In early July, President Assad issued Law No. 29 of 2022, converting university campuses into public institutions, known as general commissions, that are independent from a financial and administrative point of view. The purpose of the law is to provide housing for students, conduct maintenance and rehabilitation work, and build new housing units, as well as to manage and invest in facilities belonging to university campuses. The law only applies to both state-run and private universities.
According to the law, university campuses will take the form of independent state-owned institutions. They will be present in any governorate in Syria where there is a university subject to the provisions of University Regulatory Law No. 6 of 2006 and its subsequent amendments.
The general commissions (GC) created under Law No. 29 will assume ownership of all existing or contracted land, buildings, facilities, kiosks, clubs, restaurants, cafeterias, furniture, equipment, machinery, and tools within the university campuses they cover.
Under Article 3 of the law, the purpose of university campuses is to secure adequate and safe housing for students residing on campus in compliance with the standards and criteria set by the board of directors of the GC.
The Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research told the semi-official Al-Watan newspaper that university campuses were previously run as departments affiliated with their university’s deans. Based on Law No. 29, the GCs are now in charge managing each university campus. The board of directors includes representatives from the university and the National Union of Syrian Students (a Baath Party-affiliated organisation).
Each board of directors is chaired by the general manager of the GC who the prime minister appoints. Other members include the university president, the vice president for student affairs, the assistant general manager, and a National Union of Syrian Students representative. The general manager takes on the university campus’ administrative, financial, and executive supervision and proposes a budget. Meanwhile, the board of directors is tasked with determining the general policy for the university campus and setting out plans that achieve those goals. The board is also responsible for approving and implementing its objectives within the scope of any relevant laws, provisions and regulations.
A campus’ board of directors approves any related regulations and conditions for that campus and the mechanisms for accepting students. It proposes the monetary fees for housing to be formally issued by decree from the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research. Finally, the board approves the budget for the GC, accepts endowments, gifts and donations, approves any new construction of student dormitories or related facilities and proposes the employment structure for their campus.
The GC receives its funding from the following sources:
First, 50 percent of students’ annual payments for on-campus housing goes to the GC, while the remaining 50 percent goes to the public state treasury. Second, the GC receives any fees for subcontracting the management of campus restaurants, cafeterias, kiosks, buildings, lands, sports fields and other facilities. Third are grants, aid funding, endowments and bequests accepted by the board of directors. And fourth is the annual subsidy, a portion of the university’s own revenue allocated to the GC by the Higher Education Council.
Law No. 29 requires that university campuses have at least three dormitories. However, this applies only to some campuses, the largest and oldest of which is the University of Damascus with 27 dormitories spread across three separate clusters: Mazzeh, Al-Tabbaleh and Barzeh. The University of Aleppo, meanwhile, has 20 dormitories on its campus, Al-Baath University in Homs has 12 dormitories and Tishreen University in Lattakia 22. There are five more dormitories spread across the other universities in the country none of which hosts at least three dormitories; hence, the campuses remain managed as departments within the universities to which they are affiliated.
Therefore, in total, there are 86 such dormitories across Syria’s university campuses, housing around 70,000 students. Each unit ranges from 120-250 rooms depending on the number of storeys, with each room housing three to eight students, though sometimes more. Students sometimes sleep on the floor due to overcrowding and shortages of beds.
On top of overcrowding, university campuses suffer from poor services, a lack of necessary repairs to sewage, water, electricity and heating networks, and filthy conditions. Drinking water shortages are common. In addition, student dormitories are subject to the same electricity rationing schedules as their surrounding neighbourhoods. For example, dormitories in Mazzeh receive five hours of electricity per day. Some dormitories have even lacked hot water for years.
Also living in the dormitories are a large number of public employees and military members who circumvent laws, bribe campus officials or use force, connections or favouritism to obtain housing. Still, at SYP 3,000 per month, dormitories remain the only option for many poor students from remote, rural parts of Syria.
In theory, any students from outside the governorate where their university is located are entitled to dormitory housing. Priority is usually given to students whose majors require daily class attendance. In some cases, dormitories are allocated to students of certain majors.
It is unclear whether the new law will unify the rules for accepting students who wish to live in dormitories. Those criteria have always differed based on the availability of vacant rooms. For example, the dormitories at the University of Damascus ruled that for the 2020-2021 academic year, students accepted into the dormitories must be registered at the undergraduate level in one of the university’s various colleges or institutes. They also must not have received any university punishment of a higher degree than a warning. Finally, the students had to be from a city 40 kilometres or more from Damascus. Students related to “martyrs” also receive special priority and are exempted from certain preconditions for receiving on-campus housing.
Since 2011, university campuses have seen a heavy security presence. Many students have been pursued or arrested due to their regional or religious backgrounds. Recent years have also witnessed students form paramilitary groups organised by the National Union of Syrian Students.