BEIRUT: With the Syrian crisis going into its 8th year, the well-being of the Syria refugee population in Lebanon has been a matter of discussion since 2011.
One pillar of this discussion concerns refugees’ right to access quality higher education, a subject investigated at the Issam Fares Institute’s conference titled “Integration of Syrian Students into Lebanese Higher Education through Recognition of Qualifications,” on Thursday.
Organized by the institute, the conference touched on several discussions involving studying academic qualifications, integration, career guidance and counseling. Commenting on different methods utilized to integrate Syrian refugees, Dr. Hana El-Ghali examined the comparable treatment of Syrian refugees and international students.
Dr. El-Ghali emphasized the importance of “socio-emotional well-being” when assessing why many refugees choose to drop out despite having access to scholarships. “It’s not the issue of the refugee crisis only,” she added, giving the subject at hand a more universal touch.
Furthermore, Marina Malgina from the Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education (NOKUT) further expanded these points on universal accessibility; “we need to at least facilitate access of all people to all levels of education,” she stressed.
One step discussed by the audience and panelists was related to the subject of a “National Qualifications Framework” as an attempt to facilitate Syrian refugees continuing their education in Lebanon after the crisis.
“A national qualifications framework has been proposed with a grant from the European trading foundation but it needs to be tested by the universities,” highlighted Dr. Aref Alsoufi from the National Eramus Office.
Speaker Natalie Bouldoukian suggested that such a framework could be presented by what was called a “Diploma Supplement,” a format created to present a particular students’ qualifications.
“It aims to provide sufficient data to allow international transparency and fair academic and professional recognition of qualifications,” she explained.
Accordingly, the final section of the conference featured a dialogue on methods to revive related career guidance strategies and counseling for refugees attempting to survive an already competitive job market in the country.
It’s worth noting, however, that intervention in education by refugee-related organizations is reportedly quite recent, according to UNHCR representative Agatha Abi-Aad. Regardless, she strongly stressed the importance of more structural solutions, emphasizing protection and early education in that regard.
“We don’t want to label them anymore as refugee students, but as students,” she said. Nevertheless, she maintained the view that they are indeed students with special needs in terms of documentation, residency, and other legal hindrances.
"Such career guidance, which we’re trying to discuss here, all starts on the secondary level,” she continued, suggesting that a significant part of the issue is the extensive pressure placed on young refugees to be providers.
She further noted that an increase from 1% to 3% in refugee participation in higher education is itself something to celebrate as a product of the efforts of various civil society organizations, but emphasized the need for dramatic improvement.
“From inclusion to gender mainstreaming to a transformative accent, we ought to learn how refugee youth are counseled for post-graduation prospects,” said Dr. Hiam Lutfi from Rafic el-Hariri University.
Plenty of questions then surfaced about the availability of trained counselors able to guide refugee students and prepare them for technical aspects, such as their CV or cover letter.
She further emphasized the need to be familiar with the administrative framework for employment when offering guidance.
Nevertheless, according to Dr. Lufti, not much can be said about building such skills sets before dealing with the prevalent gaps, which have hindered refugee accessibility to such markets; “counseling centers are not interacting with companies to implement a zero-tolerance policy towards discrimination and harassment in the workplace,” she added.
Commenting on the problems that have accompanied the university’s vocational equipping of refugees, Syrian student Thaer Rahal recommended a more “innovative” solution based on technological progress.
“I personally started a marketing business online to protect myself from the legal limitations prevalent in the country,” he noted in an attempt to locate protective alternatives for refugee youth.
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