Cablegate: Donors Show Support for the Ministry of Higher Education's

DE RUEHBUL #0633/01 0511019
R 201019Z FEB 10



E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: 09 KABUL 3907

1. (U) Summary: On February 7, 2010, the USAID Mission Director
along with the USG Education Team attended a donor conference in
support of the Ministry of Higher Education's (MoHE) new National
Higher Education Strategic Plan (NHESP). Five years in the making,
involving close collaboration between the MoHE and various
stakeholders, this plan provides a realistic roadmap for reform of
the Higher Education system in Afghanistan and identifies specific
areas for donor support. Donors pledged to increase both higher
education scholarships and other forms of support for the NHESP.
End Summary.


2. (U) The conference was opened by His Excellency the Acting
Minister of Higher Education, Sarwar Danesh. The Acting Minister
has made some major decisions in support of the NHESP. He is urging
Karzai to enact the revised Higher Education Law by decree, which
includes creation of a Council of Higher Education Institutions as
the foremost decision-making authority for higher education. He has
initiated an "Administrative Reform" with the help of the
Independent Administrative Reform and Civil Service Commission,
which will formalize new position grades and salaries thereby
improving the quality and qualification of MoHE staff. He has also
moved forward with plans to foster decentralization and give greater
financial independence to universities as emphasized in the NHESP.
Other proposals under the NHESP include establishment of a
Department of Private Higher Education Institutions, an office on
Academic Accreditation, a Department of Policy and Planning, and a
Directorate to Supervise the NHESP.

3. (U) The Acting Minister emphasized four important aspects of
implementation of the NHESP: 1) Setting up a structure to oversee
the strategic planning implementation process; 2) Obtaining the
necessary funding of $560 million from the donor community, noting
that the MoHE was only able to cover salaries of faculty and staff;
3) Spending at least 50% of the funds for the Strategic Plan through
the budget of the Government of Afghanistan; 4) Obtaining technical
support to put these plans in place. He hoped UNESCO would be a
partner in the implementation effort. The Acting Minister reminded
the participants of the Government's and the international
community's commitments at the London Conference and proposed that a
joint committee of donors and MoHE representatives meet again before
the Kabul Conference in the spring.

4. (U) Deputy Minister Mohammad Babury noted that the MoHE is
embarking on one of the most important initiatives in its history,
that success of the plan is vital to national development, and that
the support of the donor community was vital to that success. He
talked about the two major goals of the plan: improving the quality
of higher education and doubling the enrollment of higher education
students in five years. The Deputy Minister noted that the MoHE was
already making preparations for implementation including: improving
human resources; working with universities to implement NHESP policy
and insuring that their own planning is in accordance with the
NHESP; establishing donor coordination; eliminating corruption; and
improving coordination with other ministries. He pointed out that
the NHESP was a consensus document - representing the work of the
MoHE as well as all of the stakeholders and that it was practical,
feasible, and realistic.


5. (U) Several donors came forward with concrete pledges to help
Afghanistan implement the NHESP. Noting that a strong higher
education system was essential to development, the Ambassador from
Turkey, H.E. Basat Ozturk offered scholarships for Afghan students
to study in Turkey. He further noted that Turkey was prepared to
admit additional students if donors could cover their costs.

6. (U) The Ambassador from the Russian Federation, H.E. Andrey
Avertisyan noted that education was the key to peace in Afghanistan
and the NHESP was an important first step toward achieving such
peace. He further noted that Russia was ready to help support the
NHESP and that they would increase the number of scholarships for
Afghan students to more than 100 this year. He hoped they would be
able to offer additional support for the NHESP following
consultation with MOHE, perhaps by sending Russian university
faculty members to Afghanistan. The Deputy Head of Mission from
Pakistan, Mansoor Khan noted that they would provide 1,000
scholarships to universities in Pakistan in the areas of
Agriculture, Science, and Business and further noted that they would
also be willing to absorb additional students if donors could
provide the funding.

7. (U) Both Norway and Japan said they fully supported the NHESP,
although they were both unclear as to how they could materialize
their support at this time other than Japan noting their interest in
medical and agricultural education. India too expressed a desire to

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support PhD and Master's training in Agricultural fields through the
provision of 100 scholarships each year for five years. The UNESCO
representative noted that UNESCO would provide technical support in
the area of planning, monitoring and evaluation, and strengthening
of the Higher Education Management Information System (HEMIS) with
stronger links to the universities.

8. (U) The French discussed their plan to double the number of
scholarships they provide to Afghan students and to spend $1.5
million for cooperation on foreign language training. They also
plan to provide assistance to the Faculty of Law of Kabul University
and facilitate internships with French companies. The NATO-IS
representative noted that NATO had three major programs that fit
into the framework of the NHESP, which will focus on IT
infrastructure. The Danes were especially interested in curriculum
development and research. They also expressed interest in technical
and vocational training as well as gender equity. They echo the USG
in favoring direct funding of the Ministry of Finance (MoF), which
can disburse funds to the MoHE. Denmark also supports the cluster
process for aid and wants to see greater coherence between the
ministries of education, higher education and health.


9. (U) The USAID Mission Director applauded the MoHE for the NHESP
and stated that the USG was honored to be a partner in the drafting
process. He mentioned the pledge by President Obama to help rebuild
Afghanistan and suggested that improved higher education was the
best way to make progress. He noted that the USG would continue to
support education, law, and medicine along with a number of other
programs. He recalled the U.S. Ambassador's meeting with the
Minister of Education Wardak, and how the Minister had noted that
the lack of educational opportunities in Afghanistan is a ticking
time bomb. The USAID Mission Director further noted that there is
an urgent need for well-educated and trained leadership in all
sectors of the economy and that the USG will be a partner in
rebuilding higher education in Afghanistan. He concluded by calling
on the private sector as well as other donors to invest in higher
education through the NHESP and emphasized the importance of
increasing the number of women in higher education.


10. (U) Mark Ward, Special Advisor on Development to the SRSG
(UNAMA) then summed up the need for donor support for the NHESP. He
noted that the international community had applauded the Government
of Afghanistan for their revised economic plan. He stated that time
was of the essence since there was a demographic time bomb of people
graduating from secondary school who wanted higher education,
requiring expansion of the system. He noted that it had been two
months since the inauguration of the NHESP on December 3rd (Reftel)
and that support for implementation was now critical. He urged the
donors to join the MoHE in forming a small working group to oversee
implementation of the NHESP. He reiterated that the NHESP was an
excellent roadmap for reform of higher education that only needed a
strong donor commitment to make it work.

11. (U) The World Bank Director noted that higher education was
extremely important to development with a rate of return of $3 on
every $1 invested. Afghanistan only has 2% of its students of
college age in higher education compared with India at 10% and China
at 20%. The Director emphasized the importance of increasing
training in science and math, the need to decrease the skills gap,
and to increase both the quality and the quantity of graduates. He
highlighted the need for non-government sources of funding for
higher education, including fees from students. He stressed the
importance of academic accreditation, institutional autonomy and
accountability. He emphasized that donor support was vital and that
the World Bank stood ready to work with the MoHE to support the
implementation of the plan over the next five years.

12. (U) COMMENT: The new NHESP is a highly anticipated and
important plan for coordinating donor support in higher education.
A unique idea from which other sectors could also benefit, the plan
is one of the first Post has seen where the Afghan Government
identifies areas for targeted donor assistance. Although Post will
support the NHESP through current programming, additional funding
will be required to fully meet the important goals of the NHESP.
There is an urgent need for well-educated and trained leadership in
all sectors of the economy, which requires rebuilding higher
education in Afghanistan. Afghanistan cannot successfully achieve
its goals in reconstruction, economic growth, and poverty reduction
if there is a critical shortage of professionals such as engineers,
technicians, administrators, accountants, agriculturists, and
business leaders. END COMMENT.


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