Academics in Afghanistan fear that the past semester could be their last before the Taliban closes universities ahead of major reforms.
The country’s fundamentalist regime, which took over nine months ago, has already put its stamp on higher education. It has forced out female faculty members and segregated students by gender, establishing physical barriers between men and women and changing schedules to divide them into separate classes.
In recent weeks, women have been banned from attending academic conferences or participating in graduation ceremonies with men. But despite these increasingly restrictive measures, many women students have at least been able to continue attending courses — something that lecturers fear could change soon.
While the Taliban has denied rumours that it intends to shutter universities, its reassurances have been met with scepticism, with academics broadly believing that the regime intends to keep institutions closed until it can restructure university curricula to conform with its extreme religious outlook. “They have big plans for higher education…and they want to just buy time to bring those changes according to their own views,” says one academic, who requested to remain anonymous for his safety.
He worries that the resumption of higher education under the Taliban thus far is only a short-term measure “and that our rulers, the Islamic emirate, reached the conclusion that it’s not a good idea continuing this system”. Already, constraints imposed by the Taliban have forced faculty and students to find roundabout ways of continuing daily activities. In universities, male lecturers are banned from meeting female colleagues or students in their offices or even in public. “We need a third person to bring messages. Everything becomes very ridiculous. In this century, we use a third person to communicate,” the lecturer says.
Another lecturer, who works at Herat University and also asked to remain anonymous, believes that sweeping changes are in store for higher education — an opinion he said is shared by his colleagues. “I think (the Taliban) will change curriculums in all fields of studies, particularly law schools. They will add religious topics,” he says.
Like others, he noted that the Taliban had already reneged on its promise to continue girls’ secondary education with closure of girls’ schools in April — not a good sign for universities, which, unlike schools, are co-educational. At least one university has stated that it will further separate male and female students, with men coming to campus on odd number dates, and women on even dates. The announcement was made by Kabul University, but was believed to come from the ministry of education.