All public universities ‘have reopened’, Taliban says

After a troubled year of university closures, students in the Afghanistan capital have returned to the main Kabul University campus under the Taliban’s gender-based segregation rules.

According to the Taliban’s Ministry of Higher Education decree, state universities across the country have now all resumed routine classes ahead of the start of the new Solar Hijri calendar beginning on 21 March 2022, which also coincides with the beginning of the new academic year.

However, although students returned in Kabul on 26 February, students have not been able to do so at Panjshir University – Panjshir was the last province to fall to the Taliban in September 2021 – as damage to classrooms during the fighting has still not been repaired, according to reports from the region.

Elsewhere, however, to begin making up for the loss of the academic year – due to the pandemic and the Taliban’s military takeover – some additional weeks of classes and tests commenced prior to the term beginning in March.

On 26 February, along with some 18 other public universities and higher education institutions in Afghanistan’s colder provinces, Kabul University reopened its gates to thousands of students who had been forced to stay at home, firstly by the spread of COVID-19 and then by dramatic security and political upheavals that saw the Taliban come to power in August last year, with campuses remaining closed after the fall of the government until now.

Public universities in the country’s warmer provinces such as southern Kandahar and eastern Nangarhar provinces reopened earlier in February.

Established in the 1930s, Kabul University, with more than 20,000 registered students, is the country’s biggest state-run academic institution, located in the heart of the capital.

Academic sources at Kabul University told University World News that the ‘Islamic Emirate’ of the Taliban was “determined to peddle its gender-based segregation policy” for which either partitions would be made in classrooms between male and female students or they would be separated in different shifts according to the number of students.

Shortage of professors

But in conversation with University World News, a number of students said their worries are far from over due to a shortage of qualified professors and the newly imposed restrictions.

Sources said a number of teachers and staff have been hired by the Taliban on a contractual basis to fill the gap left by academics who quit their job at the university or fled the country following the Taliban takeover in August last year.

“Many of our senior and experienced professors left the country. We saw that many younger teachers with less or no experience of teaching have taken over their positions,” said a Kabul University student who did not wish to be named.

The local Pashto service of the BBC reported earlier in February that since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, about 229 professors from Afghanistan’s three major universities, Kabul, Herat and Balkh, have left the country for various reasons.

But there were also many other students who said they were happy with the resumption of studies and optimistic about a gradual improvement.

“I am just glad to be back at the university. There are shortcomings, but that can be fixed. The good thing is that studies have resumed,” Mohammad Iqbal, a computer science faculty student said.

The Taliban’s Acting Minister of Higher Education Abdul Baqi Haqqani made the announcement about the reopening of universities last week in line with the segregation policy that has been the hallmark of his ministry since he took charge following the fall of the West-backed Kabul government in August last year.

According to the minister, the mixed education system for girls and boys is in “conflict with Islamic and national values”.