The Hollings Center brought together administrators and faculty from public and private universities inside and outside Afghanistan, education officials, and specialists from international organizations to discuss The Future of Higher Education in Afghanistan. The discussion highlighted both the gains and challenges of the past twenty years, and the generational danger posed by repressive Taliban measures that impact students and scholars, particularly women. More importantly, dialogue participants formulated several recommendations for preserving the gains, overcoming the challenges, and supporting the higher education community in Afghanistan.
Universities in Afghanistan have long been centers of not just education, but also of culture, political activity, and civil society interaction. This has made their relationships to both the international community and the Taliban difficult. During the 2010s, private institutions like the American University of Afghanistan, public institutions like Kabul University, as well as individual scholars and students, were targeted by the Taliban and other insurgent groups. Since the Taliban takeover of Kabul, the Taliban’s policies of power consolidation have eroded many of the gains of the past twenty years.
Fortunately, international support has allowed many scholars and students to leave Afghanistan and continue study elsewhere. The majority of these have been given temporary positions in international institutions, which while helpful, do not provide much long-term stability. Meanwhile, other students remain enrolled in institutions like the American University of Afghanistan, which is currently offering its curriculum remotely. A smaller group of universities and schools have been attempting to help students inside Afghanistan by offering remote courses and degrees to Afghan students at no or reduced cost.
The dialogue snapshot report highlights some of those developments and makes suggestions for pathways forward. Given negative developments in late 2022, the recommendations from dialogue participants are now even more urgent and timely.
Protecting the Future of Afghanistan Higher Education
Support for Scholars and Students Remaining in Afghanistan: While acknowledging the difficulty of such efforts, participants recommended several initiatives. These included faculty development programs, financial support for student retention, and dependable high speed internet.
Support for Students and Scholars that Left Afghanistan: Participants advocated for continuing current levels of support and to make more of them permanent and less ad-hoc. Suggestions included more funding for long-term positions, scholarships, mental health management, and language support.
General Support: The dialogue participants also made general suggestions on how to better support higher education in Afghanistan. Participants stressed the need to continue to support civil society programs. They called for opening up digital records and archives to protect culture and heritage. All strongly supported continued research in the field of Afghanistan Studies.