

Manks at WUSC agreed that she can’t see an end to the situation any time soon and said more needs to be done to create “durable solutions” for refugees worldwide.

Because of Canada’s unique refugee placement model, students accepted through WUSC are granted Canadian residence, and therefore can work during their studies and access the government loans system and services used by domestic students even after scholarships have run out.

However, this is not the case elsewhere.

“I know other countries are providing scholarships to refugees, but at the end of thir studies, the young people are not able to stay necessarily or find employment in the country that they’re studying in,” she said.

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