Private Universities; Haykal Wins; Syriacs Hang On

Private sector fills Syria’s learning gap By Anna Fifield in Deir Atiah, Financial Time, 2009-03-04.

12 private institutions have sprung up since the sector was opened in 2001, and another dozen are in the works.

12 private institutions have sprung up since the sector was opened in 2001, and another dozen are in the works.

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….

Also, read this earlier story by Landis on Syria’s private universities. Or this: Students speak for merits of cool Damascus – Nov-04

World Economic Forum names Syrian Abdalsalam Haykal as Young Entrepreneur, 2009-03-07

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

A Syriac Christian monk walks to attend a service at Mor Gabriel. The monastery is fighting over land it says its had since the 4th century.

A Syriac Christian monk walks to attend a service at Mor Gabriel. The monastery is fighting over land it says it’s had since the 4th century. Founded in 397, Mor Gabriel is one of the world’s oldest functioning monasteries. Viewed by Syriacs as a “second Jerusalem,” it sits atop a hill overlooking now solidly Muslim lands. It has just three monks and 14 nuns. It also has 12,000 ancient corpses buried in a basement crypt. The bishop’s local flock numbers only 3,000.

….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….

Comments (9)

EHSANI2 said:

What is the tax rate (if any) on the profits of the private universities? Perhaps Mr. Mubayyed can let us know.

March 8th, 2009, 9:32 pm


Amir in Tel Aviv said:

I agree with you.
The “socialist” Ba’ath party does not provide equal education for all,
AND makes profit on the way…
10,000$. Now guess: who can afford that ? …Poor Syrians?

March 8th, 2009, 11:16 pm


EHSANI2 said:

I have no idea what you are talking about. I was asking a pure taxation rate question. Baath making profits along the way? What nonsense.

March 9th, 2009, 1:10 am


norman said:

What I worry about private Universities is their accreditation, we all know that the Syrian public universities are well recognized around the world and well thought of , The Syrian government should be sure to regulate these private universities like making a requirement to affiliate with a state university or well recognized forign university, so the graduates can continue to pursue higher education abroad if they want to ,

March 9th, 2009, 1:20 am


norman said:


Shouldn’t the private universities be exempt from paying taxes like in the US and make the tuition tax deductible as student going there will give space for student going to state universities ?.

March 9th, 2009, 1:23 am


Salma Al-Shami said:


Currently, private universities have to adhere to requirements set forth by the Syrian Council for Higher Education to be governmentally acknowledged as degree-awarding institutions; however, there is no other independent institution to accredit them…

The University of Kalamoon only graduated its first class in 2007. To my understanding, a few of those students were accepted to pursue higher education degrees in Cyprus.

March 9th, 2009, 5:33 am


norman said:

S A S ,

Thank you , how about in England , France , and the US.

March 9th, 2009, 12:32 pm


Joshua said:

Written and emailed to me by Meemtoosh Basha (posted by Landis)

Education in Syria is good generally speaking and measured by the market needs. Because the administrations find that we have too many doctors, engineers and accountants they raise the degree of acceptance in the free government universities. The university’s Curriculum is not bad full and stuffed of everything. Now, they say to me it is much easier than before. My uncle said to me that he studies many subject of engineering which are even related to his study in Civil Engineering in Aleppo’s University in English i.e. he studies, mechanic and electronic and architecture. Even my husband who studies Control and Maintenance Engineering has shifted to Communication Section very easily and successfully. Most of the dentists in KSA are Syrian and they have a good reputation. A lots of Syrian who were lucky could easily continue their studies and specialities- before 2000- in Europe and USA and achieved excellent results in their studies. When Syria encourages students to join the Education institutions for agricultural and industrial after high school degree; this was very practical solution for poor class who can not wait for their children to graduate from university.

The second matter
But when they decided if a student does not have a good level of grades which is 80% in grade 9 (broveh), he or she is not allowed to join free government Secondary Education schools; here are the catastrophes begin and students are lost and treated severely ( may be your readers comment more about it).

The third matter
This year the Ministry of Education decided that students should submit French Exam in Baccalaureate and the grades will part of the Differentiation University Application. I do not know why they are rushing this. Is it a matter of jealousy or a big miscalculated step. I think they should leave this matter as a personal choice with advantage to those who accept to take this exam. This idea is great and very useful but it should be applied more slowly. I think the French Embassy should be consulted more on this issue.

The Forth matter
Some of the subjects which we are teaching not to the level. For example, we have English Literature Department and we do not have a teacher who can teach Science in English or any scientific application, or Science Policy Study in English. We need somebody who can argue and speak in political debate for 2 hours without looking as if he is on fire. We need scientists and socialists, and students in every new fields of life and science. We have enough excellent doctors but they do not have the chance to get specialized in any advanced country because of the Sanctions and blockade.

For me I have a big problem because my children forgot french although they study it for 4 years.

March 10th, 2009, 1:41 pm


norman said:

This is an important summation of the benefit and the problem with the private universities,

Private universities thriving in Syria
Critics warn that many private universities in Syria are business ventures first, educational institutions second.

DAMASCUS – Arwa Eissa wanted to attend a university that took learning beyond the classroom.

At the private Marine Academy of Science and Technology in Latakia he found just that – for a steep price.

“I could have gone to Damascus university but I was desperate to travel and get hands on experience at sea – where I want to make my career,” he said.

“I am so thankful my parents were able to pay the expensive tuition. When I look at friends who are studying the same subjects at state schools, I see that they are stuck in the classroom reading books about things I’ve seen with my own eyes.”

Since President Bashar al-Assad authorised the creation of private universities in 2001 to decrease the burden on Syria’s four state-run institutions, 22 of the former have opened their doors and another dozen are awaiting authorisation.

With the four state colleges full to overflowing – Damascus university alone has more than 120,000 students – private institutions are increasingly providing an alternative for wealthy families able to pay the extra cost.

A state-funded education is mostly free of charge for students who score highly enough on their college entrance exam to quality for a specific programme. By contrast, annual tuition fees at private universities can fall anywhere between 3,000 to 10,000 US dollars.

But nine years after their inception, private universities – which are unregulated – still face criticism from some who question their academic standards.

There are also fears that top faculty members are being lured away from state schools to teach at private universities which, because they charge students, are able to pay higher salaries.

Economics lecturer Dr Ibrahim Muhammed of Tishreen university in Latakia said a teacher can expect between 400 and 800 dollars at a state-run university. Private universities offer at least twice as much, enabling them to attract top academics.

The University of Kalamoon in Der Atia, for example, pays lecturers more than 3,000 dollars a month.

Some working for state universities say they have to take on extra work to make ends meet.

“I felt compelled to find another job in addition to my position at Tishreen university because of the low wages,” said Dr Bassam Hamoud, an engineering lecturer.

“Private universities pay much better, but I kept my job with Tishreen as well because it offers a pension after retirement.”

In addition to higher wages, teachers are increasingly drawn to private schools because they provide smaller classes, modern facilities and a broader curriculum, said Dr Hazim Ali, a mechanical engineering lecturer at Damascus and Kalamoon universities.

“There is great freedom for students and lecturers at these universities,” he said. “The Syrian government does not interfere in the curricula or the assigning of textbooks.”

But critics warn that many private universities are business ventures first and educational institutions second.

“Look at Lebanon and Jordan where many private universities have turned into businesses rather than quality educational institutions,” said German researcher Andrea Morris.

“More resources are needed for Syria’s state universities so they can continue to be the backbone of higher education in the country.

“Private universities should complement these state universities but standards must be set, otherwise quality is sacrificed.”

She suggested increasing cooperation between private universities and well-regarded European institutions.

Kalamoon university is one of those institutions leading the way. It has a cooperation agreement with Glamorgan university in the United Kingdom, which helps its Syrian partner with quality assurance and other technical matters.

Meanwhile, the German-Syrian university cooperates with the University of Otto-Von-Guericke Magdeburg in Germany. It was established according to German standards and is accredited by that country’s institutions.

“Sadly, these institutions are the exception, not the rule,” said Morris.

“Some private schools like Kalamoon and Al-Wadi university in Homs are highly reputable.

“But there have been quite a few controversies where private schools have inflated their ties to European institutions and, essentially, hand out degrees that are close to worthless.”

Such controversies have put some students off enrolling in private institutions.

Shakib Agha did not receive high enough marks on his high school examinations to enroll in a state programme.

Yet in spite of an offer from his parents to pay for his education at a private school, Agha said he would retake his exams and reapply to state universities.

“I keep hearing about these scandals at private universities where they offer degrees that are not recognised in the real world,” he said.

“State universities may have fewer resources and more crowded classrooms, but they have a strong reputation and that is what I am looking for in a school.”

Basim Nasir said he left the private Al-Mamoun university in Aleppo after reports emerged that it had falsely claimed to have affiliations with European and American institutions in order to attract students.

Farouq Diab, who graduated from Al-Mamoun last year, said he has been unable to find a job because of questions about the validity of his degree.

“I have given all I have to get my education and still I have not found work,” he said.

“In spite of the modern curriculum, some private universities just lack credibility.”

Regardless of the reputation of private universities in Syria, the benefits continue to outweigh the costs for many wealthy students whose high school marks were too low to qualify for a state education

“I have long aspired to become a pharmacist, but I did not qualify for the pharmacy programme at Damascus university,” said Urwa Suleiman.

Instead, he enrolled in Al-Qudmous in Tartous province.

“I do not care where I get my degree. What matters is achieving the dream of a little boy who wanted to stand behind a counter and sell medicine,” he said.

[Syria News Briefing, a weekly news analysis service, draws on information and opinion from a network of IWPR-trained Syrian journalists based in the country].

March 13th, 2009, 10:43 pm


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