Setting up long-term academic partnerships with US and European universities is as important to the future of higher education institutions in post-conflict countries as continuing financial support.
That is what Obaidullah Obaid, minister of higher education in Afghanistan, told an audience in Dubai last week at Going Global, the British Council’s conference for international higher education leaders (4-6 March).
There are currently 200,000 students in Afghanistan at 31 state universities and 73 private higher education institutions, of whom 23 per cent are women, Dr Obaid said.
But his country’s growing university sector needed to establish stronger links with Western institutions to make progress, he added.
Dr Obaid, a former dean of Kabul Medical University, said he was proud of this participation rate despite the “collapse of higher education” after three major wars since the 1980s, but added that partnerships with universities in developed countries were now needed to improve the quality of teaching and research.
“Without international universities, increasing capacity is impossible,” Dr Obaid said.
“One way for quality to increase is to establish links between Afghanistan and universities in the US, Germany and the UK.”
He added that these partnerships, which were needed to strengthen research and doctoral training, would become easier because he wanted to change the language of study in Afghan universities to English.
“We cannot say we want to go towards globalisation until we change to the language used in science, engineering and medicine, and we increase our capacity to educate.
“But we have been affected by 20 years of civil war. There was also massive destruction of laboratories and other university buildings in the invasion. Compared with 2002, [the current situation] is a good achievement, but it is not sufficient.”
Mohammad Jabir, president of Al-Nahrain University in Baghdad, Iraq - known as Saddam University until 2003 - said that Iraqi universities required the skills found in older universities, not simply more money.
“We always ask for money, which results in corruption, [so instead] we ask for more [staff],” Dr Jabir said. But universities did not know how to foster an environment that allowed these academics to thrive, he added.
Germain Ngoie Tshibambe, dean of the faculty of social, political and administrative sciences at the University of Lubumbashi, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, said a lack of budget resources remained a big problem, but the management of universities was also having a negative effect on education.
“We need the human resources managers who can look after academics in our countries,” he said.
He believed that Western societies would also benefit if their universities engaged with institutions in developing countries.
“If there is no international cooperation, I fear higher education institutions [in developing countries] will become places where young people are educated and dream, but then [leave to go to the West],” he said.
“If you leave us alone, it will be a bad situation. We are in the same boat and [must] help each other.”