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Cara's Syria Programme

The paragraphs below tell the story of our Syria Programme, which has been working since 2016 with Syrian academics forced into exile in the region around Syria.  There are currently some 220 Programme participants.  About two-thirds of them have been living in south-eastern Turkey, in the area close to the border with Syria, around Gaziantep and Kahramanmaras.  Their lives were devastated by the February earthquakes.  With their homes destroyed or unsafe, many ended up destitute, camping in cars, mosques, sports centres and other public buildings, in freezing weather.  We launched an appeal to help - more information is available here


Drawing on the experience of its two earlier regional Programmes, for Iraq and Zimbabwe, in 2016 Cara launched its regionally-based Syria Programme (SP), to provide support to academics affected by the Syria crisis. Most Syrian academics in exile, in Turkey, Lebanon or elsewhere, intend to return to Syria when they can, but for now they urgently need opportunities to work and to continue to grow professionally, through a very difficult time, so they will be able to help re-build a better system of higher education when they do go back.

(Halil Fidan/Anadolu Agency) via Getty Images.

Cara funded the initial 2015/16 consultation phase with £50,000 from its own resources.  The subsequent pilot phase was successfully completed on schedule in September 2018.  Since then, a series of substantial awards, including from the Mellon Foundation to allow us to give greater support to the Arts and Humanities, have allowed Cara to take forward and develop this important work, with the current awards running until end-December 2023.

The Syria Programme has five main work areas: English for Academic Purposes (EAP); Academic Development; Research Incubation Visits; Cara-Commissioned Research; and the Syrian Research Fellowship Scheme.  A Comprehensive Online Foundation Course was successfully piloted in 2020, and became mandatory from May 2021, in English and Arabic.  Developed by education experts, it aims to familiarise participants with key research-related concepts.  In June 2021 Cara’s SP launched a new ‘Briefing Paper’ series, to distil and accelerate the dissemination of key research findings on the critical challenges facing both Syria and displaced Syrian populations, and provide unique insights informed by local expertise, experience, knowledge and networks.  The research is undertaken by Syrian academics in collaboration with colleagues from the wider international academic and scientific communities, as part of the Cara partnering model.

For the time being, new SP registrations are focused primarily on female academics and on those from the Arts and Humanities, to help redress a gender imbalance among Programme participants.

Cara’s SP enjoys strong support from UK universities and learned societies.  Over 100 UK-based academics supported the SP’s EAP activities in 2021 and 2022, with over 300 more, in a ‘Peer Review College’, supporting the SP’s Research activities and its Academic Development work.  Recognising the importance of Syria Programme participants’ local knowledge and expertise in a wide variety of fields, many SP participants are now involved as paid researchers in UK university-led, third-party funded research projects.  Many SP participants have also successfully submitted articles to peer-reviewed journals, on a wide range of subjects.  On 6-10 December 2021 Cara’s SP, in cooperation with the Royal Society and the British Academy, hosted an online symposium, “Voices from the Syrian Academic Community: Unique insights & contributions to research policy and practice”, with a different theme for each day and a number of sub-themes under which over 50 SP-supported pieces of research were clustered.  Recordings of all the sessions are available online.  The Programme’s work continued throughout 2022, with the first post-pandemic face-to-face events.  Over 200 Syrian academics are currently engaged with the Programme’s work.

The SP has been the subject of three independent evaluations, presented to the Cara Council in June 2018, June 2020 and December 2022.

The Syria Programme remains the only programme that solely and systematically supports Syrian academics in the region who have been directly affected by the crisis.  As a major part of Syria’s intellectual and cultural capital, this group has a vital role to play in the future of Syria’s higher education and research sectors, in the training of future generations of doctors, teachers, engineers, lawyers, architects etc, and in the future development of a stable, pluralist, society.  The SP owes a major debt to all those who are giving so freely of their time, expertise and energy to ensure its success.  There are still opportunities for volunteers and institutional partners to add their support too to the various Programme strands – put simply, the more support we have, the more Syrian academics we can help.  If you would like to be involved, please contact