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.