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Thursday, 29 November, 2001, 03:21 GMT
Kabul studies uncertain future
Kabul University
Professors and lecturers have abandoned the campus
By the BBC's Alan Johnston

As the delegates at the Afghan peace conference try to work towards a settlement, there is much talk of plans for the international community to reconstruct and develop the country.

The faculty members feel utterly isolated from the rest of the academic world and hopelessly out of touch with the current of modern ideas

The huge scale of this task is illustrated by the state of Afghanistan's main educational institution, Kabul University.

It used to be widely admired across the region, but was largely destroyed in fighting and then suffered a range of restrictions during the time of the Taleban.

The university has been shut since the American-led coalition's assault on Afghanistan began, but even when it reopens, it will be barely able to function.

Academic woes

Kabul University was once one of the finest places of learning in Asia.

Nearly a thousand lecturers and professors taught in a range of faculties that had links with academic institutions all around the world.

But as Kabul was engulfed in fighting during the early nineties, the campus became a battlefield.

As factions of what is now the Northern Alliance fought from building to building, the university was destroyed.

Laboratories, dormitories and the library were all completely looted.

As the institution struggled to rebuild, the Taleban took over.

Women were banned from the campus, there were a range of intellectual restrictions and professors were purged.

Brain drain

The campus also went without water or electricity for several years and the most basic materials are still completely lacking.

Delegate Fatima Gailani at the Afghan peace conference
Afghan women are demanding an education
Huge numbers of professors and lecturers have left the country.

Two thirds of the staff at the education faculty have gone, and those that remain are completely demoralised.

They work from books that are decades out of date.

They only earn a few dollars a month, and anyway, they have not been paid since April.

Many are living on nothing more than bread and tea.

Before the war, nearly all the education faculty professors had been able to spend periods studying abroad.

But now, the department could not even afford to send them down the road to the nearby Afghan city of Jalalabad.

The faculty members feel utterly isolated from the rest of the academic world and hopelessly out of touch with the current of modern ideas.

But even more seriously, the education faculty, which aims to produce teachers, is desperately short of students.

Lost education

Afghanistan's school system has been so shattered by the war that very few young people are emerging from it with the ability and the money to go on to university.

Two thirds of the staff at the education faculty have gone, and those that remain are completely demoralised

Before Afghanistan's troubles began, the education faculty had several hundred students.

Now, it has just twelve. It failed to produce a single graduate last year.

With the Taleban gone, the academic climate will now be freer.

Women are able to return to the campus, and the few who are already wandering through the university's gardens are obviously delighted to be back.

They talk excitedly of the chance to study and of hopes for the future.

But if their dreams are to be realised, the international community will have to invest heavily in a major rescue plan for Kabul University.

See also:

28 Nov 01 | South Asia
US admits first combat death
26 Nov 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Tribal voices 'left unheard'
25 Nov 01 | South Asia
Rabbani 'still Afghan president'
21 Nov 01 | South Asia
US hopeful before Afghan talks
22 Nov 01 | South Asia
Afghan women to attend talks
20 Nov 01 | South Asia
Q&A: What will Afghan talks produce?
27 Nov 01 | South Asia
Pakistan's fear of exclusion
27 Nov 01 | South Asia
Taleban prisoners fight to the last
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