Some students worry about their future, some are happy to be back in their classrooms, though the Taliban imposes new rules.

University students across Afghanistan have started returning to their classrooms for the first time since the Taliban took over the control of the country. 

University halls, which used to be packed with students catching up after summer, were strikingly empty on the first day. 

As the students wrestle with the uncertainty and bleak future, education leaders worry about the consequences of the brain drain, in which skilled people fled the country fearing Taliban reprisals and the return of suffocating diktats the militant group is known to have imposed during their rule in the 1990s. 

The country has lost its many educated youths as they desperately tried to get on the military flights that carried thousands of Afghans fleeing after the Taliban takeover amid chaotic messy US withdrawal. 

"Our students don't accept this and we will have to close the university," said Noor Ali Rahmani, the director of Gharjistan University in Kabul, on an almost empty campus on Monday.

At Kabul’s Gharjistan University, only 10 to 20 percent of the 1,000 students who enrolled last year showed up. The director Noor Ali Rahmani estimated up to 30 percent of the students have left Afghanistan. 

Sher Azam is an academic at a private university in Kabul. He worries that many students wouldn’t come back to the classrooms due to the ongoing economic crisis in the country following the Taliban’s victory.  

"I don't know how many students will return to school because there are financial problems and some students are coming from families who have lost their jobs".

A member of the Taliban force stands guard at a checkpoint in Kabul, Afghanistan, on September 2, 2021.
A member of the Taliban force stands guard at a checkpoint in Kabul, Afghanistan, on September 2, 2021. (Reuters)

Following the Taliban seizure, Afghanistan’s already fragile economy that has heavily relied on foreign aid and external sources is facing an existential question. 

Much of the dollar inflow has been cut. That has severely impacted the country as most of the government spending and the humanitarian aid people relied on had come from international organisations and Western partners. 

Since then many Afghans have lost their jobs, others have not received their salaries for months. 28-year-old computer science student Amir Hussein says many students are not interested anymore in studying. 

“Because they don’t know what their future will be”, Hussein said. "Most of them want to leave Afghanistan.

The worrying scene was the same across Afghanistan, though some still try to keep optimistic about the future. 

A journalism professor at Herat University in the west of the country, said of 120 students enrolled for his course, less than a quarter showed up at school on Monday. A number of students and teachers have fled the country, and the fate of the country's thriving private media sector has suddenly been thrown into doubt.

"Students were very nervous today," he said. "I told them to just keep coming and keep studying and in the coming days the new government will set the rules."

New rules

There are also new rules as to how the classes should be conducted. 

When it comes to women’s education and their participation in socio-economic life, the Taliban have promised a softer approach than they had two decades ago. 

They have said women will be allowed to go to private universities under the new regime, but they face tough restrictions on their clothing and movement.

The Taliban education authority issued news measures for the classroom which ruled that men and women should be segregated or at least divided by a curtain. The list also includes the mandatory wearing of hijabs and separate entrances for female students. 

Teachers and students at universities in Afghanistan's largest cities, Kabul, Kandahar and Herat confirmed that students were segregated by gender in class, taught separately or restricted to certain parts of the campus.

Photographs widely circulated on social media show a grey curtain running down the centre of the classroom, with female students wearing long robes and head coverings but their faces visible.

For some students, however, it was a relief that women would still be able to attend university at all under a new Taliban rule.

Zuhra Bahman, who runs a scholarship programme for women in Afghanistan, said the students are happy to go back to the university. 

"Taliban opening universities for women is key progress. Let's continue to engage to agree on other rights and freedoms", Bahman said.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies