Appeal for Continued Support for Higher Education in Afghanistan
During the past two decades, the Government of the United States has been one of the most effective supporters of education in Afghanistan. The gains made by girls and women in the education sector, particularly at higher education, are highly significant. With US taxpayers’ support, public universities were revived, opportunities for in-country graduate programs flourished and attracted many female instructors, promotions of female professors increased significantly resulting in them holding prestigious positions such as chancellor, vice-chancellors, Deans, and many other leadership positions at universities, and many additional degree programs were established at all universities. USG support resulted in thousands of scholarships to improve the skill levels of lecturers and students. All of this culminated in more than 700,000 students’enrollment in universities by August 2021 (33% of them females).
In addition to the above, countless academic policies and guidelines were developed to improve quality, access, equity, skills among Afghan faculties and students, and to combat inertia and corruption at universities. The fact that in 2020 the daughter of a coal miner received the highest score in university entrance exam in which 170,000 high school students were competing, speaks volumes about what US Taxpayers’ funded programs achieved in Afghanistan. Moreover, students of an associate degree program established with USAID funds at Kabul University of Medical Sciences produced a ventilator on their own at a time when Afghanistan was facing extreme difficulties duringthe pandemic; this example further demonstrates the positive impact and effectiveness of the support provided by USG. Most importantly, starting with zero private universities in 2000, by August 2021 Afghanistan had more than 135 private higher education institutions, thereby expanding higher education access in most parts of the country.
As USG/USAID strategizes about educational support in Afghanistan, it is essential that support for higher education remains central to the new strategy. USG must support work with private universities (if possible, even with public universities) so that through scholarships and other capacity building initiatives, female students can continue to enroll and advance academically. Female faculty members need support to continue their jobs at universities. Currently, more female faculty members are needed to teach female students.
Not supporting higher education would break the unprecedented momentum of advancement in higher education in Afghanistan – a momentum which was sparked by US taxpayers’ generous support. University graduates are the backbone of economic stability in a country. If higher education is not supported in Afghanistan, the fiscal devastation due to low quality labor force would be dangerous and would further propel the country into a vicious cycle of violence and desperation. No higher education opportunities for women especially would have ruinous consequences for Afghanistan’s social fabric.
We urge the member of congress to reach out to the colleagues at USAID and encourage them to study all angles and strategize about devising effective higher education programs in Afghanistan that will be beneficial for the youth, especially girls and women.
Human rights activist
Interfaith Denter of New York
Ralphe Bunch Institute, CUNY
International Institute on Peace Education
Global Campaign for Peace Education