By Amer al-Hourani

AMMAN—Abdul Hamid al-Homsi used track his grades with fervor. But after losing his scholarship from Karam Foundation, he now logs on to his university’s website to view his scores with apathy. As high or low as they may be, it makes no difference anymore as far as he’s concerned.  

Al-Homsi moved to Jordan seeking asylum with his family in 2012 and received an educational grant from Karam Foundation to pursue his higher education at Zarqa University. Last May, however, he was one of the 40 Syrian refugee students in Jordan who were cut off from their scholarships. 

“After the summer semester, Karam Foundation will not be able to provide scholarships and support to students in Jordan,” read the email students received from the foundation. The decline in donations and grants to organizations supporting Syrian refugees meant that educational programs, as well as “other programs supporting Syrian refugees will be reduced as well,” the email went on to say. 

From the outset, Karam Foundation did not pledge to provide university scholarships covering the entire period of study. Multiple prospects, including the student’s cumulative grade, determined the grant duration. However, al-Homsi’s grade was 89.9% in journalism and media and he didn't expect to be dropped in the middle of his studies. He was about to finish his second year in university, he told Syria Direct.

As the new academic year approaches and new Syrian students prepare to attend Jordanian universities, al-Homsi put his education on hold until he can find a new scholarship to support his studies, he said.

Declining international support to Syrian refugees

Jordanian public universities offer study options for non-Jordanian students, including Syrians, as part of the higher-cost international program. Private universities, however, require fees that are more than what most Syrian refugees, who suffer from diminutive employment opportunities, can afford. 

To supplement this, educational programs have helped hundreds of Syrian students pursue their higher education in recent years but the resources of these financial programs have gradually diminished, causing support to some institutions, like Karam Foundation, to end altogether. 

Muhannad al-Khatib, the spokesman for Jordan’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, told Syria Direct that there are over 7,200 Syrian students in Jordanian universities and according to a study by the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan published in 2018, only 22 percent of them were granted scholarships.

Despite the limited university seats available to Syrians in Jordan already, the reduced support of international grants is corroding the hopes of more refugee students to complete a university education.

As the Syrian government propagates the end of the war and a safe return for refugees, international organizations are beginning to turn their attention and support from neighboring host countries to Syria. 

Giving up the journey

Few educational support programs for refugees fund the student's higher education from admission to graduation. Three programs, the DAFI scholarship, funded by the  German government, and the "Said" and "The Asfari" foundations cover tuition fees, the cost of transportation, and offer students stipends. These programs, however, only support a small number of students.

Many Syrian university students end up receiving partial grants, and risk being cut off suddenly before graduation. This profoundly jolts and sets back students like Khaled al-Zubi, who also lost his scholarship from Karam Foundation. 

Al-Zubi, 19-years-old, moved to Jordan in 2013, six months after his father was killed in a government bombardment in Syria’s southern Daraa province. As his family is barely able to afford to rent a modest house in Irbid province in northern Jordan, Karam Foundation’s suspension of his scholarship was "shocking to me and my family," he told Syria Direct. Especially since he failed to receive the DAFI scholarship, which is intended solely for high school students graduating this year, according to the information he received.

Al-Zubi and the other students affected by the suspension of the Karam Foundation scholarship in Jordan sent a joint email asking for the grant to be reactivated. But the response they received confirmed what the organization previously wrote, “[it] is unable to resume the grant,” but pledged to share information about "university scholarships outside Jordan."

Syria Direct tried to obtain a response from Karam Foundation but did not receive a response by the time of publication. 

The job market is not an option

In al-Homsi's case, the fee of a single semester in journalism and media studies at  Zarqa University is about JD1,500. Aghiad Al-Ashter, a civil engineering student at Jordan University of Science and Technology in Irbid province, must pay over JD3,000 for one semester. He is thinking about "dropping out of school" after completing two years and hopes he’ll be able to secure the amount from Karam Foundation, he told Syria Direct

Meanwhile, al-Zubi decided to take a job in a popular restaurant in Irbid until he finds another grant. But entry into the labor market does not seem to be an option. All non-Jordanians, including Syrians, are required to have a work permit which is only issued to specific professions. Furthermore, unemployment in Jordan has increased to 19.2 percent, according to the figures released by the Department of Statistics at the beginning of this month.

This report is part of Syria Direct’s Connecting Communities through Professional Engagement Project in partnership with the Australian Embassy to Jordan's Direct Aid Program.

This report was originally published in Arabic and translated into English by Nada Atieh