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Monday 15 January 13:53

Science at Risk in Afghanistan - What Can We Do? - a Global Sustainable Futures webinar

News: Sep 16, 2021

The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan has raised serious concerns in the academic world about the prospects for scientists and their work in the country. "Afghan researchers fear for their security - and the future of science," the renowned Science magazine wrote in its 20 August issue.

”It’s a prison, we’re not able to go outside or say anything,” said Laila, a young civil engineer from Kabul who took part in the GSF Webinar “Science at Risk” about academic collaboration with partners in Afghanistan on 8 September.

Kabul, Afghanistan

Universities have been closed since the take-over, but some private universities have only recently reopened. Many researchers, lecturers and students have fled or gone into hiding. Books deemed ‘problematic’ have been hidden or, in some cases, sent abroad to be safely kept. Women are separated and dress codes are being imposed. Dr Said Reza Kazemi from Afghanistan, now a visiting researcher in the University of Heidelberg, emphasized the strong and widespread feeling of disillusionment among colleagues not least women and girls whose situation has become even worse.

Sari Kouvo and Reza Kazemi

“The Taliban have made new appointments,” Reza Kazemi said. “But there are no women in their government and the new minister for higher education is one with a military background.”

What can we do now?

The public university structure in Afghanistan is quite weak and cannot meet the increasing demands for higher education. There is a lack of teachers, libraries, and digital services. Very few have doctoral degrees.

“This leads to a complicated relationship with western universities”, Sari Kouvo, associate professor at the Dept of Law in Gothenburg. “Among other things we need to move beyond the sort of extractive work where Afghan researchers are put at risk to collect data but not given any credit in the resulting publications”, she said.

Karolina Catoni at the International Centre coordinates the work of “Scholars at Risk” in Sweden. The organisation has received hundreds of requests for support the past few weeks from researchers in Afghanistan. Discussions are ongoing with research funders and others for possible solutions and contributions. Meanwhile Karolina Catoni recommends that those who need help register at “Scholars at Risk” or get in touch with her directly.

Photo Kabul:
Weaveravel, Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA 4.0
Photo Sari Kouvo and Reza Kazemi



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