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The page below gives a brief summary of the work of Cara's Syria Programme, the latest of Cara's Regional Programmes which, in accordance with Cara's Articles, "...advance education by supporting academics and their educational institutions in countries where their continuing work is at risk or compromised, to ensure that such academics and institutions can continue to fulfil their critical role as educators for the public benefit."  Much more detail on the work of the Syria Programme (SP) can be found on our special SP site here.

Cara's Syria Programme

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, regular and substantial awards totalling $4.2m so far, 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.  The current awards were originally scheduled to run until end-December 2023, although the disastrous earthquakes in February/March 2023 pushed some of this work back into mid-2024.  We thank our donors for their understanding and support.

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.  In addition, new SP registrations have for some time been focused primarily on female academics and on those from the Arts and Humanities, which has helped to redress a gender imbalance among Programme participants.

Over the last year, the Programme has been putting increasing emphasis on collaborative developmental partnerships, allied to a higher education quality-enhancement pilot with Sham University faculty, in the non-regime area of north-west Syria, to help show evidence of their adherence to European standards and guidelines in the absence of formal accreditation.  SP participants already cross the border daily to help sustain access to higher education for local communities and for the many Syrians displaced to this area, offering hope to a generation whose lives have been blighted by the crisis.

The Programme's work continued online during the pandemic, and face-to-face activities resumed in 2022.  Over 200 Syrian academics are now actively engaged with the Programme’s work.  Tragically, many of them were living in the south-east of Turkey close to the border with Syria when that region was devastated by earthquakes in February/March 2023.  With their homes badly damaged or destroyed, they ended up camping in their cars, mosques, sports centres and other public buildings.  Fortunately, with the support of all those individuals and institutions who responded generously to our Emergency Appeal, we were able to provide over £170,000 in emergency funding, in four rounds, to a total of 91 Programme participants and their families, including elderly parents and very young children, to make it possible for them to travel to safer areas and to meet their basic needs for food, shelter, medicines and clothing.  Regular Programme activities were able to resume soon afterwards.

Cara’s SP enjoys strong support from UK universities and learned societies. Over 60 UK-based academics contribute to the SP’s EAP activities, with over 400 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 have been 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 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 [email protected].