Higher Education in Afghanistan
The health of higher education in Afghanistan is a product of invasion and civil war. The tumultuous nature of Afghanistan’s history has left obstacles in the path of educational institutions. This takes the form of many hindrances, such as the country’s current political stability or the ruling leader’s tendency for tradition. In the absence of education, economic instability and a lower standard of living may follow.

Turbulent Establishment

The establishment of formal modern education in Afghanistan didn’t exist until 1875. However, it was not until 1919 that the number of established institutions exceeded four. In 1929, during his nine-month rule, Habibullah Kalakany closed girls’ schools and stopped female students who went abroad from continuing their studies. Shortly after, Zahir Shah allowed girls once more the freedom of education. He also established the first small sign of higher education in Afghanistan, the Kabul Medical Faculty in 1932.

In the 1960s and ‘70s, Afghanistan’s educated class grew the strongest. However, the Soviet invasion in 1979 devastated the infrastructure of higher education in Afghanistan. An entire generation of the educated class disappeared, either killed or escaped. The Taliban occupation of Afghanistan further hindered the integrity of higher education. These disastrous conflicts rendered Afghanistan one of the most impoverished in the world.

Brain Drain

“Brain Drain” is a dire issue for the infrastructure and further human development of Afghanistan. This occurs when young Afghans receive degrees from institutes of higher learning and prefer job opportunities or the standard of living outside of their home country. Generally, when facing a crisis, the number of educated emigrants produced by a country will be higher than the number of educated citizens in that country.

The effects of brain drain directly impede further infrastructure development in Afghanistan, continually reducing the country to a state of stagnant reconstruction. The country’s condition of low development poses a threat to the advancement of higher education. According to a study by David J. Roof, in 2014, the higher education enrollment ratio in Afghanistan was around 5%, among the lowest in the world.

The World Bank suggests that Afghanistan could follow the strategies of other developing countries such as Pakistan and Sri Lanka in order to reduce the brain drain. This includes offering tenure tracks to young academics or encouraging studying abroad.

The Taliban’s Effects on Women’s Education

Many commonly think that in repressive regimes, the educated will bring the most opposition. The Taliban’s recapture of Kabul in 2021 initiated one of the world’s most critical humanitarian crises, leaving millions of Afghans starving and unable to collect salaries. However, young academics, specifically women, are being further barred from receiving higher education due to new Taliban decrees, which also restrict women’s freedom to work or leave the house.

In September 2021, the Taliban regime allowed women to continue studying in gender-segregated universities under strict dress codes. However, in March 2022, it banned the opening of schools for girls and women past the sixth grade.

This decision could divert international donations and deepen the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.

Foreign Aid

According to the U.N. Human Development Report, in 2020 Afghanistan ranked 169th of 189 countries based on the Human Development Index. An increase in foreign aid or grants focused on bolstering higher education would greatly benefit the country economically and politically by creating and filling jobs as well as providing a future for a more stable government.

In June 2021, the World Bank approved an $18 million grant to Afghanistan through the Higher Education Acceleration Transformation Project to bolster the infrastructure, quality and accessibility of higher education. A majority of this grant will help develop educational facilities, support teachers and improve curriculum and textbooks.

An additional goal of this grant is to empower women in higher education to pursue leadership positions, as only 30% of students of higher education in Afghanistan are women.

Due to gender disparities in higher education within Afghanistan, advocacy has mostly focused on increasing the accessibility of education to female students. The World Bank grant is a large step forward in opening up opportunities for Afghan women.

USAID has also drastically aided in the development of higher education in Afghanistan, focusing on matching universities and the labor market to cultivate 31 new degree programs for undergraduate and graduate students. In addition, the USAID PROMOTE scholarship will award up to 900 Afghan women the opportunity to seek both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees to diversify academia in Afghanistan.

Higher education in Afghanistan is unfortunately a framework of feeble institutions that heavily rely on foreign aid. Foreign aid has become the most important factor in the development of education infrastructure in Afghanistan, and actions by the World Bank and USAID have alleviated some of the negative effects of brain drain and gender inequality.

– Caroline Zientek
Photo: Flickr

Higher Education in South Africa
Higher education can be the catalyst to reshape a struggling economy, lessen the unemployment rate and ultimately reduce poverty. With South Africa’s staggering poverty rate of 55.5%, higher education in South Africa is rife with inequalities lingering from the apartheid era and the Bantu Education Act. These historical inequities have sparked student-led protests and movements to eliminate financial and cultural constraints in the education system.

Educational Disparities Remain Post-Apartheid

Earning the title of “the most unequal country in the world,” according to the World Bank, South Africa faces many challenges in recovering from its apartheid past. The racial disparities in education are apparent long before a student reaches higher education in South Africa. In 2018, nearly half of Black and “Colored” (biracial) South Africans did not complete secondary school while more than 80% of White South Africans did.

Of the Black students that completed secondary school, only 4.3% enrolled in a higher education institution, and as of 2020, only 4.1% have a degree. The World Bank found that if the household head achieved some higher education in South Africa, the risk of poverty reduced by about 30% compared to household heads with no schooling. With the nation’s racially oppressive history, access to inclusive and affordable education is a key pathway out of poverty for Black South Africans.

Educational Barriers

The Bantu Education Act of 1953 segregated schools by race and the lesser-known Extension of University Act of 1959 prohibited non-Whites from attending formerly “open” universities.

White supremacy ideologies are still indirectly visible in many top universities. While many Black students enroll in these universities, they struggle to find belonging. A documentary by Stellenbosch University students, “Luister,” which means “listen” in Afrikaans, examines 32 students’ experiences with racism and the absence of helpful provisions for a diverse, multilingual body of students.

South Africa has 11 official languages, yet many universities use English as the primary language for instruction. A myriad of students faces frustrations because they are ill-prepared to learn in an environment where their studies are not taught in their primary language. The Minister of Higher Education, Blade Nzimande, developed a language policy to promote multilingualism and provide access to the linguistic needs of each university’s students.

The Digital Divide

The COVID-19 pandemic forced higher education institutions in South Africa to move to remote learning. While more South Africans below the poverty level are attending universities at greater frequency, a large percentage do not have access to the internet or digital devices in their households. This relatively new form of disparity is digital inequality and the pandemic exacerbates this issue for students. As of 2019, a study estimated that only 10.4% of South African homes have access to the internet.

In addition, a 2020 survey report found that only 60% of students own a laptop. More than half of the students reported not having a quiet place to study. Students who received funding through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), a program for students below the poverty line, felt disproportionate effects. Therefore, 90% of students claimed that the only devices they own are smartphones.

Student Protests

The deadly Soweto Uprising of 1976, which protested Afrikaans as the language of instruction in South African schools, was the first of many student-led movements to raise awareness of the inequalities in education.

Since then, students have continued to demand that higher education in South Africa be affordable, accessible and decolonized. In 2015, the Rhodes Must Fall movement at the University of Cape Town was a campaign for the removal of a Cecil Rhodes statue, a figure symbolic of South Africa’s apartheid past and the colonization that prevails in the university.

The Fees Must Fall Movement

In the same year, the Fees Must Fall movement ignited when the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg declared a tuition increase of more than 10% for the following year, along with other institutions expected to follow suit. The movement was successful because former president Jacob Zuma decided to eliminate tuition increases in 2016, according to Global Citizen.

The movement reignited that same year when the Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training asserted that fees would continue in 2017. President Zuma announced that education would be free through NSFAS to those whose annual household income was less than R350,000 ($22,456).

In 2019, students protested against historical debt, the cost of tuition that NSFAS does not pay for as well as the “missing middle” class that do not qualify for aid but cannot afford tuition.

The Wits Asinamali Movement

The latest movement in 2021, Wits Asinamali, which translates to “we do not have money,” occurred when Minister Blade Nzimande announced that due to a decrease in funding first-year students could not benefit from NSFAS. Many students with historical debt were unable to register as well.

The students managed to raise R4 million to aid those who cannot afford tuition at Witwatersrand University and the university allowed those with historical debt to still register for classes.

Despite the low enrollment of Black students, higher education in South Africa has failed to meet the needs of the expanding prospect of new students. However, students are holding policymakers and universities accountable by demanding that their education be affordable, accessible and inclusive. Countless students have been met with adversity, but are making strides in advocating for a more equitable higher education system.

– Amy Helmendach
Photo: Flickr

Higher Education in BrazilBrazil has a population of more than 211 million, but only 18% of adults between 25 and 64 years old have acquired an academic degree. Brazil has both private and public (federal, state and municipal) higher education institutions (HEIs) classified into four main categories: universities, colleges, university centers and federal institutes. Universities are the most complex institutions as they incorporate not only regular learning activities but also scientific research and extension programs. As these six facts about higher education in Brazil illustrate, Brazil’s higher education system faces some challenges, but it also demonstrates a great history of success and potential for improvement.

6 Facts About Higher Education in Brazil

  1. Government spending in public higher education in Brazil is low. The spending in public higher education institutions increased by 19% between 2010 and 2016, but spending per student was still below the OECD member countries’ average in 2016. In 2021, a substantial budget cut is threatening federal universities’ operations. The new budget is almost the same as it was 17 years ago when the number of students was half of the current number. The low budget affects the payment of utility expenses and forces the universities to cut financial aid to low-income students and research funding.
  2. Most bachelor’s students attend private higher education institutions. Although federal and state universities in Brazil are tuition-free, more than 75% of students enrolled in bachelor’s degree programs attend private institutions. According to the 2019 census, there were more than 16.4 million admission spots that year, 94.9% at private and only 5.1% at public HEIs. Since 1999, programs, such as FIES (Student Financing Fund), finance tuition fees and allow students to start paying their loans after graduation, facilitating the access of students to private institutions. However, a study on student loan schemes in Brazil found out through simulations that there is an unsustainable repayment burden for many graduates. The study also suggested some possible solutions to the problem, such as “imposing a zero-interest rate whilst students are at higher education and whilst debtors are below the first tax threshold.”
  3. Social quotas facilitate impoverished people’s access to federal universities. In the last 15 years, 28 million people in Brazil transitioned out of poverty, but the system still favors the wealthy: the richest 10% of the population accounted for 61% of economic growth between 2001 and 2015. Business Insider suggests that federal universities’ admission systems favor this small portion of Brazilians who can afford private high schools where they have better opportunities of learning and, consequently, are more likely to succeed in the competitive public universities’ entrance exams. In 2012, President Dilma Rousseff signed a law that requires federal universities to reserve half of their admission spots for public high school graduates. Besides, half of the spots for public high school graduates go to people with a family income of less than or equal to one and a half of the minimum monthly wage per capita. ANDIFES’ surveys show that these people represented 70.2% of the undergraduates in 2018 compared to 44.3% in 1996 when the first survey first occurred.
  4. Racial quotas help to reduce the racial achievement and wealth gap. The law that emerged in 2012 to help public high school graduates and low-income students also guarantees that a percentage of federal universities’ admission spots go to those of African descent and indigenous people. This percentage varies according to their number in each state. Racial quota supporters see this law as an attempt to pay a historical debt with these groups and reduce inequality. Slavery was legal in Brazil until 1888 and left a legacy of profound racial inequality. About 125 years later, individuals of African descent earned “little over half of what white Brazilians did” and represented less than 30% of the country’s job market. In 2019, they represented more than half of higher education students in public institutions for the first time.
  5. Brazil’s public universities play a significant role in science production. Between 2013 and 2018, Brazil ranked 13th in the world in terms of its output of research papers with 280,912 papers added to the Web of Science. Fifteen public universities were responsible to produce more than 60% of this research output. Academic research benefits the world as a reliable source of information and insights that contribute to social improvements, such as the development of new technologies. The importance of university research is even more evident in the context of a pandemic. One example is the case of the Brazilian scientist Jaqueline Goes de Jesus who works at one of Universidade de São Paulo’s institutes and led the sequencing of the genome of a COVID-19 variant. Jaqueline’s accomplishment was all over the news and she even had a Barbie doll modeled after her as a recognition of her work.
  6. Brazil’s higher education institutions have international recognition. Seven of Brazil’s higher education institutions are among the top 10 Latin American universities in the 2021 Times Higher Education (THE) rankings. Universidade de São Paulo, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais and PUC-Rio are examples of a state, a federal and a private university in the top 10, respectively. Universidade de São Paulo is the oldest university in Brazil, being “responsible for around 20% of all Brazilian academic output.” THE evaluates universities in the Latin American and Caribbean regions within five areas including teaching, research, research citations, international vision and industry investment.

Looking Ahead

Higher education institutions are like gardens in which good ideas flourish when they receive the right amount of nutrition. It is worth noticing that both private and public Brazilian HEIs excel among Latin American institutions. While budget cuts threaten the future of public universities in Brazil, they do not erase their history of research contributions to the global scientific community. Besides, affirmative actions play an important role in the democratization of access to Brazil’s public institutions and impact society as a whole. These six facts about higher education in Brazil give an idea of how much there is to learn about this country’s higher education system, which is both a matter of concern and a valuable source of national pride.

– Iasmine Oliveira
Photo: Flickr

Vocational education centers in Afghanistan
After spending nearly 20 years in Afghanistan, the U.S. is withdrawing from the conflict with Taliban insurgents by August 31, 2021. The U.S. withdrawal is leaving the Afghan people and government susceptible to a Taliban takeover or all-out civil war, which could lead to the souring of Afghan-American relations. Perhaps U.S. support of new and improved vocational education centers in Afghanistan could help provide Afghans with the skills to repair the infrastructure that war has ravaged and maintain positive relations between the two nations.

History of Afghan Vocational Training

Afghanistan established its first institutions for technical and vocational training in the 1950s, with the help of countries such as the U.S., USSR, Germany and the United Kingdom. The Afghan education system integrated technical education with the creation of the Faculty of Agriculture and Engineering in 1956 and Kabul Polytechnic in 1968. However, following the Soviet invasion and the rule of the Communist Regime in 1979, many male students were unable to pursue technical education. These students either entered the military, fought with Mujahideen freedom fighters or fled the country. Additionally, many intellectuals who others associated with vocational education centers, opposed the Soviets and either went to prison, died from violence or had to flee.

The Soviet invasion severely hampered Afghan economic development and destroyed much of Afghanistan’s infrastructure, including many technical education centers. However, Afghanistan did not rebuild the infrastructure that experienced destruction in the civil war after the Soviet Union left and since the U.S. entered Afghanistan in 2001. Additionally, much of Afghanistan’s basic infrastructure, including clean water, proper sanitation and electricity, has experienced damage from the country’s previous conflicts. More vocational education centers in Afghanistan may increase access to trained individuals who could remedy these infrastructure issues.

Benefits of Vocational Education Centers

As of 2020, the World Bank reported that Afghanistan has an unemployment rate of 11.7%. According to UNICEF, 3.7 million Afghan children do not attend school. The formation of additional vocational education centers in Afghanistan could create more employment and educational opportunities for the Afghan people. Additionally, it could potentially provide the centers’ graduates with the capability to repair the infrastructure of a country that war has ravaged. Providing Afghan citizens with more vocational education centers would aid in the alleviation of poverty throughout the developing country. As UNESCO stated in a report concerning the development of Afghanistan’s Vocational Education programs, “education is one of the keys to sustainable development, peace and stability.”

U.S. institutions and Afghan vocational education centers have worked together successfully in the past. Prior to the Soviet invasion, Afghanistan had a rapidly developing set of vocational education centers. The Faculty of Engineering at Kabul University received almost all of its training in the U.S. and used U.S. textbooks for their classes. From the school’s formation in 1956 until 1978, the school had a significant affiliation with U.S. institutions through USAID support. As of 1977, the admission rate of the Faculty of Engineering at Kabul University grew from 300 to 1,000 per annum.

Additional vocational education centers in Afghanistan prior to the Soviet invasion included:

  • Kabul Polytechnic Institute
  • Kabul Mechanical School
  • Afghan Institute of Technology
  • Kandahar Mechanical School
  • Khost Mechanical School
  • Mazar-i-Sharifi Technicum
  • Kabul Technicum

The Soviets methodically dismembered these vocational education centers following the 1979 invasion. Soon, the communist ideology took precedence over all aspects of education. This lasted until the collapse of the communist government and the subsequent civil war in 1992. After that, all technical colleges and schools in Afghanistan underwent severe damage.

How USAID Assists With Development

The U.S. has been helping with the development of Afghanistan’s vocational education centers more recently as well through the Afghanistan Workforce Development Program (AWDP). USAID conceived the program in 2012 and sought to expand employment and wages in Afghanistan. It did this by increasing the employability of Afghan citizens in areas where skilled labor was necessary. This task reached completion through a four-step process. Firstly, a “labor market demand assessment” occurred to identify the skills in demand by the Afghan private sector. Following this assessment, USAID guided the curricula of the Afghan training providers to meet the demand of the private sector. After establishing the curriculum, USAID provided subsidies to help local training centers educate trainees in lacking areas. Finally, USAID provided pre-employment, job placement and follow-up services to ensure that those who completed training programs found work.

Positive Results

The AWDP was effective in many ways. As of 2018, 48,873 Afghans, 36% of them women, received training in competency-based technical and business management skills. Additionally, 28,790 participants of the program obtained assistance in finding work as a result of the AWDP. To ensure progress following the program’s completion, USAID also allowed private institutes to open career counseling centers. These five institutes trained 1,758 university graduates and landed 807 trainees jobs as of 2019. Furthermore, the program provided Master Training of Trainers (MToT) training to 1,401 master trainers attending institutes of higher learning. About 1,060 of those trainees earned jobs relevant to their expertise or received a promotion at their current jobs.

Since the U.S. military is withdrawing from Afghanistan in 2021, it may be beneficial for the U.S. government to support vocational education centers in Afghanistan further. Continuing to provide resources and increase funding may help maintain positive relations between the U.S. and Afghanistan. Furthermore, new or improved vocational education centers in Afghanistan would increase employment opportunities and empower more Afghans with the ability to repair infrastructure and further develop the state.

– Wais Wood
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Higher Education in Armenia
After gaining independence in 1991, Armenia shifted away from Soviet control. The country’s constitution, which Armenia implemented in 1995, determined that Armenia was a democratic state. Since then, the country has placed a significant emphasis on its education system, including university and college education. Here are six facts about higher education in Armenia.

6 Facts About Higher Education in Armenia

  1. Armenia’s Constitution Mandates Free Primary and Secondary Education: Article 39 of Armenia’s constitution grants all Armenians access to education. However, access to higher education can be more challenging.
  2. The Privatizing of Armenia’s Institutions: Armenia has had 22 state and 73 private higher education institutions as of 2010. Most of the institutions reside in the Armenian capital Yerevan where around a third of the population lives. However, as the bulk of higher-level education shifted toward privatization, Armenians have become limited in their options of pursuing a quality university education.
  3. Higher Education is Becoming Less Affordable: In 2013, 11 Armenian higher-level education institutions increased tuition fees by 50%. For example, the lowest-priced university translates to $480 a year, while the Armenian minimum wage translates to $110 per month. This means that many Armenians can no longer afford higher education. However, those who can afford it lack incentive as neighboring institutions can offer higher quality schooling at a lesser price. 
  4. Armenia Has a Low Expenditure on Education: Armenia planned to expand education to cover up to 4% of the total GDP but only 2.5% went toward it in 2016. In 2018, this number dropped to as low as 2.2%. This is problematic because as the number continues to fall, Armenia could have challenges providing the proper resources to keep institutions flowing. The challenges of staffing enough professors to combat the deficiencies in educational funding could become an issue as well.
  5. Armenia Entered the Bologna Process in 2005: The Bologna Process is an intergovernmental higher education reform initiative that expands through more than 40 European countries. By joining this initiative, Armenia has sought to level itself with fellow European nations’ education. Above all, granting oversight and aid ensures that Armenia will not see a regression in the caliber of its education system. Integrating with fellow European countries could also alleviate the incentive for Armenian students to seek college or university education outside of Armenia.
  6. Armenia Adults Had a 99.6% Literacy Rate as of 2012: Armenia does not have a high population of illiterate people. Men and women share a near-identical literacy rate, and Armenia ranks among the highest percentile regarding literacy. The high rates contribute to increased enrollment in primary and secondary education. As many Armenians continue to be well-read, the goal to reach higher education remains high.

Looking Ahead

As Armenia centralized its government post-Soviet rule, it has placed greater attention on sustaining a high level of schooling and taking precautionary measures to ensure education is on the rise. While higher education remains accessible to most, Armenia has room to improve. However, Armenians can feel optimistic that higher education is becoming more accessible and that resources are continuing to improve.

– James Van Bramer
Photo: Flickr

Higher Education opportunitiesWorldwide, 3.7 million refugee children are not in school. This is more than half of the 7.1 million school-age refugees. The higher the level of education, the less likely it is that a refugee attends school. Data from a 2019 UNHCR report shows that only 3% of refugees are enrolled in some form of higher education. Evidence suggests that education leads to less reliance on humanitarian aid. Online learning may present a possible solution. The benefits of higher education opportunities for refugees range from increased economic prosperity to higher levels of confidence, creativity and leadership.

Inclusive Education

One of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is inclusive educational access for all. This includes more access to higher education for refugees. The UNHCR’s Refugee Education 2030 strategy aims to achieve educational parity on all levels and raise the enrolment of refugees in higher education to 15%. A hybrid model of online and in-person instruction is becoming more popular. Increased interest and investment in online learning and degree certification could potentially provide new opportunities in higher education for refugees.

Providing Opportunities

Launched in March 2019, a hybrid learning initiative in Turkey has proven successful, serving more than 28,000 Syrian refugee students. The UNDP Turkey’s Syria Crisis Response and Resilience Programme started the initiative in order to offer easily accessible Turkish language lessons to Syrian refugees for them to better integrate into Turkish society. The initiative is funded by the European Union and implemented in cooperation with the Turkish Ministry of Education. The online language program is flexible, personalized and offers in-person meetings with an instructor. This is in addition to an array of online courses. Since the content is online, students can continue with their courses even if their living situation changes. Furthermore, a continuous reliable internet connection is not necessarily needed.

The University at Albany offers online medical courses in Arabic to Syrian refugees. The program launched in 2016 with 320 students enrolled. The courses give refugees who already have some form of higher education the chance to continue taking courses in their respective fields. The program also includes English language classes. It is part of a catalog of many other similar initiatives on the website MOOCs4inclusion. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are free digital education classes. MOOCS are accessible anywhere there is an internet connection.

Barriers to Learning

Western universities develop and teach the majority of online courses and degree programs used in refugee camps. However, the majority of refugees do not end up in a Western country, they stay in the refugee camp or return home. In order for online education to be truly successful, courses must take the particular circumstances of refugees into account. Researchers at the University of Geneva, Paul O’Keeffe and Abdeljalil Akkari, started a basic medical training course in Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp. The goal of the online course was to focus on relevant health issues in the area of Kakuma. The refugees helped inform the course content. Culturally relevant courses and an understanding of life in a refugee camp are important to implement successful online education geared toward refugees. Another barrier often encountered is that reliable internet is usually a necessity for online learning, yet a rare resource in most refugee camps.


Education for Humanity, a program of Arizona State University (ASU), uses technological innovations to break down some of the common barriers of online higher education opportunities for refugees. The program includes education on how to be a successful digital learner and the option of “earned admissions” for refugees without the required documents or qualifications for enrollment. In order to break down the internet barrier, Education for Humanity uses technology that does not require reliable access to the internet.

SolarSPELL is a solar-powered digital library that acts as an offline WiFi hotspot. Students access the course content by connecting their phone, tablet or laptop to the SolarSPELL’s offline WiFi signal. A whole 95% of the content is available offline and is available for download so students can still study without being connected to SolarSPELL. In 2019, Education for Humanity used SolarSPELL to offer an agribusiness course in the Nakivale refugee camp in Uganda.

Easier access to education for refugees is an important goal. Recent innovations such as SolarSPELL aim to break down barriers so that refugees can access higher education opportunities to ensure a promising future.

Caitlin Harjes
Photo: Flickr