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FEATURE STORY

Higher Education Takes Promising Shape at Nangarhar University

October 28, 2013

The program aims to act as a catalyst to attract resources to Afghan tertiary education in the long term.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Core universities in Afghanistan, such as Nangarhar University, are attracting thousands of students as they rebuild infrastructure, increase resources and improve qualifications of teaching staff.
  • Under the World Bank and ARTF’s Strengthening Higher Education Program, basic operational performance has been restored in 12 core universities across the country.
  • Both women and men attend the universities but barriers still exist for women who wish to pursue higher education.

JALALABAD, Nanghar Province – Tucked in every available space, in stairwells and under trees, engineering students from Nangarhar University are taking their final exams.

The month of June is the end of term at Afghanistan’s second largest university, located in the eastern province by the same name. Thousands of students are already clamoring to take these students’ places next year. Space and budget limitations will allow only 2,000 to be accepted, says Professor Arifullah Mandozai, dean of the engineering faculty.

“Engineering is one of the most important subjects to study because it builds our country,” says Mandozai. “That’s why we need the best students, teachers and equipment here to help them.” Thanks to support from the Strengthening Higher Education Program (SHEP), financed by the World Bank and the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), Nangarhar University is already making great strides, he says.

Now, 13 faculties, in such diverse subjects as economics, medicine, political science, law and Sharia, and literature, offer classes to about 10,000 students, notes Dr. Mohammad Saber, the university Chancellor. “Without support from SHEP, our budget would be too limited. SHEP is a very important source of funding for us. Without it, we could do very little,” Saber says.

The objective of SHEP, which closed at the end of June 2013, was to progressively restore basic operational performance at a group of core universities in Afghanistan. SHEP began in June 2005 with a grant of $40 million, and originally supported six universities (Kabul, Balkh, Herat, Kandahar, Nangarhar, and Kabul Polytechnic), mainly in the areas of physical infrastructure and improvement of staff development, curriculum, and equipment.

With additional funding in 2010, six more universities (Bamyan, Khost, Takhar, Jawzjan, Al-Beroni and Kabul Education University) have received assistance.

At Nangarhar University, SHEP provided funds to construct the bright new two-story engineering building, which opened three years ago, with 11 classrooms, a large conference room, computer lab and the dean’s office. In addition, repairs were done to old wings, where several rooms hold an array of blue machinery intended to give engineering students hands-on experience with the tools of their trade.

Chancellor Saber says about 50 laptops have been purchased in a large computer lab for students wanting to access the Internet for studies or recreation. A segment of the campus is now wireless so students can log on with their own computers. All the university’s IT equipment was purchased through SHEP, notes Saber.

In addition, SHEP’s program officer at the university campus says they issued ID cards to students, installed photocopiers and provided chairs, desks, projectors, shelving, sports gear, and furniture. For new students, they printed 4,000 orientation booklets detailing campus services.

Internet connection a great gift

Using a new laptop, student Zia Ulhaq, 20, is quietly checking his Facebook page and says there isn’t any other facility in Jalalabad that allows free Internet use.

“When I first came here, I was unfamiliar with the Internet and now I have learned about computers and how to use them, not only for friends but for studies,” says Ulhaq with a grin.

The university chancellor says students are “now connected with the whole world to do research, or connect with other professional people to help solve their problems. This is a great gift.”

Across campus, a new library with shelves filled with books is another key educational tool that SHEP invested in, notes the chancellor. On the second floor, dozens of students lay scattered on the floor or at desks, all studying for exams.

Among them, Shabir Ahmad, 22, says he has witnessed how the university transformed over the last four years. “This place and all the new facilities are helping me so much. The teachers are nice, as is the equipment and library. Some things are still missing but it is a big change from before,” he says.

The chancellor says SHEP recently sent 13 of their professors to pursue Master’s degrees and PhDs at universities in Pakistan, India and Malaysia.

Open Quotes

This place and all the new facilities are helping me so much. The teachers are nice, as are the equipment and library. Some things are still missing but it is a big change from before. Close Quotes

Shabir Ahmad
Student

Female students face challenges

Down a tree-lined laneway, a group of burqa-clad female students waited in a bus for a ride back to Jalalabad after their day’s studies. Rozina, 23, a third-year student of literature, says she only wishes more women attended the university.

“Islam says both men and women should study and be educated. After all, it is mothers who must also give good training and information to their children,” says Rozina. “This is very important. But right now it is very difficult for us.”

In much of Afghanistan, families don’t allow daughters to pursue higher education, says student Fatana Lallee, 22. “In my country, there are lots of problems, and even more for women. They’re not even free to walk or go out in many places,” she says.

At Nangarhar University, many female students feel uncomfortable using the library, or sitting anywhere near male classmates. “According to our beliefs, it is not good to show ourselves or go outside, so it is difficult if classrooms are too crowded and other people are too close, so we sit outside in the heat sometimes,” explains Lallee, a first-year student of Law and Sharia. The university still needs a special study room and lounge for female students, so they don’t have to seek refuge in buses to relax, she says.

Chancellor Saber says the young women who attend his university are “very strong and brave.” “We also want to support women to study here. It is important that we all try to move ahead while respecting traditions. We don’t want to make any provocations. The main thing is for women to get higher education.”

Forward looking:

The World Bank team is working closely with the Ministry of Higher Education and the universities on preparing the next phase of support for higher education. A preparation grant of $4.9 million was approved by the ARTF Management Committee in June 2013.

Key Higher Education Results

  • Student enrollment increased from 8,000 in 2001 to over 100,000 by 2012 in public universities and institutes of higher education.
  • Girls’ enrollment has increased from zero in 2001 to some 19,000 in public universities and institutes of higher education by 2012 (comprising 19% of the total).
  • Female faculty numbers stood at zero in 2001 and increased to 16% of the total faculty number (3,230) by 2012.
  • More than 65 private institutes of higher education were established, with nearly 50,000 students enrolled, licensed under the Ministry of Higher Education by 2012.
  • Curriculums have been developed and revisedat the national level across public universities and institutes of higher education.
  • A Quality Assurance Department was established in the Ministry and Quality Assurance Cells in more than 12 universities.
  • The National Higher Education Strategic Plan (NHESP 2010–2014) was launched.
  • The Gender Strategy (2012–2014) was launched
  • The National Entrance Examination (Kankor) was reformed