On the basis of our short experience, there are some lessons learned and best practices that can be drawn, such as:
Resettlement of students > be they registered refugees or not – requires close contacts with receiving countries in order to ensure that they are granted full protection and are entitled to health care, legal access and stay, etc. Regarding Syrian students hosted by Portugal, the GP4SYS in close consultation with the Portuguese authorities has dealt with all these issues and offers permanent assistance to students in order to avoid them getting lost in bureaucracies and administrative hurdles.
Admission of Students into Universities and Academic validation of their applications > depending on the higher education regulations of each receiving country, specific negotiations with central authorities and with universities are necessary in order to ensure the admission or transfer of these students who may not be able to produce legal or certified copies of their certificates and transcripts of marks and when there are strict internal procedures for regular admissions. This mediation task was performed by the GP4SYS on behalf of the students before their arrival in Portugal. However the process of validation of previous qualifications often took some time depending on each university/polytechnic but was never a stumbling block.
Integration of Students > providing proximity support and mentoring to students is a key point for the success of this emergency academic assistance. These are not students coming from regular settings. They need extra support and attention. For that reason, efforts of academic mentoring made by host universities, together with efforts directed towards facilitating the psychological well-being of the students and their integration into ordinary local life, are both critical to ensure full success of the program. Cultural diversity issues have also to be taken into consideration by guests and hosts.
Risks > The main risk of this Program is indeed related to the impact on students of the situation in Syria and the fact that they left their families behind. From time to time they feel guilty and anxiety seems to take its toll. Another important risk is related to the efforts that are necessary to adapt to a new country, a new society, a new culture and a new lifestyle, including gastronomy. A third important risk is the language issue, although practical arrangements were found for all in a very satisfactory way.
The Academic Summer break is too long for those who are not able to go on vacation. Remaining alone in an empty campus in particular for people who are prone to feeling guilty and anxious about their families and their future is a situation to be avoided.
Therefore the GP4SYS invested a lot to be able to propose a summer program for its students that would combine a mix of cultural and leisure activities as well as internships.
In 2015 our Summer Internship program offered the chance to get hands-on experience in leading companies related to the field of studies of each student.
During the Summer time some students also had the opportunity to attend Summer Schools organized by their own Faculties, as well as language courses, notably Portuguese and English language courses. Special intensive Portuguese language courses were organized in Lisbon during July-August and September in order to allow students to make progress.
Most of the students who participated in these activities were relocated to other cities, notably to Lisbon, thus having also the opportunity to make city sightseeing and discover new places.
In August , some students also had the opportunity to attend a Summer Workshop on transforming conflict, dialogue and peace building, organized by the Dialogue Café Association, the first public high quality video collaboration network specifically designed for civil society – open to individuals and organizations with a social, educational or cultural mission - including foundations, civil society organizations, grassroots community groups, universities, schools, social enterprises, social entrepreneurs and innovators, artists and cultural organisations, public sector bodies and agencies and so on. Dialogue Café Association also seek to ensure diversity amongst its participants, paying particular attention to gender, age, and ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. Together with Cisco Systems and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, the Dialogue Café Association has set up since 2010 a global network of physical spaces - Dialogue Cafés. It enables city-to-city and multi-city conversations and activities. So far there are 14 Dialogue café connecting Amsterdam, Cidade de Praia, Cleveland, Évora, Lisbon, London, Northampton, Novi Pazar, Paris, Wroclaw, Rio de Janeiro, Florence, Ramallah and Beirut (for more details see: www.dialoguecafe.org).
“Education not only saves lives in emergencies, but it also sustains life by giving a sense of hope for the future”
Based on best practices and lessons learned with recent crises, namely with Iraq and Syria, there are a key number of questions that have to be addressed if we want to bridge the existing gap such as: how to integrate higher education opportunities into humanitarian responses? How to best coordinate interventions of actors on the ground? How to make financial resources available on time? How to organize and coordinate efforts for the effective implementation of quality programs of higher education during the emergency response?
With this purpose the Global Platform for Syrian Students has been making efforts, together with other partners, to put high on the international agenda the wide topical issue of Higher Education in Emergencies. Read the article published at the Huffington Post: What Will Become of Syria's Students and Scholars?, By Allan E. Goodman (President and Chief Executive Officer, Institute of International Education) and Jorge Sampaio (President of the Portuguese Republic from 1996 to 2006; Chairman of the Global Platform for Syrian Students).
The year of 2015 marked good progress in terms of advocacy made by the GP4SYS at the international stage to raise awareness about the unique role higher education plays in conflict situations and the need for the international community to deliver more higher education opportunities for refugees, IDPs and young people facing crisis situations.
Following up on a first meeting convened in Brussels in December 2014, over 2015 the GP4SYS participated in a number of international meetings on the topic of higher education in emergencies, developed contacts at various levels to promote this cause, notably at political level through the leadership of President Sampaio, chairman of the GP4SYS, and launched a number of studies gathering information and data on higher education in emergencies.