U.S. Group Raises Funds for Syrian Scholars

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LONDON -- The Institute of International Education is campaigning to raise $5 million to aid Syrian students and academics. Because of the outbreak of civil war, university students in the country have been unable to attend classes, while Syrians studying overseas have been cut off from funding.

Since the campaign was announced in September, the I.I.E. has organized a consortium of 35 universities in the United States, Canada, Europe and Latin America to find places and possible funding for Syrian students and scholars. Next month the group expects to announce the opening of an online portal connecting students in Syria with overseas universities offering places and groups offering financial aid.

"We were contacted by Syrian students in the United States saying they couldn't pay their tuition fees because of sanctions, or because banks and other businesses back in Syria had closed or been destroyed in the fighting," Daniela Kaisth, vice president of the I.I.E., said by telephone.

The New York-based organization was founded after World War I to promote educational exchange. In the 1930s the group's assistant director, Edward R. Murrow, helped rescue hundreds of academics fleeing Nazism and Spanish and Italian fascism.

"We've been helping scholars in trouble since 1919," Ms. Kaisth said. "In 2002 we started the Scholar Rescue Fund to give those efforts a permanent home."

Each university that joins the coalition is expected to provide some form of scholarship or tuition waiver for Syrian students and, where possible, fellowships for Syrian scholars.

"The idea is for students to provide a little basic information about themselves and their situation and then link directly with the universities," Ms. Kaisth said.

Daniel Obst, the I.I.E. official in charge of international partnerships, said that one important feature of the new portal was that it would link to similar efforts by groups in other countries. "German universities have been particularly active in reaching out to Syrian students, as has the European Erasmus Mundus program," Mr. Obst said.

He explained that students needed to meet differing admissions requirements, depending on where they hope to go. "For example some students, because of their own language skills, will want to study in a French-speaking or a German-speaking environment," he said.

Ms. Kaisth said that while the U.S. government may have recognized the Syrian opposition, her group's efforts were "completely nonpolitical."

"We believe that education is the key to Syria's future, and right now scholars can't teach and students can't pursue their education," she added. "Our goal is to make sure that however long the crisis lasts, Syria continues to produce the leaders it will need."

Working with Jusoor, a network of Syrian expatriates, the Illinois Institute of Technology has already financed 50 scholarships for Syrian students wishing to study in the United States as part of the I.I.E. effort.

But Ms. Kaisth said that with only $3.3 million pledged so far, further donations were needed.

"Some of the universities who joined have only been able to offer partial scholarships, so we need funds to make up the difference, or to cover the cost of housing," she said. "Many Syrian students don't have any resources of their own. The campaign got off to a very good start, but there is still a ways to go."

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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