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Policies, Practices, and Perspectives
Basak Yavcan
Hana A. El-Ghali
Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs
Published in 2017 by the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Education in the Arab States
– Beirut, and the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs,
American University of Beirut.
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Beirut, March 2017 © All Rights Reserved
Higher Education and Syrian Refugee Students: The Case of Lebanon / 1
Basak Yavcan
Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, American University of Beirut
Hana Addam El-Ghali, PhD
Senior Program Coordinator, Education and Youth Program
Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, American University of Beirut
This report on higher education for young Syrian refugees in Turkey is part of a broader
regional study commissioned by UNESCO. The project aims to assess the impact of the
conflict in Syria on higher education for Syrian refugees in host countries, including
Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt and Turkey.
This report presents the findings of an investigation that aims to identify major lines of
action in higher education in emergencies, namely, legal frameworks and policies
implemented by key actors within the sector, and it gives insights into the current status
of higher education for Syrian refugees and displaced persons in Turkey. The report
employs a qualitative approach and intends to explore and understand the challenges
and opportunities for Syrian refugee students in accessing higher education. The results
show that the large number of refugees, who have changed the national demographics
within the country, present challenges for state and local communities in meeting the
needs of both the refugees and the host communities. Refugees face multiple challenges
in accessing education: (1) legal issues including lack of documentation and restrictive
host country policies, (2) ignorance of university application procedures or lack of
academic and career guidance to understand pathways to the labor market or further
education, and (3) financial shortcomings. The demand for higher education continues
to far outstrip the opportunities available. Findings of the study add to the understanding
of the vital role of higher education in improving living conditions and giving a sense of
hope for the future in the context of protracted situations. The study offers policy and
program recommendations to decision- and policy-makers for the national and
international communities, national and international non-governmental organizations
(NGOs), donors, education stakeholders and other institutions with the overall goal to
improve and guide further practice and research in supporting access to higher
education for displaced persons in protracted situations.
Young Syrian refugees, Displaced persons, Higher Education, Syria, Turkey.
Table of Contents
List of Acronyms ..................................................................................................................... 2
Introduction ........................................................................................................................... 3
Turkish National Context ........................................................................................................ 3
Geographic/Demographic ................................................................................................... 3
Political .............................................................................................................................. 4
Socio-economic .................................................................................................................. 4
Education System in Turkey ................................................................................................ 6
Higher Education in Turkey ................................................................................................. 6
International Students Admission ...................................................................................... 9
Syrian Refugees Context in Turkey ........................................................................................ 10
Geographic/Demographic ................................................................................................. 10
Political ............................................................................................................................ 14
Socio-economic ................................................................................................................ 15
Educational ......................................................................................................................... 16
Higher Education for Syrian Refugees in Turkey ................................................................ 19
Rationale and Purpose of the Study ...................................................................................... 22
Methodology ........................................................................................................................ 24
Data Collection Procedure ................................................................................................ 24
Research Participants ....................................................................................................... 25
Data Analysis ................................................................................................................... 26
Legal Frameworks and Policies: Policies, Programs and Support ........................................... 27
Policies ............................................................................................................................ 27
International and Regional Legal Frameworks ................................................................... 27
National Educational Policies and Frameworks ................................................................. 27
Policy Impacts .................................................................................................................. 28
Programs ......................................................................................................................... 30
Support............................................................................................................................ 34
Challenges ........................................................................................................................... 40
Financial Barrier ............................................................................................................... 41
Academic Barrier .............................................................................................................. 41
Lack of Academic and Career Counseling .......................................................................... 41
Legal Documents .............................................................................................................. 42
Other Challenges .............................................................................................................. 43
Conclusion........................................................................................................................... 43
Recommendations ............................................................................................................... 44
Short Term Policy Recommendations ................................................................................ 44
Long Term Policy Recommendations ................................................................................. 46
References ........................................................................................................................... 50
List of Acronyms
Associate's degree
Disaster and Emergency Management Authority
Association for Solidarity with Asylum-Seekers and Migrants
Bachelor's degree
German Academic Exchange Service
Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative
Directorate General of Migration Management
Free Syrian University
Government of Turkey
Higher and Further Education Opportunities and Perspectives for Syrians
Institute of International Education
International Middle East Peace Research Center
International non-governmental organization
International Syrian University in Exile
Bachelor Placement Exam
Ministry of National Education
Non-governmental organization
Orient for Human Relief
Student Selection Examination
Student Selection and Placement Center
Protracted refugee situation
Temporary Education Centers
Turkish and Foreign Languages Research and Application Center of Ankara
Turkish Lira
Temporary Protection
United Nations
United Nations Refugee Agency
United Nations Children's Fund
Higher Education Entrance Exam
Council of Higher Education
Foreign Student Entrance Examination
Yabancı Uyruklu Öğrenci Sınavı
The Presidency of Turks Abroad and Related Communities
The outbreak of the Syrian crisis in 2011 interrupted every facet of Syrian civilians’ lives.
The number of internally displaced Syrians is estimated at 6.5 million, while the number
of registered Syrian refugees regionally has risen to 4,806,762 people (UNHCR,
September 2016). The influx of refugees over the past five years has overwhelmed the
main host countries of Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey and presented challenges for these
states in meeting the needs of the millions of refugees. One of the most significant long-
term consequences of the Syrian crisis is the disruption of Syrians’ education. As of
2015, an estimated 90,000-110,000 out of 450,000 Syrians aged 18-22 years are
qualified for higher education (Redden, 2015). The continued disruption of Syrians’
higher education poses a great threat to the financial status and quality of life for these
refugees. Moreover, refugee youth are at risk of being a target for military recruiters,
criminal gangs, and the sex industry if not integrated into the host society (Zeus, 2011).
Finally, an uneducated “lost generation” will not be equipped to rebuild economic,
political, educational, and health infrastructures in post-war Syria.
Turkish National Context
Turkey was established over a territory of 783,562 square km in an area historically
called Anatolia, at the crossroads of Middle East, the Levant, Asia, and South Eastern
Europe. It has a population of over 78 million people. The official language of the country
is Turkish but there is a sizable minority (15-20 percent according to various estimates)
who speak Kurdish, who mostly live in the eastern and southeastern provinces. It is a
secular state with over 95 percent of the people identifying themselves as Muslim. While
the majority of this group is Sunni Muslim, there is a sizable minority of Alawis, a branch
of the Shia sect. It is a relatively young population, as shown in Figure 1, and has a
declining birthrate of 2.06.
Figure 1. The Age and Gender Distribution of Turkey's Population 2016 (Source: CIA Factbook)
Turkey is governed by a parliamentary system where the legislative authority is vested in
the Turkish Grand National Assembly. The country has an elected president, currently
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who constitutes part of the dual structured executive branch
together with the Council of Ministers (Cabinet) headed by the prime minister. Erdogan
was elected in 2013, and the latest parliamentary elections were held on November 1st,
There was a failed coup attempt in Turkey on July 15th, 2016. It was quelled within hours
due to poor planning and execution, and little support. The non-participating armed
forces, police and crowds of protesters took to the streets in support of the president.
The coup tightened the president’s grip on power; the government has responded by
declaring an initial three month state of emergency and intensified its long-running
purges of the military, judiciary and police force (The Economist Intelligence Unit, 2016).
Turkey is characterized as a transitional middle-income economy with about 10
thousand USD GDP per capita, and exhibits characteristics of an emerging market. The
table below illustrates some of the basic indicators of the Turkish economy.
Table 1. Basic Indicators of the Turkish Economy (Source: IMF, Eurostat, Turkstat)
Population (million)
GDP (US$ billion)
GDP Per Capita (US$)
Real GDP Growth (%)
Inflation (average %)
Unemployment (%)
Exports of Goods (US$ billion)
Growth rate (%)
Imports of goods (US$ billion)
Growth rate (%)
Exchange Rate: US$1 to 2.83 Turkish Liras (TRY) on 28 Apr 2016
The following figure illustrates how the active labor force is distributed across age
groups, showing low female participation in the labor force.
Figure 2. Labor Force Participation and Population Distribution in Turkey
Currently only 29 percent of the women are actively working, down from 34 percent in
1990. Around 20 million women are not in the labor force, and a considerable part of
those employed are in the agricultural sector.
Education System in Turkey
According to the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey, every citizen has the right to
education that is free of charge. Except in specially licensed and foreign institutions,
Turkish must be taught as the first language. Since 2012, it has been mandated that
twelve years of education is compulsory for boys and girls in Turkey.
The Ministry of National Education (MEB) governs the education sector in the country and
is responsible for drawing up curricula, coordinating the work of official, private and
voluntary organizations, designing and building schools, and developing educational
materials. The Supreme Council of National Education makes decisions related to
curricula and regulations prepared by the Ministry. In the provinces, educational affairs
are organized by the Directorates of National Education appointed by the Minister, but
working under the direction of the provincial governor. The central government is
responsible for all educational expenses of public schools, and about 10 percent of the
general budget is allocated for national education.
The Turkish national educational system is composed of two main sections: formal
education and non-formal education. Formal education is the regular education of
individuals in a certain age group and given in schools. This includes pre-primary
education, primary education, secondary education and higher education. Non-formal
education in Turkey is offered by a network of training centers that are supervised by the
MEB. Some examples of non-formal education services include programs that teach
reading and writing, educate dropouts, teach balanced nutrition and a healthy life style
and provide continuing education. In addition, distance higher education, a form of non-
formal education, is offered at the Open Education Faculty of Anadolu University.
Higher Education in Turkey
Universities, faculties and four-year higher education institutions are founded by law in
Turkey, while the Council of Higher Education (YÖK) establishes two-year vocational
schools, departments and divisions. Universities are under the supervision of this
Council and their programs must be regularly accredited. YÖK is a fully autonomous
national board of trustees without any political or government affiliation. The language
of instruction at local institutions of higher education is generally in Turkish. Some
institutions use English, French or German as the language of instruction, offering an
additional preparatory year for students if necessary. For the academic year 20152016,
a total of 6,689,185 students were reported pursuing associates, Bachelors, Master's
and Doctorate programs at the nation’s 190 public and private institutions across the
Table 2. Number of Higher Education Institutions in Turkey, 2014
Type of institution
State universities
Non-profit foundation universities
Independent post-secondary schools
Other higher education institutions (e.g., military and police academies)
Source: Council of Higher Education
After high school, graduates enter a two-stage examination system known as the Higher
Education Entrance Exam (YGS) and Bachelor Placement Exam (LYS) (formerly known as
ÖSS - Student Selection Examination) in order to be admitted to a higher education
institution. These nationwide centralized examinations are administrated by the Student
Selection and Placement Center (ÖSYM) every year. ÖSYM determines candidates for the
enrollment of each university and faculty after evaluating the grades of related subjects,
high school average results and preferences according to the student capacity of each
faculty. Those with good grades are qualified for four-year undergraduate programs to
obtain a Bachelor's Degree (BA), and those with lower grades can be admitted to two-
year higher education programs to obtain an Associate's Degree (AA) upon completion
of the program. Dentistry and veterinary Medicine courses last for five years and
medicine for six years.
Table 3. Total Enrollment in Higher Education in Turkey, 2015-2016 (Source: MEB, YÖK)
New Admıssıons
Total Number Of Students
Vocatıonal traınıng
Formal educatıon
Secondary educatıon
Dıstance educatıon
Open educatıon
Formal educatıon
Secondary educatıon
Dıstance educatıon
Open educatıon
Formal educatıon
Secondary educatıon
Dıstance educatıon
Doctorate formal
After graduating from a four-year faculty, students can pursue a Master's Degree that
lasts for two years with thesis and non-thesis options. Access to doctoral programs
requires a Master's Degree and lasts a minimum of four years with a doctoral thesis at
the end. The graduates of medicine, veterinary medicine and dentistry can directly apply
to doctorate programs.
The purpose of higher education in the country is to allow students to pursue an
education that is aligned with their interests and skills, in conformance to the science
policy of the country and in consideration of qualified manpower in needed by society.
According to the Turkish law, higher education institutions are responsible for the
training of their own academic staff. Meanwhile, primary and secondary school teachers
are trained in universities for four years, receiving a BA degree upon completion.
The major source of income of state universities are the funds allocated through the
annual state budget, which is equivalent to about 60 percent of the total university
income. In addition to this, a university can generate its own income from the services
provided by that university, such as patient care in university hospitals. Student
contributions to state universities account for only 4 percent of the total university
budget, and the student fees in private foundation (Vakif) universities are much higher.
Table 4. Number of Turkish Students Receiving Scholarship and Education Loans 2015
(Source: Directorate of Higher Education Loans and Dormitories Institution)
Type of Support
Study Grant
International Students Admission
International students seeking to enroll in the university programs at Turkish institutions
of higher education apply directly to universities and must have completed their
secondary education in a high school in which the education is equivalent to that of a
Turkish lycee. Additionally, these students need to have their high school academic
records confirmed from a Turkish Embassy in their country. The applications of
international students are considered by the universities within their limit of the
allocated places for internationals. The students must also take the Foreign Student
Entrance Examination (YÖS), which consists of two tests: a basic learning skills test and
a Turkish language proficiency test. Language courses are organized for those who do
not speak Turkish, and in some Turkish universities courses are taught in English, French
or German.
Syrian refugees can follow the aforementioned path of international students based on
the existing legal framework. Due to their legal status under temporary protection, the
Turkish state guarantees their right to education. Furthermore, several laws and bylaws
have been passed to extend the scope of their access to Turkish institutions by allowing
them to access higher education free of charge without taking the YÖS, contingent upon
the quotas allocated to them at all universities across Turkey. The legal framework
leading up to this stage has been outlined in detail in the following sections.
Syrian Refugees Context in Turkey
Turkey hosts the largest number of Syrian refugees globally, with 2,992,000 registered
refugees as of May 2017 (UNHCR, 2017). Registration patterns in Turkey through the
years 2011 and 2016 reveal that the number of registered refugees has significantly
increased since 2014. The figure below shows the variation in the number of registered
refugees in Turkey, as opposed to Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon and Turkey, between 2011 and
Figure 3. Registered Syrian refugees by country of asylum, February 2011-May 2016 (Source: Migration
Policy Centre, EU)
The first Syrian refugee group entered Turkey on April 29, 2011 due to Turkey’s open door
policy, which has endured to the present day (Ahmadzadeh, Corabatir, Hashem, Al-
Husseini, Wahby, 2014). Syrians are spread throughout the country, with 64 percent
residing in the metropolitan centers of Istanbul and Ankara or large cities in the
southeast such as Antakya, Gaziantep, and Şanlıurfa as of 2015 (UNICEF, 2015; Fricke,
King & Watenpaugh, 2014). In 2015, about 36 percent of Syrians lived in 22 refugee
camps, and current numbers put 10 percent of refugees in 26 camps in 10 cities in the
country. The Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) manages official
refugee camps (UNICEF, 2015; Ahmadzadeh et al., 2014). The border town of Reyhanlı is
described as having the same conditions as a refugee camp (Fricke et al., 2014). The
following Table 5 illustrates the distribution of camp populations across these 10 cities.
These cities are mostly located in border areas and received especially the first wave of
Syrians as the civil war broke out.
Table 5. Geographical Distribution of Syrians under Temporary Protection by the 26 Temporary
Accommodation Centers (Camps) Across Turkey as of September 29, 2016
The camp population rates are also important in relation to out of camp refugees as many
Syrians move outside of camps to nearby city centers in search of jobs in order to make
an honorable living at the expense of bearing the costs of their accommodation and
basic needs. The following Figure 4 illustrates the distribution of the entire Syrian refugee
population in the top 10 host cities across the country. As shown, a majority of these
cities including Istanbul, Mersin, Bursa, and Izmir are big cities that offer a variety of
employment opportunities but do not have refugee camps or capacity to sustain a
refugee population, especially in the area of educational infrastructure.
Figure 4. The Geographical Distribution of all Syrians under Temporary Protection
The Syrian population under temporary protection in Turkey is a relatively young
population. Half of the 2.7 million are in fact children as illustrated by Table 6, which has
been prepared using the most recent data from Directorate General of Migration
Management (DGMM) of Turkey.
Table 6. Total Population of Syrian Refugees in Turkey by Age and Gender 2016 (Source: DGMM)
With respect to international as well as domestic legal frameworks surrounding the
refugee crisis, Turkey is a party to the 1951 Convention and Protocol Relating to the
Status of Refugees. Signed and ratified by 144 nations, this Convention is the
preeminent authority on the manner in which host countries are to receive and treat
refugees. Nevertheless, Turkey raised a geographical limitation when it signed and
ratified the Convention and accordingly, only defines persons of European origin as
refugees. As a result of this geographical limitation, which was once common but now
applied by only four signatory states, Syrian refugees in Turkey are not part of an asylum
regime. Instead, they are given assistance and resettled in third countries under the
status of “temporary protection” (Bidinger, 2015). Turkey has pursued a Temporary
Protection (TP) open policy to all refugees fleeing Syria under the competency of the
newly established Directorate General of Migration Management. According to this
status, Syrians in Turkey have access to emergency, health, and education services but
their legal working rights are restricted. The new Law on Foreigners and International
Protection, Syrian Refugees came into effect on April 11, 2014. It provides rights and
benefits for “foreigners” in the country “in order to facilitate harmonization of the
society” (Ahmadzadeh et al., 2014). Since the Syrian crisis began in 2011, Turkey has
maintained an emergency response of a high standard, predominantly upholding an
open-door policy and ensuring non-refoulement. This approach, however, has had a
major shortcoming given the prolonged stay of Syrian refugees: the temporary protection
regime does not grant any working rights to those who are granted protection.
In Turkey, the number of displaced Syrian people almost doubled in 2015 after the
intensification of the conflict south of its border. The Turkish refugee camps became
increasingly crowded and could not host more people. The preexisting exploitative
working conditions of Syrian refugees worsened with this added influx of refugees. The
inability to find employment and make a decent living, in addition to several problems
pertaining to social integration, constitutes a major reason for seeking refuge in other
countries beyond Turkey and the Middle East region (Yavcan, 2016). Many of the Syrians
who have abandoned the first refuge location report that the lack of non-exploitative
employment opportunities that matched their skills, financial needs, concerns for
security and protection, search for better opportunities for their children, and the hope
for educational opportunities were all among the factors that lead to this geographic shift
in location.
While the data on the non-camp refugee population is limited, one obvious challenge for
this group of refugees relates to employment. While under the temporary protection
scheme, Syrians in Turkey can have access to health as well as some education and
social services; however, the lack of an existing legal framework for integration into the
labor market constitutes a major shortcoming. Turkish state officials acknowledge this
limitation and point to the internationally well-received new draft law which is set to
allow the Syrian population the right to apply for work permits within the industries
selected by provincial governance boards. As it stands, however, most Syrians still need
to work without a legal framework in order to survive. This has led to the creation of a
dual labor market where refugees are willing to work for two-thirds of the wages paid to
locals. Furthermore, with the arrival of more refugees from Syria, they face fierce
competition with other refugees for jobs, leading to a race to the bottom with regard to
paid wages. This situation has also resulted in various exploitative practices, lack of any
social security scheme, as well as inaccessibility of high-skilled jobs for refugees. A new
labor law passed in January 2016 provides refugees with the opportunity for integration
into the local labor market with less of a reason for secondary immigration. This law
allows the Syrian displaced population to apply for work permits with their employer’s
sponsorship and the availability of 10 percent foreigner quota for each workplace.
It is estimated that there are about 800,000 school-aged Syrian children in Turkey, most
of whom live outside of the camps and are deprived of basic necessities such as
accommodation, humanitarian aid, and education that are offered in the camps. Of those
800,000 eligible students, only 330,000 are enrolled in the education system, mostly in
Temporary Education Centers (TECs) as represented in Figure 5. The enrollment rates in
the AFAD-managed camp schools are over 95 percent, and the government partners with
the Ministry of National Education, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and the United
Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to provide educational services. Despite their
successful efforts to provide such services inside the camps, there remains a
significantly low enrollment rate outside of camps. Given that 61 percent of non-camp
refugees and 54 percent of camp refugees have only primary education or less,
education is currently a chief concern for international and governmental relief efforts in
Turkey (AFAD, 2014, p. 26).
Figure 5. The Enrollment and Non-Enrollment of Syrian Children across Public Schools and TECs as of
September 15, 2016 (Source: DGMM)
Number of
Number of
Number of
school age
Number of
students in
Number of
students in
Number of
school age
Syrians not
For the academic year 2014-2015, 34 TECs in the camps and 232 TECs outside the camps
were in operation in collaboration with several Turkish or Syrian foundations or non-
governmental organizations (NGOs) (HRW, 2015; UNICEF, 2015d). These schools provide
instruction in Arabic with some supplementary Turkish language instruction, free of
charge to all students. In 2016, 200 school buildings across the country were designated
to the service of Syrian students. An additional 170 buildings, such as NGO or
municipality buildings, were used as classrooms for these centers.
Table 7 below illustrates the existing and targeted enrollment rates at public schools,
camps, and temporary education centers at different schooling levels. The data has been
retrieved from a MEB communication to the Turkish Grand National Assembly.
Accordingly, only about 75,000 Syrians are enrolled in public schools with their Turkish
peers. Furthermore, in all public schools, camp schools and TECs, as we move from
primary school to middle school and high schools, the enrolment rate is reduced
Table 7. MEB January 2016 Figures on Existing and Targeted Enrollment of Syrian Refugees (Source:
Middle School
High School
Early in the Syrian crisis, it is estimated that there were about 4,000 Syrian students
enrolled in Turkish universities, until 2015-2016 when enrollment increased to around
10,000 students and more recently to around 14,000 students for 2016-17 as reported
by the Higher Education Council in 2016. The following table depicts the enrolment of
the Syrian refugee students pursuing different degrees across higher education
institutions in Turkey for the academic year 2016-17.
Table 8. Syrian Refugee Students Enrollment in Higher Education in Turkey 2016-17. (Source: Higher
Education Council, 2016)
Degree Level
Number of Students
Associate Degrees
Master’s Degrees
Doctoral Degrees
In 2013, the Government of Turkey (GoT) authorized the adoption of a revised Syrian
curriculum for TECs and in-camp schools, replacing the material on Bashar Al Assad with
Ottoman history and offering science, social science, math, and Turkish language
(UNHCR, 2014, p.26; Evin, 2014). The Syrian Education Curriculum provided a curriculum
in Arabic based on the Syrian one in around 700 classrooms in camps (ICC, 2014, p. 9).
Although the government had previously placed several restrictions on the operations of
international relief organizations and Syrian organizations in Turkey, in 2013, the GoT
allowed Syrian organizations to cooperate with Turkish counterparts to provide health
and educational services to refugees. In the past, according to Turkey’s Migration Policy
Center, in Antakya and Gaziantep, Syrian teachers were allowed to establish their own
curriculums in semi-official school set-up by Syrians themselves (MPC, 2013). On top of
that, an investigative piece by Al-Monitor indicated that in addition to the 32 schools
established in Reyhanlı, there were also illegal schools founded by the opposition and
some even by Al-Qaeda (Evin, 2014). In the 2015-2016 school year, with the new MEB
directive of September 2015, the regulations on the curriculums of these schools were
tightened in an attempt to standardize the curricular and other educational activities of
these schools.
Higher Education for Syrian Refugees in Turkey
Statistics about enrollment of Syrian refugees in higher education before the war show
that an estimated 26 percent of Syrian urban men and women, as well as 17 percent of
rural men and 15 percent of rural women, studied in college, at university, or had
vocational training (Fricke et al., 2014). Estimates from 2014 depict a plummet in the
percentages of Syrian students participating in higher education compared to pre-war
statistics. Of the students aged 18-24 and thus eligible for higher education, a mere 17
percent of internally displaced Syrians were enrolled; under 2 percent of refugees in
Turkey; 8 percent in Jordan; 6 percent in Lebanon; and 8 percent in Egypt (Cremonini,
Lorisika, Jalani, 2015). A more general estimate places the total participation of Syrians
aged 18-24 in higher education at 20 percent before the war and less than 5 percent in
2016 (EU Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis, 2016). In fact, only 1,463
male and female youth, adolescents and adults (constituting 2 percent of the targeted
74,855 individuals) had access to vocational training or higher education in 2016 (3RP
Regional Monthly Update, July 2016).
There are 104 public universities and 72 non-profit foundation universities in Turkey. The
Council of Higher Education (YÖK) oversees every institution of higher learning:
universities, institutes of high technology, post-secondary vocational schools, and
military and police academies (Council of Higher Education, 2014). The estimated
percentage of Syrians enrolled in higher education in Syria before the war was over 20
percent and as high as 26 percent. Using the estimate that approximately 10 percent of
Syrians in Turkey were between the ages 18-22 (officially placed at 847,266 but likely
over a million), the number of eligible refugees (who could not enter university after
secondary school or were forced to abandon their university studies) was between
20,000 and 30,000 in 2014 (Fricke et al., 2014). A mere 1,784 Syrian refugees, or 2
percent of the university-age group, enrolled in Turkish universities in the 2013-2014
academic year (Fricke et al., 2014).
There are a few avenues through which Syrian students can apply for admission to higher
education institutions in Turkey. Syrian refugees may apply to public and non-profit
foundation universities as regular international students, though they are subject to
public universities’ department quotas, or through government-funded scholarship
programs (Fricke et al., October 2014). All international students have to take the
admissions exam, Yabancı Uyruklu Öğrenci Sınavı (YÖS); however, since 2010 each
university has created its own version of the test in the language of its choice (Fricke et
al., 2014). Since 2013, Syrians under temporary protection were given the option to be
exempt from this exam and the right to apply to universities directly without an exam.
This was implemented first at seven universities in cities bordering Syria and then at all
universities across country. The development of the policies in this area has been
elaborated in the policies section of this report. Students may also be required to submit
national or international baccalaureate test results, high school transcripts and
diplomas, passports, Turkish residency documents, and language proficiency test
results (Fricke et al., 2014). The table below shows the number of Syrian refugee
students enrolled across five of the universities in Turkey.
Table 9. Top 5 Universities in Terms of Number of Syrian Students
Number of Students
Gaziantep University
Istanbul University
Karabük University
Mersin University
Kahramanmaraş Sütçü İmam University
Previously, Syrian students were able to apply for the Türkiye Bursları (Turkey
Scholarships Program), which gives 4,000 students access to public universities;
however, in 2014 the government announced that a total of 5,000 scholarships would
be given specifically to Syrian students (Fricke et al., 2014). According to current
statistics, over 3,000 Syrian students have been granted scholarships so far. The table
below depicts the number of students receiving scholarships in Turkey.
Table 10. Number of Syrian students receiving government scholarships through YTB at different stages
of tertiary education (Source: MEB and YÖK)
Type of Degree
Associate Degree (AA)
Bachelor’s Degree (BA)
Master’s Degree (MA)
Expertise in Medicine
Language Course
Many barriers still pose challenges to Syrian students seeking access to higher
education. It is noteworthy that the Turkish educational infrastructure could
accommodate only 925,000 of more than two million applicants for higher education in
2014 (Fricke et al., 2014). Syrians face many of the same adversities enrolling in higher
education in Turkey as they do in Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq, such as issues providing
proper documentation and authentic academic records from Syria, affording associated
education costs, and transferring credit from previous years of study. Studying in Turkey
is particularly difficult because most Syrians do not know Turkish, the main language of
instruction, or English: language barriers emerge as a problem even in the process of
researching universities and filling out applications (Fricke et al., 2014). Moreover, the
Turkish government has recognized the Syrian Interim Government’s baccalaureate
exam, allowing Syrians to apply to higher education institutions; however, the Interim
Government has failed to conduct the exam and award certificates in a timely manner,
barring Syrians from accessing higher education (UNICEF, 2015).
A number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and international NGOs (INGOs)
have sought to support Turkey’s efforts to provide for and integrate Syrian refugees. The
government, particularly the DGMM, has regulated the work of these NGOs. The Dutch
INGO, SPARK, is among these nonprofit actors having an impact on refugees’ lives
through support of education initiatives. It created the International Syrian University in
Exile (ISSUE), hosted by the University of Gaziantep, and began offering summer and
winter university sessions in June 2013 (Fricke et al., 2014). The university offers courses
lasting a maximum of three weeks taught by Syrian professors with a focus on rebuilding
post-conflict Syria (Ahmadzadeh et al., 2014). SPARK has also supported 200 Syrian
students in Turkey with scholarships for higher education as of 2016 (SPARK Turkey,
2016). Additionally, in 2013, Syrian businessman Ghassan Aboud founded the Orient
for Human Relief (OHR), based in Reyhanlı, which addresses the needs of post-secondary
education Syrian students by offering English and Turkish classes, preparatory courses
for international higher education exams, and vocational training to a few thousand
students each year (Fricke et al., 2014). OHR operates in the Nizip refugee camp with
permission from the Turkish government, also offering these educational programs to
Turkish citizens living in poverty (Fricke et al., 2014). Founded in October 2013 by
Syrians in Turkey, the Free Syrian University (FSU) is a nonprofit educational institution
offering ten different faculties of study for students unable to access Turkish universities
(Fricke et al., 2014). Remote learning is also available for students, as well as financial
aid; however, FSU lacks accreditation and so is not viewed favorably by some Syrian
students and academics (Fricke et al., October 2014).
Many groups have supplemented the Turkish government’s scholarships for Syrian
students with scholarships and grants. UNHCR initially awarded 12 students in Turkey
full scholarships through its Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative (DAFI)
(UNICEF, 2015), which increased to 70 students the following year, and most recently to
750 students. Additionally, UNICEF aided over 2,000 students whom enrolled in Turkish
language courses at Ankara University through the Turkish and Foreign Languages
Research and Application Center of Ankara University (TÖMER) program (UNICEF, 2015).
The Sampaio Foundation’s Global Platform for Syrian Students offers funding for tuition
and living costs for Syrian refugees, as do the Institute of International Education (IIE)
and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) (Jazar, 2015).
Rationale and Purpose of the Study
As the Syrian conflict has endured its fifth year without a clear end in sight, Syrian
refugees have entered a “protracted refugee situation” (PRS) (Fricke et al., 2014). Once
refugees have lived in exile for five years and entered PRS, the UNHCR estimates that
the average PRS length in the host country lasts twenty years (Fricke et al., 2014).
Higher education is of the utmost importance not only for post-conflict rebuilding, but
also for the present realities of Syrian refugees, as well as for the host country.
Studying in a university allows women to pursue careers rather than early marriages;
men in higher education similarly can provide a source of income after graduation and
are less likely to be radicalized by the fighters crossing the open Turkey-Syria border
(Fricke et al., 2014). Additional research into Syrian refugees’ access to higher
education in Turkey is paramount.
It is estimated that about 2.9 million Syrian refugees are in Turkey of the approximately
five million refugees displaced due to the civil war in Syria. Today, it is estimated that
Syrian refugees aged 18-24 years make up 443,244 of the refugee population in Turkey.
As of 2015, of the refugee students aged 18-24 and thus eligible for higher education,
less than 2 percent in Turkey enrolled in higher education but numbers increased in
2016. In 2017, the number of enrolled refugees in tertiary education in Turkey increased
to about 4 percent. It is important to explore the policy processes that led to the rapid
improvement during last year as well as to gain comparative insights from other contexts
with a perspective into higher enrollment rates in the future.
Furthermore, these statistics contrast with the relatively progressive legal framework
allowing for refugees to integrate into the higher education system. Therefore, it is
essential to explore the implementation stages of the higher education policies
implemented to identify the obstacles to refugee integration from both the demand side
and supply side.
The Turkish case offers some unique practice examples in terms of the ease in which
degree equivalency can be established, the way in which the refugees are granted
exceptions where no entrance exam score is required (as opposed to locals) and a very
high number of domestic and international scholarships offered to refugees. Therefore,
mapping the higher education policies targeting Syrian youth and exploring the
implementation of these policies is critical.
Therefore, this study aims to identify policies and practices that enable Syrian refugees
to access higher education in Turkey with the aim of understanding the challenges and
opportunities during this protracted crisis by investigating the perspectives of key
stakeholders. This report builds on research previously conducted and attempt to
answer the following questions:
1. What are the international, regional, and national legal frameworks and practiced
policies for provision for higher education for refugees?
2. What are the policies and practices of the different organizations and bodies
involved in the funding, planning, administering and providing higher education
opportunities for Syrian refugee students in Turkey?
3. What are the challenges facing the formulation, planning and execution of higher
education access for Syrian refugee students in Turkey?
The present study follows an exploratory qualitative approach that aims to gain insight
into the perceptions of the study participants and understand intra-subjective multiple
meanings of the policies, practices and perspectives on higher education for Syrian
refugees in Turkey. Current policies regarding refugee higher education are mapped
based on the laws and bylaws issued by state institutions involved in this process,
including regulations of Turkish Higher Education and Ministry of National Education as
well as Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) and the Presidency of
Turks Abroad and Related Communities (YTB). The press statements of these institutions
were also reviewed to understand any recent developments and the way they are framed
by different media outlets. Interviews were conducted with specialists in these
institutions, particularly aiming at providing an idea of the policies and trajectories into
the future. Interviews were also conducted with practitioners including sub-national
actors, such as higher education institutions, support institutions as well as NGOs
involved in the provision of higher education, and beneficiaries, namely Syrian refugee
students. Finally, interviews were conducted with the representatives of international
actors that impact on both policy and implementation.
Data Collection Procedure
The main tools for data collection included individual and focus group interview
protocols developed for this study. In addition, both the higher education and state
institutions’ websites and the informative material provided to study participants at the
time of the interviews were used to yield the statistical data on students. This data has
been augmented by statements of ministries in the press and recent research papers and
reports published.
Data was collected from multiple sources: (1) individual interviews with representatives
from the state institutions, from Turkish public and private universities, and from aid
(2) focus group interviews with Syrian refugee students in Turkey; (3) documented legal
frameworks and policies and procedures; (4) and online studies and journals. Thorough
desk and media reviews were conducted to survey policies and regulations governing
access of refugees to higher education.
Research Participants
This study included sixteen interviews that were conducted with universities and NGOs
in Turkey. The universities interviewed have been identified based on the student
distribution data provided by the YÖK.
The individuals interviewed were mainly sought through a media analysis, as there are
certain names and officials in press releases at these universities or through other
contacts known at the institution. The NGOs interviewed were also selected with a similar
method. In addition to media releases and previous contacts, a thorough analysis of the
projects of various ministries which were carried out with different NGOs provided lead
information on identifying key stakeholders within the higher education sector in the
In addition to the interviews, three different focus group discussions were conducted in
two neighboring cities of Syria, namely Gaziantep and Şanlıurfa with prospective and
existing university students. The focus group discussions aimed at providing an
understanding of the perceptions of the implementation of the policies governing the
access and retention of Syrian refugee students in higher education institutions across
Turkey. The participants for these focus group discussions were selected with a snowball
technique via contacts at local NGOs, universities and university clubs. The selection
criteria ensured variation in gender, field of study, age/year of study, language of
instruction in program enrolled (Turkish vs. Arabic), socio-economic status, scholarship
status and city of origin.
The first two focus groups were conducted with students enrolled at four different
universities, namely Gaziantep University (public, includes programs in Arabic), Harran
University (public), Hasan Kalyoncu University (private-Turkish) and Zahraa University
(private-Syrian) respectively. These focus group discussions yielded data on difficulties
in accessing higher education and after enrolling, the level of satisfaction with academic
and administrative processes at their institutions, the factors that affect their
achievement and retention, their relations with their peers from the host society, and
their future plans. A third focus group was conducted with college age Syrian youth who
have not accessed higher education yet or dropped out of the system. This focus group
discussion identified the reasons that led to the exclusion of these students.
Table 11. Focus Groups Conducted
Focus Group
Status of Students
Number of
Number of Female
Meeting I
Meeting II
Meeting III
Data Analysis
The researcher followed the procedure for interpretive data analysis and treated the case
as a comprehensive case in and of itself following the guidelines provided by Merriam
(2009). The analysis progressed in three phases: (1) data preparation, which involved
the transcription of interviews and the write up of notes; (2) data identification, which
included the coding and organization of the data of the text into analytically meaningful,
and easily locatable segments; (3) and data manipulation, which included the finding,
sorting, retrieving, and rearranging of segments of data in order to interpret the findings
while accounting for both the emic and etic perspectives.
The results reported address the three research questions of this study pertaining to: (1)
The legal frameworks and practiced policies for provision of higher education for
refugees in Turkey, (2) the policies and practices of different organizations and bodies
involved providing higher education opportunities for Syrian refugee students in Turkey,
and (3) the challenges facing the formulation, planning and execution of higher
education access for Syrian refugee students in Turkey.
Legal Frameworks and Policies: Policies, Programs & Support
International and Regional Legal Frameworks
Turkey is a signatory of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, according to which refugees
have a right to education, particularly basic education. The Universal Declaration of
Human Rights is the basis of the UNHCR mandate around the world and in Turkey. While
the aforementioned exemplify the international frameworks surrounding the refugee
integration policies regarding higher education, study participants report that there is
limited involvement and lack of prioritization of the issue of access to higher education
by the international community. Previous research confirms that higher education has
been largely ignored in emergency situations, with the focus of educational development
and aid aimed at meeting the Education for All and Millennium Development Goal targets
of primary education (Dryden-Peterson, 2012).
National Educational Policies and Frameworks
The Turkish Law on Foreigners and International Protection and the Temporary Protection
Law, which specifically refers to higher education, constitute the basis of
UNHCR’s work in Turkey and provide a national framework. Despite the global trends
towards supporting primary education for Syrian refuges in host countries, national
higher education policies have followed quite a progressive pattern in Turkey. As
indicated in the section describing the Turkish higher education system, even before
the arrival of the Syrian refugees many international students enrolled in Turkish higher
education institutions, such as Iranians and Azerbaijanis. The Higher Education Council
of Turkey reports that the current legislation allows universities in Turkey to determine
the number of international students they would like to accept each academic year. The
number of international students an institution can accept is 50 percent of the number
of Turkish students enrolled at that university.
Until 2013, Syrians were subject to the same university admissions criteria as other
international students. Specifically, they had to provide Turkish state-recognized
(equivalency established) high school diplomas, and passports. Then, Syrian students
applied to universities that require them to take a YOS (Foreign Student Exam). However,
the Higher Education Council of Turkey took a series of decisions in 2013 facilitating the
Syrians’ access to higher education. Several legislations and bylaws were passed, such
as easing transfer processes, relaxing the original documentation submission for degree
equivalency, providing a high school completion test option (in the absence of a high
school diploma), a university fee waiver system for all Syrian students and availability of
large number of state scholarships through YTB.
Policy Impacts
Policy Impact on Access and Documentation
Some of the decisions made by the Higher Education Council of Turkey in 2013 allowed
Syrian refugee students to transfer their studies to a higher education institution given
that they had the required authenticated documentation and academic records. In the
absence of such documentation, students were accepted as special students at seven
universities across the country and allowed to transfer their completed credits upon
authentication of their academic records. Despite this procedure, the challenge of
obtaining academic records or high school degrees was echoed as one of the challenges
facing the Syrian refugee students in pursuing their studies. Despite the efforts made by
the state institutions to facilitate admission processes, many universities introduce
additional requirements that are perceived as challenges to access, as reported by one
of the study participants:
Every university is like a country, requiring different documents and admission
processes. While it is understandable for universities to have autonomy, there
shouldn’t be this many differences across them.
(Gaziantep Focus Group Participant Number 5)
High school diploma equivalency and high school proficiency and equivalency exams
are required for accessing higher education as per the Ministry of Education bylaw
2014/21. As a result, provincial MEB offices were assigned to issue high school diploma
equivalency to Syrian prospective students with proper documentation, which could be
a copy of their high school diploma. This is important, because prior to their arrival to
Turkey a number of the prospective Syrian students had applied to and were admitted to
programs at Syrian universities. This bylaw allows these students to establish their
diploma equivalency in the absence of original documents. Additionally, students get a
second option if they fail to establish equivalency of their diplomas, which is the 12th
grade high school proficiency test. About 5,000 students are reported to have taken the
exam in 2015. Over 7,000 students were reported to take the exam in 2016. The exam is
conducted by MEB at the temporary education centers in the cities with high numbers of
Syrians, namely Adana, Adiyaman, Ankara, Batman, Gaziantep, Hatay, Istanbul,
Kahramanmaras, Kilis, Konya, Malatya, Mardin, Mersin, Osmaniye and Sanliurfa. The
applicants need to have their information entered into the ministry’s system for foreign
students called YOBIS and this is mostly done by registering at a temporary education
center with their temporary protection identification card.
Policy Impact on Access and Financing of Higher Education
The Higher Education Council directive dated 18/06/2014 provided Syrian refugee
students a tuition waiver within the public university system, which later became
extended to all universities in Turkey. Furthermore, with the passing of the cabinet of
ministers’ decree of 2014/6787, all Syrians are exempt from paying tuition fees at all
public universities when pursuing a bachelor’s degree. This policy has been extended to
include two-year associate degrees and graduate degrees with the cabinet of ministers’
decree of 2015/8040. Student study participants reported the positive impacts of these
policy procedures on their access and retention within higher education institutions in
Policy Impact on Access and Language of Instruction
Language is probably the biggest obstacle for Syrians’ integration into the higher
education system in Turkey, a problem faced in many refugee and migration situations
(Erisman and Looney, 2007). Besides the expansion of TÖMER courses offered by
universities in the region after admission, which have high fees, the Higher Education
Council issued a regulation allowing the universities in the region to offer programs in
Arabic. As of the 2016-2017 academic year, the Higher Education Council has granted
permission to establish higher education programs in Arabic language at universities in
Hatay, Gaziantep and Sanliurfa. For instance, in Hatay, this mandate covers 32 different
degree programs. It should be noted that some of these programs at these universities
are not fully operational yet, as they experience difficulties in filling the quotas for these
paid programs with a special tuition fee. Also, within the scope of the challenges
presented by the language of instruction, study participants reported that most
universities place students in the same classes with little attention to the varying levels
of Turkish proficiency. In addition to the crowded classrooms that result, students are
faced with inexperienced instructors who lack training particularly in the language
teaching area.
A number of challenges emerged through the study at the implementation stage of the
policies outlined above, such as the difficulty in ensuring common standards with
university admission processes. Universities across the country ask for different types of
documentation from prospective students, an issue evident both from the interviews
conducted with NGOs on the field and the focus groups. Nevertheless, there is no single
institution/NGO that provides counseling regarding all of this information to the
prospective students, a shortcoming addressed by both the Higher Education Council
representative and the participants in the focus groups. This leads to misinformed
students, which is common across young refugees and asylum seekers in accessing
relevant educational advice and information (Gateley, 2015).
Additionally, universities may offer prospective Syrian students the opportunity to take
the Foreign Student Exam to increase their chances of accessing the institutions. Most
students show interest in taking this exam to increase their chances of getting accepted.
However, not all universities offer this exam regularly and when they do, as indicated by
the students in the focus groups conducted, the weight of different subjects differ from
one university to the other. Therefore, it is not possible for prospective students to
prepare for a standardized exam. Secondly, students need to pay 100 to 200 Turkish Lira
(TL) to take this exam in addition to the application fees, presenting the added burden
of finances that Syrian refugee students struggle with. When the potential transportation
and lodging costs associated with the entire application process is added, this process
creates a major economic burden on the already limited funds of refugee students.
Among the programs in place to support Syrian refugee students to access higher
education in Turkey are the ones put forth and implemented by UNHCR. In collaboration
with YTB, UNHCR has awarded 1,600 TÖMER scholarships across 11 cities and several
refugee camps to improve Turkish language abilities. The UNHCR’s DAFI program awards
scholarship to students where they are seeking asylum. It is largely funded by the
German Foreign Ministry and in collaboration with YTB. For 2014-15, 12 scholarships
were awarded in Turkey, and the number reached 70 scholarships in 2015-2016. For
2016-2017, the number dramatically increased and 750 refugee recipients will be
awarded this scholarship that involves all registration costs, medical insurance and a
1,000 TL stipend. Three hundred of the awardees will also get their university TÖMER
costs covered.
UNHCR also collaborates with and funds several NGOs across Turkey that work mainly on
refugee protection and channel the information and feedback they receive from the field
to the authorities. As part of this process, UNHCR is currently mobilizing a workshop with
MEB provincial officials and central agency for better policy coordination and
harmonization of implementation within the higher education sector.
Another international initiative addressing higher education prospects of Syrian
refugees in Turkey is the Higher and Further Education Opportunities and Perspectives
for Syrians (HOPES) program. HOPES is a direct reaction to the Syrian crisis with the
objective of empowering young people from Syria to build their own career paths by
directly addressing their education needs. Funded by the European Union’s Regional
Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis - The Madad Fund - the project provides a
wide range of educational programs to Syrian refugees in host countries across Turkey,
Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq. The portfolio includes academic counseling to up to
42,000 young Syrians regionally, language courses to 4,000 students, more than 300
full academic scholarships and higher education short courses for more than 3,500
student refugees. HOPES is implemented by the German Academic Exchange Service
(DAAD) in collaboration with its partners from the British Council, Campus France and EP-
Figure 6. Implementation Plan of HOPES
A third international initiative in supporting Syrian refugees’ access to higher education
in Turkey is the SPARK fellowship program supported by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign
Affairs. To respond to the growing demand for higher education, SPARK established its
presence in Turkey in 2012, running projects in Syria and supporting the Syrian
community in Turkey. Since then, its Turkey office has set up five higher education
institutions inside Syria, accommodating hundreds of students, and has offered a wide
range of activities for Syrian students in Turkey.
SPARK scholarships provide student tuition fees, other allowances such as local
transportation, study materials, monthly stipend, might be supported depending on the
educational program. After organizing a Summer University in 2013, SPARK continued to
organize a Winter University the year after. Together with the United Kingdom-based
Asfari Foundation, SPARK set up the Gaziantep Youth Entrepreneurship Programme to
assist 100 students in setting up their own businesses. In cooperation with Gaziantep
University, SPARK also organized the 10-week Conflict Sensitive Project Cycle
Management Summer Course for 50 Syrian students. Moreover, in cooperation with
Gaziantep University, SPARK set up multiple scholarship schemes for Syrians,
supporting over 200 students so far.
Target Groups:
Syrian refugees
Young people in
host communities
Campus France
Work Package:
Dialogue, Networks
Information Tools
Branch Office
British Council
Work Package:
Higher Education
English Access
Branch Offices
Cairo and Erbil
Work Package:
Counselling and
Scholarship Fund
Head Office
Work Package:
Calls for Proposals for
term Projects
Branch Office
One of the most popular programs for providing language training, the TÖMER program
has been established at universities in the provinces with dense Syrian populations.
However, the training of the faculty at these institutions is not standardized, and low
budgets mean that classroom sizes may be too big and the quality of course material
differs from one place to the other. This issue was highlighted by some language schools
and TÖMER certified school officials as well as focus group participants. In addition to
TÖMER programs, universities offer degrees in Arabic per the new regulations. Gaziantep
University for instance offered 28 different programs with tuitions ranging from 1,300
USD to 2,500 USD in the 2015-2016 academic year. The interview conducted with an
international office representative of Gaziantep University further provided the
information that there are 307 students enrolled in these Arabic programs, and over half
of them (171) are scholarships recipients.
In addition to the programs highlighted, there are private universities that exist outside
the national framework and are set up by several foundations from across the world. One
that was interviewed for this project was Zarha University in Gaziantep. In this institution,
with engineering, theology, education, and administrative sciences faculty, the
instructors all speak Arabic and the language of instruction is Arabic. It is a Sudan-based
institution which was established with support from Zakat Foundation and El-Fenar.
Currently there are about 150 students enrolled in various departments. One of them
participated in our focus group discussions and indicated the following:
When I came to Turkey, I worked at restaurants, car wash places. I didn’t feel like
continuing to study when I came here. I was depressed and psychologically not ready
to go back to school. I went to a free Turkish course offered by the municipality but I
dropped out, as our teacher was quite prejudiced. I went to another municipality
course, this time paid, and it was so much better. I got placed in Agri University
Pharmacy program but I didn’t want to study that, so I started at Zahra to the
computer engineering program on a full scholarship. I know my degree may not be
recognized by the Turkish state, but I am planning on going back to Syria anyhow.
(Gaziantep Existing student focus group Participant 7)
As the Higher Education Council of Turkey does not accredit this institution, the
graduates do not expect to receive a diploma recognized by Turkey. This institution
targets especially those students that had a hard time integrating into the Turkish higher
education system in terms of language and certification and students who plan to go
back to Syria when the conflict is over.
Financial Support
As indicated earlier, a number of scholarships are available for Syrian refugees who are
interested in pursuing higher education in Turkey. Some of the DAFI scholarships are
offered to students pursuing their undergraduate education, in addition to one year
TÖMER Turkish language training, covering any tuitions or fees. For example, within the
DAFI program, students enrolled in undergraduate programs receive 1,000 Turkish Lira
(about 330 USD), those in graduate level programs receive 1,250 Turkish Lira (about 400
USD) and those enrolled in PhD programs receive 1,500 Turkish Lira (about 500 USD) per
month. Among these, increasing numbers of DAFI scholarships are awarded to Syrian
students in collaboration with YTB. These numbers are more than what Turkish students
receive in scholarships or loans and exemplify an important social inclusion mechanism
for refugee youth. Table 10 below shows the number of Syrian students receiving
government scholarships through YTB at different stages of higher education.
Table 12. Number of Syrian students receiving government scholarships through YTB at different stages
of higher education (Source: MEB and YÖK)
Type of Degree
Associate's Degree
Bachelor's Degree (BA)
Master’s Degree (MA)
Expertise in Medicine
Language Course
In addition to YTB scholarships, internationally supported institutions such as SPARK
and DAAD also provide similar scholarships for Syrian students.
Academic Support
Academic support emerged as a critical factor not only in retaining Syrian refugee
students in study programs within higher education institutions in Turkey, but also in the
preparation of prospective students for the university admissions. Two of the sources of
academic support that study participants highlighted are information sharing and
language training. Information sharing means informing the students about their
alternatives in applying for universities and directing them with regards to the necessary
documentation they need when applying. As this is a very dynamic policy area, the rules
and regulations change quickly and stakeholders are not aware of their rights and
opportunities immediately. For instance, when the high school degree qualification and
equivalency tests were offered by the MEB for the first time, many students were not
aware and missed the exam. Since this exam was offered only once a year, an issue
criticized by many in the field, prospective students had to wait another year to take the
exam. This challenge contributed to bureaucratic hurdles and lack of communication
between different institutions such as DGMM and MEB, consequently keeping a number
of Syrian refugee students outside universities.
Information Sharing
The actors providing information on higher education range from state actors to
international institutions and local NGOs. Many local NGOs investigate these regulations
and transfer this knowledge to their clients as evidenced by their case files. Some have
special organizations such as meetings with youth or informative sessions to
disseminate this new information. State organizations also share this information via
their websites and frequent press releases as evidenced by the coverage of the issue in
the media. Also, social media is extensively used by international organizations and
NGOs, as well as by the Syrian refugee youth themselves.
Language Support
The second dimension of academic support prior to enrollment relates to language
training. While students are not required to submit language proficiency at the time of
their initial registration for the higher education programs, they are immediately directed
to the Turkish proficiency exam upon registering, followed by a preparatory period where
they improve their Turkish language skills. Study participants indicated that students
face language difficulties when reading materials, not when discussing or writing. It was
reported that additional Turkish instruction or tutoring is also needed to better
comprehend what is being taught in class. Some students indicated they attend the
different sections of the same class as a way to repeat material. The challenges with
language are not specific to the Turkish language. Many Syrian refugee students also
face similar difficulties in English language instruction.
Most universities, especially those in areas densely populated by Syrians, offer state
certified language training programs coordinated by a central TÖMER. However, some
universities do not have this institutional capacity and students need to complete their
language training elsewhere to obtain a C-1 level certificate, further delaying their access
to higher education.
It is important to note that even when universities have a language training capacity, the
fees for this training differ from one institution to another and are quite costly. The high
fees associated with preparatory stage exam participation have are also highlighted by
Stevenson and Willott (2007) in the British context. In Turkey, for instance at Harran
University in Şanlıurfa, in order to obtain a C1 certificate students are expected to
complete 960 hours of language coursework which costs 3,888 TL (about 1,300 USD).
On the other hand, at Dilmer, a private MEB certified language school in Istanbul, the
accelerated C1 certificate requires six months of intensive language training for about
1,600 USD.
As illustrated earlier, YTB and some international organizations give scholarships for
these language courses. YTB even offers the courses free of charge to Syrians in camps
and have started to offer them in urban settings as well. The following table illustrates
the number of students who successfully passed the exam and obtained a C-1 certificate
free of charge through these courses on and off camp setting.
Table 13. Number of students obtaining a C-1 language training certificate through YTB sponsored
# of
Another approach for language training of the Syrian refugees is supported through
language trainings offered by various NGOs that serve in community centers across the
country, such as the Turkish Red Crescent, International Middle East Peace Research
Center Humanitarian (IMPR). For instance a local NGO in Kayseri called Hilalder
implemented a small-scale project to this effect with a grant they took from the Turkish
Ministry of Youth and Sport. Using their existing educational infrastructure in the form of
classrooms, the NGO started the project in February of 2014 and implemented it with
1,728 hours of Turkish classes with four teachers, 50 hours of psych-social counseling
with one counselor, 240 hours academic advising with four teachers to a total of 140
students in Kayseri. Ninety-eight students completed the program (30 percent women)
which also involved peer-to-peer counseling via the NGOs existing Turkish student body-
volunteers in this case. All of these students were then placed at the university (most in
Kayseri) and they all passed the Turkish proficiency exam and directly started their
degree programs.
University Level Academic Support
While the practices for academic support may slightly differ from one institution to the
other, once students are admitted to the institution, most of them are assigned to an
academic advisor upon starting their degree program and given an orientation session
targeting international students. Nevertheless, there is no systematic procedure for a
proactive academic support that involves tracking their attendance and grades.
However, there are several support programs implemented by some universities in
collaboration with local or international donors. For instance, Gaziantep University
collaborated with the Dutch NGO SPARK to have a two-week workshop for Syrian youth
on emergency management, restructuring mechanism, transition economy and
entrepreneurship, media and communication and research methods. About 130 Syrians
between the ages of 18 to 35 participated in the program (Yeni Cizgi, 2016). At
Bahçeşehir University, a special program has been organized for the Syrian students and
their families with a specific focus on language learning opportunities and job search
with the attendance of about 200 participants.
Despite the efforts put forth by many institutions of higher education, some challenges
persist, such as the problem of student attendance. All university personnel
participating in the study indicated that Syrian students tend to skip classes more often
than other students, and that they need ways to be able to better monitor students’
attendance. There are no central statistics tracked and provided by Higher Education
Council for Turkish or international students attendance/dropout rates. However the
study provides some insights into the issue. The issue of attendance is exacerbated at
public universities where the non-attendance rates for Syrians reach at 50 percent. These
results indicate that part of this attendance problem relates to the lack of socialization
into the university atmosphere and its rules and regulations, as well as economic
difficulties requiring these students to work to generate income. Additionally, it was
reported that some students skip classes as they have a hard time following class
discussions given the language barrier.
Academic Performance
In terms of academic performance, the study presents mixed results. Although some
Syrian refugee students have been performing very well at some universities in Turkey,
constituting a reason for pride for both the university and the Syrian community, most
students perform poorly. The YTB scholarships have a constructive way of dealing with
poor performance. Students’ scholarships are not immediately annulled after they
obtain low grades. Instead, first they are put on a probationary period and given the
opportunity to improve their grades. If their grades are not improved during the
probationary period, only part of their scholarship is reduced with a possibility to be
increased again, given they achieve better grades. This process provides a transitional
period for students, many of whom already struggle because of their refugee status.
It was found that one of the factors contributing to the students’ poor academic
performance is the direct access to university without a placement test. The academic
advisors and faculty members participating in the study indicated that the direct access
policy is critical for providing social inclusion of the students, but it has major
implications on the students’ academic performance. One participant indicated:
There is a greater variation in their school performance as compared to the
Turkish students. This is mainly because we accept all students who apply
without an elimination or ranking.
It is argued that there should be a central ranking mechanism for Syrian refugee students
to consider their emergency conditions, or universities should be allowed to administer
their own placement exam. Student participants also addressed the challenge
presented by the academic performance as they expressed frustration with the lack of a
central system and standards for their ranking and placement. Some indicated that they
would be willing to take an exam with other Syrian students that would rank them and
place them according to their university choice, as is the case for Turkish students.
Legal Counseling Support
Struggling with finances and academic challenges, it becomes essential to provide
Syrian refugee students with legal counseling in order for them to be well informed of the
requirements for accessing higher education in Turkey. Several NGOs provide this kind
of support to prospective Syrian students. Most NGOs such as IMPR, Association for
Solidarity with Asylum-Seekers and Migrants (ASSAM), and Hilalder hold information
sessions for higher education-aged youth informing them about the procedural
requirements, the time and content of high school equivalency tests offered by Ministry
of National Education of Turkey, and scholarship opportunities. Study participants
indicated that NGOs try to help when universities reject the students. The legal
counseling and information-sharing is also essential for institutions, as many seem to
operate using outdated information on the bylaws.
Other Support
Other forms of support are made available to Syrian refugee students within the higher
education sector, such as efforts to assist them to become more socially integrated.
Some universities indicate that Syrian refugee students are not very engaged in social
activities such as student clubs at the university. Some of the students may join the
international students club where they socialize with other international students, but
not members of the host society. This voluntary exclusion poses a challenge to their
integration among the student body. These results are consistent with the findings of
Sezgin and Yolcu’s (2016) focus groups with Syrian students at Osmaniye University. It
was reported that three students of the 11 surveyed indicated that they are members of
student clubs. Most university administrators interviewed indicated that they have not
heard or witnessed major inter-group conflict among groups, a finding also supported by
Sezgin and Yolcu (2016). However, the students participating in this study reported that
at times of tension with Turkish students, they feel marginalized. “This is Turkey, you
cannot do it your way” is a remark they explained they receive which accentuates their
exclusion and out-group identity. Some of the students also reported that at times they
feel that some Turkish students are resentful towards them for entering the university
without an exam. Nevertheless, their tension with the local population in some locations
is higher than in others and refugees are blamed for “stealing their bread”, “taking away
their jobs”. These tensions, explained the participants, become exacerbated every time
they speak Arabic on the street.
Some universities put forth efforts to bring both cultures closer to each other through
social activities on campuses. For example, in January of 2016 “Art Days for Syria and
Turkey” is an event that was organized at Harran University in Şanlıurfa. Supported by
the Danish Refugee Council and organized by a fine arts academy, participants engaged
in creative drama and acting classes and painting, where they created a collective “One
Picture 20 Hands” painting, played and sang Turkish and Syrian songs. A pre-post survey
of the initiative indicated a positive change in the participants’ intergroup perceptions.
Study participants expressed a strong desire for similar programs that would allow them
to engage more with the Turkish students.
Many Syrian refugees who are within the higher education age group seek access to
higher education in Turkey. Results highlighted the challenges and barriers from the
perspectives of the participants that hinder the access of these young refugees to the
higher education sector in the country. All of the student study participants
acknowledged the determination and goodwill of the Turkish state in improving the
integration of refugees into the educational system, especially at the higher level.
There remains room for improvement in harmonized implementation of policies despite
the major progress that has been in Turkey.
Financial Barrier
State institutions in Turkey put forth a number of policy reforms in order to bring down
the cost of accessing higher education for Syrian refugees in the country, such as the YTB
scholarships. These efforts are complimented by the scholarships provided by
international organizations across the country, such as DAFI and SPARK. However, given
the dire socioeconomic situation many of these students live in, making ends meet and
earning a living remains a burden beyond the university costs. Financing higher
education is a major challenge for Syrian refugee students. Many of these students need
to work to support their families and cannot afford language fees or application fees, let
alone sustain themselves during college without working. Scholarships are an important
but short-term solution. The turbulence in students’ financial status leads to missed
opportunities as well as a waste of time and funds, as reported by one of the student
study participants:
I have been all over the place. First, I went to TÖMER at Siirt University because it is
cheaper. Then I got accepted to second shift program at Gaziantep University, but I
didn’t go because it costs about 6,000 Turkish TL. Just so that I do not get distant from
school, I studied theology at unaccredited Zahra University for a year. Finally, I got
SPARK scholarship, now I study at the Arabic Business Administration Program.
Normally, it costs money, but my tuition is paid by
Academic Barrier
Issues of language and academic qualifications present challenges for Syrian refugee
students pre- and post-enrolment. Turkish language proficiency is reported as a
necessary precondition for access and success, with the exception of a few Arabic
programs. Additionally, students who choose to pursue the Turkish language are faced
with the burden of paying high fees of TÖMER, or engaging with inexperienced instructors
who lack training in the language teaching. Additionally, language is reported to be a key
factor in the retention of the Syrian refugee students in higher education institutions
across in Turkey.
Lack of Academic and Career Counseling
“Study in college? For what?” This was echoed among the students study participants as
they expressed their frustrations in prospective jobs after graduation from higher
education institutions in Turkey. Many explained that as long as refugees do not have
the right to work, it would be difficult to establish an incentive structure for refugees to
pursue their higher education.
Additionally, many of these students are driven to courses of study by the scholarship
they obtain or the “less expensive” opportunities they come across, with no attention
being given to the demand within the local and global labor market, nor the students’
The January 2015 law enabling the refugees to apply for work permits was an important
step. However, employers need to pay about 2,000 TL to apply for this permit, most
refugees and employers are unaware of the associated paperwork, and more
importantly, employers now will have to pay much higher wages (according to Turkish
minimum wage standards). As a result, currently only about 3,000 permits have been
Dim future employment prospects upon graduation constitute another barrier to
accessing higher education. Given the current law, refugee graduates of Turkish
universities are not treated differently in terms of their work permit applications as
compared to other Syrian refugees in the country. All Syrians have to have an employer
sponsoring their employment, and this employer should have no more than 10 percent
of sponsored employees based on its number of workers. Allowing refugee students to
work upon graduation legally in Turkey would provide a natural next step for them.
Legal Documents
The availability of legal documents presents another challenge. The state addressed the
challenge by accepting copies of refugees’ high school degrees to establish degree
equivalency. Furthermore, for students who fail to provide this kind of documentation,
the Turkish Ministry of Education offers 12th grade equivalency tests for students to use
when applying to colleges. Although a number of policy reforms have been achieved in
order to allow Syrian refugees to access higher education in the absence of academic
records, the availability of these legal documents remain essential for the sustainability
of their status at the institution. Additionally, it was reported that the varying and
constantly changing policies regulating admission processes at universities across the
country present added challenges in the capacity of presenting the required legal
Other Challenges
The challenge of fitting into the host society is not uncommon among refugee situations.
However, this challenge becomes a barrier among students at universities, where they
are perceived to be in competition with the local host community. One of the students
study participants explained:
Have you all entered the university without an exam unlike us? Do all you take
1,200 TL scholarship from the government?’ These are the things we keep
hearing from our Turkish classmates. We took a graduation exam in Syria and
only some of us are on a scholarship. There are so many misperceptions.
(Sanliurfa, Focus Group Participant Number 4)
These challenges may not necessarily influence the access of the Syrian refugees to
higher education, but rather contribute to the risk of dropout and feelings of exclusion.
The study illustrates that in terms of the legal framework, many policies have been
implemented in Turkey in the last three years targeting the inclusion of Syrians in the
national higher education system. Some of these relate to language training, while
others relate to certification and transfer and access to Turkish universities.
Additionally, scholarships are provided to Syrian students. Current figures indicate that
one third of all Syrian students are on a scholarship. Furthermore, Arabic programs are
being offered for the first time at Gaziantep University and are expected to spread to
other institutions. These are very important improvements that play a significant role in
providing access and retention for Syrian refugee students in higher education in
Nevertheless, some issues exist mostly at the implementation level, creating obstacles
for Syrians’ access to higher education. Policy recommendations are listed and
discussed below.
The policy recommendations will be proposed along the following dimensions:
Bureaucracy/information dissemination
Language proficiency
Economic reasons hindering access
International cooperation
Lack of clear future prospects
Short Term Policy Recommendations
1) The bureaucracy surrounding the certification of previous degrees and admission
to colleges is an issue of major concern for those interviewed for this study. The
first aspect of this relates to the implementation of MEB directives on equivalence
by provincial offices. This requires better information dissemination both across
the institutions and from institutions to individual refugee applicants.
Among these implementation challenges, a common/central system for ranking and
potentially placing students is an issue raised by both academic advisors and
students. Students are frustrated with the existing system as explained by one of the
How come no university accepts me to a department I want, even though I am so
successful and determined? Why are people with a worse record than I are placed in
engineering, and I am not? What did I do wrong?
From the academic advisors’ perspectives, this would allow better-ranked students to be
placed in better institutions and less variation among refugee students in a university.
From the perspective of international organizations, standards are necessary while
respecting the autonomy of the universities. This could be achieved by centrally
disseminating the varying requirements of universities along with their Syrian and other
foreign student quotas and exam dates. Additionally, a more centralized system can be
set up where students submit their application files and are then placed by YÖK, which
is partly done at the moment within the Syrian quota. Nevertheless, students tend to
be willing to explore all potential options in order to be placed at their most desired
program. In a more strict sense, Syrians can take an Arabic placement test for ranking
and placement like their Turkish counterparts, however this would mean inserting a new
process and potential hurdle for students to overcome. Also, it could pose some threats
at the implementation stage. Currently, students who live in Syria can apply for
undergraduate programs in Turkey without coming to Turkey. If there is a test, it could be
hard to implement geographically. Either way, a centralized structure should ensure
better information dissemination about changes in the policy area and clear road maps
for students.
In line with this issue, it is recommended that the Turkish government engages in efforts
to develop and ratify the “Arab Convention on Regulating the Refugee Situation in the
Arab Region” and its adoption. This includes the introduction of a specific provision on
the right of education in the current text of the Arab Convention.
2) Students’ educational standards need to be better harmonized across
institutions when they begin their studies at a local university through the TÖMER
courses offered. These include but not limited to the following:
Students may be placed in TÖMER based on level of language proficiency at
different language levels.
Setting a quota for the number of students for TÖMER programs across
TÖMER programs constitute a major cost for Syrian students. Some subsidization
could allow lower prices comparable to courses outside the university or the
number of scholarship to covering only TÖMER costs could be offered like DAFI
3) Students who attend the courses at universities do not seem to have major
performance problems. Nevertheless, some catch-up courses or boot camps
could be offered to help the students re-integrate when they drop out of the
system. Academically, better tracking and preventive response mechanisms are
needed in order to address non-attendance and drop out of students. Information
on Syrian refugee student dropouts from higher education is still not available for
a more informed plan to address this challenge.
4) The financial situation of many of the students also leads them to drop out of
universities. The scholarships offered for continuing students is an important
step. An increase in the number of scholarships offered would definitely ease the
students’ suffering and increase the number of students who are qualified and
interested in pursuing higher education. Improving students’ financial situation
may also be accomplished through offering these students opportunities for work
and study. Many of the study participants showed interest in formally working on
or off campus in order to provide financial support to themselves and their
families beyond higher education costs. A regulation to this effect would allow
them to support themselves while being gainfully employed at higher wages.
5) Raising awareness of the importance of higher education for refugees both locally
and globally and facilitating better collaboration channels/methods with and
among INGOs/ NGOs is essential.
6) Expand access to high quality secondary education as a path towards tertiary,
vocational and technical education for refugees, recognizing that post-primary
education in all its forms can support transition to work, sustainable livelihoods
and durable solutions for displaced persons.
7) Develop a Higher Education Management Information System (HEMIS) to track
students’ progress and drop out in light of youth mobility. Such a system would
include nationals as well as refugees.
Long Term Policy Recommendations
1) Improving the socio-economic status of Syrian refugees: Addressing the financial
constraints faced by the Syrian refugee population in Turkey is an issue beyond higher
education students. One of the study participants explained:
It is because child labor, and child labor is because of a lack of a
widespread right of legal employment. If the fathers could work in decent
jobs where they are paid official wageeven if it is minimum wage, their
children would not have to go to work, and would go to school and then
(Sanliurfa Focus Group Participant Number 7)
Many of the Syrian refugees who are of higher education age are also responsible to
provide for their families. Therefore, they are burdened with the responsibility of not only
managing the cost of education and language learning, but also making sure their
families are able to survive. From a long-term perspective, a holistic approach is
necessary to address the underlying reasons for potential of exclusion from higher
education. Experts and students alike named economic issues as an important direct
and indirect reason for exclusion. Scholarships can only temporarily address these
issues, while raising the living standards of the refugees or better yet allowing them to
raise their own living standards could increase their educational integration in a more
sustainable way.
The January 2015 law enabling the refugees to apply for work permits represents one of
the initiatives put forth by the Turkish government was an important step. However,
certain restrictions present the employers with difficulties in employing Syrian refugees.
More progressive steps need to be taken in integrating adult, working age refugees in the
labor market with a joint approach to control the informal economy so that children and
youth can transition to higher education following their primary education.
The scholarships provided for Syrian refugees by YTB, INGOs and NGOs are very critical.
Nevertheless, it should be noted that these scholarships are a short-term remedy with
high financial and socio-political costs contributing to resentment from the public. In the
long run, legal employment opportunities could offer a more permanent solution to
economic difficulties and would enable students to support themselves during their
studies by part time work.
2) Introducing sensitive and constructive public diplomacy/communication with the
public: In the context of Turkey, as elsewhere in host countries within the region, Syrian
refugees are seen as a burden to the local economy and society. The local population
misperceives many humanitarian-oriented government decisions. One of the study
participants reported:
When the Turkish president said Syrians will get citizenship, I have had Turkish
friends who had stopped talking to me as they found it very unfair. Every time there
is some news about this, our friends react. So the communication of these new
policies should do more to convince the people so that we do not face these
reactions. (Sanliurfa, Focus Group Participant Number 5)
This illustrates that misperceptions about Syrian students may lead to tensions among
Syrian refugees enrolled at higher education institutions. It is highly recommended that
better information dissemination procedures are sought on issues such as the amount
of scholarships, selection criteria, documents required from Syrians for their placement
or any other issue related to Syrian refugees that could potentially put the students and
the entire community as a target.
For students, this could be achieved with an emphasis on a rights-based approach. As
evidenced by the media analysis, most policies benefiting Syrians are framed as
gestures of goodwill to a victimized population based on a moral and religious duty. If
issues are framed as protection for a vulnerable population, based on obligations
stemming from international refugee law and human rights law, some of the popular
reaction by the host society could be mediated.
As such, it is important that the Turkish government ensures that refugee youth are
systematically included in national higher education plans and programs and quality
data is collected to monitor their participation and educational attainment. The
government is also encouraged to develop policies and legislation that mainstream
crisis response in national higher education planning and policy and allow for the
inclusion of those affected by crises in higher education institutions in an equitable
manner, through policy responses pertaining to language, needed documentation,
recognition and accreditation.
The limited coverage scope of media coverage of this issue illustrates the absence of a
depiction of highly educated Syrians, who could in the long term benefit both their host
country and their country of origin. A more humanized discourse is needed putting
forward the “ideal refugees” both by policy-makers and the media would allow for a more
balanced as well as constructive communication with the Turkish public.
3) Develop local universities into multi-dimensional institutions that add to the
traditional curricula and traditional teaching modalities that go beyond on-campus
offerings. These changes should also include the introduction of dynamic pedagogical
practices where the focus is no longer on the professor but rather on the needs of the
learner through active, interactive and experiential learning modalities, where students
learn on their own or from peers. Such practices are particularly important in the context
of refugee tertiary education, as the students are not typical students. It is critical for
institutions to evolve and be creative in what they have to offer and how they offer it. For
example, new skills and competencies may be introduced within the curriculum that is
offered to Syrian refugee students not only because of their specific needs as learners,
but also because of the prospects of employment that would enable them to change their
realities of being a refugee. Such competencies include information analysis, critical
thinking, problem solving, creativity, and communication. In addition, developing
students’ character to encourage their curiosity, sense of initiative, persistence,
adaptability, ethical awareness and reasoning are equally essential for refugees.
Obviously, emphasizing such traits will strengthen all students.
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Erisman, W., & Looney, S. (2007). Opening the Door to the American Dream: Increasing
Higher Education Access and Success for Immigrants. Institute for Higher Education
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teenage refugees in the UK. Compare, 37(5), 671-687.
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Turkey. Near Futures Online 1 “Europe at a Crossroads” (March 2016).
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Higher Education and Syrian Refugee Students: The Case of Lebanon / 5
Education and Youth Policy
The Education and Youth Policy Research Program aims at informing educational policy
and promoting improved educational practices and achievement through an increased
understanding of the issues of education in the Arab world and their impact on children
and youth in the region. The program further aims at engaging in applied, policy-relevant
research to help policy-makers make decisions based on best available information. The
program will serve as a resource for government agencies and other institutions in order
to shape the education and youth policy debate through evidence.
The AUB Policy Institute (Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs)
is an independent, research-based, policy-oriented institute. Inaugurated in 2006, the
Institute aims to harness, develop, and initiate policy-relevant research in the Arab region.
We are committed to expanding and deepening policy-relevant knowledge production in
and about the Arab region; and to creating a space for the interdisciplinary exchange of
ideas among researchers, civil society and policy-makers.
Main goals
Enhancing and broadening public policy-related debate and knowledge production in the
Arab world and beyond
Better understanding the Arab world within shifting international and global contexts
Providing a space to enrich the quality of interaction among scholars, officials and civil
society actors in and about the Arab world
Disseminating knowledge that is accessible to policy-makers, media, research
communities and the general public
AUB Policy Institute (Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy
and International Affairs) American University of Beirut
Issam Fares Institute Building (Green Oval)
P.O.Box 11-0236 Riad El-Solh I Beirut, Lebanon
961-1-350000 ext. 4150
... Based on the preliminary examination of the studies, four central categories for further analyses were determined, into which the study results were clustered ( Fig. 4.1). 3 The studies by Student et al. (2017), Yavcan and El-Ghali (2017), and Stevenson and Willott (2007) focus on the challenges the refugee students are faced with at university. In addition to tuition fees, the studies also deal with the provision of study information suitable for this learner group and the recognition of previous academic achievements. ...
... When it comes to entering higher education, two major issues are often addressed in the analyzed studies: First, prospective students have major problems with regard to having their previous school and university achievements recognized Silburn et al., 2008;Stevenson & Willott, 2007;Yavcan & El-Ghali, 2017). Second, several studies point to institutional deficits with regard to providing information about higher education studies that is relevant and appropriate for this learner group Silburn et al., 2008;Stevenson & Willott, 2007;Student et al., 2017;Yavcan & El-Ghali, 2017). ...
... When it comes to entering higher education, two major issues are often addressed in the analyzed studies: First, prospective students have major problems with regard to having their previous school and university achievements recognized Silburn et al., 2008;Stevenson & Willott, 2007;Yavcan & El-Ghali, 2017). Second, several studies point to institutional deficits with regard to providing information about higher education studies that is relevant and appropriate for this learner group Silburn et al., 2008;Stevenson & Willott, 2007;Student et al., 2017;Yavcan & El-Ghali, 2017). ...
This book discusses digital learning opportunities in higher education for refugees with different educational, social, cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Based on findings from practical studies and research projects from several countries, the book highlights the numerous challenges when it comes to the successful integration of refugees into higher education. These challenges arise at both the individual and the institutional level. The contributions included in this book show how these challenges can be effectively met using digital teaching-learning platforms. The work thus offers a comprehensive insight into the opportunities online-based learning platforms offer regarding the successful integration of refugees into higher education Overall, the research presented in this volume is relevant for political stakeholders, university practitioners in the field of migration research, university research, and online and digital learning.
... Based on the preliminary examination of the studies, four central categories for further analyses were determined, into which the study results were clustered ( Fig. 4.1). 3 The studies by Student et al. (2017), Yavcan and El-Ghali (2017), and Stevenson and Willott (2007) focus on the challenges the refugee students are faced with at university. In addition to tuition fees, the studies also deal with the provision of study information suitable for this learner group and the recognition of previous academic achievements. ...
... When it comes to entering higher education, two major issues are often addressed in the analyzed studies: First, prospective students have major problems with regard to having their previous school and university achievements recognized Silburn et al., 2008;Stevenson & Willott, 2007;Yavcan & El-Ghali, 2017). Second, several studies point to institutional deficits with regard to providing information about higher education studies that is relevant and appropriate for this learner group Silburn et al., 2008;Stevenson & Willott, 2007;Student et al., 2017;Yavcan & El-Ghali, 2017). ...
... When it comes to entering higher education, two major issues are often addressed in the analyzed studies: First, prospective students have major problems with regard to having their previous school and university achievements recognized Silburn et al., 2008;Stevenson & Willott, 2007;Yavcan & El-Ghali, 2017). Second, several studies point to institutional deficits with regard to providing information about higher education studies that is relevant and appropriate for this learner group Silburn et al., 2008;Stevenson & Willott, 2007;Student et al., 2017;Yavcan & El-Ghali, 2017). ...
In view of the significantly increasing number of individuals around the world who are forced to flee their country of origin, research discussions about integrating refugees into education are gaining relevance. A central research area is their entry into and study success in higher education, focusing on the associated challenges this learner group faces. Though the results of studies dealing with this topic often overlap, they usually focus on individual sub-areas and set specific thematic priorities. As a result, certain sub-areas such as administrative challenges are examined far more frequently than others. In this literature review, data from 14 English-language studies published between 2000 and 2018 were evaluated and systematically analyzed. Based on this analysis, the data were categorized and clustered in the following categories: systemic or structural challenges, personal factors, experiences of the learner group in higher education, and incentives to study that motivate this student group to study despite adversities.
... 52). Likewise, In Yavcan and El-Ghali's (2017), fitting into the society in Turkish universities was a challenge to the migrant students because of the locals' sayings. A student in their study explained the issue by saying that they were being criticized by the locals judging by the misconceptions about the scholarship that was provided to them by the government and university entrance exams. ...
... The registration process as a challenge in which students are required to bring documents and have their prior education acknowledged is also discussed in Yavcan and El-Ghali's (2017). They stated in their paper that submitting legal documents which prove the students' high school degrees are essential for students to continue their education in higher education institutions in Turkey and this process is a hurdle for migrant students. ...
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... The Syrian Civil War, which broke out in 2011, has led to a protracted refugee situation, especially concerning Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan (UNHCR, 2018). Previous experience with long-term refugee support has indicated that a period of about 20 years is needed before refugees can return home or find other solutions (Yavcan & El-Ghali, 2017). The refugee integration framework composed of employment, housing, education, health, social bridges, social bonds, social links, language and cultural knowledge, safety and stability, rights, and citizenship revealed the critical role of education (Ager & Strang, 2004). ...
Full-text available
Bu çalışmanın amacı Türkiye'de geçici koruma altındaki Suriyeli 3 çocukların eğitimine yönelik politikaları değerlendirmektir. Bu doğrultuda ulusötesi örgütler tarafından finanse edilen güncel raporlar üzerine bir alanyazın taraması gerçekleştirilmiş olup, sığınmacı krizine verilen yanıtlar, temel başarılar ve güçlüklere ilişkin değerlendirmeler ulusal alanyazın bağlamında tartışılmıştır. Derleme 4 neticesinde, Suriyeli çocukların eğitimine yönelik kısa vadeli bakış açısının farklı aşamalardan geçerek uzun vadeli bir politikaya dönüştüğü sonucuna ulaşılmıştır. Başlangıçtaki kriz yönetimi gereksinimi, ilerleyen süreçte belirsizlik yönetimi ihtiyacına dönüşürken, yaşanan sorunların temelinde sosyokültürel ve sosyoekonomik etmenlerin yattığı, Covid-19 salgınının ve sosyal eşitsizliklerin eğitim politikalarını yoğun biçimde etkilediği, sınırlı rasyonel karar alma mekanizmasının anlık çözümlere eşlik ettiği dikkat çeken araştırma bulguları arasında yer almaktadır. Suriyeli çocuklara yönelik eğitim politikalarının geliştirilmesi için güçlendirme (empowerment) anlayışına dayalı yeni bir eğitim paradigması inşa edilmesi, maliyetlere odaklanılması, ulusal ve uluslararası iletişim stratejisi geliştirilmesi, uzmanlar yetiştirilmesi, kapasite ve koordinasyon artırılması önerilmektedir. Daha da önemlisi eğitime her derde deva ilaç (panacea) muamelesi yapmaktan vazgeçmek ve eğitimi politika, ekonomi, sosyoloji ve hukuk gibi alanlarla uyumlu bir müdahale politikasının parçası olarak görmeye başlamak gerekmektedir.
... This can be due to many reasons. First, it could have been difficult for participants to imagine a Syrian at the university campus because Syrians in Turkey have very limited access to higher education (Hohberger, 2018;Kamyab, 2017;Yavcan & El-Ghali, 2017). Second, participants may have found it meaningless to think about having an intimate conversation and then becoming a close friend with a Syrian because of the language barrier as most of Syrians do not speak Turkish (Akçapar & Şimşek, 2018;Kaya & Kıraç, 2016;Mirici, 2018). ...
... Together with the UNHCR and other international organizations, the Ministry of Education and The Council of Higher Education took on a very active and positive role in including Syrian youth into the higher education system through different mechanisms (Yıldız 2019;Watenpaugh et al. 2014;Hohberger 2018;Yavcan and El-Ghali 2017). According to Directory General of Migration Management (DGMM) and Ministry of Education (MoNE) data, the Syrian population of compulsory school age (5-17) is 1,082,172 as of October 2019, and it comprises 30.2% of the total Syrians in Turkey. ...
This edited volume addresses critical issues surrounding higher education access for students of refugee backgrounds. It combines a variety of theoretical and methodological perspectives on the challenges, opportunities, experiences and expectations of refugee students, as well as some of the institutional frameworks that facilitate their access to higher education. Following a critical discussion of the notion of ‘integration’, the team of authors who are made up of academics and refugee students critically investigate higher education as an objective of as well as a means to greater inclusion and integration.
... Together with the UNHCR and other international organizations, the Ministry of Education and The Council of Higher Education took on a very active and positive role in including Syrian youth into the higher education system through different mechanisms (Yıldız 2019;Watenpaugh et al. 2014;Hohberger 2018;Yavcan and El-Ghali 2017). According to Directory General of Migration Management (DGMM) and Ministry of Education (MoNE) data, the Syrian population of compulsory school age (5-17) is 1,082,172 as of October 2019, and it comprises 30.2% of the total Syrians in Turkey. ...
This edited volume shares the proceedings of a symposium that was as held in the summer of 2019 in Hanover, Germany and dedicated to exploring the notion of integration as it relates to access to higher education for students of refugee background. The symposium included presentations and discussions of access to higher education in Germany, institutional contexts, and the challenges and benefits for students of refugee background compared with other groups. Throughout the symposium, we collaboratively questioned the notion of integration within higher education from different disciplinary, methodological and theoretical perspectives. One special panel also included a group of refugee students discussing their experiences and the main challenges they face seeking higher education. Integration is still too often understood in a one-side and narrow way. Informed by those discussions, the edited volume aims to contribute to the emerging research field of higher education for refugees. To introduce the edited volume, we reflect upon the symposium, discuss the state of research on integration of refugees into higher education, briefly introduce each article, and end with implications for further research and development.
... Together with the UNHCR and other international organizations, the Ministry of Education and The Council of Higher Education took on a very active and positive role in including Syrian youth into the higher education system through different mechanisms (Yıldız 2019;Watenpaugh et al. 2014;Hohberger 2018;Yavcan and El-Ghali 2017). According to Directory General of Migration Management (DGMM) and Ministry of Education (MoNE) data, the Syrian population of compulsory school age (5-17) is 1,082,172 as of October 2019, and it comprises 30.2% of the total Syrians in Turkey. ...
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Higher education in the twenty-first century has gradually transformed from being an elite phenomenon to one that is now accessible by the masses. This has changed the profile of universities from being “ivory tower” institutions to instead being mostly within reach by far more people than ever before. In addition to its intellectual and educational functions of teaching and research, higher education’s responsibility to the public needs to be more clearly defined in order to adequately respond to new social challenges, such as migration. Due to social, economic, political, psychological, or other reasons, migration is increasing globally and higher education systems are adapting their policies to the particular needs of the newcomers. Nevertheless, forced migration, which is unintended, unplanned, and in high numbers has increased dramatically in the last decades. The civil war that started in 2011 in Syria has resulted in 6.5 million displaced people, who mainly found shelter in neighboring countries. Turkey has been the country hosting the largest number of refugees in the world since 2014 (3.6 million from Syria and another 368,000 from other countries), and its approach towards Syrian refugees in general and university students in particular is unique and deserves attention from many perspectives. This article will focus on Syrian university students in the Turkish higher education system, using data from the “Elite Dialogue” research study funded by the Hopes-MADAD project (2018–2019). The motivation behind our research has been to understand the profiles, needs, and expectations of Syrian students in the Turkish higher education system in order to fill the gap through quantitative data-based research. The main purpose of our paper is to investigate how Syrian students are adapting to Turkish universities and integrating into society. We argue that Syrian students can play an active role as an “elite group” among Syrians, and mediate between their community and Turkish society as part of their integration process.
The scholarship discussing educational responses for refugees and other displaced persons focuses mainly on compulsory education, whereas research about displaced persons’ interrupted pathways to higher education is limited. This article presents a systematic review of recent international evidence on pathways to higher education for refugees and other displaced populations published in peer‐refereed journals between 2010 and 2020. The review aimed to answer the following three questions: (1) What are the main government reception policies that have enabled refugees to access higher education? (2) Which barriers hinder refugees’ access pathways to higher education institutions? (3) What are the main challenges facing refugee students in higher education institutions in different countries? The bulk of the article presents evidence from 44 studies organised around the following three identified central main topical areas (a) reception policies, both national and institutional, (b) access pathways to higher education, and (c) refugee students’ challenges. The paper concludes with theoretical and methodological conclusions concerning current research features and recommendations for the opening of access pathways to widen refugees’ inclusion in higher education, providing outlines for future research, policy and interventions that can better address refugees’ needs. Context and implication Rationale for the study In the last decade, political crises and civil and international wars have forced an unprecedented number of persons to flee from their homelands in fear for their lives and livelihoods in search for sanctuary and a better life (Arar, Kondakci, & Streitwieser, 2020; Arar, Kondakci, Kasikci, et al., 2020; Baker et al., 2019; Banks, 2017; Sullivan & Simonson, 2016). Today, more than 79.5 million people are classified as displaced persons throughout the world (UNHCR, 2020a, 2020b). The scholarship discussing educational responses for refugees and other displaced persons focuses mainly on compulsory education, whereas research about displaced persons’ interrupted pathways to higher education is limited. Therefore, this article presents a systematic review of recent international evidence on pathways to higher education for refugees and other displaced populations. Why the new findings matter? This study fills the gap in knowledge by emphasising the exploration of the challenges involved in examining policies and intervention programmes for refugees' pathways into higher education institutions, and suggesting possible theoretical and empirical lenses that can broaden and deepen the research in this field. Therefore, this article will be an important tool for policy makers, while at the same time opening the horizons for researchers, for new fields of research, in the field of broader immigration policy. Implications for educational researchers and policy makers The findings provide insights to scholars, policy makers and decision makers, who are interested in conducting systematic reviews. These include: Through the systematic review of the current scholarship, the points that need special attention both in terms of policy and practice for the effective implementation of the refugee support policies for widening access to higher education are fully explored. Reception policies for refugees and displaced both in the national and institutional levels are identified and can form the basis for policy making to expand access and success in higher education for refugees. Theoretical and methodological conclusions concerning current research features and outlines for future research agenda and interventions programmes that can better address refugees’ needs are fully discussed. Rationale for the study In the last decade, political crises and civil and international wars have forced an unprecedented number of persons to flee from their homelands in fear for their lives and livelihoods in search for sanctuary and a better life (Arar, Kondakci, & Streitwieser, 2020; Arar, Kondakci, Kasikci, et al., 2020; Baker et al., 2019; Banks, 2017; Sullivan & Simonson, 2016). Today, more than 79.5 million people are classified as displaced persons throughout the world (UNHCR, 2020a, 2020b). The scholarship discussing educational responses for refugees and other displaced persons focuses mainly on compulsory education, whereas research about displaced persons’ interrupted pathways to higher education is limited. Therefore, this article presents a systematic review of recent international evidence on pathways to higher education for refugees and other displaced populations. Why the new findings matter? This study fills the gap in knowledge by emphasising the exploration of the challenges involved in examining policies and intervention programmes for refugees' pathways into higher education institutions, and suggesting possible theoretical and empirical lenses that can broaden and deepen the research in this field. Therefore, this article will be an important tool for policy makers, while at the same time opening the horizons for researchers, for new fields of research, in the field of broader immigration policy. Implications for educational researchers and policy makers The findings provide insights to scholars, policy makers and decision makers, who are interested in conducting systematic reviews. These include: Through the systematic review of the current scholarship, the points that need special attention both in terms of policy and practice for the effective implementation of the refugee support policies for widening access to higher education are fully explored. Reception policies for refugees and displaced both in the national and institutional levels are identified and can form the basis for policy making to expand access and success in higher education for refugees. Theoretical and methodological conclusions concerning current research features and outlines for future research agenda and interventions programmes that can better address refugees’ needs are fully discussed.
Constantly high numbers of refugees, particularly among young individuals, require effective approaches to providing this group with access to higher education. Findings from studies with refugees and comparison groups, such as migrants or international students, indicate that refugees are characterized by specific factors that distinguish them and their educational challenges from other student groups. In the tertiary sector, attempts are being made to support refugees’ access to higher education through online study platforms. However, there are hardly any findings on how effective these platforms are, nor what requirements they have to meet to effectively address the needs of the target group. The SUCCESS project, funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, investigated the effectiveness of the digital study platform Kiron Open Higher Education over the course of three years. The central findings are presented and discussed in this article.
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In the context of Education for All (EFA) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), global movements for expanded access to education have focused on primary education. In refugee situations, where one-quarter of refugees do not have access to primary school and two-thirds do not have access to secondary school, donors and agencies resist supporting higher education with arguments that, at great cost, it stands to benefit a small and elite group. At the same time, refugees are clear that progression to higher levels of education is integrally connected with their future livelihoods and future stability for their regions of origin. This paper examines where higher education fits within a broader framework of refugee education and the politics of its provision, with attention to the policies and priorities of UN agencies, NGOs, national governments, and refugees themselves.
Millions of refugees today are trapped in protracted encampment where they are dependent on external support for basic necessities. Growing up in a refugee camp, many young people are eager to attain Higher Education but lack the opportunities and freedoms their non-refugee peers enjoy as they transition into adulthood and look for meaningful ways to support themselves. This article explores three main assumptions surrounding barriers to Higher Education in Protracted Refugee Situations both theoretically as well as in relation to the particular case of Burmese refugees in Thailand. Following a rights-based approach and adopting post-structural theories, this literature-based article demonstrates how dominant educational discourse emphasizes externalities and thereby neglects the practical realization of the individual's right to Higher Education, while powerful narratives of refugees as dependent victims have shaped reality in justifying mechanisms for international protection and incapacitating refugees. The article concludes that Higher Education could be both a means to refugee empowerment and a form of empowerment. We must not believe the many, who say that free persons only ought to be educated, but we should rather believe the philosophers, who say that the educated only are free (Epictetus, 55-135 AD).
The UK government’s austerity cuts have negatively impacted many voluntary-sector interventions that provided support to refugees. One such intervention, the Refugee Integration and Employment Service (RIES), is discussed in this paper. The RIES was a UK Border Agency-funded integration programme for recognised refugees and operated through voluntary-sector organisations nationwide. Findings of this small, qualitative study tentatively suggest that without bespoke support such as RIES, refugees will struggle to make informed and strategic decisions about their future education choices, restricting their ability to exercise autonomous agency. Current UK policy of counting refugees alongside other types of migrants will not cater for the specificity and multiplicity of issues faced by refugee young people. This will inhibit their opportunities and increase vulnerabilities, compounding their precarious position in UK society.
Refugee1 young people are an educationally diverse group. However, unlike groups such as Gypsy/Roma and Travellers, in the UK they do not attract targeted educational funding. In addition, neither the UK integration or refugee educational strategies nor the Higher Education Funding Council for England's strategic plan refer to higher education as a progression route for young refugees, as distinct from other minority ethnic young people. Our research with young refugees has shown that many have specific issues affecting their educational achievements, including interrupted education, experience of trauma, concerns about status and English language difficulties. Our findings also show that that despite these multiple disadvantages many view higher education as a route out of poverty and discrimination and are highly aspirational and motivated. We argue that homogenizing the support needs of young refugees along with those of other minority ethnic students is both inappropriate and insufficient and the continued failure to focus on them as a specific widening participation group will perpetuate their continued absence from the UK higher education system.
This report describes the demographic and educational characteristics of the U.S. immigrant population and discusses barriers faced by legal immigrants seeking to enroll in postsecondary education. The report focuses on older immigrants, who confront significant challenges in understanding and gaining access to the U.S. system of higher education because they did not attend American primary and secondary schools. It also examines the characteristics of and the barriers to persistence and completion faced by immigrant students who do enroll in college--a group that makes up 12 percent of the U.S. undergraduate population but has received relatively little attention in the public policy arena. Findings center around the following themes: (1) Immigrant groups vary considerably in their access to and success in higher education; (2) Although immigrants face challenges in gaining access to higher education, they make up a significant portion of American undergraduates; (3) Immigrant undergraduates differ from their native-born counterparts in a number of important ways; (4) Immigrant college students vary considerably by race and ethnicity; and (5) Immigrants face multiple barriers in gaining access to higher education and completing a college degree. Policy and program ideas are suggested. Includes appendix: Data Sources and Limitations. (Contains 9 notes, 16 figures, and 2 tables.)
Paper presented at UNHCR roundtable on refugee access to higher education
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Akif Ataman. (2016). Paper presented at UNHCR roundtable on refugee access to higher education, Ankara Hilton.
Syrian Refugees and the Right to Work: Developing Temporary Protection in Turkey
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Bidinger, S. (2015). Syrian Refugees and the Right to Work: Developing Temporary Protection in Turkey. BU Int'l LJ, 33, 223.
Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migrants (ASAM) conference
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Catar, M. (2016). Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migrants (ASAM) conference, Ankara, Turkey.
Retrieved from The Rising Costs of Turkey's Syrian Quagmire
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On Governing the Syrian Refugee Crisis Collectively: The View from Turkey. Near Futures Online 1
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Yavcan, B. (2016). On Governing the Syrian Refugee Crisis Collectively: The View from Turkey. Near Futures Online 1 "Europe at a Crossroads" (March 2016).