FutureLearn announced in December it would offer women from Afghanistan free access to over 1,200 courses on its digital learning platform for the duration of the ban.
In Germany, the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development has pledged €7 million of funding to support Afghan women by helping them to continue their education in a neighbouring country – Bangladesh, Kyrgyzstan or Pakistan.
The scholarship program, developed by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), aims to assist 5,000 people by the end of 2027.
Joybrato Mukherjee, DAAD president, said that the current situation is “catastrophic” for the people of Afghanistan.
“Young women in particular have been hit hard. It is hardly possible for them to participate in social life anymore. Since they have been excluded from universities, they also lack any academic training opportunities,” he said.
The Taliban claims the ban is not permanent, but is instead a postponement which will last “until a conducive environment is created for their education”.
“The new scholarship program is therefore an important building block in enabling young women, together with our international partner organisations, to prepare for university and to support Afghan women refugees with bachelor’s and master’s scholarships at universities in the region,” Mukherjee added.
Jo Johnson, who became chairman of FutureLearn after its acquisition by Global University Systems last year, said that “for girls and women who can access the internet and afford the time”, the free access to courses online “could be a lifeline”. However, he acknowledged that it’s an imperfect solution to a complex issue.
“While this is of course no silver bullet – poor connectivity, poverty and language barriers mean many women may not be able to access the material – it can nonetheless play a valuable part in enabling women in Afghanistan to assert their inalienable human right to education,” Johnson said.
Mark Malloch-Brown, president of the Open Society Foundation, a non-profit organisation which financially supports civil society groups globally, welcomed the initiative.
“The Taliban think the world has forgotten them; we mustn’t”
“The Taliban think the world has forgotten them; we mustn’t,” said Malloch-Brown.
“This commendable move by FutureLearn to open up its platform to women denied their rights under this regime will play a useful part in keeping education within reach of those with an internet connection. It is a welcome sign that our commitment to fighting for human rights for all Afghans remains strong.”
A spokesperson for FutureLearn told The PIE that in the first week since launching, FutureLearn experienced a 700% increase in visits from Afghanistan, resulting in over 2,100 new registrations and 1,800 enrolments. It also received over 2000 direct enquiries from Afghanistan learners.
“These numbers continue to multiply,” the spokesperson added.
The DAAD announcement comes weeks after leading academic rights organisation Scholars at Risk called for an immediate expansion of international scholarships for Afghans.
In December, the foreign ministers of Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, the UK, the US, and the High Representative of the European Union, released a statement condemning the ban.
They urged the Taliban to “abandon the new oppressive measures with respect to university education for women and girls and to, without delay, reverse the existing decision to prohibit girls’ access to secondary school”.
“A stable, economically viable, and peaceful Afghanistan is only attainable and sustainable if all Afghans, including women and girls, can fully, equally, and meaningfully participate in and contribute to the country’s future and development,” the statement continued.
US-based IIE is continuing its support for Afghan women and girls, through a variety of programs, and said it is “pursuing every avenue to expedite aid to Afghan women and girls banned from accessing higher education”.
“Education unlocks a future. To deny women and girls access to higher education is to deny them basic human rights. Higher education is a pathway to independence, self-agency, and socio-economic mobility,” IIE said.
The IIE’s Odyssey Scholarship, open to refugees and displaced peoples around the world, covers tuition, accommodation and living expenses for students studying towards a four-year bachelor’s degree or a two-year master’s degree. Since launching in 2021, it has sponsored over 40 refugee and displaced students from eight countries. Some 23 recipients are Afghan students, including 12 females, who are stuyding at institutions in the US, Canada, Mexico, Bangladesh, and Vietnam.
While the scholarship package is open to Afghans, IIE’s Qatar Scholarship for Afghans Project is focused solely on helping Afghans continue their education in the US, with an equal split of male and female recipients.
The project, which is in collaboration with Education Above All, The Afghan Future Fund, Schmidt Futures, the Yalda Hakim Foundation, the Qatar Fund For Development and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, welcomed its first cohort of 250 students during the 2022/23 academic year.
IIE’s Emergency Student Fund supports students studying in the US impacted by crises abroad and has awarded 114 grants to students impacted by the situation in Afghanistan, 36 of whom are women.
In addition to this, the IIE Scholar Rescue Fund is also open to threatened and displaced Afghan scholars, arranging and funding fellowships at global partnering higher education institutions. In 2022, the initiative received a record number of requests for support and for the sixth year in a row, annual applications have more than doubled. The fund is currently supporting 45 scholars from Afghanistan, 12 of which are women.
“We have seen the higher education community rise in support of their peers in need, opening their doors and hearts to bring fellow scholars and students to safety and ensure they can continue their learning. But more can be done” A. Sarah Ilchman, IIE’s co-president, told The PIE.
Afghan men working in the education sector in Afghanistan have shown solidarity with their female counterparts and students, with The Guardian reporting that some 60 Afghan men have quit university positions in protest of the ban.