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The Present State of Higher Education in Afghanistan

by: Dr. Bahwodin Baha

Introduction

It is well known that the education system, like other institutions in Afghanistan, was devastated by a decade of war and instability in the country [1, 2]. However, the vast majority of the Afghan people realize the importance of a well-established education system in the country and Afghans from across the country have called for the government to establish universities and other educational institutions in their regions.

After the creation of the new government in 2001, many public and private universities were established. In fact, there is a university in almost every province of the country. Unfortunately, such an expansion had not been carefully thought out, in that there is no natural progression to focus on strengthening the various levels of the educational institutions.

This paper will briefly review the progress of higher education in Afghanistan during the last decade and will highlight the main challenges that higher education in Afghanistan is facing at present. Accordingly, recommendations to enhance the quality of higher education in the country will be made.

The expansion of Higher Education Instructions and its associated problems

According to the latest statistics from the Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE), at present over 170,000 students are studying in 31 public and 67 private universities and higher education institutions [3]. Furthermore, there is growing pressure to increase the number of students at universities and higher education institutions in the country. However, an increase in the number of students enrolled at universities does not solve the problems faced by higher education in Afghanistan; the system needs to undergo significant reformation.

The main shortcomings of the existing higher education system are as follows:

  1. Some of the courses are not very useful for the present needs for the workforce in the country.
  2. The curriculums have not been updated by properly qualified and experienced staff.
  3. Academic staff have not been properly trained, specifically in scientific subjects.
  4. There are inadequate learning resources, such as text books, libraries, IT facilities, laboratories, etc.
  5. There is a lack of experimental work in most technology, engineering and scientific courses.
  6. The expansion of higher education system in the country has been insufficiently planned.
  7. There is no suitable strategy planned to fund the higher education system in the country once the international aid has dried out.
  8. There is a lack of suitable regulatory authorities for each subject discipline.
  9. There is an unnecessary expansion of low quality private higher education in the country, which can create irretrievable problems in the future.

Challenges

Efforts to enhance the quality of higher education in Afghanistan should be focused in the following areas:

  • Enhancing the management practices

The vast majority of the decision makers at the Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE) and major universities in Afghanistan do not have strong exposure to international practices and therefore, do not possess the experiences that would be highly desirable to manage higher educational institutions. They  also lack the experience to properly evaluate the suitability of the existing educational programmes at higher educational institutions in Afghanistan.

  • Job prospects after higher education

Traditionally, the Afghan government has been the main employer for graduates from high schools and higher education institutions, including the universities, across Afghanistan. However, during the last decades many national and international organizations have recruited the most talented individuals by offering higher salaries and better work conditions. In addition, the private sector has been established specifically in the construction, telecom and IT industries.

Despite the limited progress, the Afghan government has not carried out a thorough assessment to establish a relationship between the existing courses at universities in Afghanistan and employment opportunities in the country. Furthermore, to the best of the author’s knowledge, there is a lack of a sustainable policy to create an industry in the country which can create jobs and wealth.

  • Establishing regulatory bodies for all subjects

The shortage of well established regulatory bodies for all subject disciplines and the sudden expansion of the higher education system in the country have had a major effect on the quality of graduates from universities and higher education institutions in Afghanistan. The sudden expansion is due to political pressure in the public sector and short-term gains in the private sector, which has significantly reduced the quality of graduates from higher education. International norms should be used to establish proper regulatory bodies who would evaluate and determine the suitability and quality of all of the courses taught at public and private universities.

  • Weakening the role of the law

The implementation of nation-wide regulations and standards within the higher education system has not been very successful; unfortunately, politics plays a significant role in issues such as the appointments of senior managers and even teaching staff in most institutions. It is regrettable that politicians intervene in academic affairs, such that high level politicians often put certain mangers at higher education under pressure to make certain decisions.

Influential figures and politicians use universities and higher education institutions to promote their own political agendas, something that could be very damaging. Education should be separated from politics, and the young generation should be encouraged to focus solely on their education, after which they may choose to pursue politics.

  • Coordination between colleges and universities

At present there is little collaboration and coordination between the universities within Afghanistan. Sustained communication between universities has great potential to significantly improve the quality of education in the country, primary by developing the courses and taught material such that they become more relevant to the local job market. The present job market is not a realistic one, as most of the more talented graduates are recruited for short-term positions at international and non-governmental organizations. The main employer in the country is the Afghan government where most of recruitment is based on political affiliation rather than academic merit.

The universities in Afghanistan ought to have close collaboration by sharing their best practices and hence guide the Afghan government to establish sustainable policies that will create wealth within the country and generate more employment opportunities.

  • Creating a vibrant private sector

Due to high demand, over sixty private higher education institutions in Afghanistan have been established during the last twelve years. However, the purpose of such expansion is not clear, as there are major concerns in the following areas:

  1. The lack academic staff who are teaching at such institutions.
  2. The lack of appropriate learning resources in science and technology-based subjects.
  3. The management practices and the experiences of the senior managers of such institutions.
  4. The lack of suitable learning environments; most institutions have been accommodated in small buildings or, in some cases, in houses.
  5. Most government employees (in some cases high rank) study a few hours during evenings in such institutions and they are awarded degrees after four years. The quality of their education is questionable and sadly some institutions in this category are considered degree generating institutions.

 

  • Policies to improve science and technology-based education

Improving education in science, technology and engineering is essential for the future development of Afghanistan. Information Communication Technology (ICT) can contribute significantly to accelerating the development of the education system in the country. It is believed that the integration of ICT into the country’s education system could see in introduction of distance learning, enabling the establishment of a knowledge network for students and academics and increasing the availability of quality teaching material.

 

  • Patriotism

Because of a small minority who work at international organizations, earning higher salaries, the majority of teaching and admin staff at higher education institutions complain about the quality of their lives, despite the fact that their salaries are much higher compared to those who worked in higher education institutions in 1980’s. Yet the commitment of staff is rather limited compared to their colleagues in 1980’s.

 

  • Commitment to the job

Some lecturers at higher education institutions have been trained abroad during the last decade. Most of them run businesses or have other jobs alongside their main job at the university. Consequently, they may only be working part-time at higher educational institutions. Therefore, we cannot predict significant progress in the near future unless the role of the law is properly implemented.

Conclusions

A technically qualified and experienced workforce will have a major impact on improving the country’s economy and growth.  It is expected that in the long term the health and agricultural sectors, and subsequently the quantity of food products, will be drastically improved; the capacity of the country to attract significant investments will be increased and this will result in an expansion in industrial activities and the creation of job opportunities. Moreover, the exploration and rationalization of the use of the national energy resources and materials will be facilitated. This can lead to the development of products that will cover the national needs, or may even be exported, stimulating the country’s economy. A drastic improvement in the transport infrastructure may be achieved, which will improve accessibility the rural and urban industrial areas. Finally, social and economic changes may be imposed which will strengthen the establishment of efficient governance.

In order to achieve these potential future objectives, it is essential for Afghanistan to develop and implement a rigorous and integrated national strategy on developing and managing a scientific educational system which can meet the 21st century needs and improve the quality of life for its residents.

References

  1. Baha, B., Baha, Z., “Technical Vocational and Engineering Education in Afghanistan,” Proceedings of the 2008 American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) Conference, Pittsburgh, USA, June 2008.
  2. Samady, R. S., ”Education and Afghan Society in the Twentieth Century,“  United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), November 2001.
  3. Babury, M.O., Hayward, F.M., “Afghanistan Higher Education, the struggle for quality, Merit and Transformation,” Planning For Higher Education journal, V42N2 Jan-Mar 2014. Pp. 1-32.

*The author has been directly involved at the higher education sector in Afghanistan. The facts presented in the articles are based on his experience in Afghanistan.

Author’s Biography
Dr. BAHAWODIN BAHA is a Principal Lecturer at the Faculty of Science and Engineering, University of Brighton, England. Following his graduation from Kabul University (KU) in 1980, he was an assistant lecturer at KU for a while. Then he was able to obtain a British Council Scholarship and completed his MSc and PhD degrees at the Universities of Salford and Brighton respectively. He has been teaching at the University of Brighton since 1989, where he has been teaching and conducting research in electronics, where he has published many papers on power electronics at high quality international journals and conferences.

In addition to his duties at University of Brighton, he has been helping the higher education sector in Afghanistan since 2005. He has conducted several DFID/British Council and the World Bank funded projects in Afghanistan. In addition, he has also prepared several reports for the Afghan government and has published many papers at international conferences on how to improve technical vocational and engineering education in Afghanistan.
He took unpaid leave from the University of Brighton and has been helping the Ministries of Communication and Information Technology (MCIT), Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE) and Kabul based public universities.

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