Accessibility links

Breaking News

Student Union

Fulbright Applicants in Afghanistan Seek Help

FILE - The U.S. flag is reflected on the windows of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 30, 2021.
FILE - The U.S. flag is reflected on the windows of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 30, 2021.

Afghan semifinalists for next year's Fulbright scholars' program are asking the U.S. government about the status of their candidacies, following the closure of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul as American troops withdrew from Afghanistan in August.

"After the fall of Kabul on August 15, we did not hear back from the U.S. State Department on the Fulbright program regarding the status of our applications," said Maryam Jami, a law school graduate and applicant from Herat, referring to the Taliban takeover of the Afghan capital on that date.

The Fulbright Foreign Student Program "enables graduate students, young professionals and artists from abroad to study and conduct research in the United States," according to the program's website, which says about 4,000 foreign students are awarded a scholarship each year.

The prestigious awards offer educational opportunities at little cost, through the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, in conjunction with the Institute of International Education, which is headquartered in New York. The scholars teach or do research for one year or longer.

Jami, who said she wants to study for her master's degree in law in the U.S. through the Fulbright program, said applicants have reached out to the program to no avail. The last week of August, "they sent us an official email stating that they are going to inform us in the coming weeks," she said.

Frustrated Afghan Fulbrights Wait for Answers
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:01:57 0:00

VOA this week reached out to a State Department official who responded that the agency is aware of the applicants' worries.

"We are tracking events in Afghanistan closely and are reviewing the future of the Fulbright program. We are committed to the aspirations of Afghan students and scholars," the statement said.

"This fall, we have welcomed onto U.S. campuses the largest cohort ever of Fulbright students from Afghanistan. We appreciate the continued interest of next year's semi-finalists in study in the United States. We know that this is a challenging time for these Afghan students and their families. Interviews were postponed from June to September due to staffing and logistical constraints presented by the COVID pandemic."

With the U.S. Embassy in Kabul closed, the official web page for the diplomatic mission shows an error message.

An error message appears when searching for the official Fulbright web page for Afghanistan.
An error message appears when searching for the official Fulbright web page for Afghanistan.

The State Department has canceled its Fulbright program in the past for safety reasons, such as when a country has experienced turmoil, after the candidates are selected. At such times, the scholarships were rescinded, and the finalists had to reapply if they wanted to pursue the Fulbright again.

Fulbright Recipients Say Evacuation Overseas Was Confused
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:03:10 0:00

The program has also been cut short because of COVID-19. U.S. Fulbright students had the option of returning to the U.S. or remaining in their host countries during the 2020 pandemic.

Applicants said their hopes to leave Afghanistan to participate in the Fulbright program feel shaken.

"If the Department of State and the Fulbright program do not reply to my request and don't hold an interview, I do not have any future," said Farhad Ehsani from Kabul. Ehsani said this is his second time applying for the program.

"I will migrate to Pakistan, Iran or some other country because if I stay in Afghanistan, I will not have a good future," he said.

Esmatullah Muslim from Kandahar applied for an environmental management program in the U.S.

"The Fulbright scholarship program is an educational program, and it should not be politicized, or it should not be political. We demand that it should continue as normal, as well as for the following year," he said.

"The situation is really heartbreaking, especially for women, because we are denied education now in Afghanistan," Jami said. "Girls do not have access to even secondary education after elementary school. They cannot continue. They must stay home. We thought the international community will help us. … We all have plans for Afghanistan, and we want to pursue those plans through education."

Niamatullah Sayed received a bachelor's degree in law and wants to pursue a master's in banking and finance. He said the semifinalists are awaiting word from the State Department.

"We have given our high efforts and waited a long time. We deserve to be interviewed," he said. "We know that as of now, we do not have official governmental relations with the U.S., but this is an academic and cultural exchange program that shall not be affected by political relations.

"We are potential future leaders of our country in our respective fields. We will be guiding our homeland towards prosperity and development considering international standards," Sayed told VOA. "Therefore, the State Department should not cancel the program, because it isn't the solution."

The Afghan Fulbright semifinalists for 2022 have also launched a hashtag on Twitter to call attention to the issue. #supportafgfulbrightsemifinalists2022

See all News Updates of the Day

Australian, Chinese university chiefs meet in Adelaide

FILE - Students walk around the University of New South Wales campus in Sydney, Australia, Dec. 1, 2020.
FILE - Students walk around the University of New South Wales campus in Sydney, Australia, Dec. 1, 2020.

Australian university leaders held talks Wednesday with their Chinese counterparts over the Canberra government’s plans to cut the number of international students. Australia has said the reductions will ease the stress on housing and reduce immigration.

Representatives from the Group of Eight Universities, which represents large research-intensive institutions in Australia, met Wednesday in Adelaide with leaders from the China Education Association for International Exchange.

The Chinese delegation included senior officials from 22 leading research-intensive universities in China.

In a joint statement, the two groups said that “our research and education links not only deliver enormous economic and social benefits for both countries, but also foster enduring people-to-people ties.”

The talks focused on “constructive dialogue focused on challenges and opportunities around university research in a fast-evolving, globalized world.”

One major challenge is Australia’s plans to cap the number of international students it allows into the country to relieve pressure on housing and rental accommodation in the major cities. It is part of a broader effort to reduce immigration.

In 2023, official data showed that 787,000 international students studied in Australia, exceeding levels seen before the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the tertiary sector says plans to shut out some foreign students would cost the economy billions of dollars.

Vicki Thompson is the chief executive of the Group of Eight Universities. She told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. Wednesday that it is unclear how far international student numbers would be cut.

“At the moment there is a lot of unknowns about what this will actually mean. We are in very good discussions with government, though. They certainly understand the impact that our international education sector has on tourism, on the economy. So, you know, they do not want to bust it either. It is just how can we come to, I guess, a compromise position where, you know, we do not damage one of our most successful export markets,” she said.

Most overseas students in Australia come from China, India, Nepal, the Philippines and Vietnam, according to government data.

Under the government’s plans, colleges and universities would have to provide purpose-built accommodation for international students if they wanted to exceed the caps on numbers.

Specific quotas for foreign students, however, have not yet been made public by the Canberra government.

Australia’s plan to curb the number of students from other countries is expected to be discussed when Chinese Premier Li Qiang meets Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in Canberra next month.

Some shuttered universities appear to reopen on the web 

FILE - A magnifying glass is held in front of a computer screen in this picture illustration taken in Berlin, May 21, 2013.
FILE - A magnifying glass is held in front of a computer screen in this picture illustration taken in Berlin, May 21, 2013.

At least nine universities that have closed appeared to be looking for new students on the web, but the schools are neither accredited nor cleared to accept student aid.

In a USA Today investigation, Chris Quintana looks at what might be going on with the imposter websites. (May 2024)

Taliban push for normalizing male-only higher education

FILE - Taliban members are seen at Kabul University in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 14, 2023.
FILE - Taliban members are seen at Kabul University in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 14, 2023.

In coming weeks, tens of thousands of students in Afghanistan are set to sit for university entrance examinations.

Notably absent from the list of candidates will be females.

The upcoming exams are expected to determine the admission of about 70,000 students to public academic and professional institutions this year.

Last week, when officials from the Taliban's Ministry of Higher Education unveiled the specifics of the upcoming exams, they conspicuously omitted any mention of the exclusion of female students from university admissions.

Despite facing widespread domestic and international criticism for their prohibition of women from educational and professional opportunities, the Taliban have persisted in enforcing discriminatory gender policies.

“The exclusion of women from higher education significantly limits the country's economic potential, as half the population is unable to contribute effectively to the workforce,” David Roof, a professor of educational studies at Ball State University, wrote to VOA.

In December 2022, the Taliban suspended nearly 100,000 female students enrolled in both public and private universities across Afghanistan.

With the nation already grappling with some of the most dire female literacy rates globally, Afghanistan has failed to produce any female professionals over the past two years.

According to aid agencies, the absence of female medical professionals, compounded by other restrictions, has contributed to the deaths of thousands of young mothers in Afghanistan.

The United Nations reports that over 2.5 million Afghan school-age girls are deprived of education.

“The interruption in education can result in a generational setback, where entire cohorts of women remain uneducated and unqualified for professional roles,” Roof said.

'Hermit kingdom'

The elusive supreme leader of the Taliban, Hibatullah Akhundzada, purportedly responsible for the ban on women's education and employment, has never publicly clarified his directive.

Initially, when secondary schools were shuttered for girls in March 2022, Taliban officials said the action was "temporary," insisting that the Islamist leadership did not fundamentally oppose women's education.

However, more than two years later, Taliban officials have provided no rationale for the continued absence of girls from classrooms.

“They have normalized gender-apartheid,” said an Afghan women’s rights activist who did not want to be named in this article, fearing the Taliban’s persecution.

“This is a new norm in Afghanistan, however insane and destructive it may look in the rest of the world,” she added.

In January 2022, the U.S. Department of State appointed Rina Amiri as the special envoy for Afghan women, aiming to garner international backing for Afghan women's rights.

Amiri has actively engaged with Muslim leaders, emphasizing the importance of women's rights in Islam, in hopes of influencing Taliban leaders.

Despite these efforts, there has been no indication from Taliban leaders of any intention to abandon their discriminatory policies against women. “There is no indication this will subside,” Amiri told a Congressional hearing in January.

Senior U.S. officials have also warned the Taliban that there will be no normalization in their relations with the international community unless they allow women to return to work and education.

Thus far, the Taliban’s response has been that they value depriving women of basic human rights more than having normal relations with the rest of the world.

Hong Kong can help link students in US, China 

FILE - A visitor sets up his camera in the Victoria Peak area to photograph Hong Kong's skyline, Sept. 1, 2019.
FILE - A visitor sets up his camera in the Victoria Peak area to photograph Hong Kong's skyline, Sept. 1, 2019.

Pandemics, climate change and other global challenges require nations and scientists to work together, and student exchanges are a great way to foster that cooperation.

Writing in The South China Morning Post, Brian Y.S. Wong explains that Hong Kong has a crucial role to play in connecting students in the United States and China. (May 2024)

Learn about religious accommodations in US colleges  

FILE - St. Thomas More Catholic Chapel on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Conn., March 16, 2022.
FILE - St. Thomas More Catholic Chapel on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Conn., March 16, 2022.

From prayer services to housing options and vegetarian meal selections, colleges in the United States offer ways to accommodate students of various faiths.

In U.S. News & World Report,Anayat Durrani explains how you can learn about religious accommodations at colleges and universities. (April 2024)

Load more

XS
SM
MD
LG