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Concern Over Quality of Private Universities

Some students and educators from public sector worried about standards in new institutions.
By Khaleq Azizi
Certain private universities that have emerged as a result of the liberalisation of higher education in Afghanistan have low standards and poor facilities, some of their students and educators from the state sector allege.

But the private universities reject the charges and some of their students also defend them, saying the lecturers and curriculums are the same as in the state sector and any shortcomings are teething troubles that would be natural in new ventures.

Before 2001, privately-owned universities were not allowed in Afghanistan and all education was state-run. After the collapse of the Taleban, with the establishment of the new government and the adoption of free market economic policies, independent institutions, often charging high fees, were permitted.

A student at a private university told IWPR at the campus gate that taking the state university entrance exam was futile because there are fewer and fewer places for more and more students every year. He was forced to turn to the independent sector but he complains that the education is inadequate.

“The education standard in privately-owned universities is very low. We do not have professional teachers, training materials, properly equipped libraries, laboratories or internet services,” he claimed.

"These universities do not fail students because of the fees they pay so the students realise this and do not study hard. Their aim is to complete the four-year course and obtain a graduation certificate without studying.”

Zipping his bag as he left his campus, another student at a private institution told IWPR with a smile, "People know that the quality of education is very low in these universities, but they have mainly come here to obtain a diploma ... the only achievement is to be able to show off our diplomas at parties.”

In Balkh province, five privately-owned universities, Mawlana, Aria, Sadat, Sina and Taj, have been licensed by the ministry of higher education and are operating.

The fees are not cheap and many of the students expect a good education for the price. They typically pay 800 US dollars per 16-week semester in a medical faculty and 400 dollars per semester for other subjects like law and economics.

Another critic of the private higher education sector, Mohammad Naser, deputy administrator at Balkh’s state university, said it has many shortcomings.

"Because government organisations are weak, the main legal requirements and principles set down for privately-owned universities have not been implemented,” he said.

“The facilities… should be better than government universities, because the students pay high fees but these institutions have many problems such as lack of staff, educational materials and laboratories, failing to follow educational regulations and even inappropriate premises.”

Naser accused privately-owned universities of making commitments to provide all the required educational facilities in order to get their licences but then ignoring those promises. He claimed no one investigates the institutions because of administrative corruption in the government.

This was rejected by Azim Nurbakhsh, spokesman for the ministry of higher education, who said privately-owned universities in Balkh were being constantly monitored. "The ministry of higher education has visited and assessed [these] institutions….and pointed out shortcomings of some… to those responsible,” he said.

“We will take serious action against them if they do not make changes to comply with the regulations of the ministry of higher education."

Nurbakhsh said the ministry of higher education's rules and regulations for privately-owned universities set out a number of requirements and standards in the areas of curriculum and study facilities and insist on lecturers being educated at least to masters degree level.

"The higher education principles of Afghanistan require the ministry of higher education to monitor privately-owned organisations continuously and if any of them acts against the regulations, the ministry will stop its activities," he said.

Officials at the private universities deny the accusations of low standards.

Professor Mohammad Nabi Anwari, a lecturer at Mawlana, said the establishment of privately-owned universities has met an important need in the country from young people who failed the state sector’s university entrance exams.

He dismissed claims that institutions such as his fall short of required standards, "I do not agree that our university has shortcomings in the education offered. The claims about low educational quality in privately-owned universities are not correct."

Another defender of the private universities, Zohra Mehraban, general director of publications at Aria, said students are provided with appropriate facilities. "We have hired foreign lecturers from India, Tajikistan and Iran and our education system is equipped to all the modern standards," he said.

She acknowledged that, as new institutions, the private universities could have minor shortcomings, "The government has not been able to solve educational problems of the government universities with a budget of billions of dollars, so, since we are new, we may have some problems.”

Dr Hekmat Fetnat, a lecturer of the medical faculty in Balkh University, who also teaches at Aria, says there is no difference in the curriculum of government and privately-owned universities. "I use the same materials in both universities. I do not see any differences in the educational materials,” he said.

But he also recognised that private universities have teething problems, "For instance, some laboratories are not completely equipped with materials and equipment and the educational materials are not 100 per cent complete yet, but these deficiencies will be solved in the future."

Abdul Qahar Jawad, a lecturer in the journalism faculty at Kabul University, a state institution, sees privately-owned universities as a positive step in the field of higher education in Afghanistan and dismisses the criticism levelled against them.

"These claims are not acceptable for two reasons. First of all, the privately-owned universities are engaged in solid competition and each tries to provide better conditions to gain more students,” he said.

“And as the students pay fees, they also demand quality education. So these two things combine to reinforce the quality.”

Manizha, a student of the medical faculty at Aria University, also said that lectures are no different from those at state institutions and is happy with her education, "We are not grade one or two primary school pupils easily fooled by the administration of the privately-owned universities. Since we pay fees, we want quality education from them."

Khaleq Azizi is an IWPR trainee in Balkh.

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