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Tufts joins IIE Syrian Consortium to aid student in midst of civil war

Published: Thursday, December 5, 2013

Updated: Thursday, December 5, 2013 09:12

The university last month became an official member of the Institute of International Education (IIE) Syrian Consortium for Higher Education in Crisis after the Office of Undergraduate Admissions agreed to become involved with the organization. The decision resulted from an Oct. 14 Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate resolution calling for Tufts to join the nearly 40 colleges and universities that have chosen to offer scholarships to Syrian students through the program.

According to TCU Historian Bradley Friedman, who submitted the resolution along with fellow senator and Outreach Committee co-Chair Dylan Saba, the IIE Syrian Consortium is a call for higher education institutes to provide financial aid to students in Syria. 

As a result of the nation’s current civil war, higher education in Syria has come to a halt, Friedman said. Many universities closed after being damaged or destroyed. Students, who make up some of the country’s two million fleeing refugees, have faced challenges in attending schools in Jordan and Lebanon, where educational resources are fragile, he explained.

“So, they’re kind of stuck,” Friedman, a junior, said. “One of the fears is that you’ll have this whole generation that misses education.”

The IIE Syrian Consortium aids Syrian students in making plans for their educational future and provides them with a list of schools where, if accepted, they will be greeted with financial assistance, Friedman said. 

Friedman explained that he first got the idea to encourage Tufts to join while completing an internship at the U.S. Department of State’s U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative over the summer. After returning to Tufts and seeing students’ interest in the Syrian conflict, he decided to partner with Saba and take action. 

“I thought this would be a really concrete way we can help at least one or two individual’s lives,” he said. 

Friedman and Saba, a junior, began communicating with Director of International Recruitment Jennifer Simons, who agreed to make Tufts part of the consortium. 

“I think it’s part of Tufts’ mission to empower people who are living in precarious situations to get out of the those situations — international or otherwise,” Simons said. “So this was something that was appealing to me.”

Simons explained that Tufts has worked in the past with many similar organizations, such as the Foundation for Afghanistan, so the process was not unusual. 

“There are lots of programs of this sort that essentially aim to allow students from either war-torn ... or severely impoverished countries to have access to education in the U.S.,” she said. “What they do is they create connections with admissions offices at colleges and universities and simultaneously help students with their application process.”

Simons added that Tufts is fortunate to have financial aid available for international students, as many universities do not. 

“We don’t have hundreds of non-U.S. students on financial aid the way we do for domestic students, but if we admit a student of any citizenship, we agree to meet their funding needs 100 percent,” she said. “That’s the same whether you’re from Massachusetts or Malaysia.”

Students who work through the consortium to prepare an application for Tufts will be treated like all other international applicants, Simons explained. 

While the university will work to aid Syrian students financially, the biggest challenge will be finding students who qualify to study at Tufts, Simons said. Oftentimes in war-devastated countries, there may not be access to school records or officials who can write recommendation letters. The admissions office works to be flexible, she said, but not all students who apply will have the educational background to succeed at Tufts. 

“It’s very difficult because we’re a university — we’re not a social service institution — and our job is to make sure that we will bring students here that will not only benefit from the culture, but add to it as well,” Simons said. 

Friedman added that because many international students apply for the smaller science and engineering programs, admission is inherently more competitive.

According to Simons, admissions officers must take into account a number of factors about testing and application conditions that students do not face within the United States.

“You think about when you took the SAT, and it was in a sort of calm, quiet proctored environment,” she said. “[In countries like Syria], test dates might be rescheduled, or the lights might go out.” 

Admissions officials also struggle with gender imbalances in applications from countries where women are not necessarily expected to pursue higher education.  

Despite these obstacles, both Simons and Friedman are pleased that the consortium will aid Syrian students on their way to Tufts and other participating universities. 

“We’re very excited to diversify our international community and to simultaneously — to the extent that we can — help people in parts of the world where an American, and certainly a Tufts education, could be beneficial,” Simons said.

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