In Syria, access to higher education is open to every person who finishes a three- year secondary school and obtained (Bakaloriat).
The higher education system in Syria has two types of studies: academic studies realized at universities, and applied studies realized primarily at colleges so called technical institutes and higher institutes occasionally at universities as well. There are also technical and vocation education and training (TVET) institutions at the same higher education level as technical institutes under the governance of relevant ministries (e.g. technical institute of tourism, industry, technology and many other institutes).
Higher education is divided into three levels: First level (Bachelor Studies), Second level (Master Studies), and the Third level (PhD Studies). Higher education in Syria is provided at universities/faculties, colleges named as higher institutes, institutes and technical institutes.
First level of studies includes:
Second level of studies includes:
Third level of studies includes Doctoral Academic Courses (PhD), including a minimum of 3 years of study which can be equivalent to 180 ECTS.
In the field of medical science (studies of medicine, dentistry and veterinary medicine), integrated courses are organized in the duration of 6 years and can be equivalent to a minimum of 360 ECTS. Pharmacy studies also offer integrated courses that last for 5 years.
Higher education institutions organize and implement study programmes within an academic year commencing, in autumn and lasts for the whole academic year.
An academic year may be divided into:
In Syria, there are several types of tertiary education programmes and qualifications:
First cycle studies are offered at all types of higher education institutions in Syria. A condition for entering a first-cycle study programme is the completion of secondary education obtaining the (Bakaloriat) Certificate and for some kind of higher education studies students need the passage of an entry exam, e.g. Arts and Architecture.
Bachelor academic studies are organized at universities (more precisely, faculties, institutes or higher institutes) and can last either four or five years. A Bachelor study programme can include a final thesis or graduation project that the student has to defend at the end of his/her studies, yet this depends on the specific study programme curriculum.
A government committee called the “University Admissions Committee”, which is headed by the Prime Minister; and in consultation with universities and the Ministry of Higher Education, determines the number of students to be admitted to the higher education system each year and their distribution. However, the procedures and requirements for admission to universities are defined at both centralised and decentralised levels, at Ministry level and at university level. The Five Year Plans’ system in the country has identified a need to develop and implement university admission plans.
Students are differentiated according to their scores in the General Secondary Education Exams. For example, the minimum score required to enter the Faculty of Medicine in Damascus University in 2014 was in an average of 98 %. Students achieving moderate or low scores in the Baccalaureate exam may only have an opportunity to apply for Intermediate Institutes newly named Technical Institute (vocational education and training). Due to the huge number of students applying to universities each year, new ways of learning were introduced by the Ministry, including for example open learning education, represented mainly by the Syrian Virtual University. These new approaches created an opportunity to increase funding to universities and to encourage some aspects of lifelong learning. The admission procedures are different than for "traditional learning". Usually, traditional admission to universities is advertised to the public before the open and parallel admissions. There are no age limitations, only limitations based on performance at secondary level.
The process of admission for private universities is different and it is based on the maximum number of students that can be administrated by the university’s teaching staff and facilities, which is also controlled by the Council of Higher Education. The admission prerequisites of students for private universities include also the secondary education level of education; but required grades of Bakaloriat certificate for admission are in general lower than of those required for admission to public universities.
The Council for Higher Education in Syria is conscious that there is a need for major reform and diversification of higher education programmes in Syria to meet development needs and the council has asked the various universities in the country to reform and modernise their programmes. It has, to some extent, eased the regulation governing curricula development and made them more decentralized. Developing curricula is done either nationally or in cooperation with international experts through projects funded mainly by the Tempus Programme and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and more recently Erasmus+ CBHE joint projects. Most curricula is developed in cooperation with the EU reflect to some extent the European approaches, but this is not the case for the study material itself. Across all faculties, Arabic and English or French are two compulsory subjects taught in the first two years. In order to acquire a Bachelor degree, all relevant subjects are compulsory to students, as defined by the faculty. On average, for 4-year Bachelor degrees students should pass 52 subjects and for 5-year Bachelor degrees its 64 subjects on average.
In general private universities’ curriculum has a list of compulsory and elective subjects, as well as their descriptions, the number of teaching hours and learning work load they carry and the number of lessons they include. Still for many private higher education institutions, their learning experience and work load is not fully compatible with the standards of ECTS. Some private universities have made some progress to make the needed requirements for their curricula, learning outcomes and work load to be more compatible with ECTS standards.
At the majority of HEIs in Syria, lectures are held for large groups of students. The Ministry of Higher Education and the Higher Education Council set the rules and regulations prescribing maximum numbers of students attending a lecture for every level and every branch of studies (technical and technology sciences, humanities and social sciences, natural sciences and mathematics, medical sciences, arts) based on the number of teaching staff and facilities in each university. The same regulation specifies maximum numbers of students at workshops and exercises, which are generally held in smaller groups.
There are, to some extent, specific rules for higher education studies regarding the teaching methods and especially for scientific and medical studies. Higher education teachers have to organize their lectures in compliance with the curriculum but the teaching methods they should use are not prescribed. Teaching materials such as books and audio-visual materials are commonly used in the teaching process. In public universities, book and learning materials are provided with lower prices to support students. Meanwhile in private universities, the materials are much more varied and in some universities they are taught mainly in English language.
The degree that the student is awarded on the completion of the first cycle programme is called the Bachelor degree (Ijaza Jamiaia). When students achieve good marks at Bachelor level and have passed a foreign language test, they can be admitted to the Master level. However, this is based on competition considering the high number of applicants to Master programmes each year.
There is no such clear identification of National Qualification Framework (NQF) for higher education in Syria till now. Some local initiatives were established before in terms of technical and vocational education. The collaboration between business organizations and higher education institutions is still limited, although some local chamber of commerce and industries in some cities have been approached in some occasions to modify the learning outcomes according to the labor market needs.
The graduate students can hardly find relevant jobs based on their basic higher education qualifications. During the current Syrian crisis, such problem was augmented because of the lower economic growth rates and the migrations of many businesses outside Syria. But still to say that there is still a gap in labor market which is growing over the crisis time and especially for highly qualified employees and graduates. Recently, the creation of new public and private universities helped to recover some of employability problems. New higher education programmes and specializations were introduced to reply to the consequences of Syrian war. Mainly, the names of intermediate institutes were switched to be technical institutions with more practical subjects which should provide more qualified graduates for local labor market.
The most common form of assessment of students is the final exam, with very few attempts at other kinds of evaluation such as essays and group work. Accreditation and recognition of prior learning outside the university learning mode, is not applicable at Syrian universities, except for medical students, who by law should allocate their final year to medical training in hospitals, mainly public.
Private universities use more a credit hours based system of GPA for assessing students during their education.
The authority responsible for certification is the Ministry of Higher Education in collaboration with the higher education institution. Upon completion of the first level of higher education, the student receives a certificate with his/her relevant professional title and average degree earned.
In Syria, Master studies can be organized by public universities, faculties and higher institutes. The Council for Higher Education is responsible for the approval of opening new master degrees for all higher education institutions in Syria. The length of studies at this level is either one or two years (which can be equivalent to 60 or 120 ECTS). In order to enroll a Master programme, students must have completed a Bachelor programme with at least 4 years of academic studies. To complete a Master study programme, the student has to prepare and defend a Master thesis at the end of his/her studies.
Admission requirements and procedures at this level of studies are regulated by Ministry of Higher Education in cooperation with higher education institutions. When students achieve good marks at Bachelor degree from one of Syrian universities or recognized faculties or higher institutions by the university’s council and successfully pass the foreign language exam, they can be admitted to the Master level. However, this is based on competition considering the high number of applicants to Master programmes each year.
In general, it’s not applicable for the master’s candidates to enrol in a particular programme which is different from his/her field of bachelor studies. In some cases (like master in management studies) there could be an additional condition – passage of certain differential exams- in order to be admitted for the master programme.
The curriculum is developed at the institutional level. Study programmes consist of compulsory and optional subjects for some master programmes, while most of the programmes consist of compulsory subjects.
The main language of instruction is Arabic, with some modules taught in foreign languages, but the higher education institution may organize examinations, some parts or an entire study programme in another foreign language and in many cases it is in English.
Comparing to the first level, smaller numbers of students enrol the second level of studies. Lectures are mostly conducted for large groups of students. While for specific master programs like MBA or EMBA the number is smaller (from 11 to 25 students).
There are no specific rules for the second cycle studies regarding the teaching methods.
Teaching materials such as books and audio-visual materials are commonly used in the teaching process but they are not always provided to students free of charge. Nevertheless, students are expected to refer to those materials when preparing their exams.
The degree that the student is awarded on the completion of the second cycle programmes is called the Master degree (Majesteer). The Master (Majesteer) can be an academic Master degree which entitles students then to enrol for a PhD programme, or a professional Master degree (Majesteer Mehani) which by law does not allow students to continue to a Doctorate only for the case of MBA or EMBA which entitle students to continue in a DBA (Doctorate in Business Administration) at Higher Institute of Business Administration (HIBA) or in a Ph.D. programme at the Higher Institute of Management Development at Damascus University.
This part is the same as for the Bachelor studies. For more information, please see Employability in Bachelor section.
The assessment of students is a continuous process based on pre-examination activities, students’ success at the exam, and successfully presenting their thesis project or graduation project.
This part is the same as for the Bachelor studies. For more information, please see Certification in Bachelor section.
Doctoral studies (PhD) are organized at universities (faculties within universities) and last at least for three years (which can be equal to 180 ECTS). Students who have achieved a satisfactory mark in their Master degree (Majesteer) and pass a foreign language test will be entitled to register for a PhD degree. PhD programmes involve scientific research and publication of papers in scientific journals for some areas of studies. A PhD thesis is the final part of the doctoral study programme.
Still up till now, all doctorate programmes are provided by public higher education institutions in Syria.
General admission requirements are: Completion of the master’s degree with good marks from one of Syrian universities or recognized faculties or higher institutions by the university’s council and successfully passing the foreign language exam. The candidate should also have at least one research article that is published in a refereed academic journal and he/she should hold ICDL. Candidates are also assessed on the basis of their research skills and scientific publications in some institutions.
Both employed and unemployed students have equal rights in terms of eligibility for any particular program. However, some institutions require scientific sabbatical in different percentages for different fields of study. In many cases, doctorate students can participate in teaching and research activities in their universities as paid or unpaid activities. Most recently, the Ministry of Higher Education through universities disseminated the new legal requirements of a full time PhD student in terms of university full attendance, commitment and hours of part time jobs outside the study period.
Academic staff is eligible for PhD supervision when they are at least associate professors. A PhD mentor can have a maximum of 10 either Master or PhD students under his/her supervision at a time.
If only announced for a vacancy, the doctorate student has the right to be employed by the university after finishing his/her studies as a teaching staff or as a researcher after reassessing his/her research work by a Ministerial Committee and after passing an English language test, and holding ICDL. As for the cooperation between doctorate students and professional business sectors in Syria, despite some attempts from councils of universities, it has not been formally adopted except for some particular kind of applied researches topics.
Students are assessed on the basis of:
The student earns his/her Doctorate certificate after the successful completion of all doctorate required tasks and after the acceptance of his thesis by the jury committee and defending his doctorate thesis publically. Two compulsory published articles are also required for the degree.
In accordance with the Article No. 29 of the Constitution of the Syrian Arab Republic; education is granted for all people. Education is free for all levels and is obligatory from primary level to preparatory and secondary levels. There are two ministries concerned with education in Syria. The Ministry of Education governs the educational process up to secondary level and the Ministry of Higher Education governs tertiary education and lifelong learning.
The most influential legislative reform of higher education in Syria is the Presidential Degree No. 36 for the year 2001, which governs the work of private universities in Syria. The other legal framework that governs and regulates higher education in Syria is Law No. 6 of the year 2006, which governs the work of public universities in Syria, which is called “The University Regulation Law”. This law is an amendment of the previous law. The new law gives more autonomy to universities, with regard particularly to staff appointments and promotions.
Before the Syrian crisis and due to the huge number of students applying to universities each year, new ways of learning were introduced by the Ministry of Higher Education, including for example open learning education, represented mainly by the Syrian Virtual University and open study system. These new approaches created an opportunity to increase funding to universities and to encourage some aspects of lifelong learning. In 2015, and as the number of students dropped due to unstable situations in the country, new approaches were imposed to facilitate the registration of all eligible students to enter higher education mainly through open learning system and by facilitating the attendance of students from the same subjects in different public universities that are still safe to study in like Damascus and Tishreen Universities, which are located in Damascus and Lattakia respectively.
Private higher education institutions are regulated and structured differently than public ones, as they are governed under Presidential Decree No. 36 of 2001.Private universities were not legally permitted to work in Syria before 2001, although there were a little number of private learning organizations and NGOs that have tertiary education learning partnerships with regional universities as open learning or remote learning systems.
The Ministry of Higher Education in Syria is striving to set priorities, devise executive plans to implement them and continue the process of modernization of the sector. To fulfil its goals, the Ministry of Higher Education cooperates usually with national (public and private) and international partners. In line with the modernization and upgrading projects planned and carried out nationally with the various programmes of the European Union and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the last reform programme before the current Syrian crisis set by the Ministry was highlighting the following priorities, some of which has been already established during the last five years while other objectives are on hold until the situation develops for better in Syria:
Nevertheless, one of the major shortcomings of higher education in Syria in general is the lack of relevance of programmes and curricula to development and to labour market needs.
National Reforms in Higher Education
Syria has participated in the Tempus programme since 2002 and in different Erasmus Mundus actions and projects and recently started the new cooperation between HEIs in Erasmus+ programme. The number of international student motilities has increased throughout the past 10 years and especially during current Syrian crisis. Students are searching more for better motilities options in EU universities’ in order to continue their studies outside the country. Syria has participated in the Tempus programme since 2002.
Impact of the Tempus programme
Since 2002, Tempus has played an important role in Syrian higher education, with most of the higher education institutions participating in the Programme.
Tempus had a significant impact on the modernisation of curricula and teaching methods and on quality assurance and the upgrading of facilities. It had an impact on staff development through the mobility programme. Another impact of the programme is linked to development of the advanced cooperation between Syria and the EU. This is represented by the number of Syrian and European partners participating in the programme. More than 70 % of TEMPUS projects in Syria relate to curricula development, the rest to institutional building activities. More than Euros 3.5 million were spent to buy equipment for the HE institutions in Syria, Euros 3.5 million on staff costs and salaries and Euros 4.5 million were spent on mobility to and from the EU. In this regard, more than 300 academics and higher education administrators from Syria went to Europe and the same number of EU academics came to Syria. There were more than 1 000 mobility exchanges.
All Tempus projects contributed to the national strategic priorities of higher education in Syria, however, with different levels of contribution. The participation of higher education institutions in Syria amounted at two institutions per project in average. The most supported national priorities were the establishment of new programmes within existing institutions, developing existing curricula and implementing dynamic flexible rules for their continuous revision in response to social and market needs. The projects overall support the Ministry of Higher Education’s efforts to draw up executive plans for the purpose of upgrading the skills of academic staff and improving the learning environment. When looking at the micro level of each of the individual Tempus projects, no individual Tempus project reflects all the national priorities. However, from a macro point of view, programme all priorities of the higher education sector are covered.
An example of a successful project was Joint European Project "Quality University Management and Institutional Autonomy". The main aims of the project were to develop mission statements, high quality standards and evaluation procedures as instruments of quality management and organizational development at Damascus University. Once established, they have been widely disseminated to other universities in the sector. In this regard, the project aimed at developing and implementing adaptive strategies providing procedures of quality management, starting at the same time a systematic organisational development at the Damascus University. Dissemination activities towards other Syrian Universities were also carried out to connect both the political level in terms of guidance, support and development represented by the Syrian Ministry of Higher Education and the institutional level of universities. Another example of a more recent successful Tempus project is the “Skills and Career Center - Pathway to the Labour Market”. The main objective of this project is to support capacity building and human resource development/upgrading of staff with regard to develop a teaching and learning capacity for skills and domain specific competencies and establish a career services at five public and three private Syrian universities to enable students to pursue a career on the labour market or to develop their own business. By the end of 2011, at departmental and faculty level, the aims of the project serve as a good model for matching the needs of the labour market with the teaching and curricula development. At university level, the project enhanced the university reputation and excellence in terms of establishing careers centers. Indeed, the centers of careers established at Syrian universities will sustain the project results. The project can be also considered as a good model for implementation of national reforms of linking the university with its society. The project contributed indirectly to the introduction of the Bologna principles in Syria.