Refugee Students Voice Grievances

Students from Afghan diaspora who’ve returned to study in Kabul complain that they haven’t been treated fairly.

Refugee Students Voice Grievances

Students from Afghan diaspora who’ve returned to study in Kabul complain that they haven’t been treated fairly.

Four hundred Afghans who’d been studying in Peshawar began classes at Kabul University this week, after months of controversy about the selection and transfer process.

Now the university is struggling to find space to teach them, and the students themselves are scrambling to find housing.

Another 600 undergraduates from the Afghan University in the northern Pakistani city – most of them medical students - could be admitted for the second semester, which begins March 21, 2003.

The combined transfers would boost enrolment at Kabul University by about 15 percent.

The university didn't have the capacity to enrol the first batch of transfers at once, and admission of some students was delayed because the semester calendars of Pakistan and Afghanistan are different.

According to higher education minister Mohammad Sharif Fayez, Kabul University is already overcrowded and undersupplied. "It is very difficult for us to admit all the students, but we have to do so because we don't have any other option," he said.

The university can't afford to open another hostel for undergraduates having trouble finding places to live. Some fear they won’t be able to continue their education if they’re not provided with accommodation.

Although they were happy to be transferring to Kabul, students claimed the process of selection was unfair.

"We have not been treated equally during interviews," said Muhebullah, an engineering student. "For example, I was asked many difficult questions, but my friend was only questioned about his academic record and the names of his teachers."

Abobaker, a medical student, said, "I’ve never had such a tough interview in my life, but a classmate of mine was only asked for the names of his lecturers and the location of the human stomach.”

Some of the students questioned whether the faculty doing the interviews had taken bribes - a charge denied by the education authorities.

The original agreement between the government and Afghan University was to send all the transfer students to Khost. But Fayez, after discussions with the Peshawar-based undergraduates and their faculty heads, agreed to allow them to go to whichever college they wanted.

This summer, 1,835 of the 2,700 Afghan University students requested a transfer to their homeland, but only 1,500 could provide documentation entitling them to admissions interview in Kabul. Another 29 of 184 eligible students applied for transfers from Ibne Sina University in Islamabad and Quetta University in Quetta.

About 70 per cent of the applicants - roughly 1,000 students - passed the interview. Those

who missed or failed the first round of interviews will be assessed this coming week (Nov. 9-14) for possible admission in the second semester.

The education ministry had originally planned to give written examinations to transfer students, saying that it was the only way for them to know which students were qualified.

"There are some students at the Afghan University who have fake certificates," Fayez said last month. "During previous regimes, some students were admitted to the medical faculty illegally by certain commanders and influential people. Which is why we want a general examination from all the students."

But the Peshawar students were appalled at the idea of an examination and held demonstrations over the issue.

"By making us sit an exam they want to disgrace Afghan University," said Javid, who is studying engineering. "You won’t find bogus students there, nor anyone who has come through nepotism.”

Sayed Ahmad Lakankhail, a medical student, said, "They deliberately treat us badly - none of us are fakes. At Kabul University, though, some students are admitted to the second year of the medical faculty because they are relatives of officials in the present government.”

In response to the demonstrations, Karzai appointed a special delegation to study the issue, including three Afghan University students and ministers from several other branches of the government. The group decided to use interviews rather than examinations as the basis for transfer admissions.

Fayez complained that he was left out of the decision-making process, which took place while he was abroad. "Karzai has done this without talking to us. The consultations were not conducted properly. The president’s countless advisers do not have experience in academic affairs and they are illiterate," he claimed.

Fayez was unhappy with the students as well. "We condemn the student demonstrations, and if they protest again, there will be a serious response from us,” he said.

Habibul Rehman Ibrahimi is a freelance journalist in Kabul.

Pakistan, Afghanistan
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