Delivering higher education in an emergency – a conversation with Professor Victoria Fontan, American University of Afghanistan
Over the past year, the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) has undergone unprecedented turmoil. The return of the Taliban to Kabul put an immediate end to their face-to-face operations as many staff and students fled the country. For many students, this also meant putting their ambitions and future plans on hold.
However, the AUAF remains committed to its students, and over the past year has done amazing work to ensure that educational opportunities continue to be available.
The AUAF was recently recertified against the HPass Quality Standards for Humanitarian Learning, and we spoke to the Provost, Professor Victoria Fontan about their experiences over the past year, and how the Standards have continued to provide a guide.
Victoria, it’s amazing that the university still manages to provide educational opportunities despite what has happened over the past year. How have you managed to achieve this?
We continue to offer our courses online, despite the fact that our staff and students are based all over the world. All our learning is now available as modular, online, and self-paced courses so that students can catch up if they spend time offline due to for example electricity outages in rural parts of Afghanistan, or because they are moving abroad. We offer a ‘no student left behind’ policy where we check in on students and staff we haven’t heard from. Sometimes you will not hear from a staff or faculty member for two or three weeks and they will resurface in Pakistan or Germany or wherever.
We’ve had help from a great set of partners to take our learning online and to gain access to a range of online libraries and resources. Because our staff is so dispersed, we are actually able to offer student support 22 hours a day. This is needed because our operations are no longer narrowly focused on learning provision, but also on developing an effective virtual structure, and most of all on providing pastoral care for our students wherever we can.