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Kabul University

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Kabul University is the oldest and largest institution of tertiary education in Afghanistan. Throughout its long history since 1932 not only it has provided training to a large number of Afghans but had enjoyed popularity in the region by attracting many students from our neighboring countries. Kabul University (KU) had a rich culture, history, academic excellence and devastated by decades of wars and instabilities in Afghanistan.


Kabul University was established in 1931 by King Nadir Shah, who pursued a cautious and gradual process of reform, unlike the aggressive modernisation which his predecessor Amunallah Khan had attempted (and which had provoked a conservative backlash which forced Khan into exile). Like other Afghan rulers between the 1940s and 1970s, Nadir Shah prioritised education as a means of national modernisation. Reflecting Afghanistan’s growing international profile, Kabul University was established with German aid money, and other Western states sponsored different faculties. The university quickly became one of the leading educational hubs in the region, embodying Afghanistan’s brief moment of leftist and secularist thinking, and was widely known for its medical school amongst others.


Kabul University played a major role in the development of the Afghan society. Since the late 1970s, however, the standard and the performance of the university have declined severely, mainly because of political instability, foreign invasions, and civil war. Most scholars have left the country, and for those who remained, the isolation from the outside world meant that the development in research stopped completely. Consequently, during the last two decades, research capacity at the university has been ‘actively destroyed’.


In the spring of 2004, a new constitution for Afghanistan was promulgated with a series of provisions on citizenship rights. According to the university, however, Afghanistan is a country emerging from conflict and ‘suffers from a deficit of trust and lack of human capital’. The university thus believes that, to realize the values enshrined in the constitution, a transformation in the organization and culture of educational institutions is required. Most of the higher education institutions in the country have not embarked on the process of transformation, but the university has started formulating strategies that will enable it to implement its mission.


Students of the university demand that the learning environment provide them with the skills needed to lead the country out of poverty and its current lack of prosperity. This demand from the students is coupled with pressure from community leaders who require the university to produce men and women who are committed to a vision of social responsibility that would prevent the country from descending into conflict once more. The university has received very little assistance thus far, but is actively engaged in forging relations with external organizations both nationally and globally.


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Kabul University Key Facts

  • Name: Kabul Pohantoon (Pashto) or Pohantoon-e Kabul (Dari)
  • Total students: 9660 (approximate)
  • Female students: 2336
  • Ethnic breakdown of students (approximate): 40% Pashtun; 30% Tajik; 15% Hazara; 10% Uzbek; 5% other
  • Total faculty members: 597
  • Female faculty members: 122
  • Faculties: Agriculture, Computer Science, Economics, Engineering, Fine Arts, Geography, Islamic Studies, Journalism, Language and Literature, Law, Pharmacy, Psychology, Social Science, Veterinary Medicine.
  • Address: Karte Sakhi, Kabul
  • Tel: +93 20 250-0326 +93 70 276-174 (mobile)
  • Fax: +93 20 250-0326
  • EMail: info@ku.edu.af
  • Website: http://www.ku.edu.af
  • Academic Year: September to June
  • Main Language(s) of Instruction: Pashto & Dari
  • Student Residential Facilities: Dormitories for 3,750 students
  • Academic Staff 2008-2009: Total 335


A Training Ground for Afghanistan’s Leaders

Different leftist factions – from social democrats to Maoists – as well as Islamist groups were active on the campus, despite opposition from political leaders. The dominance of different groups ebbed and flowed according to ‚ideological fashion‛, but in many cases the new political groups ‚represented a generational break with the political and social attitudes of earlier political groups‛. Tension between leftists and Islamists became one of the defining dynamics of student politics in the university.


It was in this ideological melting pot that many of Afghanistan’s future powerbrokers were first seriously exposed to political life. Anti-Taliban hero Ahmad Shah Massoud studied engineering there in the early 1970s. He joined the student wing of the Jamiat-iIslami party, which was led by future President Burhanuddin Rabbani and which later formed the core of the Northern Alliance. Rabbani himself had been a student of Islamic Law and Theology at the university and later served as a professor there. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the warlord and head of Hezb-i-Islami, was also involved in the Jamiat’s student wing, despite being in prison for his role in the murder of a student from a rival (Maoist) group. The ideological disputes between Hekmatyar’s radical faction and Rabbani’s moderates soon caused a split in the university-led movement, foreshadowing the first phase of the civil war.


Conflict and Decay – The University During the Wars

During the war in the 1980s the university became stifled by the Communist government, which feared internal radicalism and instability while it struggled to defeat the mujahideen. Dozens of staff members were executed and many more fled the country. With the fall of the government of President Najibullah (himself a Kabul University alumnus) in 1992, the university fell victim to the civil war between former mujahideen commanders. The facilities were largely destroyed in the bitter street fighting throughout Kabul. Under the Taliban, between 1996 and 2001, the university remained run-down and dilapidated. Young women, who had made up a considerable proportion of university students even into the 1990s, were completely barred from education. The clerical movement’s insistence on the Quran as the basis for all education reduced the ability of the university to function effectively. Subjects which the Taliban deemed un-Islamic – such as sculpture and music – were banned. The liberation of Kabul in November 2001 allowed life to return to Kabul University. However, restoring the ruined campus would require a vast amount of work.


Rebuilding the Campus: Kabul University Today

Nine-and-a-half years after the fall of the Taliban, there has been great progress in restoring Afghanistan’s education sector. The number of students in higher education across the country has increased from 22,717 in 2002 to 56,451 in 2008, the last year for which figures are available.


Kabul University is now attended by almost 9660 students, of which around 2336 (24%) are women. There are now fifteen faculties operating, from Computer Science and Pharmacy to Fine Arts and Islamic Studies.


International assistance has been substantial and has come from a wide range of donors. For instance, in 2007 Iran provided $800,000 to the Faculty of Dentistry and 25,000 books to the university’s library. This reflects a wider Iranian cultural influence, since many students and lecturers are fluent in Dari, which is very similar to Farsi. In 2010 Pakistan funded the construction of the $10 million Allama Iqbal Faculty of Arts, with 28 class-rooms, a library, two computer labs, and its own water and electricity supply. Meanwhile a number of Western donors have committed funds and technical assistance to the university. USAID has led programs to renovate dormitories for both men and women. Relationships with other universities and foreign governments have allowed Kabul University to develop its capabilities. Several research centres have been set up with the assistance of outside partners, such as the National Legal Training Center (funded by Italy) and the National Center for Policy Research (funded by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung) and the Center for Policy and Human Development (established with the help of the UN Development Programme).


The above list provides only a few examples of the international assistance which has been provided to Kabul University. Donors and partners from all over the world have contributed financial and technical support to the University. However, serious challenges remain. Infrastructure remains poor and the facilities remain limited, partly due to the boom in enrolment since the fall of the Taliban. The university itself acknowledges the challenges which it faces, including ‚lack of enough required infra structure such as classrooms, labs, libraries and lack of qualified teaching staff which has been the result of many years of war and destruction‛.


Governance of the university is improving under the current Chancellor, Hamidullah Amin. A graduate of Durham University in Britain, who left Afghanistan in 1988 as the Communist government began to crumble, he returned to Kabul after the fall of the Taliban to help rebuild the country’s shattered education sector.


Approach to civic engagement

Civic engagement at the institution is defined as adhering to the principle of shared institutional governance to produce skilled people and good citizens who will actively contribute to good governance in various fields. The university’s mission statement translates this definition into a strategy that focuses on training disciplined men and women, capable of tailoring global knowledge to Afghanistan’s economic, cultural, and historical context; contributing to the creation of new knowledge; and committed to the Islamic democratic values embodied in the Constitution of Afghanistan.


The university describes Afghanistan as ‘an economy dominated by criminalized activities and a polity suffering from a deficit of good governance and rule of law’. The values that drive the university’s civic engagement initiatives are: the promotion of ethics, social responsibility, generation of trust, and the acquisition of skills. The university hopes that these values will contribute to the socioeconomic transformation of the country.


Kabul University has a civic engagement policy that is based on a process of intensive consultation with the faculty and the students. The consultation process emphasizes the principles of shared governance, mutual rights and responsibilities, national development and global engagement. Environmental issues within the university have emerged as a strong concern for the university’s community.


In December 2004, the university’s president launched the consultation process with three rounds of intensive discussions in schools and departments, focusing on the needs of major segments of the faculty. Since the beginning of the academic year in March 2005, the president has also devoted at least 20 hours a week to a systematic process of consultation with the students. In groups of up to 20, students have been asked to identify what they see as the five major problems at the university and at the level of the school and department, and report their findings, through a representative, to a plenary session. Thus far, interaction with about 4,500 students has provided the leadership of the university with a ‘very good’ sense of their needs and aspirations.


The dialogue between the students and the leadership of the university has become the vehicle for formation of a series of student-run organizations that are likely to benefit the university community and the public at large. The university leadership intends to use other opportunities, such as the preparation of the university’s physical plan, as forums for further engagement with the students.


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