Sunday 14 April 2013

Manna from heaven for Syria’s uni students abroad

Manna from heaven might be on the way for Syria’s cash-strapped overseas university students.
Asharq Alawsat, Saudi Arabia’s newspaper of records, today quotes authoritative sources as saying the Ministry of Higher Education envisages mandating its Cultural Missions in world capitals “to include Syrian male and female students in the categories they serve.”
The Saudi Arabian Cultural Missions (SACM) would accordingly bear the Syrian students’ “tuition fees in the academic institutions in which they are enrolled.”
The sources said the plan is under study and will be announced “after implementation procedures are finalized later on because of the large number of Saudi Cultural Missions around the world.”
Asharq Alawsat also quotes Dr. Abdulaziz al-Tuwaijri, Secretary General of the Rabat-based Islamic Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (ISESCO), as saying half-a-million Syrian students are now deprived of education because of the bombing and shelling of schools and universities by regime forces.  
In Britain last month, nearly 50,000 people signed an online petition urging the government to give more support to the hundreds of Syrian students studying there.
The Guardian said the government has written to British universities urging them to do all they can to assist Syrian students, hundreds of who are struggling to cope with reduced or even vanished funding from their home country.
Vince Cable, the business secretary, whose department administers higher education, has written a joint letter with the universities minister, David Willets, to Universities UK (UUK), requesting that its vice-chancellor members help Syrian students by deferring fees and providing access to hardship funds.
The letter sent says the 670 or so Syrian students in Britain should be reassured the government and universities "are doing all they reasonably can to help them and make them aware of the support available".
Cable and Willetts say the government is working with the higher education sector, the National Union of Students and Avaaz to identify who most needs help.
Avaaz, the civic activism group that promotes "people-powered politics,” is calling for the Foreign Office to directly assist the Syrians in the way it did with Libyan students in 2011 during the uprising against Gaddafi.
At that time the foreign secretary, William Hague, ensured funding was resumed via the National Transitional Council (NTC), the interim authority that replaced Gaddafi. An Avaaz online petition on the issue attracted nearly 50,000 signatures.
The government argues the situation with Syria is different, in that while it recognizes the political opposition and has cut ties with the government of Bashar al-Assad, the rebels are not close to being a government in waiting, as was the case with the NTC.