It was a similar picture at other universities. By the year 2013, the Syrian Network for Human Rights issued a shocking assessment of the repression suffered by members of university communities during the first two years of the civil war at the hands of the regime alone. During this period, 1,629 students were killed in attacks and raids by government troops. 35,000 students were imprisoned; of those nearly 100 died as a result of torture in detention.

Thousands and thousands of students who took part in the rallies against the regime – the protesters frequently beaten and maltreated by Assad's henchmen – were expelled from their universities. Some of the raids were also accompanied by punitive actions such as shelling and the destruction of university equipment.

Two Syrian refugee students dry their documents on a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos, 19 October 2015 (photo: Reuters/Yannis Behrakis)
On the way to a new life: two Syrian refugee students dry their documents on a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos in October 2015. With teaching suspended in Syria and university funding at an all-time low, an increasing number are either already studying or preparing to study in Germany. In recent years the figure has increased five-fold, from just over 2,000 to an estimated 11,000

University buildings were sometimes commandeered by the army as military posts. Students were obliged to help in the setting up and securing of these army bases and were even forcibly recruited to take part in "support marches" for Assad.

Overall, the war years have resulted in a large-scale dilution of Syria's university landscape. According to domestic media reports, student numbers have slumped, with a fifth of lecturers thought to have left the country. It appears the war is only partially to blame for this. Another reason is the successive reduction in state funding to university education.

While still at almost three-quarters-of-a-million U.S. dollars in 2010, by 2017 the sum had sunk to a record low of just under 175,000 dollars. Because teaching had to be suspended for longer periods of time at those universities especially hard hit by the conflict, students began streaming into the capital, overloading the state University of Damascus as a result.

It appears to be difficult to come up with a simple solution to this crisis, which both Syrian and foreign observers believe is likely to persist for years to come. For several years now, fraudsters have known how to exploit the students' misery for their own gains, peddling forged school-leaving certificates and academic references. The phenomenon seems to have exploded recently and is currently making headlines not just in Syria, but also in neighbouring nations.

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