An initiative which it is hoped can help drive much-needed reform in troubled Syria is to be spearheaded by St Andrews University.
Scotland’s oldest university is expanding the work of its Centre for Syrian Studies to foster a better understanding of Syria and also carry out independent research following financial support from the Asfari Foundation.
The St Andrews institution will act as a hub for academic interaction, research and education on contemporary Syria at a critical and enormously difficult time in its history.
The collaboration will also provide new scholarships for talented young Syrians in the hope of empowering them to lead change in their own country, while internships will be offered to young Britons and Syrians to foster exchange and the study of Syria.
The St Andrews CSS became the world’s first research centre on Syria when it opened in 2006. It was established with the help of a donation from the Asfari Foundation which is now to give an additional £322,000 over three years to expand its work.
The Foundation is a British-registered charity established by British-Syrian businessman Ayman Asfari. Under the new agreement, the Centre will conduct high-quality, independent, objective research on Syria at a crucial time of its development and provide quality graduate education in the UK on Syria for UK students and for talented young Syrians, accepted on merit.
The programme will also promote research that will help Syrians advance positive, non-violent, secular, democratic transition to a country under rule of law based on well-informed research and bring Syrian and UK scholars together in St Andrews for academic interaction.
Professor Raymond Hinnebusch, director of the Centre, said: “Knowledge and research about Syria which is made freely and widely available to those interested in the country’s development is more important than ever if the international community is to help it to find a peaceful and democratic future.
“We hope that a better understanding of Syria will improve not only academic understanding, but will also help policymakers, the media and the international aid community to make more informed decisions and judgments.”
Vice-principal Stephen Magee added:”We guard our academic independence jealously at St Andrews. We are delighted that through our Centre for Syrian Studies and School of International Relations we have the opportunity to contribute independent academic insight which may help drive positive and lasting change in this troubled country.”
The university and the Foundation intend that the Centre should become a “go-to” independent research facility on Syria, providing expert analysis and stimulating debate and reform.
Six Syrian scholars will be admitted to the university to complete Masters programmes in economic, social, political and other fields relevant to Syria. Their education will be jointly funded by St Andrews and the Foundation, on the understanding that they contribute to the development of Syria using the knowledge acquired in Scotland. Funding will also be provided for a PhD student.
Internships will be offered to young Syrian and British students in Dubai, St Andrews or Syria - if the situation allows - and there will be resources to allow three Syrian senior fellows to spend time in St Andrews to conduct research, give lectures and teach students.
Mr Asfari said:“The appalling situation in Syria is of the greatest concern to the Foundation. Syria is on the brink of great change. For the country to make the transition to a more democratic and just society under the rule of law, much work needs to be done, both inside Syria and abroad.
“We believe that bringing UK and Syrian scholars together at the world-class university will engender ideas and knowledge that will feed into Syria’s development and the understanding of it generally.
“We also support the Centre so it can educate a new generation of British experts on Syria as well as Syrian scholars that can contribute to the development of their country. I am very pleased at the continued partnership with St Andrews and look forward to the work to be done by the Centre.”