Reducing barriers to higher education for Afghan women, refugee students

U.S. colleges and universities are working to provide greater educational opportunity for Afghan women following a Dec. 20, 2022, decree by the Taliban prohibiting them from pursuing higher education, Inside Higher Ed reports. More than a year after the 2021 fall of Kabul, the recent education ban was a reminder of the need for additional intervention and support, says Jonah Kokodyniak, senior vice president for program development and partner services at the Institute of International Education, which has announced scholarships and emergency student funds. “Now is a real opportunity to galvanize efforts to support Afghan students that are able to come over safely.”

Related: U.S. colleges, advocacy groups working to support refugee students >

U.S. institutions supporting Afghan students

Institutions across the U.S., such as Bard College and Arizona State University, which opened their doors to Afghan students in 2021 after the Taliban takeover of Kabul, are now reinforcing their supportive services. Pomona College, meanwhile, has helped launch the Global Student Haven Initiative, a coalition of U.S. colleges—among them Bowdoin College, Dartmouth College, and New York University—that provide access to college for students affected by worldwide crises, including the war in Ukraine and humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.

Higher education advocates see online learning and partnerships with international universities in countries neighboring Afghanistan as an additional means of reducing barriers to education for Afghan women and other refugee students. The Asian University for Women in Bangladesh and The American University of Central Asia in Kyrgyzstan have enrolled Afghan women students since 2021 and are often more accessible to that population due to more readily available student visas.

University of the People, a nonprofit, low-cost online university that provides higher education access to students in highly monitored countries, had raised enough money when the Taliban first regained power in 2021 to offer 2,000 year-long scholarships to Afghan students. The scholarships cover costs such as application fees and undergraduate and graduate assessment fees paid at the end of each course. The university is now raising additional funds to support a new influx of Afghan women applicants.

Even online programs present barriers due to government monitoring, limited internet bandwidth, and other hurdles, experts say. They encourage higher education institutions to continue working through those challenges for Afghan women and other displaced students. “People wanted to support Puerto Rican students after Hurricane Maria, Afghan refugees after the Kabul airlift, Ukrainian students after the Russian invasion, and now Afghan women,” said Adam Sapp, director of admissions at Pomona. “The important thing is that this work extends beyond the current crisis.”

Georgetown connecting Afghan woman with scholarships, community

The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security (GIWPS) and its partners helped evacuate over 1,000 high-risk Afghan women leaders and their families from Taliban-ruled Afghanistan in 2021. Thanks to donor support, GIWPS’s Onward for Afghan Women initiative awarded two Afghan women scholarships to study at Georgetown beginning in August 2022 and matched 18 Afghan women leaders with fellowships and job opportunities at U.S. higher education institutions, including Princeton University, George Washington University, and the University of California.

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