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Syria's Higher Education Emergency and the IIE-SRF Response

The war in Syria has generated the 21st century’s worst humanitarian crisis, with tens of thousands of Syrians killed and half the population displaced. A hidden cost of the conflict is the destruction of Syria's once-robust higher education sector. Before the conflict, Syria boasted one of the MENA region’s largest higher education systems. According to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, 26% of Syrian young people (including young women) were participating in tertiary education on the eve of the conflict. Along with these 350,000 students, approximately 8,000 faculty were teaching and conducting research. War, however, has decimated Syria’s university system, as violence and insecurity continues to have a devastating impact on professors, university students, and the country’s education sector. Amongst the millions of refugees are as many as 2,000 university professionals.

IIE-SRF has responded to this higher education emergency by offering life- and career-saving support to dozens of Syrian professors, researchers, and public intellectuals. IIE-SRF has awarded 196 fellowships to 107 Syrian scholars from among hundreds of applications and inquiries. We have placed these scholars at more than 80 host partner institutions in 16 countries. This support has totaled over $4,750,000, along with more than $3,750,000 in “matching” host financial contributions.


*As of April 2018


Meet Our Scholars

Amidst the staggering number of scholars who are cut off from their academic work, each person has an individual story of tragedy and of struggle to continue his or her work as a professor or researcher. IIE-SRF host institution partners all over the world are answering the call to support these extraordinary individuals.

Read about some of our Syrian fellows featured in past issues of our Beacon newsletter:

Issam Eido

Issam Eido completed two successful years on the IIE-SRF fellowship. An expert on Islam and Muslim intellectual history, Dr. Eido started his tenure as an IIE-SRF fellow at the University of Chicago in September 2013. In what he described as a “warm and welcoming environment,” he took full advantage of his time at the university, giving several public lectures on campus and presenting the first chapter of his upcoming publication, The Role of the Moral Probity of Transmitters and Shaping the Authoritative Islamic Texts, at the annual conference of the American Oriental Society. Dr. Eido’s fellowship was partially supported by the University of Chicago Divinity School. “The beautiful thing about the Divinity School is that it gives you an opportunity to work and meet with brilliant academic scholars,” he commented. After his time at the University of Chicago, Dr. Eido found a permanent position within Vanderbilt University’s Department of Religious Studies as a senior lecturer. “On the [Vanderbilt] campus,” he said, “I meet every day with professors from different departments and have deep and thoughtful discussions on Islam, Syria, and Islamic art.”

Eblal Zakzok

Eblal Zakzok is already planning for the eventual rebuilding of his home country of Syria. His current research uses satellite imagery and geographical information systems (GIS) to monitor the effects of the Syrian conflict on infrastructure and urban areas. “The importance of this research stems from the need to develop management and development plans in the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Syria after the conflict ends," he explains. Dr. Zakzok received his Ph.D. in civil engineering from the University of Manchester in the UK and was an assistant professor at both Aleppo and Al-Furat universities before starting his IIE-SRF fellowship at The Ohio State University in May of 2015. “I highly appreciate the full support and encouragement provided by the administration, faculty, and staff alike here,” he says. 

Monssef Alsweis

Monssef Alsweis is a computer graphics specialist whose research focuses on 3D modeling simulations of complex biological ecosystems. In November of 2015, he presented his research at the 21st ACM Symposium on Virtual Reality Software and Technology in Beijing, China. His current project examines vein patterns in leaves and uses a mathematical model to simulate leaf growth graphically. Dr. Alsweis is also the author of three textbooks on digital image processing and web programming published for use in university classrooms. He began his IIE-SRF fellowship in November of 2014 at the University of Konstanz in Germany.

Iman Al-Ghafari

Since earning her Ph.D. from Cairo University, IIE-SRF alumna Iman Al-Ghafari has made a name for herself as a courageous and original researcher in the nascent field of Arab sexuality and lesbian studies. In her current research on "Lesbian Issues in Contemporary Middle-Eastern Cultures: Between Theory and Practice,” she is developing a new understanding of lesbian subjectivities and identities. Dr. Al-Ghafari received two years of IIE-SRF fellowship support to continue her academic work at the Amsterdam Research Center for Gender and Sexuality (ARC GS) based at the University of Amsterdam, and she more recently completed a one-year position at Utrecht University.


In addition to this life-saving work with scholars, IIE in conjunction with the University of California, Davis, has published three reports on the conditions and educational needs of Syrian University students and scholars in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. The reports bring together field-based research in these countries to assess the impact of the conflict in Syria and the resulting refugee crisis on higher education in the front-line hosting states. The studies provide policy and program recommendations for use by governments, multilateral agencies, international NGOs, donors, universities, and other institutions, with the overall goal of improving access to higher education for displaced Syrian university students and faculty. 

IIE-SRF Report: We Will Stop Here and Go No Further: Syrian University Students and Scholars in Turkey»

IIE-SRF Report: The War Follows Them: Syrian University Students and Scholars in Lebanon»

IIE-SRF Report: Uncounted and Unacknowledged: Syria's Refugee University Students and Academics in Jordan»