Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Afghan Students Let Down by Private Universities

Graduates claim that many institutions are just money-making enterprises.
By Arzu Mohammadi
  • Young women study at an Afghan university. (Photo: Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)
    Young women study at an Afghan university. (Photo: Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)

Khaterah Sadat recalls her excitement when she began her economics degree at a private university in Baghlan province.

Now, however, she bitterly regrets having invested so much of time and money in getting a qualification she fears will ultimately be useless.

 “I began at the faculty of economics with so much enthusiasm thinking that one day, after my graduation, I would be able to find a job in the banking industry,” Sadat said, declining to name the institution as she was still a student there.

“But now I’m so worried that this will not be possible as a lot of my friends at university have told me that both private and government institutions do not value diplomas from private universities or even consider them valid.”

Her fears are shared by other students at private universities in the northern province, who warn that standards are often poor and progress decided by nepotism.

 “My family is poor and they are really working hard to pay my tuition fees so I can end up as an educated person with a good job, but the quality of teaching at the university is unfortunately so low that I won’t be able to fulfill their wishes,” said Ahmad Jawid, another economics student at a private university that he asked not to be named.

Professors had little knowledge of their subjects and students’ success was decided by their personal relationship with their tutor, he continued.

 “In private universities, a student who studies and respect the rules gets low marks in exams because he doesn’t have any powerful friends, on the contrary, a student who has money and useful intermediaries gets high marks.”

Nilab Ahmadzada, a third-year law student at another private university, who similarly said she did not want identified, said that she had already fought hard to overcome conservative attitudes towards women in further education, but feared her efforts would be wasted.

“I accepted that I would need to confront thousands of problems in my family and community because I wanted to continue my education, but I have never been satisfied with the quality of teaching,” she said. “Most of the professors have been hired at the university on the basis of personal contacts rather than according to the regulations and they do not have enough knowledge of their subjects. There are even some [professors] who are just recent graduates of my university and they teach our key subjects.”

Ahmadzada said that tutors showed favouritism and even exhibited racist attitudes.

“There shouldn’t be a place for racism and partiality here as this is a training and educational institution, but unfortunately, professors at the university engage in nepotism which is the biggest challenge for students.”

Nearly 130 private universities have been set up across Afghanistan, established in accordance with the Article 46 of the Constitution and Article 33 of the Regulation of the Ministry of Higher Education.

There are six such institutions in Baghlan, and academic officials argue that they provide a valuable service for students who fail to pass the exams for state-funded universities.

 “There might be some discontent among students at the private universities but we are trying to solve their problems,” said Khairuddin Fayaz, chancellor of the Hakim Sanai private university.

“We have tried to hire qualified, experienced professors at the masters’ and bachelor’s level. The facilities that students need in order to study such as a fully-equipped library, computers and so on are available at the university.”

Hakim Sanai professor Sayed Ali Fazal also denied that the level of teaching was low, adding that academics were hired based on carefully-checked qualifications.

“All the subjects taught at this university have been approved by the ministry of higher education,” he concluded.

But Sanjar Ghafaryan, chancellor of the Royan Institute of Higher Education, acknowledged that some privately-run institutions had low standards.

“The quality of education in each university depends on the organisation and management of the university in question,” he continued. “It can’t be denied that a number of private universities just provide students with diplomas rather than a decent education.”

The Royan Institute, he said, was launching programmes in consultation with the Ministry of Higher Education so as to improve the quality of teaching.

Local officials agree that there are some issues with private universities in the province, but said that they were liaising with staff in order to find solutions.

Mahmood Akmal, the spokesman for the Baghlan governor, said, “It can’t be denied that there are problems at private universities, but Baghlan’s provincial government is making efforts to talk and work closely with officials at private universities to deal with these problems.”

Mawlawi Liaqat, the acting director of Baghlan’s State University, said that there were some decent private institutions functioning in the province.

 “From my point of view, private universities are different in terms of how they manage their affairs as well as their teaching quality,” he said “There are also some universities in Baghlan province which have good teaching standards and have the same educational facilities [as we do] such as a library, laboratory and highly educated professors.”

However, he continued, “Some private universities in Baghlan province were established with the intention of making people money and thus issue diplomas to students who know nothing.”

Arifa Paykan, spokeswoman for the ministry of higher education, told IWPR that working committees had recently begun a review of the curriculum to implement consistent standards across the country.

But for some graduates, it is already too late.

Farahnaz Bahrami completed a degree in law and political science from Hakim Sanai university a year ago.

“So far I have not succeeded to get a job in either the public and private sector; whenever I apply for a job I am turned down,” Bahrami said. “When I ask the reason for my rejection, they tell me that don’t view private college diplomas as valid.”

This report was produced under IWPR’s Supporting Investigative Reporting in Local Media and Strengthening Civil Society across Afghanistan initiative, funded by the British Embassy Kabul.

More IWPR's Global Voices