Credit: ReutersLeave or remain: Syrian students fear deportation over non-payment of fees
UK universities are being urged to waive the tuition fees of Syrian doctoral students who have had their funding from the Damascus government cut off.
There are around 100 PhD students who are studying in the UK under the auspices of a Syrian Ministry of Higher Education scheme to train academics for the country’s higher education sector.
However, the ministry can no longer pay their fees because many UK banks have placed severe restrictions on remittances from the Syrian state owing to the continuing conflict in the country.
The British Council and Universities UK are negotiating with institutions currently training students who are part of the Syrian ministry’s Higher Education Capacity Building Project (HECBP) to see whether the universities will waive or defer the payment of fees.
Another option that the British Council is exploring would allow the HECBP students to continue their studies without paying their fees but would withhold their degrees until they had paid in full.
The University of Essex is one UK institution that has already agreed to help its HECBP students. It is allowing them to register for the current academic year but pay their fees at a later date.
A spokesman for the British Council said there were unconfirmed reports that the Syrian ministry was trying to get around the ban “through payments in Syria to family members of the scholars, who then make arrangements for funds to reach the people concerned”.
Lucy Shackleton, European policy officer at UUK’s international unit, said discussions with the sector showed there was a “widespread commitment to helping Syrian students”.
There were 620 Syrian students studying at UK institutions in 2010-11, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency.
Although Syrian students not on the HECBP are not all directly reliant on the Syrian government for their tuition fees, UUK has submitted evidence to the government highlighting “financial and visa/immigration-related issues” for this wider group of students, according to Ms Shackleton.
Daniela Kaisth, vice-president of strategic development at the US-based Institute of International Education (IIE), said she was afraid that Syrian students who were unable to pay their fees could be deported.
“That is what we’re concerned about…where students effectively become academic refugees,” she said.
The US government has altered its immigration rules to allow Syrian students to work while they study, making it easier for them to pay their tuition fees, she said.
A global appeal for help has been issued by the IIE, which is calling for full or partial scholarships to be offered to Syrian students whose education in or outside their home country has been disrupted by the conflict.