Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Strengthening Geoscience at Kabul University (2)

As I mentioned in a post last week, I was recently taking part in a workshop at the University of Leicester which focused on institutional strengthening of Kabul University (Afghanistan) and other universities in the surrounding region, with a particular focus on geosciences. Through many conversations, discussions and presentations I learnt a tremendous amount over the few days about the geography and geology of this region, the rich history and culture of the nation and the situation with regards to higher education.

Despite higher education in Afghanistan facing huge challenges (as outlined below) it has a huge role to play in nation building, with the potential for it driving significant social and economic development. Universities generate knowledge through research, which can bring enormous benefits to various aspects of society. A university can also act as a peace builder – bringing together different ethnicities and backgrounds and fostering dialogue, collaboration and peace. Graduates from the university go on to positions within government departments and politics itself, and thus universities can also develop and encourage good leadership.

Higher Education in Afghanistan

Chancellor of Kabul University, Professor Amin speaking at
an event earlier this year.
In Afghanistan, there are currently around 100,000 university places spread across public (26 universities, 80,000 students) and private (54 universities, 20,000 students) universities. Kabul University is one of the largest universities, with around 1 in 5 of all students attending there. They have 75 departments ranging from Geology and Environmental Protection and Disaster Management, to languages, journalism and law. Their budget and the percentage of national GDP they get is extremely low, and public institutions (according to the constitution) are not allowed to charge students for education up to and including Bachelors Level Degrees. For each student, universities are given $1 per day, which equates to roughly £200 a year. Educating a student in the UK with a university education can cost in excess of £10,000, over 50 times as much. Demand is growing for the 100,000 places, with projections expecting around 1,000,000 people to be applying for places in the next few years – meaning without expansion and development of capacity, universities will only accept 1 in 10 of those wanting a university education. This is likely to be a huge social problem in the future, as is the potential lack of jobs for university graduates, should the sector be expanded. Other challenges Kabul University (and others) face include lack of equipment, infrastructure, resources and well-qualified teaching staff.

The Faculty of Geoscience

One faculty which is likely to see an increase in demand, and also an abundance of jobs for the graduates is the Faculty of Geoscience, incorporating departments of Geology, Geography, Hydro-Meteorology and Environmental Protection and Disaster Management. All of these departments provide much needed graduates for government agencies, industry and NGOs.


Afghanistan is rich in natural resources, ranging from precious stones (lapis lazuli) to precious metals (gold) to industrial metals (iron, copper). These resources offer Afghanistan a huge opportunity for economic development, and offer geoscience graduates an income and career. The development of good practice, good management and employing well qualified environmental protection specialists also means Afghanistan can develop a good reputation for their sustainable mining. Geoscientists are also fundamental to locating and protecting water resources, building resilience to natural hazards (the region is affected by earthquakes, landslides, floods, droughts and intense winds), and engineering geology – developing new and long lasting infrastructure.

It was great to have the opportunity over the couple of days I was involved in this conference to hear about the Faculty of Geoscience, and opportunities for developing geological knowledge and skills in this remarkable part of the world. I shared about Geology for Global Development, and there was interest in perhaps turning this into an international initiative, with national groups in other countries – although this will be at some point in the future. When in the future, however, depends on how we grow and develop over these coming years. Listening to the challenges and needs of communities in this country blighted by conflict for so many years, and the positive role geoscience can play in rebuilding and strengthening the country, has made me more determined than ever to see GfGD successfully expand and develop, and play our role in fighting poverty and improving the lives of many.