The plight of university students in Afghanistan

By Fan Wang

It has been more than a month since Afghanistan was taken over by the Taliban. While much concerning the operation of the new governance remains uncertain, worrying announcements have been made around both schooling and higher education opportunities for women and girls. These include gender-segregated classrooms at university and the exclusion of girls from secondary education from the start of the academic year. These revelations prompt further discussions surrounding the future of young people and higher education in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan’s undergraduate system operates in a similar way to the United States’ higher education system, where the bachelor courses last at least four years. According to World Education News & Reviews, Afghan students study general education for a year, before selecting their major the following year. Whether this structure will be maintained under the Taliban is still unknown. However, both upcoming and confirmed changes pose a massive threat to the country’s academic freedom, education levels, and the future of its young people.

There will be no women to move onto higher education

In 2020, Amnesty International reported that the Taliban were responsible for violating human rights and freedom of expression during the twenty-year war in Afghanistan. Such violations already conflict with the purpose and autonomy of education, suggesting that Afghan universities are at risk of losing their academic standing internationally under Taliban rule.

If the Taliban replicate the governance of their rule between 1996 and 2001, censorships such as banning entertainment, and oppressing women, could severely affect academic freedom and the literacy rate. Although Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed that they would be “positively different” compared to the brutal regime during their last period in power, many of the changes implemented so far suggest otherwise. For example, no women will move onto higher education. Despite initial promises that their access would not be restricted, girls have currently been barred from secondary education.

The promise that they would be different this time was made at the Taliban’s first press conference. They claimed that they would be ruling Afghanistan “within the framework of Islamic law”, without providing many details about what this would look like. The Sharia, also known as Islamic law, is a legal system of Islam derived from the Quran, as well as from the Sunnah and Hadith – the deeds and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. It is used as a guideline for Muslims to understand how to navigate different aspects of life.

As the Taliban follow the Sharia, the legal system itself will strongly influence education in Afghanistan. For instance, university majors such as arts, music, sports, and journalism could be either removed or amended to follow Islamic law. Women may be restricted from studying particular subjects or gaining any experience from work placements. This would have a significant impact on many young people’s future careers.

A female student in Kabul told the BBC that she burnt her university notes

University should be a place of wisdom and knowledge and one of the lifelong dreams for many ambitious young people, regardless of gender. While university students are supposed to be preparing for the start of term around this time, many reports of students in Afghanistan show that they are desperate to destroy any evidence of their lives before the Taliban’s takeover.

A female student in Kabul, who also belongs to the Haraza minority, told the BBC that she burnt her university notes and documents, hid all the books she read, and deactivated her social media accounts to avoid being tracked by the Taliban. As the place of women in higher education in Afghanistan is in jeopardy, the future prosperity of the country is at stake.

Image: Bost University via Wikimedia Commons

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