Syrian- British higher education, IT cooperation boosted
Syria-UK, Culture, 2/11/2002
The desire to maintain closer partnership relations between Syria and Britain has been evident in the help given by the British side to boost these relations, especially in the area of information technology (IT) and higher education.
In a statement to Arabic News (ArabicNews.com), Mark Bell, political secretary at the British embassy in Damascus said that the Chevening Scholarship program is a world-wide scheme. But the UK does not give scholarships to all countries.
"We offer scholarships to many Arab countries including Syria. We generally offer scholarships to developing countries, and so Chevening fits in very well with Syria's own development at the moment in terms of its economic and social reforms programmes.
"So when we choose Chevening candidates,we look for a number of qualities in a person that will fit in with a particular country's development needs.
Obviously they have to speak and understand English very well, because the lectures in British Universities are not given in Arabic! And British Universities will only accept students with required level of English.
But most importantly we are looking for candidates who are, or looking to be involved in various sectors of the Syrian society. So we are looking into economic reforms, IT, political sciences, business, law, energy, environment and public (i.e. government sector) administration. He added, "when we choose a candidate for Chevening we have to be convinced that they will play a leading role in the development of one of the said fields when they return to Syria from the UK. These candidates come from a variety of different backgrounds: we look at people who are working for the government for obvious reasons - they may be involved in implementing specific development projects or working on matters of reform policy; we look at people from the private sector - ultimately it is their input which will ensure the success of economic reform; and we look at people who are in the position to pass on knowledge to others, whether this is through teaching, training schemes, capacity building etc.
One of the areas which we are concentrating on at the moment, he added, is the Information Technology (IT) sector. We are looking at network development, software development, the use of IT in business and banking, IT education and the possibilities for e-Commerce and other internet applications.
This year, the academic year 2002-2003, we have some very good news.
Following the visit of the prime minister in October 2001 to Damascus, Mr. Blair asked that the Chevening budget be increased as part of the process for improving bilateral relations and co-operation. The budget was 180,000 Sterling Pound and now stands at 310,000 Sterling Pound annually. He continued that this year we hope to send up to 25 Syrian students to the UK within the Chevening scheme and possibly more." In response to a question about Syrian attitudes to the Chevening scheme, Mr. Bell said, "we had an incredible response to the invitation for applicants for the 2002-2003 programme and then narrowed down the field to just over 100 interviewees. The British embassy and the British council have just completed interviewing and the quality of applicants was extremely high. Our choices have yet to be made public but I can tell you that we have chosen people from a number of government departments, including the Ministries of Tourism and Economy, and from the State Planning Commission, from the private sector, including the Syrian- European Business center, the legal field, and people working in Information Technology.
"We have interviewed and chosen many women as well as men and from all over Syria: from Lattakia to Deir ez-Zoour and from Aleppo to Sweida - so they are not all from Damascus!." He added, "We also have special agreements with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, al-Furat / Shell oil company and Damascus University for a shared funding of some of the Chevening places. We are looking at the possibilities for further joint funding initiatives with other private companies in Britain and in Syria.
"We hope that the candidates we have chosen for Chevening will benefit enormously from their education in the UK and will consequently be of great benefit to Syria." Mr. Bell concluded by saying it is important that the UK is able to help Syria in this way, as part of the wider field of co-operation between the two countries on development issues, and also what is very important is that it will serve to strengthen our already friendly bilateral relationship.
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