photo of woman in headscarf and three men seated at a table looking at a laptop screen

Academics collaborate to enhance higher education provision in Syria

Academics from two Eastern Arc universities are co-leading a collaboration with Sham University to enhance higher education provision in the non-regime-controlled northwest of Syria, as part of ongoing work supported and facilitated by the Cara – Council for At Risk Academics – Syria Programme.   

Sham University is located in the town of Azaz, which has received huge numbers of internally displaced people (IDPs) since 2014. Approximately fifty percent of Sham’s students live in IDP camps, and the remainder are drawn from towns in Azaz and surrounding areas. 

HE institutions in northwest Syria face many challenges. The pool of qualified staff is small, resources are severely limited, and security threats are commonplace. Despite these challenges however, Sham is developing a reputation for high quality HE provision and has signed memoranda of understanding with a small number of Turkish universities, which allow Sham graduates to progress on to master courses.    

Since summer 2022, this collaboration has focused on governance, quality enhancement, staff development, and education design.  At face-to-face workshops in Turkey and regular online meetings, academics from Sham have worked closely with UK colleagues to review existing policies and practices and to balance meeting international standards with addressing local challenges and needs. Achievements so far include a committee structure, ensuring democratic decision-making at all levels from individual departments to the University Council, and redesigned undergraduate programmes in selected faculties to support sustainability, optimise resilience to risk, allow for module-sharing across courses and address uneven workloads for students and staff.   

In the current phase of the project, Dr Tahir Zaman (Sussex), Dr Tom Parkinson (Kent) and Professor Aysha Divan (Leeds) are mentoring teams of Sham researchers to undertake small-scale action research projects, each addressing strategic priorities identified by staff, students, and community stakeholders. Areas of focus include addressing gender disparities in participation in higher education in the region, designing curricula that meet the needs of the local community and labour market, and devising university-wide elective modules to enhance transferable skills across all programmes. 

Additionally, Dr Juliet Millican (IDS, based at Sussex) and Dr Luma Tabbaa (Kent) are currently delivering a second webinar series focusing on teaching methods.  Dr Julia Hope (Kent), Dr Fateh Shaban (Kent) and Nidal Ajaj (Kent) are mentoring Sham lecturers to prepare applications for Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA).  

The team are always looking for volunteers to contribute as mentors, facilitators, or critical friends.  Please contact Tom Parkinson ( if you are interested.  

If you’d like to know more about the Cara Syria Programme, which supports at-risk Syrian academics to continue their academic work, contact Kate Robertson, Syria Programme Director at