June 25, 2024

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Is money behind turning Syrian university dormitories into “independent public bodies”

Enab Baladi – Jana al-Issa

The issuance of a law stipulating the conversion of university dormitories into public bodies of an administrative nature that are financially and administratively independent raised questions about the decision’s goal and feasibility in light of the corruption that state institutions suffer from and the extent to which it reflects “positively” on the students.

According to the state-run news agency (SANA), the law that was ratified by the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, on 4 July aims to grant the administrations of university dormitories sufficient financial and administrative powers to enable them to efficiently provide clean, safe and comfortable accommodation for students, as well as the services required, including maintenance, rehabilitation, construction of new units, and the management of facilities annexed to the dormitories and the investment of some of them.

The law stipulates that a public authority of administrative nature will be established in the name of the university dormitory, enjoying “legal personality and financial and administrative independence” in every governorate containing a university that is subject to the provisions of the Universities Organization Law No. 6 of 2006 and its amendments and is linked to the president of the university.

The university city is managed by a general manager of the dormitory (named by a decision of the prime minister on the proposal of the minister of higher education) and a general board of directors (composed of the university president, the university vice president for student affairs, the general manager, the assistant director general, a representative of the National Union of Syrian Students, named annually by the executive office of the union).

Result of proposals backlog

According to the law, the board of directors is considered the competent authority to formulate the general policy of the university dormitory and to develop plans that achieve its objectives and is responsible for their approval and proper implementation within the provisions of the laws and regulations in force.

These include student admission regulations, residency conditions, and the dormitory’s discipline system, setting rules for differentiation among students for residency, approving the construction of housing units or facilities attached to the university city, in addition to approving the annual budget for the university dormitory, distributing the allocations allocated to it on various items, and submitting it to the ministry of higher education.

The former advisor to the minister of higher education, Dr. Ahmed al-Hussein, considered that the law was based on proposals accumulated for decades as a result of great corruption in university dormitories and the way they are managed and security interventions imposing orders on university city managers in all governorates.

In an interview with Enab Baladi, al-Hussein believes that university dormitories are housing complexes for students, but at the same time, during the past years, they included in their housing units more than 10 percent of people who were not students studying at universities.

The new administrative description of the university cities would allow “more freedom” to the administration of the university dormitory to take care of its own affairs, develop its facilities, and control them away from the university’s budget, according to al-Hussein.

The new law could also contribute to making the powers and administrative description of the General Authority different from the previous situation, in which the university dormitory director was an employee whose name was suggested by the ruling Baath Party branch and was managed by the security services.

Will not make a difference

Al-Hussein explained that the law, in theory, would develop administrative and service work in university cities, which could have a positive impact on students since the board of directors is tasked with formulating general policies, while the director has to implement a policy followed in a large number of laboratories, bodies, and institutions in Syria.

But all of this will not develop work in university dormitories in regime-controlled areas for two main reasons, the first of which is the “culture of corruption” associated with university dormitories, which among its most prominent behaviors: securing housing for one student instead of another, allocating an entire room for one student, granting room to those who do not deserve it, forming gangs for expelling distinguished students, in addition to brokering, bribery, mediation, and favoritism, adds al-Hussein.

While the second reason is that Syria is a country emerging from the effects of war and destruction led by the Syrian regime, and in such a situation in the post-conflict stages, it is not possible to produce healthy and sound institutions because of the culture of conflict and its aftermath is the culture of “militia and war.” The most prominent word in it is for the gun owner, and whoever stands in his face will be liquidated, according to al-Hussein.

Syria ranks 178th in the list of the annual Corruption Perceptions Indicators Report issued by Transparency International, which monitors transparency and corruption in 180 countries around the world.

Most of the housing units in university dormitories in regime-held areas suffer from poor services, and they need repairs.

The student residing in the university dormitory pays a nominal annual fee, but students complain about the low level of cleanliness in the buildings, in addition to people getting rooms in the dormitory without being students through their acquaintances in the Students Union.

At least three students share one room within the dormitory, and the number may reach five students in light of the poor services, which prompts students coming to the university from other governorates to rent houses outside.

Enhancing management or debt compensation approach?

A study by Jusoor Center for Studies sheds light on the Syrian regime’s goal of transforming university dormitories into “independent bodies,” which may be part of its policy of searching for mechanisms to diversify government sources “in order to repay the accumulated debt of its allies, and to enhance the government’s ability to continue providing its business.”

The stage of establishing public bodies witnessed a noticeable interruption in Syria. It is divided into two stages.

The first was related to improving the efficiency of government institutions and their ability to manage, and the second was represented by improving state resources, according to the study, inferred from two things:

The nature of the bodies established before 2011 that carried an administrative nature to improve the reality of the sector, as is the case in the Real Estate Finance Authority and Syrian Badia Development Authority, and the nature of the recently established bodies as a body to manage each university city, a hospital management body in itself, and a fisheries management body at a sublevel in each region.

The general context carried by the establishment of public bodies recently comes amid a campaign of financial reform and diversification of government resources by reducing subsidies, raising taxes, and introducing public fees.

Jusoor Center indicated that the public authority is an agency established by the government in order to strengthen the economy to achieve public purposes.

According to this principle, the public authority works outside the “complicated” governmental framework in order to achieve good and efficient resources and services that are reflected on the beneficiaries in terms of service, on the government financially, and on the economy in terms of creating new sectors.