The Afghan government must change private higher education institutions into more productive institutions of labor rather than ATM machines for their owners.
“If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people” — Chinese proverb
Afghanistan is in a critical period of transition and seriously needs to piece together itself to reach a sustainable peace and development.
This will only happen once the country’s education status starts to level with the rest of the world.
Although the Afghan government developed various strategies and attracted millions of dollars over the past 12 years from donor communities to improve the higher education system, many challenges and obstacles persist.
After the fall of Taliban higher education has emerged as one of the most desirable commodities for youth which consist of 70 percent of the Afghan population. The number of youths seeking higher education has drastically increased since 2002. To many Afghan youths higher education is a lifetime investment.
In the Article 43 of the Afghan constitution states that “Education is the right of all citizens of Afghanistan, which shall be provided up to the level of the B.A. (lisâns), free of charge by the state.”
But getting higher education in Afghanistan is not that easy and every Afghan doesn’t have access to free higher education. In order to get university education each student must successfully pass 12 years of high school and seek higher education through entering a nationwide university entrance examination. A large number of public and private universities are operating to provide higher education.
According to the information of the Afghan Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE), beside 34 public universities, there are around 100 private institutions providing education to over 50,000 youngsters. Until 2001, all education in Afghanistan was state-run. Privately owned universities were not permitted until late 2001. After the fall of the Taliban regime, with the establishment of the new government and the adoption of free market economic policies, independent institutions, often charging high fees, were permitted.
However, Afghans fear that the private higher education institutions may not yield the best results demanded by society. There are several challenges that questions the credibility of private learning in the country, which include but are not limited to the following:
Greed for Money
Collecting the fee and other charges from students reaches to million in Afghan currency on a monthly basis even for an ordinary private institution. I heard from a reliable source that one of the private universities owned by a former warlord makes $500,000 USD monthly. In most cases the focus of these private institutions is more on making money rather the quality of education.
In March 2014, President Hamid Karzai expressed his concern about the private education in the country. Speaking at a ceremony to mark the beginning of the academic year Karzai said,
“In Britain, the United States, India, and elsewhere, private-education standards are very high. The same level of standards can also be achieved in Afghanistan, but unfortunately, right now, [some of] these institutions are only there to earn money.”
“Dear brothers and elders who have established institutes for personal gain and business, please go and earn your money by other means, but don’t deceive our children with fake certificates,” he added.
Quality of Instructors
The three decades of civil war not only destroyed the infrastructure and economy of the country but also severely damaged the social and educational fabric of the country. Thousands of Afghan scholars were either killed or compelled to leave the country. When Afghanistan was in desperate need for high quality professionals and academicians, it was too late for the new government to bring back those scholars who left the country many years ago.
Thus, the private institutions had to bring instructors from Pakistan and India because of the cheap labor available in these countries. On the one hand, many of these instructors are not familiar with the Afghan context and on the other hand, the majority of them hold only bachelor’s degrees or bogus master and PhD degrees. A large number of Afghans with bachelor’s degrees and some officials of the ministry of higher education are also employed as instructors in these private institutions.
A valid higher educational degree plays an important role in getting a job; thus, many youths seeking high level jobs with low qualifications strive to get a higher education degree without attending the university. This can be received via bribing some private universities in order to avoid attending and spending four years in the university.
In a country like Afghanistan where the ministry of higher education does not have enough capacity to control and improve a war stricken higher education system, such corruption is unavoidable. In the years to come if fake degrees are not controlled and such universities and institutions are not banned there will be a myriad number of fake degrees that would badly affect the employment market competition and would compel many qualified Afghans to look for jobs outside of Afghanistan which may consequently yield to break out of the professional workforce in the country.
Since a large number of the private institutes are established for the sake of earning money, many of them failed to do the business and consequently shut their operations. Such failure of some private institutes raised concerns about the others. Many students in these private higher education institutions are worried about their future.
“I am very concerned about my education in this private university because I don’t know when it will close? As many of these universities operate only for money and I don’t know who will trust my degree in the future,” says, Mr. Rafi a student of a private university. “There are very limited reliable numbers of private universities, and many of us cannot afford their fee,” he added.
Non Market Oriented Degree Programs and Inadequate Curriculum Choices
While the Afghan government and private sector desperately needs a new generation of professional workforce who can lead the country into a more hopeful future, a majority of the private universities focus on a limited number of studies that cannot fulfill the growing demand of the private and public sector.
A large number of the private universities offer degrees in economics, business administrations, IT and law. However, Afghanistan is in desperate need of qualified professionals relevant to its economic needs. In the years to come the Afghan economy will be highly dependent on mining, petroleum, agriculture and construction industries.
Undoubtedly, developing institutions in a war-weary country like Afghanistan is an uphill mission. Higher education demands complete use of government and international support. It is the prime responsibility of the Afghan government to seriously pay attention to private higher education and provide a more honest learning environment for the young generation.
The government must change the private higher education institutions into more productive institutions of labor rather than ATM machines for their owners.
Ahmad Hasib Farhan is a graduate of Kabul University and holds a Master degree from Japan in Public Policy and Economics. Farhan is an Afghan analyst and commentator on political and socio-economic affairs in Afghanistan. Farhan can be reached at email@example.com. Read other articles by Ahmad.