With the horrific Kabul bombing last week, stability for Afghanistan still seems a long way off. Despite that, the University of Technology Sydney is backing educational progress with a plan to establish PhD programs in several Afghan universities.
"A strong civil society is key to stability. And we develop strong civil societies by enhancing the capacity of citizens through access to quality education," said UTS Executive Director, Social Justice, Verity Firth.
"That's what these PhD programs will do for the best and brightest in Afghanistan."
The decision comes following a visit to UTS by Chair of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, Dr Sima Samar, and a delegation from the Gawharshad Institute of Higher Education. The Institute, founded by Dr Samar, has provided educational opportunities for women in the face of war, Taliban repression and social upheaval.
In a recent ABC Radio National interview Dr Samar said the only option for Afghans wishing to pursue doctoral studies was to abandon the country in pursuit of scholarly progress.
"There's no path for a PhD," Dr Samar said. "We need something inside the country and I hope that UTS will help us to establish a program in Afghanistan."
The PhD program initiative follows years of UTS support for Afghan education, in particular creating new scholarships through intensive fundraising. The relationship with the Institute began in 2013 with the signing of a memorandum of understanding.
"Students wishing to undertake doctoral studies usually need to leave the country and this often leads to the disruption of family and work lives," Ms Firth said.
"Many educated minds are lost to Afghanistan as people seek their opportunities elsewhere. This loss of capacity impacts on Afghanistan's future economically, politically and socially.
"At a time when conflict is again escalating, Afghan citizens need access to educational skills that will allow them to build their communities and develop their own civil society. Dr Samar, with her focus on women's access to education, is particularly important for Afghanistan's future."
Associate Professor Nina Burridge from the School of Education said that the visit provided the opportunity to deepen collaboration at the teaching and research level.
"Collaborations will be launched with UTS's Anti-Slavery Australia research unit on human rights and women's empowerment, as well as with the School of Education. The school will work with Professor Ian Brown, its current Acting Head, in his long running photographic project, Voices of Children, to help Afghans tell their story to the world through the most innocent of victims," Associate Professor Burridge said.
"These collaborations also extend to simple networking and peer support. Sharing academic expertise and fostering professional development is a two-way street we're more than happy to be a part of."
UTS academics will develop a proposal for a partnership with the institute and at least two other universities in Kabul to establish PhD programs.
The four-day visit by Dr Samar and the Gawharshad Institute delegation was made possible with the funding support of the UTS Deputy Vice-Chancellor (International and Advancement) Professor William Purcell.