Closed state universities, salaries of teaching staff unpaid for months, gender segregation in private universities, poor future prospects for academics, especially scientists and students: about three and a half months after the Taliban took power, the university landscape in Afghanistan looks gloomy.
In view of this situation, scientists with ties to the West are trying to leave the country if possible, says conflict researcher Conrad Schetter, board member of the Afghanistan Working Group (AGA), in an interview with DW. The AGA is a large interest group of academics and other experts dedicated to sharing information about Afghanistan since 1966. It knows a large number of Afghans working in higher education who have applied for asylum in Germany or the United States and have already left the country, says Schetter. “We are already seeing a brain drain from Afghanistan, especially to the west.”
He asks German scientific organizations for help
Afghan scientists are asking for help from the two most important German organizations that promote scientific exchange through scholarships at an international level: the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), which deals with students and doctoral students, and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (AvH ), responsible for the professors. Given the unscientific situation, normal cooperation with Afghanistan is suspended, which makes exceptional support all the more necessary.
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Hundreds of requests for help have come to the DAAD, says Christian Hülshörster, head of the South Scholarship Program, in an interview with DW. “Last year we awarded a total of 50 scholarships (under the so-called Hilde Domin program),” says Hülshörster. Some of these have already gone to the Afghans. “And we recently reached an agreement with the Federal Foreign Office regarding the release of additional funds. This means that we can probably award another 25-30 additional scholarships specifically for this group of people.”
The DAAD’s Hilde Domin program, launched about a year ago, aims to support endangered students and graduate students around the world who have been officially or de facto denied the right to education in their country of origin, in so that they can start or continue their studies in Germany.
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The Philipp Schwartz initiative, launched in 2015 by the AvH together with the Federal Foreign Ministry, pursues the same aim at the level of teachers. The need for Afghan scientists is great, says Frank Albrecht, program manager of the Philipp Schwartz Initiative: “We receive requests for help every day, even from people with no connection to science, who, driven by desperation, contact every possible point of contact. to be heard. We can really only help in science, but wherever there is such a connection, we try to advise and make connections. “
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“But given the magnitude of the crisis, now we have to think about the future and open up new paths”, continues Albrecht. That is why the AvH, with the support of the Federal Foreign Office, is establishing a special program called “Bridge Funding for Afghanistan”, which aims to provide approximately 20 other scientists with access to safe havens at universities and institutes of research in Germany through one-year bridging scholarships. Albrecht hopes that the first loans can start “in a few months”.
Graduation ceremony at Mirwais Neeka Private University of Kandahar at the end of November 2021
The DAAD also uses the instrument of “bridging grants”, 60 of which so far. “They are mainly aimed at people from Afghanistan who are already in Germany and have been cut off from financial support, for example by their parents, due to political developments in their home country. It also caters for people who have studied here, but due to the impossibility of returning to the homeland in the current situation “, explains Christian Hülshörster.
In search of new ways of educational cooperation
In the long run, little will change for the better in Afghanistan, Conrad Schetter expects. He doesn’t think it’s very promising to try to get the Taliban to promote a Western understanding of science. The DAAD sees it similarly, says Christian Hülshörster. “That is why in the next year we will be addressing the question of what can be done for people who cannot come to Germany. We are thinking about virtual learning opportunities. With this we want to help ensure that no generation is born in Afghanistan.” also of scholarships in third countries. “We will evaluate whether we offer the so-called scholarships from third countries in view of the large Afghan communities that already exist in neighboring countries”.
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The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation is also thinking about sustainable aid, says Frank Albrecht. “It would be irresponsible to ignore the time after funding and leave people to fend for themselves after a first aid phase. This is why developing sustainable future concepts must be at the heart of any funding.”
In Afghanistan itself, for the foreseeable future, collaboration will probably only be possible with private organizations or individual professors, speculates Conrad Schetter. But there are other options. “This includes, for example, what the United Nations is already doing, which is that teachers’ salaries are funded through the international community. This approach could also be extended to the salaries of professors and other university employees. Here, with the UN, you have a powerful system that could do things more easily in Afghanistan. “