Afghan Merit Scholars Program
In an effort to strengthen the knowledge base of practitioners in Afghanistan and our international presence in supporting best practices in civil infrastructure, our institute developed the Afghan Merit Scholars Program. Through this partnership, seven engineering faculty members from Afghanistan earned master of science degrees in engineering at Ohio University. Six were from Kabul University (KU) and the seventh from Kabul Polytechnic University (KPU). The students generally completed about a semester of intensive English before starting classes full-time, graduating in two or at most three years’ time, including English and some undergraduate classes to make up educational deficiencies (mostly in exposure to laboratory equipment in techniques). Two earned degrees in Electrical Engineering, while the others earned degrees in Civil Engineering. All returned to their respective faculty posts in Kabul and resumed teaching duties in civil engineering, electrical engineering, or mechanical engineering. The expenses of the students education (including stipends and tuition) were roughly evenly divided between Ohio University funds and external funds that were ultimately supplied by USAID.
First Afghan Engineering Policy Workshop
The First Afghanistan National Engineering Policy Workshop was held August 2-4, 2010, at Kabul University’s school of engineering. Attended by at least two faculty members from each of the eight Ministry of Higher Education universities with engineering programs, the workshop’s goal was to address issue of brain drain from university faculty.
In general, competent Afghan engineering faculty members find they can be much better paid for performing consulting work off campus for construction contractors and others who are doing reconstruction work in Afghanistan than for their teaching work.
While it is laudable for these faculty members to keep up their skills with some outside consulting, particularly if the work can also serve an educational function, what too often happens is the faculty member ends up spending 80% or more of his time on this work and spending a minimum amount of time attending to educational duties on campus. The result is a shortchanging of the education of the students and lack of adequate faculty to handle all classes. Given the role of funding agencies and contractors in funding and managing the reconstruction work, they were also invited to participate in this workshop so that they could help offer solutions for this issue. In addition, the workshop was also charged with looking at selected issues with curricula and partnerships with the private sector.
The following numbers of faculty members attended from each university: two from Alberoni University, two from Balkh University, two from Herat University, two from Kandahar University, three from Nangarhar University, three from the National Military Academy of Afghanistan, five from Kabul Polytechnic University, and fifteen from Kabul University, making a total of 34 participants from Afghan universities. Of these, only one attending faculty member was female, Professor Abidi of the Kabul University Mechanical Engineering Department. She did play an important role in the workshop preparation and logistics, including introducing some of the speakers, and also made major contributions to the breakout group in which she participated.
After the opening addresses from the Dean of the Engineering Faculty and the Chancellor of Kabul University, and an overview of the national higher educational strategic plan, representatives from each of the major Afghan engineering universities gave a presentation on their school’s achievements, strengths, problems, and strategic plans. The schools included Herat University, Kandahar University, Sheikh Zayed University at Khost, Nangarhar University, Balkh University, Alberoni University, Kabul Polytechnic University, and Kabul University. The afternoon included perspectives offered by representatives of two donor organizations, USAID and the World Bank; a talk from the United States Army Corps of Engineers took place on the third day. The second day began with presentations by foreign university personnel on their work with Afghan universities, including University of Colorado at Boulder, Hartford University, Purdue University, Ohio University, and the University of Brighton (This last on the third day as well). Additional remarks were provided by the Governor of Kabul Province and by the Deputy Minister of Urban Development. On the second day, workshop participants divided into breakout groups that each focused on one of four topics:
- Creating a work environment that encourages engineering professors to be more committed to their academic responsibilities while earning sufficient income within the framework of the university
- Partnerships between universities and private sector to improve the infrastructure of the communities of each university
- Guidelines, standards, and an approval process for a specialized engineering curriculum and establishing an Afghan national accreditation board for engineering programs
- Adoption of a standardized, national core curriculum in engineering; revision of the Konkor Exam items related to student readiness to enter engineering programs at Ministry of Higher Education universities.
- Breakout group members reported back to the at-large membership on the afternoon of the third day. Recommendations from each were gathered and summarized, along with other discussions from the workshop and recommended next steps, in a final report published in October.