Country overview

Official country name: Syrian Arab Republic

Location: Middle East, on the eastern Mediterranean Sea

Capital: Damascus

Area: 185,180 square km, including 1 295 square km. of Israeli-occupied territory

Population: Difficult to determine due to the Syria’s civil war. Before the civil war started in 2011, the Syrian population was estimated at approximately 23 million, including people with refugee status from Palestine and Iraq and indigenous Levantine people. (Source: CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] — The World Factbook: Syria)

Ethnicity and religion: Demographic data is unreliable. Some minority groups are defined primarily by religion, others by ethnicity. In 2011, Syria’s population was 70% to 74% Sunni Muslim (59% to 60% Arabs, 9% to 11% Kurds and 2% to 3% Turkmen), other Muslims (including Alawites 10%, Shia and Ismaili) made up 16% of the population, Druse 2% to 3%, Christians made up 10% to 12% and finally, there were a few Jewish and Greek descents. (Source: CIA, Syria)

Languages: Arabic is the official language and is the mother tongue for 90% of the population. Kurdish, Armenian, Aramaic, Circassian are also spoken in Syria by their respective minority communities.

Administration: Syria is a republic under an authoritarian regime. It consists of 14 provinces (muhafazat): Al Hasakah; Al Ladhiqiyah (Latakia); Al Qunaytirah; Ar Raqqah; As Suwayda'; Dar'a; Dayr az Zawr; Dimashq (Damascus); Halab; Hamah; Hims (Homs); Idlib; Rif Dimashq (Damascus Countryside); and Tartus

School education

Flowchart of Syria's school education system

The school education in Syria is 12 years in length, comprising Grades 1 to 12.

The Ministry of Education is responsible for school education.

The school year is 38 weeks long and divided into 2 semesters. The length of each teaching period is 45 minutes at primary level, and 50 minutes at preparatory and secondary levels. The average weekly study load is 32 hours at the primary and preparatory education level, 35 hours at the general secondary education level and up to 40 hours at the technical/vocational secondary education level. During each semester, students are exposed to oral and written tests and final exams. Arabic is language of instruction at all levels of education in Syria.

The Law on Education #32 of April 7, 2002 implemented free and compulsory basic education that includes the primary (6-year program) and preparatory (3-year program) levels.

Kindergarten education is offered to children aged 3 to 5. This fee-paying education is not compulsory and lasts 3 years.

Primary education is compulsory and free for children aged 6. The primary program lasts 6 years. The 2001 primary education curriculum included the following subjects: religious education, Arabic language, foreign language [introduced in Grade 5], mathematics, social studies, science and health education, physical education, music and art education.

Preparatory education is free and has been compulsory since 2002. It lasts 3 years, representing Grades 7 to 9. This level offers 2 options: general and religious studies. Students take religious education, Arabic language (including handwriting), foreign language, mathematics, social studies (history, geography and national socialist education), science, drawing, music, vocational subject, military training, and agriculture for boys and home economics for girls. At the end of the stage in Grade 9, students sit a general examination. Successful students are awarded a Basic Education Certificate (al-Shahâda al-Dirasat al-Iddiyya al’Amma; also known as al-Kafa’a or Brevet).

Secondary education is free but it is not compulsory. Students can choose to study 1 of 3 streams: general secondary, technical secondary and vocational secondary education. All streams are 3 years in length (Grades 10 to 12).

In the general secondary education stream, students take general subjects in Grade 10 and follow the literary or scientific section starting Grade 11. At the end of Grade 12, students sit a final examination. Upon successful completion, students are awarded a General Secondary Education Certificate (al-Shahâda al-Thânawiyya al-Amma; also known as Baccalaureate). The General Secondary Education Certificate gives access to university education.

Technical secondary education comprises the following branches: technical industrial, agricultural, commercial, and technical education for girls. Technical secondary education also requires passing a final examination. Successful students are awarded a Technical Secondary Education Certificate (al-Shahâda al-Thânawiyya al-Fanniyya) and an occupation title of technician (Fanni). Students with a score of 70% and above on the final examination have access to university education in affiliated fields. Students with a lower score can enter a 2-year intermediate institution (ma'ahid mutawassita). Graduates of nursing field receive a Nursing Certificate (al-Shahâda fi al-Tamridh).

The vocational secondary education branch comprises industrial and vocational education for girls. A commercial field was offered until 1992. Vocational programs lead to a Vocational Secondary Education Certificate (al-Shahâda al-Thânawiyya al-Mihaniyya). Graduates receive a skilled-worker designation on completion. From 1989 to 2000, secondary schools offered some 2-year vocational programs. Vocational secondary education does not grant access to higher education.

The religious education stream is 6-year program, including 3-year preparatory and 3-year secondary levels. It is administered by the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Students receive a Religious Secondary Education Certificate (al-Shahâda al-Thânawiyya al-Shar'iyya) which does not allow access to higher education. There are specific intermediate institutes for graduates of this stream.

Secondary education curricula vary according to the stream. Common subjects are only Arabic and a foreign language. The vocational stream curricula is comprised of up to 75% of specialized subjects and professional practice.

Final grades are determined on examination performance. Until 2008, passing a final examination required a passing score of 102/240 in the literary track and 104/260 in the science track. The Ministry of Education introduced a new curriculum in 2008. The maximum mark in the literary stream was changed to 280, with the minimum pass mark set as 118. The maximum mark in the scientific stream was changed to 290, with the minimum pass mark set as 116. The minimum passing score for Arabic is 50% and 40% for other subjects. Syrian secondary education transcripts list the maximum marks and the minimum passing marks. The typical school grading scale is as follows:

80 to 100% Excellent (imtiyaz)
65 to 79% Very Good (jayed jeddan)
50 to 64% Good (jayed)
40 to 49% Acceptable (maqboul)
0 to 39% Failure (raseb)

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) that is located in Syria offers school education to Palestine refugee students. UNRWA basic and secondary schools constitute part of the Syrian education system, following the curricula of the Syrian Ministry of Education and issuing the Syrian certificates of secondary education. The 2011 military conflict affected UNRWA training facilities and made them inoperable in Syria.

Higher education overview

Flowchart of Syria's higher education system

The Ministry of Higher Education is responsible for higher education in Syria.

Higher education is offered at universities, higher institutes and intermediate institutes.

The medium of instruction at all public higher education institutions is Arabic. Some private universities offer programs in English. Private universities require  an English proficiency result (e.g., TOEFL, IELTS, or Oxford Placement Test) for admission.

The holders of a General Secondary Education Certificate have access to university programs. Graduates of the science stream are allowed to enter any field, while graduates of the literary stream are restricted to arts programs (humanities, fine arts, education, law, and business and commerce, etc.). The holders of a Technical Secondary Education Certificate are typically admitted to intermediate institutes, but technical school graduates with a high score on the final examination may be accepted to universities.

The document most often issued to graduates is a Graduation Certificate (Wathiqat takharruj, Musaddiqat takharuj or Mossad mojaz), which represents a record of study. Universities and higher institutes issue a Musaddiqat takharuj and intermediate institutes award a Wathiqat takharruj or Mossad mojaz. The documents are issued in Arabic, but some private institutions issue documents in English. Syrian institutions supply only one set of original documents.

There are 2 types of undergraduate degrees: Bachelor’s degrees (offered at public and private universities) and intermediate Certificates (offered at intermediate institutes).

Intermediate institutes offer 2-year technical post-secondary training referred to as intermediate programs (ma’ahad mutawassita). Intermediate programs were established in the 1970s. Entry requires the completion of a Technical Secondary Education Certificate. The school year consists of 2 semesters of 16 weeks each not including examination sessions. A typical weekly workload is 37 hours, with half the time focused on theoretical study and the remaining half on practice. One month of practical training is required in the summer as a part of the curriculum. Intermediate programs lead to: a Certificate of [Qualified Assistant] (Shahadat musa'id mujaz) / Certificate [of Industrial Institute] (Shahadat diblum al-ma'bad al-sinai fi ...) and a professional qualification. The graduates of intermediate institutes who pursue further study towards a Bachelor’s degree do not receive advanced standing. There are religious intermediate institutes that admit holders of a Religious Secondary Education Certificate only. Until 2001, intermediate institutes offered 2-year primary teacher education programs that lead to a Primary Teaching Certificate (Shahâdat Ahliyyat Al-Ta'lîm Al-lbtibâ'l). Since 2001, all teacher education programs are offered at the Bachelor’s degree level.

Bachelor’s degree (Darajat al-Bakaloriyoos) programs are typically 4 years in length. Engineering, architecture, pharmacy, dentistry and veterinary medicine fields are 5-year programs. General medicine programs require 6 years for completion. All programs require a General Secondary Education Certificate for entry. An academic year at university is 30 weeks divided in 2 equal semesters, plus examination sessions. The classroom hours vary from one faculty to another. For example, engineering programs require about 30 hours per week. Some Human Science programs are about 24 hours per week. All courses within individual study programs are mandatory. Graduates receive a Bachelor’s degree referred often as a Licence and a Graduation Certificate (Musaddiqat takharuj).

At the graduate level, universities offer programs in 3 stages: a Diploma, Master’s degree and Doctoral degree.

Diploma of Higher Studies (Diblum ad-Dirasat al-ulja) programs are one or 2 years in length following the Bachelor degree in a related discipline. Programs are professional in nature, but some require a research project. The Diploma of Higher Studies gives advanced standing to professional Master's degree (Majesteer mehani) programs. Universities also offer terminal one-year Diploma of Qualification and Specialization programs that are also of professional nature in the fields of commerce, engineering, economics and information technology. Both programs require a Bachelor degree in a relevant subject for admission. A Diploma of Qualification and Specialization does not give access to a professional Master’s degree.

Academic Master’s degree (al-Mâjistîr) programs last 2 years. The admission requirement is a Bachelor’s degree. Typical graduate level work load is 36 hours per week. Master’s degree programs require the completion of 6 subjects, and thesis research. Professional Master’s degrees are one year for holders of a Diploma of Higher Studies and 2 years after a Bachelor’s degree. A professional Master’s degree does not allow students to continue to a Doctorate.

Three-year Doctoral degree (al-Duktûrâh) programs require an academic Master’s degree for admission. Typically, programs are structured into one year of coursework, followed by 2 years of dissertation preparation.

The tertiary grading system is based on a scale of 0% to 100%. The minimum passing score varies from 50% to 60%.

The following are examples of grading scales used at post-secondary institutions:

95 to 100% Honours (sharaf)
85 to 94% Excellent (imtiyaz)
75 to 84% Very Good (jayed jeddan)
65 to 74% Good (jayed)
60 to 64% Acceptable (maqboul)
0 to 59% Failure (raseb)
90 to 100% Honours (sharaf)
80 to 89% Excellent (imtiyaz)
70 to 79% Very Good (jayed jeddan)
60 to 69% Good (jayed)
50 to 59% Acceptable (maqboul)
0 to 49% Failure (raseb)
85 to 100% Excellent (imtiyaz)
75 to 84% Very Good (jayed jeddan)
65 to 74% Good (jayed)
50 to 64% Acceptable (maqboul)
0 to 59% Failure (raseb)

Syria has no national academic credit system. Universities and other higher education institutions establish their own credit requirements.

Technical education

The Syrian vocational and technical system consists of 2 levels: secondary (vocational and technical secondary schools) and post-secondary (intermediate institutes).

Secondary technical and vocational education and training represents 3-year programs at Grades 10 to 12. Graduates are granted a Technical Secondary Education Certificate plus a title of technician and may continue their studies at an intermediate institute. Vocational stream graduates are awarded a Vocational Secondary Education Certificate as a skilled worker and can join the labour market.

Post-secondary technical education is provided at intermediate institutes. These programs last 2 years. The entry requirement is either a Technical or General Secondary Education Certificate. Intermediate institute graduates are granted a Certificate [of Qualified Assistant / of Technician]. Typically, graduates receive a Graduation Certificate (Wathiqat takharruj or Mossad mojaz). Graduates can join the labour market or top students can continue their study in a Bachelor’s degree program.

UNRWA offers vocational and technical education programs to Palestinian refugee youth. Programs are of 2 levels: technical programs, and trade courses. They are administered by UNRWA only and therefore, do not constitute part of the Syrian education system.

Institutions

Higher education is offered at universities (mossasat al-taleem al-ali), higher institutes (al-ma'had al-ali) and intermediate institutes (al-ma'had al-sinai).

All higher education institutions were public until 2001. The Legislative Decree #36, passed in 2001, permitted the establishment of private universities. To operate, a private university must obtain a license from the Ministry of Higher Education. Private universities are only permitted to offer Bachelor’s degrees. In 2002, Syria opened its first distance programs (taleem maftooh) through the Syrian Virtual University. No provision for part-time studies exists in the Syrian higher education system. Foreign institutions are permitted to offer education programs in accordance with Law #167 of 1959.

All universities work under the auspices of the Ministry of Higher Education, whereas some intermediate institutes may fall under the jurisdiction of another ministry, such as the Ministry of Health. The University of Damascus is the oldest university in Syria and was established in 1923. Higher Institutes are affiliated to the University of Damascus, with the exception of the National Institute for Business Administration. Universities and higher institutes offer undergraduate and postgraduate programs up to the doctoral level. Intermediate institutes offer 2-year post-secondary technical programs.

Syria’s Ministry of Higher Education (Arabic only) includes on its website lists of all recognized higher education institutions which are authorized to issue degrees and diplomas / certificates.

Credential comparison

Credential Entrance requirements Length of study IQAS comparison
General Secondary Education Certificate (al-'Dirasa al-'Thanawiyya al-'Amma) Completion of Grade 9: Preparatory Education(al-Madrasa al-I'dadiyya) 3 years Generally compares to the completion of a High School Diploma
Technical Secondary Education Certificate (al-'Dirasa al-'Thanawiyya al-'Fanniyya) Completion of Grade 9: Preparatory Education(al-Madrasa al-I'dadiyya) 3 years Generally compares to the completion of a High School Diploma, including technical training
Vocational Secondary Education Certificate (al-'Dirasa al-'Thanawiyya al-'Mihaniyya) Completion of Grade 9: Preparatory Education(al-Madrasa al-I'dadiyya) 2 or 3 years Generally compares to the completion of a Certificate of High School Achievement, including vocational training
Nursing Certificate (al-Shahâda fi al-Tamridh) Completion of Grade 9: Preparatory Education(al-Madrasa al-I'dadiyya) 3 years Generally compares to the completion of a High School Diploma, including vocational training in health care
Intermedicate Certificate (Wathiqat Takharruj / Mussad Mujaz) General Secondary Education Certificate (al-'Dirasa al-'Thanawiyya al-'Amma)

Technical Secondary Education Certificate (al-'Dirasa al-'Thanawiyya al-'Fanniyya)

2 years Generally compares to the completion of a post-secondary Diploma
Primary Teaching Certificate (Shahâdat Ahliyyat Al-Ta'lîm Al-lbtibâ'l) General Secondary Education Certificate (al-'Dirasa al-'Thanawiyya al-'Amma)

Technical Secondary Education Certificate (al-'Dirasa al-'Thanawiyya al-'Fanniyya)

2 years Generally compares to the completion of a post-secondary Diploma
Bachelor’s degree (Ejaza Jameia) General Secondary Education Certificate (al-'Dirasa al-'Thanawiyya al-'Amma)

Intermedicate Certificate (Wathiqat Takharruj / Mussad Mujaz)

4 years Generally compares to the completion of a 4-year Bachelor’s degree
Degree in Medicine (Darajat fit-Tibb) General Secondary Education Certificate (al-'Dirasa al-'Thanawiyya al-'Amma) 6 years Generally compares to the completion of a first professional university degree in medicine
Degree in Dentistry (Darajat fit-Tibb wal-Asnaan) General Secondary Education Certificate (al-'Dirasa al-'Thanawiyya al-'Amma) 5 years Generally compares to the completion of a first professional university degree in dentistry
Degree in Veterinary Medicine (Darajat fit-Tibb al-Beetri) General Secondary Education (al-'Dirasa al-'Thanawiyya al-'Amma) 5 years Generally compares to the completion of a first professional university degree in veterinary medicine
Degree in Law (Darajat fi al-Qanoon) General Secondary Education Certificate (al-'Dirasa al-'Thanawiyya al-'Amma) 5 years Generally compares to the completion of a first professional university degree in law
Diploma of Higher Studies(Diblum ad-Dirasat al-ulja) Bachelor’s degree (Ejaza Jameia) 1 or 2 years Generally compares to the completion of a graduate Certificate / graduate Diploma
Diploma of Qualification and Specialization (Diblum) Bachelor’s degree (Ejaza Jameia) 1 year Generally compares to the completion of a graduate Certificate
Master’s Degree (Al-Mâjistîr [academic] / Majesteer Mehani [professional]) Bachelor’s degree (Ejaza Jameia) [to academic]

Diploma [of Higher Studies](Diblum ad-Dirasat al-ulja) [to professional]

2 years [academic]

1 year after Diploma [of Higher Studies](Diblum ad-Dirasat al-ulja) [professional]

Generally compares to the completion of a Master’s degree
Doctoral Degree (al-Ducturah) Master’s Degree (Al-Mâjistîr) [academic] 3 years (minimum) Generally compares to the completion of a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree

Contact IQAS

Go to contact page