ASUCI Recommends Scholarships for Syrian Refugees

ASUCI Senate unanimously passed a resolution last Tuesday which formally recommended that UC Irvine offer increased academic seats and scholarships to Syrian students displaced by conflict. The legislation further encourages UCI to join the Institute of International Education (IIE)’s Consortium for Higher Education in Crisis by the end of the 2016-17 academic year.

The legislation, R-52-12, was written by Iman Siddiqi, a third-year political science major and former news editor of the New University. It was sponsored by ASUCI At-Large Senator Zeina Mousa. The resolution was presented to Senate President Tin Hong on Oct. 12, and passed on Oct. 18 with a majority vote of 11 yeas, 0 nays and 0 abstentions.

The legislation asserts that the increased admittance of Syrian refugee students is supported by the University of California’s “compelling interest in making sure that people from all backgrounds perceive access to the University is possible for talented students… from all groups.” According to UNESCO, based on prewar enrollment rates, 90,000 to 110,000 Syrian students were qualified for university admission.

“Syrians face an ‘academic emergency’ due to a breakdown of higher education within their country, resulting from frequent attacks on university campuses, destroyed facilities, closed campuses and dangerous roads leading to campuses,” the legislation states. “The maintenance of a population of educated students and the prevention of a ‘lost generation’ is necessary for the post-conflict development of Syria.”

Universities including USC, Tufts University, Illinois Institute of Technology and Bryn Mawr College have already joined IIE’s Syria Consortium for Higher Education in crisis. R-52-12 ensures ASUCI’s endorsement of UCI’s membership in the consortium.

“This will benefit Syrian students, but also our own students in terms of opening their eyes to Syria’s culture,” said Social Sciences Senator Grecia Orozco following the resolution’s passage. “This is very important; it shows UCI’s solidarity with Syrian students displaced by war.”

College Republicans of UCI (CRUCI) released an official statement last Thursday condemning the resolution, expressing concerns that the measure would “take some of the limited number of spots at UC Irvine away from American citizens that are qualified to attend the University in the name of appearing politically correct.”

“Tuition is already high enough; to set aside scholarships for such a high number of people hurts every single person that attends UC Irvine or receives a form of financial aid,” CRUCI wrote in a statement. “There is only so much money, and so many spots to go around, and setting aside a portion of the allotted money and spots for a particular set of students will result in disaster.”

However, according to the legislation, the resolution does not require scholarships for Syrian students to be funded by UC. Rather, all scholarships will be funded by “campus-wide fundraisers [and] collection drives,” as well as outside donors. A statement read during Tuesday’s Senate meeting emphasized that “the university is working with existing sources of funding for international students, such as through private donors” and the resolution will “not take money away from Americans.”

Further, Siddiqi noted that the number of spots at UCI reserved for Syrian students could be as little as one or two.

“Universities that join the IIE Syria Consortium may agree to offer just one or two [spots to Syrian students] per academic year. If we can get each UC campus to accept one student, even that would make a big difference,” said Siddiqi. “We aren’t asking the UC system to accept all displaced Syrian students who can no longer pursue higher education, but if universities around the nation take one or two Syrian students as dozens of universities are already doing, we can collectively invest in the post-conflict development of  Syria.”

The idea for the legislation was first proposed by UCI’s chapter of Hearts of Mercy, a nationwide organization which seeks to raise funds and awareness for Syrian refugees. Their current campaign, Books Not Bombs, aims to increase membership of American universities in IIE’s Syria Consortium, which includes 60 universities worldwide committed to providing scholarships for Syrian students.

Having secured ASUCI’s formal endorsement of the campaign, Hearts of Mercy plans to advocate for similar resolutions on all nine undergraduate UC campuses. According to UC Student Regent Marcela Ramirez, all nine campuses must prove “student support” in the form of student government resolutions before the campaign can be presented to UC Regents and formalized.