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Student Portraits: Huda Midani - Online in Damascus

2018-06-18 In Syria, in spite on an ongoing war and within a strongly hierarchical society, Huda Midani is able to study 'Governance and Human Rights'. She is attends online courses of the Leuphana Professional School. For her, education is the path to peace and justice.

“If you’re scared, you die,” says Huda Midani. The Syrian woman lives, works and studies in Damascus, even though it is a war zone. Her home stands in an area, which is “quite safe” – at least at the moment. The actual situation in her country is the motive force behind her wish to make things change. She is studying on the unique Master’s programme in ‘Governance and Human Rights’ at the Professional School of the Leuphana University of Lüneburg. Huda Midani holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a master’s degree in business administration. However, the technical Bachelor’s degree made it more difficult for her to obtain a Master’s degree with a political science orientation in Syria. “We don’t have much freedom of choice. As a rule, the master’s subject must be closely related to that of the bachelor's degree”. Even though Syrian society is still conforms to patriarchal norms, the hurdles she has to clear have nothing to do with her gender. “Rather, the doors are closing for those who do not belong to the elites and their followers, the powerful groups in the political pecking order,” explains Huda Midani.

She identifies this imbalance as the trigger of conflicts: “Many want to play a role in our country, but they'll never reach the top. The anger about exclusion and its counter-dynamics by the elites engendered much violence,” the Syrian woman believes. For her, education is a way out. That’s why she is studying and wants to pass her knowledge on to others. She learned about the e-learning courses at Leuphana via the Internet. The 35-year-old mother also has the opportunity to combine her studies to family and career: “I founded a start-up and give computer and management seminars at the university.”  She also serves on the boards of two NGOs and acts as mentor for two start-up teams. In the free hours she takes part in the online courses, exchanges with lecturers and other students. “Friendships have also developed through these virtual encounters,” the Syrian woman reports.

90 percent of the Master’s courses at Leuphana are held online, ten percent in Lüneburg. This is an impossibility for Huda Midani. “I can't get a visa for Germany, because they don’t believe that I want to return to my home country,” she explains. Yet, she can still complete her studies at Leuphana. Juliane Herden of the Professional School’s e-learning service explains that “for students who are unable to attend classroom hours, there is an online meeting via Adobe Connect”. Nevertheless, Huda Midani would love to experience everyday university life, for example meeting a professor in the lift or drinking coffee with fellow students.

To close this gap and build a community of social scientists, she founded a new initiative called SSRD (Social Sciences Research Development). “In the SSRD initiative, we attend open online courses (MOOCs) and connect with professors abroad via the Internet, organise seminars, form research groups and exchange open resources.” Furthermore, she would like to see more online offers – perhaps even the opportunity to do her doctorate on a similar basis: “Such offers would help many people in crisis areas”.

But first she wants to improve the situation in Syria. “Most people in my country have a good ethical attitude, yet bribes flow into everything – though they are bad for a functioning government system. I want to fight this and help create better spiritual, ethical and legal foundations,” says Huda Midani. After graduation, she would like to work for a non-profit organisation in order to offer people opportunities for individual and collective development through more education: “Today, 80 percent of Syrians live below the poverty line. Poverty is at the root of many social problems, and we need a lot of work and sound solutions to combat it.” 

The Professional School’s online learning platform
All of the approximately 1,150 students at the Professional School use the online learning platform to organise their studies. 350 of them are enrolled in courses of study which make particularly intensive use of the platform. Overall, the number of users is increasing. For example, the Master’s programme ‘Arts and Cultural Management’, which is offered in cooperation with the Goethe Institute, will start in autumn. The course will feature a strong online attendance, as students from all over the world will participate.

Author: Marietta Hülsmann. Translated by Beatrice Goutfer.