AFGHANISTAN: Five-year higher education plan

Afghanistan has launched a US$560 million five-year national higher education plan to redirect universities towards producing graduates relevant to the market as well as providing scientific solutions for key economic and social problems.

The plan was announced on 3 December by Higher Education Minister Mohammad Azam Dadfar at Kabul University. The aim is to build a high-quality, internationally recognised and well-managed public and private system responsive to Afghanistan's growth and development needs, that improves public wellbeing, respects traditions and incorporates modern scientific knowledge.

To do that, the plan focuses on reforming higher education to produce quality 'market-ready graduates' as well as encouraging research that focuses on key problems facing Afghanistan, including those involving agriculture, business, mining, education and the private sector.

Last year, 50,000 students were enrolled in higher education in Afghanistan and it is estimated there will be 100,000 high school leavers by 2010 and 1 million by 2014.

Creation of a US$25 million agricultural university in the next two years by India is one of the first steps in implementing the plan. The university will produce graduates who, it is hoped, will provide solutions to agricultural challenges, promote agricultural technology transfer and carry out scientific research needed for development as well as improving the practices of agricultural methods.

Along with the other 16 agricultural colleges, the new university will establish a network for agricultural knowledge dissemination to farmers, business, education and research and development communities.

Besides funding the university, the Indian government will provide opportunities for 500 Afghan students annually to continue their higher education in India.

Nazar Mohammad Halim, of the faculty of science at Kabul University, welcomed the plan. Halim said it was a good opportunity for the reform of higher education which has suffered acute and pressing problems as a result of a sequence of devastating conflicts and civil wars during the last 30 years.

These include outdated curricula, under-qualified faculty, dilapidated buildings, lack of proper classrooms and laboratories, under-resourced libraries and the lack of state-of- the-art information technology.

"If implemented properly, the plan will play a vital role in providing the urgently needed serious reforms and capacity building for universities and associated research centres to be able to operate efficiently and meet the overwhelming demands for access from an increasing number of high school graduates," Halim told University World News.

He said the agriculture university was important for Afghanistan's development because70% of the Afghan population earned their daily income from agriculture and gardening. Most of the 22 agricultural research centres in Afghanistan have been abandoned, bombed, looted or confiscated by warlords.

"[The university] will play a major role in organising the necessary training programmes and enhancing agricultural biotechnology research and development that could turn Afghanistan from an importer of food grains into self-sufficiency in crop production," Halim concluded.