Russia has announced 500 scholarship grants for Syrian students who wish to pursue their master’s and doctoral degrees in 2019, along with other education-based measures to support higher education institutes in Syria, according to a news report released by the Syrian news agency. The support programme was called out a part of Russia’s contribution in the reconstruction of war-torn Syria.

The report also shared details about the scholarship grants for Syrian students by the Russian government that included tuition fee waiver-off, living and accommodation expenses, along with one-year Russian language course. Applications of students from “aviation, navigation, car industry, informatics, media, languages, chemistry, physics, mathematics and medicine”, have been encouraged for the scholarship programme. Over 14 Russian universities are taking part in this programme and more than 1,400 students have applied for more than 500 places, the report added.

The Syrian news agency also announced that in the coming weeks, the Russian government would establish a joint Russian-Syrian research centre at Ba’th University Homs in collaboration with Moscow State Technological University. Russia and Syria would also sign an agreement to establish joint educational initiatives and student exchange programmes. Moreover, Damascus University will also offer new Russian language courses, the report elaborated.

Russian Cultural Center Director Vadim Zaichkov said the objective of these scholarships was “to help the Syrian people in preparing cadres for reconstruction in the coming period”.

The ban by the US government on Syrian students has blocked Syrian students from pursuing their education in the United States. Moreover, Syrian students also have a great deal of difficulty to pursue education in Europe and Britain. Some students have been able to study for a semester in Europe under the “international credit mobility” programmes, according to Syrian professors.

“The relationship between Russia and Syria in higher education is not new,” said Omar Imady, a senior fellow at the Centre for Syrian Studies at the University of St Andrews. “A lot of Syrian students studied in the Soviet Union,” when Syria was aligned with the Soviet bloc during the Cold War era.

“The Russians are pushing for normalization. They want life in Syria to return to something like business as usual,” said Amr Al-Azm, professor of Middle East history and anthropology at Shawnee State University in Ohio, USA. “Its probably a good thing that Russian language courses are being offered. The Russians are going to be around for a while in Syria [in a post-war reconstruction], so if a young person knows Russian it might improve job prospects.”

However, he said he was skeptical of the value of the Russian scholarship grants for Syrian students, as the quality of education they received in Russia was quite poor. Current students would not see Russia as an attractive educational prospect but on contrary would prefer being able to go to the United Kingdom and considered it a coup, Al-Azm added.

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