News & Blog

AUAF’s Computer Club Gathers for Games and Activities

February 20, 2024

AUAF’s Computer Club arranged a joyful gaming event. The session commenced with an insightful exploration of IT concentrations, offering students a glimpse into the vast possibilities within the department.

Later, teams united for lively community games, embracing the camaraderie through activities like charades. Strategic minds faced off in intense board game battles, and the gaming arena buzzed with energy during thrilling PlayStation matches. Laughter and friendly competition echoed throughout the campus, making it a day to remember.

We would like to thank Spirit of America for providing the support to organize such lively events and programs at AUAF’s Doha campus.

AUAF Men’s Cricket Team Places Third in Qatar College Sports Tournament

February 9, 2024

The AUAF Men’s Cricket Team came in third place for the National Qatar College Sports Federation Cricket Tournament. This was their first year playing in the competitive tournament. We congratulate the 2023-2024 Men’s Cricket Team for their amazing achievements.

We would like to give a special thanks to the Qatar Foundation for utilization of their cricket pitch for practices, Friends of AUAF for providing them uniforms for the tournament, and to the supporters and fans of the team!!! Thank you all so much.

Also, Qatar Fund for Development provides the facilities and resources for our students to learn and develop their athletic skills which they possess.

AUAF Students in Afghanistan Share Images of Snowy Day

February 8, 2024

AUAF students shared pictures of an especially snowy day in Kabul

A Relocated University Restores Hope for Female Students

January 26, 2024

When the Afghan capital Kabul fell to the Taliban in August 2021, more swiftly than anyone had anticipated, it unleashed chaos in the lives of Afghan people, including students at the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) who felt particularly vulnerable due to the institution’s association with the United States.

AUAF scrambled to evacuate staff as part of the US-led withdrawal and within three months announced it was relocating to Qatar with some staff and as many AUAF students as could get visas – around 1,000 students were enrolled at the Kabul campus, almost half of them women – leaving behind its deserted campus in Kabul.

The shift to Doha allowed the AUAF to carry on face-to-face teaching and enabled students, particularly its women students, to continue their education without fear and the total insecurity and uncertainty that had enveloped Kabul after the Taliban takeover.

Restrictions on women and girls and a ban on female education were quickly implemented by the Taliban regime.

A decision not lightly taken

AUAF’s decision to leave Afghanistan was not taken lightly but was considered the best prospect for students if they were to continue their education, amid a massive and highly uncoordinated evacuation of tens of thousands of Afghans from Afghanistan, AUAF President Ian Bickford told University World News in a wide-ranging interview at the Qatar campus.

“Extensive and strenuous” contingency planning had already begun well before the Taliban takeover “including the almost unthinkable – moving AUAF out of Afghanistan”, he said. “Early in 2021, it was difficult to know what the future would hold. However, we were painfully aware that Afghanistan was likely to change, and probably in ways that were not favourable to the kind of education that we had been offering for, at that point, 15 years.”

“The reality came upon us quite quickly. And it was a difficult and painful matter to close the doors of our campuses in Afghanistan for operations outside of the country.”

“Nearly every US government, NGO partner and implementing partner left Afghanistan at that time. It would have been very difficult to buck the trend,” said Bickford.

“For our faculty and staff, our Afghan colleagues, there was a great deal of uncertainty about what the future would hold for them in Afghanistan. It became important, in conversation with their families, [for them] to leave Afghanistan, though they were well aware they were contributing to the prevailing brain drain.”

Bickford insists the move “was the right thing to do at the time”, particularly after the Qatar Foundation offered buildings and facilities for teaching in Education City in Doha, as well as student accommodation and, crucially, visa assistance for students. The Qatar Foundation also undertook to provide full scholarships for around 200 students who could make it out of Afghanistan.

Talks with Qatar

This was due to groundwork laid earlier. “We had already begun working with the State of Qatar, potentially for AUAF to be hosted here … That meant we were able to activate that plan quickly,” Bickford said. The agreement with Qatar “made sure at least a subset of our students were able to come here”.

Several nations were hosting Afghan refugees, including students, but Bickford said the university wanted to make sure their students could continue their degrees. “It was important to us that we did so safely, with minimal disruption to their lives and education.”

Nonetheless, “it did take time to bring students here [to Qatar] safely”, he acknowledged.

Reports emerged of students unable to get visas, or getting visas but being turned away from the airport in Kabul, or even being taken off aircraft waiting on the tarmac. Many were unable to leave Afghanistan at all. They continued with the online classes offered for free by AUAF.

Online classes

“Online learning is a permanent part of what we’re able to offer, because in whatever situation, we’re able to reach more students in more places and in more ways,” Bickford explained.

“With faculty all over the world, it helps to support the small academic team here [in Qatar] in offering a wider array of courses, in a hybrid mode, for students both in situ and online working together.”

“We’ve also benefited from OSUN [Open Society University Network]-connected courses, which have put our students in a community with their peers around the world, [and which] have provided them a window to the world at a time when they feel that their lives have closed in,” said Bickford, who is strongly involved with OSUN.

“It has added to the strength of our own academic offerings.”

Victoria Fontan-Medinger, AUAF provost and vice-president for academic affairs, told University World News that online classes had already been in place for some time due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We adapted very quickly because the majority of the faculty was already outside [Afghanistan] and the only tangible thing that we had left were our online courses,” she said.

“We were ready to start the semester on time, minus a couple of weeks, adapting some of our beginning of semester activities to [set up] study groups [and] for students and faculty to process what had happened [in Afghanistan]. And then to move on to regular classes.”

Just a few weeks after the Taliban took over the capital, “we started with almost a full student cohort,” she said, noting that over 80% of around 1,000 AUAF students were able to resume their studies on time online from different countries, including Afghanistan.

But with the chaos and pull-out of many diplomatic missions from Kabul, it was some months before the first students arrived in Qatar and face-to-face classes could resume.

“Without being assured of a durable student visa arrangement, we felt it was irresponsible to bring students out of Afghanistan on a temporary basis, knowing that they may well be stranded and that we might not be able to support them in that place,” Fontan-Medinger said pointing to major issues with the evacuation, when “many, many people were stranded in strange lands and without [a means of] livelihood”.

In the rush to leave Afghanistan, some cohorts of students had relocated to the American University of Iraq-Sulaimani which hosted more than 100 AUAF students, and the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, which hosted a similar number. Bard College in the United States pledged to take 100 students free of charge.

The State of Qatar’s 100% funding for 200 AUAF students covered housing, meals and stipends for the students.

“For the third year in a row, we’ve been able to support every enrolled student with 100% financial aid support from USAID, the US Department of State, private donors, corporate donors and the State of Qatar. “We’ve been able to do it,” said Bickford proudly.

Hope for the future

Several Afghan women students who managed to make the perilous journey out of Afghanistan by various routes told University World News that relocating with AUAF to Qatar had given them renewed hope, despite leaving everything behind.

Hadiya (not her real name), in her third year of a computer science degree at AUAF in Qatar, said she missed her family. “Aside from that, being here gives me a feeling of hope, which I did not have in Afghanistan, not being able to go out or have education. It felt like we were not part of the community; we were not existing.

“But I have improved a lot since coming to Qatar – at least there is no one to stop us getting an education.”

Sheela (name changed), who is in the first year of a computer science degree at AUAF in Qatar, was in her final year of an economics and computer science degree at Kabul University, the country’s top public institution, but was unable to continue after the Taliban barred women and girls from education.

On fleeing to Qatar, she had to start her degree from scratch.

After the Taliban took over, “I tried to get my transcript from Kabul University, but they didn’t allow girls to take their transcripts. They said, ‘taking your transcript means you want to go to other country to study’. So I had to start again.”

Joining AUAF was “better than I imagined”, she said, noting that the quality of learning was better than the education offered at Kabul University after the Taliban. “The professors and teachers at Kabul University that were high quality all left the country, and the quality of teaching became very low,” she explained.

“Before, I was really sad because I had to leave everything behind. It is very hard if you study six semesters and then have to start again from the first semester. But coming to AUAF opened my mind, my vision, even changed my goals from the ones I had when I was at Kabul University.”

She now looks beyond her own community and country, she explained. By the time she finishes a masters degree, “I hope the situation in Afghanistan will have changed. I did not have this goal to live in a foreign country, but when I finish my studies I want to go back and serve people in my country and do something for them.”

Her family back in Afghanistan is very supportive. “They say to me: ‘you should study hard; you are the voice of those who are remaining in Afghanistan. Improve yourself so that you can do something for other women’.”

The pain of leaving

Ahmadi (name changed), a second-year business studies student at AUAF, left behind two sisters in Afghanistan who had already started university but could no longer continue under Taliban rule. “They have lost hope”, she said, “but at least I can continue my education in Qatar, and the dreams that I have.”

She vividly remembers the day the Taliban took over. It was her second day at the AUAF campus in Kabul. “It was 11.30 am and my sister called me saying don’t go to the university because the Taliban had taken over. I did not believe her and said, ‘No way, the Taliban can never come and take Kabul!’.”

She said she cried when she learned it was true. “I thought, what will happen now? What will be my future? It was a black day in my life and I became depressed thinking how to adapt to the situation, to wear the hijab and cover my face, not go to the market, to parks, and just stay at home,” she said.

In 2021, aged 20, she was able to get to the Afghan border with friends, but leaving the country was emotionally difficult. “I felt like I had lost everything. I felt really bad. I’d lost my family, my education, everything I had. When I came here [to Qatar] “it was very hard for me to adapt, as I lived with my family in Kabul so I was missing them.”

Although the facilities at Doha’s Education City are not as extensive as those of AUAF in Kabul, they are good and the community in Qatar is supportive, she added.

A life-changing opportunity

Mina (not her real name), a first-year computer science student at AUAF Qatar, was enrolled at AUAF in Kabul on a three-year scholarship when the Taliban took over. She was also working in art in Afghanistan, which she noted was seen as “unacceptable” among the Hazara community she comes from, and in Afghanistan generally, particularly under the Taliban.

She was not able to go to university for six months but got a visa to leave Afghanistan in August 2022. “I still remember the day. It was my birthday, and we were all sitting together,” and it seemed that her family would not allow her to go.

“We are a Pashtun family. It is very hard to let a girl go out of the country. We cannot go out alone, even if the situation is normal.”

But she knew that if she stayed, “I’d be nothing. My whole existence, my personality, the dreams that I have, I’ll not achieve any of them. So, starting from my dad and every family decision-maker, I sat with them and talked to them for hours and hours until they were convinced.

“It took two weeks to convince them to let me go,” she said. “But my mum supported me and just because of her, I was able to come here.

“My whole family supports me now that I’m here and can continue my education. They say they are really proud of me, because in my province I was the only girl working in art.”

She describes joining AUAF as a “life-changing opportunity”. Even when classes were online “it gave me a vision for a better future”.

The move to Qatar and a wider group of professors was enriching. “We had new professors of different nationalities, who had different experiences and were seeing the world in a different way. They teach us more than what we could learn in Afghanistan,” she said.

“It is my goal to do something better for myself, as well as for my family, for my own people in my country,” she said. “My dad told me: ‘The day you return back to your country you will be someone that Afghanistan needs. I’m very proud of you.’ And I remember his words.”

An improved institution

Bickford believes the experience of the past three years, including the contingency planning, has made the university stronger and more resilient. “The extreme experience has improved us. It has invited us to improve upon our already very strong academic programmes, and has improved us as an academic community.

“When we see our students succeeding against the odds and against the grain, it produces a great level of trust, respect and admiration for each other,” he said.

This article is part of a series on Academic Freedom and Resilience published by University World News in partnership with the Open Society University Network (OSUN). University World News is solely responsible for the editorial content.

Stanford University Lecture on Legal Education

The Implications of Taliban Takeover on Legal Education in Afghanistan

January 18, 2024

On Thursday, January 18th, 2024, Stanford University’s Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies along with the University’s Center for South Asia cosponsored a lecture on the topic of the impact the Taliban’s takeover has had on legal education in Afghanistan. Among the lecture’s speakers were Victoria Fontan, Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs at AUAF as well as Erik Jensen who serves as the Director of the Rule of Law Program at Stanford Law School, and as an Affiliated Core Faculty at Stanford’s Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law. Erik Jensen additionally served as a longtime member of the AUAF Board of Trustees until 2023. On the lecture, Stanford University released the following blurb:

The Afghan Legal System offers some distinct features, inter alia its composition of Islamic Law and the Civil law tradition, that are known to a lesser degree to international audiences. Unfortunately, the developments in the country post-Taliban takeover have increased the already complicated legal system and have severely impacted legal education in the country. In this webinar, we aim to explore these complications and discuss the ways we can safeguard the past twenty years of achievements in legal education in Afghanistan.

This event will be moderated by Nasiruddin Nezaami, Fellow at IIE-SRF,  Stanford Law School, and Research Fellow at the Information Society Law Center, University of Milan and Assistant Professor of Law at the American University of Afghanistan. 

AUAF Student Organizes Drawing Classes on Qatar Campus

January 13, 2024

AUAF students currently studying at the AUAF hub in Doha, Qatar have been enjoying drawing classes held by an AUAF student throughout the year. During these classes, students experiment with a variety of different art tools and mediums, present their work to their peers, and learn lessons which are taught by the student organizer.

Thanks to the Qatar Fund for Development, which provides AUAF with the facilities and resources, AUAF students can learn and develop their artistic.

Bard College Employees at Global Refugee Forum in Geneva

Bard College to Support 425 Refugee Students

January 4, 2024

Bard College, an American liberal arts school in New York has made a pledge to support over 400 refugees and displaced students over the next four years. Many AUAF students have found their place at Bard College since 2020, earning dual degrees from AUAF and Bard. Read below for more from Viggo Stacey’s recent article.

Bard College says the 425 students will study either in-person degrees on its main and branch campuses, and online degrees in partnership with Parami University in Myanmar.

The 15by30 commitment from the intergovernmental peace organisation is aiming to get 15% of young refugees enrolled in higher education by the year 2030.

In December, Bard represented the Open Society University Network at the second Global Refugee Forum in Geneva, Switzerland.

The College is also representing OSUN in co-leading the UNHCR’s 15by30 Multistakeholder Pledge. OSUN partners have impacted over 80,000 refugee and displaced youth since the founding of the Network.

Jonathan Becker, vice president for academic affairs and director of the Center for Civic Engagement at Bard, is a co-lead on the 15by30 Multistakeholder Pledge, spoke at the forum about the benefits for all of achieving 15% of refugees in higher education by 2030.

“What Bard and OSUN do is most emphatically not ‘do-gooderism’ – we are working with some of the most talented young people in the world who enhance learning of all of our students,” he said.

“Bard has been bringing refugees and other displaced people into our classrooms for decades”

“Bard has been bringing refugees and other displaced people into our classrooms for decades, and today we also bring the liberal arts and science into refugee camps in East Africa, the Middle East. and South Asia,” said Rebecca Granato, who is co-chair of the UNHCR Global Task Force on Education Pathways and associate vice president for Global Initiatives at Bard.

“Educating those affected by displacement is not just part of our civic mission: it also directly benefits other matriculated Bard and OSUN students whose experiences are enhanced by such inspiring and talented young people from all over the world.”

Other OSUN partners – Sciences Po, SOAS, Bard College Berlin, American University of Afghanistan, and Arizona State University – have also made significant pledges to expand refugee access to higher education.

report released in December noted that exact data on how many students hold refugee status in the US is missing. Estimates suggest that in the 2022/23 academic year, over 54,000 students on F-1 visas may have been refugees.

 

2023 Year in Review

January 2, 2024

2023 has been a year of milestones at the American University of Afghanistan. We enrolled more students – including a majority women – than at any point in our seventeen-year history, online and at our branch campus in Qatar. We launched the new Transition to Success program, which enables high-school-aged girls to regain progress after two full years of school and university closures. Our IT Bootcamps, also for high-school girls, gave hundreds the opportunity to study computer science and coding while building confidence and acquiring soft skills. And we accomplished much else besides, as illustrated below, with support from USAID, the Department of State, the State of Qatar, and many individual donors.

For the third year in a row, we’ve been able to do all of this without charging our students a single dollar in tuition or fees. This is possible because of our community’s commitment to high-quality education for the deserving, talented, and ambitious young people of Afghanistan.

Please consider making a gift to celebrate what we’ve achieved together in 2023 and allow us to enter 2024 with the confidence of your support.

 

Sincerely,

Ian Bickford

President, American University of Afghanistan

Korean Embassy in Qatar Hosts AUAF Students

December 28, 2023

On December 27, 2023, the Korean Embassy hosted a movie night for more than 90 students, faculty and staff of the American University of Afghanistan with VIP guests including representatives of the Korean Embassy as well as diplomats from the United States and Germany. The featured film was “Life is Beautiful” and the event included finger food and drinks for all attendees.