A group of faculty and graduate students at UMass Amherst is beginning to develop a network of associate degree programs in Afghanistan. With an 11.2 million dollar U.S. AID grant, the team is designing administrative and teaching strategies for what will be the country’s first ever two-year degree option.
David Evans has been to Afghanistan three times in the past five months. Since his program’s inception seven years ago, he’s been co-leading a team to launch the first masters degree programs in Afghanistan in almost thirty years. Evans says demand for higher education is infinitely higher than the country’s capacity to educate. He says the newest program — a masters in public policy and administration — received 350 applications for twenty spaces.
“And the applicants were not sort of your average Joe off the street. They were members of parliament, close relatives of members of parliament, senior officials in various ministries.”
Evans says that means lots of unofficial pressure to admit what he calls “people with connections.” But he says what’s more problematic is the Afghan people’s insatiable hunger for learning. Evans says the only option for higher education is a four-year degree program. And he says that doesn’t meet many people’s needs. So the team will be working with five public Universities to change that.
“It’s very much about access. These universities don’t have structures for doing things other than the four-year degree. So we’re going to be introducing a network of community colleges or associate degrees. And that requires a different set of criteria for admissions, for completion for examination.”
Evans says the team will work with Afghan professors and education officials to develop a few specialty programs. And once the grant runs out, he says, he hopes the model will be far enough along that the new degrees could be offered at Kabul Polytechnic University and other schools soon after.
“Afghans are in many real senses running this project. There’s been real progress and one often doesn’t get that sense from reading the newspaper.”
But Evans says the success of all higher education initiatives will depend on whether security can withstand the planned US military withdrawal in 2014.