The Syrian Virtual University (SVU), vision and challenges

  Online learning has become immensely popular in the 21st century, resulting in the creation of universities that exist only online.

The Syrian Virtual University is an accredited state university established by a legislative decree in 2002. It is based on online learning that uses the Internet to deliver lessons. Students can obtain a university degree if they have a computer system that meets the technological requirements of that virtual university.

The SVU seeks to occupy a prominent and leading position among global universities in the field of E-learning in the region. The aim is to qualify human resources in order to meet international academic and professional standards and to meet the needs of the national and regional labor markets in various domains. 

The SVU also plans to attract the best educational and research experiences and make them part of a scientific network in which the learner and the graduate can interact.

Syria Times interviewed DR. Khalil Ajami, President of the Syrian Virtual University, who kindly answered our questions.

Syria Times: What are the reasons for establishing the Syrian Virtual University?

DR. Khalil: The Syrian Virtual University is the first of its kind in the Middle East and the fourth in the world. The University was established with a future vision. We realized that all-out development in Syria, including in economy and education, has necessitated the digital content to become an essential element in the educational process. Our experience has proven its effectiveness and importance, especially during the war on Syria and the spread of the Coronavirus epidemic. Recently, the SVU acquired a piece of land to build a separate building for the university. 

Syria Times: What are the colleges of the SVU?

DR. Khalil: The university contains many departments that specialize in various fields of study including:

  Information Technology Engineering (ITE)

    Bachelor in Information Technology (BAIT)

    Bachelor in Communications Technology (BACT)

    Bachelor of Science in Economics (BSCE)

    Bachelor in Management Sciences (BSCM)

    Bachelor in Mass Communication (BMC)

    Bachelor in Law Sciences (BL)

    Educational Habilitation Diploma (EDUC)

    English (Eng) Higher Education System and Specialization and    qualifying Studies

    Master in Web Technology (MWT)

    Master in Technology Management (PMTM)

    Master in Quality (MIQ)

    Master in Web Sciences (MWS)

    Master in Business Administration (MBA)

    Master in Medical Education (MedE)

    Master Degree in Integration of technology in education (MITE)

    Master Degree in International Humanitarian Law (MIHL)

Syria Times: What's new?

DR. Khalil:

    Master Degree in Applied Linguistics

    Master Degree in Biomedical

    Master Degree in information Modeling

Syria Times: What's the programming marathon for children?

DR. Khalil: The marathon aims to teach children and youths programming skills at an early age to enhance their theoretical and creative thinking abilities, train them to solve problems, and improve interaction with technology.

The children have to be between 8 to 15 years old. The SVU  has accepted 5000 children over the past three years.

Syria Times: What is the university’s role in the national economy?

DR. Khalil: The University provides financial returns through the production of knowledge. It relies on installments by students inside the country and abroad. Students abroad pay in foreign currency and this contributes to the state treasury thereby, supporting the national economy.

Syria Times: What is the impact of economic sanctions (Caesar Act) on the virtual university?

DR. Khalil: Syria has been under economic sanctions since 2005. SVU was not able to obtain up-to-date information systems, or provide us with the technical support that is necessary to operate the system which we had purchased before the sanctions. However, we did not give into the sanctions. We developed information systems with national expertise and adopted available open sources of information.

Syria Times: What did the previous virtual universities offer to the Syrian Virtual University?

DR. Khalil: The virtual university benefited from the experiences of other virtual universities in bridging the gaps and we added innovative ideas that adapted to difficult circumstances. The Syrian Virtual University has achieved a pioneering experience, being the first public university that obtained accreditation and immunity, while other virtual universities are private universities.

A year and a half ago, the university participated in the meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to establish a network of virtual universities. 100 universities representing 45 countries took part in the meeting where an executive committee was formed to set accreditation standards. The committee consisted of 6 countries, including Syria, due to the importance of its experience, as it was considered one of the most mature experiences.

Syria Times: Where are the external access centers located and what are the conditions for opening a new access center?

DR. Khalil: We have several access centers distributed across the Arab world and internationally, such as in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Germany and Turkey

Recently, a new access center was opened in Russia in cooperation with Russia's Synergy University.

Opening a new access center needs a number of computers connected to the Internet and equipped with surveillance cameras and local observers in addition to an appropriate number of students. 

Syria Times: What about the closed internal centers at present?

DR. Khalil: We have several internal centers in all governorates, but 3 centers in Hasaka, Daraa and Idlib have been closed, due to the security condition there. Students in these three provinces can take their exams in available centers in other governorates, or they can stop their registration until these centers are reopened.

Syria Times: What is the form of cooperation between the SVU and the Ministry of Tourism?

DR. Khalil: The virtual university has signed an agreement with the Ministry of Tourism to establish an applied college through the application of a blended learning system. In this college, the university offers a tourism management program that constitutes 30 percent of the course, while the Ministry of Tourism does the practical side within hotel management institutes and schools in different Syrian governorates. Thus, if the experiment succeeds, we will apply it with other ministries.

Syria Times: What are the difficulties that faced the Syrian Virtual University?

DR. Khalil: The University has overcome many difficulties, the most important of which was the lack of the culture of virtual education. But now, we began to witness equal opportunities between virtual education and the traditional one.

During the difficult conditions of war and the communications cuts, we managed to rely on other sources and adapt to difficulties. Cooperation between the University and the Ministry of Communications also helped provide the university with necessary technical support.

Syria Times: Can we apply virtual education to traditional universities?

DR. Khalil: The application of the virtual education system to all universities requires a huge cost for the infrastructure which is not currently available.

It is worth mentioning that the programmers team at the virtual university won the first rank in the international programming competition.

In conclusion, we have discovered that the Syrian Virtual University is providing a modern system in learning, training and research in the academic and professional field which allows the learner and the trainee to engage effectively and directly in the labor market by developing their skills and knowledge in diverse modern fields.

Interviewed by: Sanaa Hasan