Stigma over cour­ses ‘holds back Syr­ian refugees’

Con­fer­ence hears refugees need vo­ca­tional study op­tions. Si­mon Baker re­ports from Kuala Lumpur

THE (Times Higher Education) - - NEWS - Si­mon.baker@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­

A “cultural stigma” against tech­ni­cal and vo­ca­tional higher ed­u­ca­tion is dam­ag­ing the chances of young Syr­ian refugees mak­ing a suc­cess­ful life for them­selves af­ter flee­ing the coun­try’s civil war, a con­fer­ence has heard.

Al­li­son Church (pic­tured in­set), the re­gional di­rec­tor for the Mid­dle East at Kiron Open Higher Ed­u­ca­tion, an or­gan­i­sa­tion try­ing to help refugees ac­cess cour­ses on­line, told the Bri­tish Coun­cil’s Go­ing Global sum­mit that the ma­jor prob­lem fac­ing Syr­i­ans dis­placed to countries such as Jor­dan and Le­banon was their low sec­ondary school com­ple­tion rate.

How­ever, Ms Church told the event in Kuala Lumpur, she be­lieved that many more would stay in ed­u­ca­tion and then go on to ac­cess univer­sity cour­ses if there were re­al­is­tic course op­tions avail­able that would lead to a job.

“There is a cultural stigma sur­round­ing cer­tain kinds of ed­u­ca­tion and cer­tain em­ploy­a­bil­ity,” she said, ex­plain­ing that it was a prob­lem that was com­mon in the re­gion and not just among Syr­ian refugees.

“En­gi­neer­ing and medicine are ob­vi­ously the two highest cov­eted fields for stu­dents who are Syr­ian… It doesn’t matter that there is no em­ploy­ment pos­si­bil­ity – they still want to study [these sub­jects].”

She said that her own ex­pe­ri­ence for Kiron in the re­gion matched re­search find­ings pre­sented dur­ing the same ses­sion by Mo­hamad Saad, head of the de­part­ment of psy­chol­ogy at the Bri­tish Univer­sity in Egypt, who has con­ducted a study for the Bri­tish Coun­cil and the United Na­tions’ refugee agency on Syr­ian refugees’ ac­cess to higher ed­u­ca­tion. He also pointed to “dis­crim­i­na­tion” in the re­gion be­tween cour­ses and modes of learn­ing seen as pres­ti­gious, like cam­pus-based med­i­cal de­grees, and against other sub­jects and ways of study­ing. Ms Church said that po­ten­tial jobs for grad­u­ate refugees in Le­banon and Jor­dan were pri­mar­ily in fields such as agri­cul­ture, con­struc­tion and tex­tiles, but there were few or no univer­sity cour­ses in such ar­eas. “There is a great need to in­te­grate these higher ed­u­ca­tion op­tions

into the field. I think per­son­ally if these op­tions were of­fered” many more refugees would re­main in ed­u­ca­tion, which would help them to get jobs and also en­able them to one day “return to Syria with skills that can help de­velop the coun­try”, she said.

Ms Church also noted that, although univer­sity cam­puses in Jor­dan and Le­banon were over­loaded and un­able to ac­cept more refugees, there was a re­luc­tance to turn to on­line and blended learn­ing to solve the prob­lem. And in­sti­tu­tions were also still charg­ing refugees the same tu­ition fees as international stu­dents, although this was in part an ef­fort to ad­dress the ca­pac­ity is­sue by in­creas­ing fund­ing.

Mean­while, the ses­sion also heard early find­ings from another Bri­tish Coun­cil re­search project into refugee ed­u­ca­tion that has looked at at­ti­tudes in dif­fer­ent countries towards tech­ni­cal and vo­ca­tional ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing (TVET).

Paul Grainger, from the UCL In­sti­tute of Ed­u­ca­tion, said that, although gov­ern­ments were aware of the im­por­tance of ter­tiary-level TVET in help­ing refugees to get jobs, there were still bar­ri­ers to cre­at­ing suf­fi­cient pro­vi­sion.

He said that his re­search, which like that of Dr Saad is due out later this year, had pointed to a “slight dis­par­ity be­tween what gov­ern­ments say hap­pens and what our ev­i­dence in­di­cates is ac­tu­ally hap­pen­ing on the ground”.

“The most im­por­tant point of all [to come from the re­search] is that TVET leads to com­pe­tence, leads to em­ploy­ment, leads to wealth and, there­fore, to the ben­e­fit of the host com­mu­nity,” Mr Grainger added.

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