Posted by Joshua on Sunday, March 8th, 2009
Private sector fills Syria’s learning gap By Anna Fifield in Deir Atiah, Financial Time, 2009-03-04.
Zaina had two options: she could study engineering for free at a state university, or she could study medicine, her preferred subject, at a private institution for $10,000 a year. The choice was simple.
“I didn’t want to be an engineer, I wanted to be a doctor,” the 18-year-old shrugs, sitting in the cafeteria at Kalamoon University, one of the private institutions that has opened in Syria to meet rocketing demand for tertiary education.
More and more young Syrians are finding themselves in this situation. As student numbers have risen, the entry requirements at state universities have become increasingly tough, with baccalaureate grades in the 90s needed to enrol in many classes, and 99 for medicine.
“I feel guilty because I could have done better in my baccalaureate,” says Zaina, a second-year student whose doctor parents are funding her education. “I want to do well here because my parents are paying so much for this.”
Syria, a self-styled “social market economy”, has been gradually allowing the private sector to play a greater role since Bashar al-Assad assumed the leadership from his father in 2000.
While his presidency has not ushered in the “Damascus spring” of greater personal freedoms that many were hoping for, it has led to some economic liberalisation in sectors including banking, insurance and education.
With the four state colleges full to overflowing – Damascus University (pictured above) alone has more than 120,000 students – 12 private institutions have sprung up since the sector was opened in 2001, and another dozen are in the works.
“The government does not have enough resources to finance education for all these people, so it had two options,” says Samir Seifan, an independent economist. “It could encourage Syrians to go abroad or it could encourage the private sector to get involved.”… (read the rest)
Addendum (Monday, March 10, 2009) Salma al-Shami published this article in Forward , Towards a “Knowledge-Based Economy” in Qatar: Can Syria Follow Suit? comparing private universities in Syria and the Emirates. Here is the part on Syria.
[...] While Syria is showing signs of growth, its increased consumerism alone cannot be taken for comprehensive economic development. The “Beirutization” of Damascus has become a buzzword describing a new high-end consumer landscape dominated by an influx of luxury goods. The future sustainability and success of this import-driven model of development is questionable, particularly because it is not occurring in tandem with substantial investment in educational reform.
“Until recently, higher education in Syria was oriented towards graduating civil services and state enterprise managers,” explained Dr. Nabil Sukkar, Managing Director of the Syrian Consulting Bureau. “But in the past two years, the government started to change the strategy of higher education in the direction of responding to the needs of society, the productive sector and the labor market.” He noted that Syria’s private universities are relatively new and just beginning to respond to the needs of the market.
This process faces several challenges. First, students coming from secondary institutions where instruction is in Arabic do not always have the English-language and analytical skills that would allow them to thrive at an institution where instruction is in English. In addition to teaching their course-specific subject matters, faculty members must take extra measures to accommodate varying levels of English-language competency among students. Dr. Sami Moubayed, a lecturer at Syria’s Al Kalamoon University where instruction is in English, has offered to read practice paragraphs his students send him and correct linguistic mistakes.
Second, attendance costs are high. While the World Bank estimates that Syria’s per capita income is US $1200, on average, a student in the School of Diplomatic Sciences and International Relations at Al Kalamoon University will pay about US $4000 a year in tuition. Absent a program of loans from banks or from the universities themselves, the education is only available to the elite.
Third, private Syrian universities face questions of accreditation, which is linked to the presence of qualified faculty, a rigorous curriculum and adequate facilities.
“It is not enough to say to say we have private universities,” said Rime Allaf, an Associate Fellow of the Royal Institute of International Affairs. “We have to make sure they are adhering to some kind of academic and ethical agenda and curriculum.”
Private universities in Syria do not have complete autonomy over their internal processes and cannot make all necessary improvements to their curricula independently. This limited flexibility curtails the benefits students can potentially reap from their education and in turn hinders socioeconomic development….
Abdulsalam Haykal, founder and CEO of Transtek Information Systems and Haykal Media, was selected as a Young Global Leader by WEF’s selection committee, composed of top media leaders and chaired by Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abullah of Jordan.
Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum said that Haykal’s nomination was “in recognition of [his] record of professional accomplishments, [his] commitment to society and [his] potential to contribute to shaping the future of the world through [his] inspiring leadership.”
Haykal, who is Forward Magazine’s publisher, said in a statement, “I’m very happy to have this honor bestowed on me by the World Economic Forum. It does not give recognition to me only, but to all the young men and women of Syria, who have taken upon themselves the commitment to lead their societies through serious and creative initiatives.
Haykal is considered to be one of Syria’s leading media and technology entrepreneurs. As president of the Syrian Young Entrepreneurs Association (SYEA), Haykal has been active in advancing new concepts in the business and society in Syria, including corporate social responsibility.
Haykal advocates education as the most effective development vehicle in the Middle East; He is a trustee of the American University of Beirut, and of Kalamoon University in Syria, and founding board member of Tumouhi Scholarship Fund, an NGO. The list includes the CEOs of YouTube, Facebook, and Skype Technologies, in addition to Ferrari’s racecar driver Michael Schumacher, and 200 other leaders from government, NGOs, business, and academia in 71 countries.
The Geneva-based World Economic Forum (WEF) named a Syrian entrepreneur to be among 200 most distinguished young leaders in 2009.
Defending the Faith: Battle Over a Christian Monastery Tests Turkey’s Tolerance of Minorities.” By ANDREW HIGGINS in WSJ
….Battling to hang on to the monastic lands, Bishop Timotheus Samuel Aktas is fortifying his defenses. He’s hired two Turkish lawyers — one Muslim, one Christian — and mobilized support from foreign diplomats, clergy and politicians.
Also giving a helping hand, says the bishop, is Saint Gabriel, a predecessor as abbot who died in the seventh century: “We still have four of his fingers.” Locked away for safekeeping, the sacred digits are treasured as relics from the past — and a hex on enemies in the present. The outcome of the land dispute is now in the hands of a Turkish court….