Editor in Chief: Dr. Hussain Yasa Thursday, January 19th, 2017

Role of Universities in Modern Societies


Role of Universities in Modern Societies

The institutions we know today as ‘university’ have played a significant role in societal development for at least 500 years. The term ‘university’ originates from the Latin word ‘universitas’: simply meaning ‘a whole’, thereby signifying that the role of universities is to pursue balanced knowledge about virtually everything. Since the expansion of (natural and technical) sciences starting in the 19th century, the role of furthering economic and public development has become an additional and increasingly important function of universities in our modern day societies. It means that the higher education worldwide not only moved from the periphery to the centre of governmental agendas but also Universities are seen as crucial national assets in addressing many policy priorities, and as: sources of new knowledge and innovative thinking; providers of skilled personnel and credible credentials; contributors to innovation; attractors of international talent and business investment; agents of social justice and mobility; contributors to social and cultural vitality; and determinants of health and well-being.
Generally, modern universities pursue five major goals: firstly, as a repository of the Knowledge, universities must act as ‘knowledge vaults’, maintaining and securing crucial knowledge for present and future generations. Secondly, as a producer of new Knowledge, undertake the activity that we call research. Thirdly, as transferor of Knowledge to the Next Generation, i.e. what we call education. Fourthly, as transferor of Knowledge to society, i.e. what we call dissemination. Fifthly, as generator economic development, play an integral role in furthering economic growth and thereby pursuing socio-economic goals.
So, the higher education should Analyze the course of a country's development through the elements of higher education namely, the number of higher education institutions, standard of education, aptitude of teachers, number of students in higher education, number of theses being produced every year and the number of research journals published by the higher education institutes makes it easier to gauge the pace of progress. Higher education is also considered a yardstick because the graduates of colleges and universities provide the future leadership in ideological, educational, political and national life. They also play a key role in determining the characteristics of a society, driving it towards rise or fall, or steering it towards right or wrong directions.
But the higher education in Afghanistan neither is goal oriented nor received due attention while the institutions started taking roots in  second half of the 20th century; their progress was frequently hampered  by long-lasting conflicts. In recent years, there have been some efforts for improvement but Afghan universities are among the least productive in the world due to poor educational policies, meager resources and lack of merit. Importantly, the system of higher education being promoted is not in conformity with the cultural, economic and political need of the country. As a result, it is not surprising if sometimes students raise the flag of terrorist in universities.
Majority of the university and Institute teachers have so-called bachelor degree or so-called Master who were the products of the institutions where the standard of education needs a lot of improvement. This problem is getting worse because older people are resisting the induction of younger and better-qualified individuals. In this context, a study of evolution of higher education in Afghanistan would be highly significant at this crucial juncture of history when putting Afghan society on the right track of development is in the interest of world community at large. The initiatives in higher education in Afghanistan, their merits and demerits and the current trends that would implicate the future direction of development in Afghanistan critically need to be studied and analyzed.
Beside the shortage of competent teachers, there is a moral dimension to the problem also. There are incidents of some teachers sexually harassing female students. It is said that some teachers make illegal demands on some of their students in return for high grades.  It is also reported that some teachers are also involved in corruption by giving good grades to students for monetary benefits. Many students reported that they were asked to pay one hundred dollars for getting passing marks.  
Undoubtedly, developing institutions in a country like Afghanistan where war has been a continuous way of life for years on end is an uphill task, yet the importance of education in general and higher education in particular demands complete mobilization of government machinery as it is an investment that the future generations will be able to build on. Therefore, the Afghan scholars, think tanks, educationists and academicians need to deliberate upon the overall dynamics of today's Afghanistan, current system and status of education in general and higher education in particular to devise a comprehensive education policy. Keeping in mind the contours of this policy, they need to develop a pragmatic and concrete action plan so that the people working for the cause of education reach a clear understanding of educational goals and steps to be taken. This exercise will give the whole nation a sense of direction. The policy should also guide the government towards taking revolutionary steps, allocate most of its resources for this department, and utilize the available resources wisely.
Last but not least, nothing constructive can be fully realized as long as Afghanistan is in a state of war and education is no exception. Therefore, it is necessary to bring the war to an end and establish peace on a solid foundation so that growth and development of the educational system can be focused. Histories of modern nations reveal the fact that development of any sector, let alone the education sector, is not possible without lasting peace.

Mohammad Zahir Akbari is the newly emerging writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at mohammadzahirakbari@gmail.com

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