Turkey and Qatar have agreed to jointly open an international university for Syrian refugees, to be located in Turkey’s southeastern province of Gaziantep.
Fatma Sahin, mayor of Gaziantep and former minister for family affairs, told Anadolu Agency that both parties are conducting feasibility studies, and that the exact location of the university will be set soon.
The university will primarily educate Syrian refugees in the English and Arabic languages, and will teach a variety of subjects.
In Oct. 2014, Sheikha Mozah, the mother of Qatar’s emir, visited a Syrian refugee camp in Gaziantep alongside Turkey’s first lady Emine Erdogan.
The visit was followed by the signing of a memorandum on joint education projects for refugees.
Some 2 million Syrians have fled to Turkey since 2011, of whom around 50,000 are of university age.
So far, 1,526 refugees have been given university scholarships, with plans to increase that number by a further 5,000 over five years.
The scholarship covers a monthly grant, as well as support for accommodation, social security, transport and university fees.
These students “hope to support Syria’s reconstruction when they go back. For this to happen, they prefer studying in civil engineering, sociology or psychology,” Serdar Gundogan, head of the International Students Department, told Al Arabiya News.
Mahir Hamis, 21, fled to Turkey with his family in 2012. His family currently lives in a tent city in the southern province of Hatay bordering Syria. Hamis got a scholarship last year and moved to Ankara to study in Gazi University.
“Once I heard of the possibility of a scholarship in Turkey, a new page has been opened in my life,” he told Al Arabiya News.
Hamis studies in the visually impaired teaching department, and wants to use what he has learnt when he returns to Syria.
There are also cultural programs for Syrian and Turkish youths that include countrywide excursions, as well as artistic and sporting events.
“In supporting Syrian refugees in attending university, Turkey is investing in the future because it prevents them from becoming a lost generation, and encourages them to contribute to their homeland’s reconstruction once they return,” Metin Corabatir, former spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR in Turkey, told Al Arabiya News.
“Syria would need engineers, doctors, teachers when the country is built from scratch after a years-long civil war. So educating them in English and Arabic, in line with internationally-accepted scientific standards, would be an asset,” added Corabatir, who heads the Center for Asylum and Migration in Ankara.
Syrian refugees are able to continue their education in Turkish universities with “special student” status, but it is unclear to what extent their graduation certificate will be accredited globally.
This has drawn much public and political criticism of being unfair to Turkish university students.
The Turkish-Qatari university will “attract Syrians and young people from neighboring countries willing to continue Arabic education, which will ensure its sustainability even after the end of the civil war in Syria,” said Corabatir.
Murat Erdogan, director of Hacettepe University’s Migration and Politics Research Center (HUGO), said the project will also help Syrian scholars who have fled to Turkey.
“It would be beneficial for these academics to continue their professional career in Turkey, while alleviating the burden on Turkey in integrating them into society in financial and social terms,” Erdogan told Al Arabiya News.
“Each passing day wasted without opening new educational channels for them would bring bigger socio-economic costs in the future, both on Syria and the regional countries, because this social capital is waiting in vain.”
Erdogan said Turkey should come up with policies to provide young Syrian refugees with the necessary language skills.
“After they graduate from this university, they’d probably search for jobs in Turkey, so they need to have a sufficient level of Turkish to get a place within society and the job market.”