The Unsteady Fate of Afghanistan’s Private Universities Under Taliban Rule


Pul-e Sukhta in western Kabul, November 2023. Photo: @AADIL

By Ilhamuddin Afghan
In the wake of the past two decades, Afghanistan has witnessed a transformative surge in higher education, both for girls and boys, a beacon of progress fuelled by the robust investment of the private sector.

This monumental stride materialized in the creation of approximately 140 private universities, each offering a spectrum of bachelor’s and master’s degree programs—academic havens that stand resilient in the face of adversity.

But under the Taliban regime, the potential for substantial losses in academics and education looms large over Afghanistan, casting shadows on the future if the myriad challenges—mainly mounting economic constraints—confronting private universities remain unaddressed. 

 Expressing their anxieties, they caution that failure to address these pressing financial challenges promptly could result in the closure of a substantial number of their institutions. 

“The burden of increased taxes from various government agencies, rising building rentals, rising staff and teacher wages, and other significant running costs have significantly reduced our income,” the director of a private university in Kabul, who declined to be named, said, adding that maintaining his university had become more difficult. 

A cautionary message has been issued by the Afghanistan Private Universities Association (APUA), drawing attention to the closure of educational institutions such as Alborz University in the province of Balkh and Afghanistan University in Kabul due to financial hardships. 

In response to these challenges, representatives from private universities have approached the Taliban, urging them to contemplate tax waivers, but to no avail. 

“Thirty to thirty-five of the 67 private institutions in Kabul alone face an impending threat of closure. These closures impact will go beyond the educational setting and could exacerbate societal problems in a nation already facing many difficulties,” Abdul Karim Nasiri APUA’s public relations officer said. 

Absence of Female Students

The economic challenges confronting private universities have been exacerbated by the nationwide prohibition on girls and women pursuing higher education. 

Official sources indicate that about 70,000 girls previously enrolled in private universities are presently barred from attending classes due to the Taliban’s restrictive measures. This prohibition not only infringes upon educational opportunities but also compounds the financial woes faced by private universities.

According to Fatihullah Babkarkhel the dean of Mashaal University in Kabul, of about 5,000 students in his university, about 1,800 were girls who are now not able to attend classes due to the Taliban ban. 

“A large number of students in private universities were girls, but their absence now has added to the financial losses of the universities,” Najmuddin Parwiz, the vice chancellor of a university, said. 

The Taliban Response

Private universities have approached the Taliban seeking tax exemptions to alleviate the financial burden, but there has been no response to date. This has left private universities in a precarious financial position.
The Taliban’s commitment to addressing issues within the higher education sector is in doubt due to the lack of a substantial response. This sector is integral to the nation’s intellectual and academic progress. The private sector has played an undeniable role in Afghanistan’s higher education landscape over the last two decades.

Around 140 private institutions offer various bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. This surge of private investment has significantly reshaped the country’s educational landscape, symbolizing progress.
However, private universities currently face dual predicaments that jeopardize both the institutions themselves and Afghanistan’s broader educational system. If these issues are not resolved, it could severely set back the Afghan people’s ability to pursue education and academic success.
The Taliban-led Ministry of Higher Education acknowledges the challenges facing private universities, but significant action to address these concerns is still pending. Critics attribute this inaction to the Taliban’s perceived lack of interest in advancing higher education. The government’s priorities are called into question by their focus on backgrounds in suicide bombing, explosions, and jihad as prerequisites for academic positions in state-run universities. 

Ilhamuddin Afghan is a university professor based in Afghanistan.

Note: The contents of the article are of sole responsibility of the author. The Afghan Diaspora Network will not be responsible for any inaccurate or incorrect statements in the articles.

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