Could online degrees be the way forward for Afghan women?

Thousands of women were forced out of their classrooms after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan – and now, months later, they have little hope of resuming their education under the extremist regime. But the president of the University of the People (UoPeople) believes that online courses may offer a way to reach them.

The university is a non-profit organization that offers online degrees, and it has already had over 4,000 applicants for its scholarships launched specifically for Afghans.

“After the Taliban takeover, we announced 1,000 scholarships for Afghans with a priority for women,” said Shai Reshef, founder and president of the university. Times Higher Education. “We were surprised to find that in just a few days we were inundated with applications. “

About 600 of the applicants have started their studies at UoPeople, and Mr. Reshef is working to raise funds to provide scholarships to all who have applied.

“We cannot imagine a world in which the right to education is deprived of Afghans, especially women,” he said.

While he admitted that not all applicants would graduate – on average, around 85 percent of UoPeople students graduate – even a few thousand graduates would be important to Afghanistan.

Even before the Taliban takeover, the country had a low level of education, with around 10.6% of Afghans reaching tertiary education in 2020, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Culture.

“We are very proud to do this for Afghan women, and I hope other universities will do the same, especially online universities,” Reshef said. “There are initiatives to help Afghan refugees get into universities, but they are outside of Afghanistan… we should think more about [those inside] Afghanistan.

“Internally displaced populations are no different from refugees, and in many cases their condition is worse because refugees are [often] people who can afford to leave.

Although UoPeople does not charge tuition fees, the scholarships pay the required exam fees, which cost $ 2,400 (£ 1,810) for an associate’s degree, $ 4,800 for a bachelor’s degree, and around $ 3,000 for a graduate degree.

According to Mr. Reshef, some of the Afghan candidates are transferring credits from a previous study, but the “overwhelming majority” are starting “from scratch”.

UoPeople requires applicants to have a high school diploma, but it waives other typical university requirements, such as the TOEFL test commonly taken by non-native English speakers. Instead, applicants take an equivalent course. UoPeople also offers students anonymity in class for their safety.

While the future of Afghanistan looks bleak now, Mr. Reshef hopes things will improve.

“It’s really hard to say what Afghanistan will look like in a few years,” he said, adding that the regime had already been toppled – something that could happen again.

“If and when that happens, we will have a group of educated people who will be able to move their society forward. “

pola.lem@timeshighereducation.com

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