Most Afghan private universities ‘face closure’ after women ban

Academics warn of ‘collapse’ of higher education system after Taliban forces 70,000 female students out of private universities

一月 13, 2023
Marwa, a student at her home in Kabul reading next to a window as women are now banned from attending university in Taliban
Source: Getty

The majority of Afghanistan’s private universities face imminent closure, with their incomes slashed following the Taliban’s decision to ban all women from higher education, academics have warned.

The country’s union of private universities said last month that the ban could force 35 out of 140 institutions to shutter their doors, having had 70,000 female students on their rolls.

But academics said the actual number of closures is likely to be much higher, with some suggesting that the union may have come under pressure from the Taliban to give a low estimate.

Several researchers speaking with Times Higher Education believed that the recent ban on women in universities was likely to be the “last straw” for the majority of private institutions.

Before the ban, women made up roughly 30 per cent of Afghanistan’s university students, across both public and private universities. But the number of female students at some private institutions was much higher.

Already, there have been reports of several universities shutting down. The Moraa Educational Complex, which includes a female-only university in Kabul, has allegedly closed all but one of its faculties.

At the Afghan Swiss University, the medical faculty has closed to all students, THE understands, while the faculties of medicine at Dawat University and Khatam Al-Nabieen University – both of which have large numbers of female students – have told their students that they will be forced to shutter if the situation continues.

Although male students whose universities close may be able to continue their studies elsewhere in the country, no such option exists for Afghan women, who have been shut out of education and public life.

Across the border, several Iranian universities have offered to host Afghan women. Combined with an already established Afghan diaspora in the country, the offer of free higher education is “likely” to increase the flow of Afghan refugees into Iran, said Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, professor in global thought and comparative philosophies at SOAS University of London and author of What Is Iran.

Others were more sceptical. A student talking to THE shared concerns over Iran’s political stability and said that the costs of obtaining a visa made this option unrealistic for many women, leaving them with distance learning as their only choice.

That option is already proving popular. After the ban, the University of the People, an online education provider, noted that it saw the highest number of applications from Afghan women over a one-week period since the Taliban’s return to power in August 2021.

But such solutions are unable to change the fate of the country’s universities.

“This is just the beginning of the downfall of one of the most successful sectors in Afghanistan’s development and contemporary history,” said a researcher in Afghan migration, who asked for anonymity because of safety concerns.

She warned that the ban would be “disastrous” not only for the future of higher education, but also for the provision of basic services.

“There will be no next generation of female health workers in Afghanistan,” she said.

Despite having a relatively less precarious position than private universities, public institutions also face pressure because of the ban. With their funding already “less than secure” under the Taliban, the absence of female students was “likely to at the very least” cause course and departmental closures, the researcher said.



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