September 12, 2019
Due to the devastating and ongoing effects of the Syrian Crisis, Syrian students seeking access to higher education in Lebanon face many challenges among which the inability to produce credentials or qualifications has been the most prominent.
In partnership with the Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education (NOKUT), IFI at AUB has undertaken a project to address this ongoing issue. The project falls within the grant scheme of the HOPES project, funded by the European Union's Regional Trust Fund in response to the Syrian Crisis (the 'Madad Fund'), and implemented by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the British Council, Campus France, and Nuffic. As part of this partnership, IFI held a conference on September 12, 2019 to discuss findings and engage in meaningful dialogue with local stakeholders. The conference comprised three panel discussions entitled “Recognition of Academics Qualifications in Higher Education in Lebanon," “The Integration of Syrian Students into Higher Education in Lebanon," and “Career Guidance and Counseling of Syrian Students in Universities in Lebanon," respectively.
The first panel discussion revolved around how different methods of qualification recognition can be employed within the specific context of Lebanon. Ms. Marina Malgina of NOKUT discussed specific methodologies that are already being utilized in Norway and other European nations, stressing the need for transparency and sustainability. With regards to Lebanon, a consortium of Lebanese and international institutions is pioneering LEBPASS, a supplemental document to university diplomas that outlines a student's qualifications in a standardized format that employers and other institutions can easily recognize.
The inability to produce documentation, however, is not the only problem that faces Syrian students. Moving onto the second panel, two Syrian students from AUB, Ms. Eslam Abo Al Hawa and Ms. Fatima Fakhourji, explained the psychosocial challenges they underwent after being accepted to higher education institution in Lebanon. Such challenges included social stigmatization, language barriers, insufficient institutional support, and inadequate mental health resources on campus. In a recent study conducted by AUB, 83.6% of Syrian students surveyed at Lebanese institutions of higher education stated that they have experienced discrimination and/or some form of disrespect while pursuing their education. AUB professor of philosophy Dr. Hani Hassan noted that such a dialogue surrounding integration is an ongoing process through which faculty and students continuously learn from one another.
The final panel focused on concrete measures that have been taken not only in Lebanon, but in the region as well, to address some of the issues regarding counseling and integration. National Education Officer at UNHCR, Ms. Agatha Abi-Aad, touched upon the relationships between educational institutions and scholarship organizations, underscoring the need to introduce improved counseling services at the secondary school level in order to better prepare students for their futures in higher education. On this topic, Ms. Nesma Farahat highlighted the important steps the Al Ghurair Foundation for Education (AGFE) is taking to provide free online educational counseling services for students region wide.
The conference took up the nuances of each of these issues in addition to many other related topics, engaging in debate that pushed for reform, but that also recognized the serious obstacles to success. In their concluding remarks, Dr. Hana El Ghali and Ms. Marina Malgina emphasized the foundations that have been lain and which will no doubt serve as a promising starting point for future developments and strategies.
Eric Forehand, IFI Intern