Do quotas in higher education promote discrimination or bring reform?
Findings by Kabul Now suggest that the quota system of higher education in state-run universities is marred by flaws. In the government-crafted quota system, 25 percent of the seats in 15 state-run universities are designated to a specific group of applicants. Many who are critics of this quota system call it “discriminatory.” Documents reviewed by Kabul Now show that the group-based quota system is largely unbalanced and biased when it comes to an equal and fair distribution of higher education opportunities. In the solar year of 1397, the Afghan cabinet approved the quota system of higher education, justifying it as a move to develop the underdeveloped provinces.
A study shows that Kankor applicants from across the country were not given equal opportunity in the solar years of 1398 and 1399. The so-called developed provinces, as documents suggest, are given more quota as compared to underdeveloped provinces of the country—something that is contradictory to the very objective upon which quota system was created. Thanks to the system, a specific group of Kankor takers, notable among them the Kochi applicants, were given a lift to enter state-run universities.
Quota policy designed to give more education chance to the underdeveloped provinces
The quota policy was implemented to bridge the gap between the educationally-developed areas and educationally underdeveloped regions. But a study of Kankor results from 1398 and 1399 suggests that developed provinces, except Kabul, were given more quota as compared to underdeveloped provinces. The quota system was designed to provide applicants from underdeveloped provinces with opportunities to enter institutes of higher education. Though the quota system of higher education was designed to bridge the gap between less-developed and relatively developed provinces of the country, documents reviewed by Kabul Now show the underdeveloped provinces have benefited little from the quota scheme. The developed provinces which respectively enjoyed more quotas are Nangarhar, Ghazni, Herat, Kandahar, and Balkh provinces.
The National Examination Authority (NEA), said that the major provinces which have more MPs in the parliament are given more quota, justifying that the people’s status in districts of the developed provinces and underdeveloped provinces are the same when it comes to the “level of their deprivation” from higher education opportunities.
But justification made by NEA appears little convincing. The fact is that some districts, though they remain deprived, have not been given a quota and some of them enjoy little opportunity to enjoy the quota system.
A Kochi-friendly quota system
Under the National Unity Government, in December 2018, the Afghan cabinet gave a special concession to Kochi applicants to study in the country’s top universities. As per the quota policy, the country is divided into eight regions and the Kochi applicants are entitled to have the quota in each of the eight regions.
In the new Kankor exam form, Kochi applicants have been given a status to participate in the Kankor exam from any region they wish to—which indicates that Kochi applicants can enjoy the quota designated to all provinces, even in the provinces where are no Kochi settlers.
The issue of Kochi applicants being able to participate in the national Kankor exam from any region they wish turned into a controversial debate after the quota was given to Kochi in the northeastern Panjshir province which is a predominantly Tajik populated province with a small number of Hazara community living in its Abshar district. Those criticizing the policy argued that why a quota was given to Kochi applicants in Panjshir where there are no Kochi settlers.
NEA authorities, nonetheless, say the final decision on the quota given to Kochi was made after several consultations exchanged among officials from the Ministry of Higher Education, the Independent General Directorate of Kochi (IGDK), and the NEA authorities. The IGDK was tasked, as the NEA authorities say, to prepare a list of all Kochi high school graduates and handed over the final list to the NEA upon which the quota was assigned to Kochi applicants in the eight regions of the country. A letter issued by the IGDK says that in addition to personal details, Kochi applicant has to mention their tribal identity too in the exam paper.
It is not clear how many Kochi applicants took part in the 1399 national Kankor exam and how many Kochi students were admitted to the state-run universities.
Dost Mohammad Faizi, the spokesperson for the NEA, says that the Kochi students will benefit from the quota which is designated to the provinces they live and study in. “It is not like the election process. The Kochis can take the exam in the province and benefit from the quota from where they have graduated,” he said. He claims that the Kochis are not given more privileges than other citizens of the country.
The NEA authorities had told Kabul Now that each province was given a quota share proportional to the number of seats they have in the Parliament and the capacity of the universities at which they are given quota. It is noteworthy that the Kochis have 10 seats in Parliament.
Based on what criteria quota is given to each province?
In Kabul Now’s report released in January 2020, the NEA had said that each province was given its quota in proportion to the number of seats it is given in the Parliament. The report, however, found quotas were not designated to the provinces on the basis of the seats each province occupied in the Parliament.
The findings by Kabul Now suggested that there wasn’t a common coefficient criterion for distribution of the capacities of the universities in proportion to the Parliament’s seats.
Now the NEA claims that it has distributed the universities’ capacities in the quota system considering the parliament seats of each province and the capacities of the universities. It simply means that if a province occupies more seats in the Parliament, it enjoys more share in the quota policy of higher education.
Rough data analysis of quotas given to four provinces suggests quotas given to provinces are not shared proportionately. In 1399, 258 Kankor applicants from Nangarhar province were admitted through the quota system while the province occupies 14 seats in the Parliament and the Nangarhar University has had admission capacity for a total of 4,495 new students.
A total of 232 Kankor applicants were admitted from Herat province through the quota system while the province occupies 17 seats in the Parliament and its university had an admission capacity for 4,020 new students. A total of 241 Kankor applicants from Ghazni were admitted to Khost’s Shaikh Zayed University and Paktia University through the quota system. While Ghazni occupies 11 seats in the Parliament and the two universities, each has an admission capacity for 2,455 students and 2,392 new students. A total of 85 applicants from Badakhshan were admitted to Balkh, Takhar, and Kunduz universities while the province occupies nine seats in the Parliament and each of the three universities has respectively admission capacity for admitting 4,805, 1,925, and 550 new students.
The contradicting information provided by the NEA suggests the NEA does not have applied any specific criteria to design quota policy. In contradiction to the NEA information, the aforementioned provinces, just as an instance, have enjoyed more quotas at the universities with declining admission capacity.
Few provinces enjoy more quota
Findings show that some provinces were given more quotas in 1399 than their quotas in the previous year, 1398. But some provinces were given the same quotas.
The provinces which enjoyed more quotas are Nangarhar, Maidan Wardak, Khost, Paktika, Ghazni, Badakhshan, Nooristan, Takhar, Baghlan, and Kunduz. The provinces whose quotas have not changed from the year 1398 quota are Bamyan, Daikundi, Panjshir, Parwan, Ghor, Kapisa, Herat, Nimroz, Zabul, Urozgan, Badghis, Farah, Faryab, Helmand, and Kandahar.
83 more new seats were added to the quota system in 1399 compared to 1398.
The NEA says that the quota of each province changes in accordance with the increase in admission capacity of the universities to which the province has received quotas.
The number of applicants who have enjoyed quota reform gives a different account. Nangarhar, Maidan Wardak, Khost, Paktika, Ghazni, Badakhshan, Nooristan, Takhar, Baghlan, and Kunduz have been given more quotas as compared to the previous year. But admission capacities of the universities to which these provinces have been given quotas remain unchanged. For instance, Nangarhar was given 11 new seats in its quota but the admission capacity of its university has dropped from 4,749 in 1398 to 4,495 applicants in 1399.
Quotas of Maidan Wardak and Khost provinces have increased, each by 10 seats in Shaikh Zayed University but the university’s admission capacity has dropped from 2,623 seats in 1398 to 2,455 seats in 1399.
How many seats are filled through the quota system?
As per reform quota policy, 25 percent of seats in the departments of medical sciences, engineering, economy, law and political science, computer science, agriculture of 15 state-run universities were designated to the quota system.
Finding by Kabul Now, however, indicates that the percentage limit has not been observed precisely. For instance, 24 percent of the seats at Kandahar University were filled through quota while it has the capacity of admitting 2,839 new students. 21.8 percent of seats at Balkh University were occupied by the applicants who were entitled to enjoy quota. 25 percent of engineering seats of Nangarhar, Herat, Shaikh Zayed, and Paktia universities were occupied by the applicants who were entitled to benefit from the quota system.
In 1398, a total of 3,390 seats at 14 universities were set to be filled through the quota system but finally, 2,667 applicants made it to the universities through the quota system – leaving a total of 732 seats vacant. In 1399, a total of 3,473 seats at 15 universities were set aside to be filled through the quota system but ultimately 3,156 applicants were admitted to the universities—leaving a total of 317 seats vacant.
Though the NEA said that a large number of seats remained vacant but Kabul Now was not able to verify it.
A huge difference in Kankor scores
There is a huge difference between scores of the applicants who were entitled to quota and those who were not. Out of 2,667 applicants who were admitted to the universities through the quota system in 1398, 161 applicants scored above 300, 1,457 applicants scored between 200 and 300 scores, and 1,049 applicants scored below 200. The total score in Afghanistan’s Kankor is 360 score.
Out of 3,156 applicants admitted through the quota system in 1399, a total of 311 of them scored above 300, 2,043 scored between 200 to 300, and 802 others scored below 200.
Incompetent for university studies
According to university lecturers, most of the students who were enrolled at the universities through the quota system lack the required capacity and competency to understand university studies. As a result, some of them leave university, some take urgent leave, and a few of them ultimately prepare themselves to get along with their higher education.
Talking to Kabul Now, three university lecturers of Kabul University and Nangarhar University expressed dissatisfaction with the system, adding that it has not yielded a positive result.
“Most of them dropped out three weeks after getting admission. Those who take urgent leave do not return to the university either,” said Mohammad Arif Nabizada, Dean of Engineering Faculty at Kabul University. He added that very few numbers of these students who continue their lessons can hardly get along with the university lessons with the least possible capacity.
Mohammad Ajmal Safi, a lecturer at the Engineering Faculty of Nangarhar University, expresses the same account about the applicants who are enrolled through the quota system at the university. “Firstly, they get admitted with very low [kankor] scores. They are very weak in terms of having the required qualifications to get a university education and are not comparable with students who have scored high in the Kankor.” The university lecturer argued that the quota system has negatively impacted the country’s higher education. He says it is a biased system for those applicants who score high but their chances are given to those who are not ready for higher education at the universities.
Shahla Farid, a law lecturer at Kabul University, also described the system as biased. She underlines that those students admitted through the quota system in the University’s Law and Political Science Faculty are “very weak.” “They are weak at all,” she said, noting that the quota beneficiaries do not have the required qualifications for university studies. “It’s not an effective and a good system. Every [student] must choose a field of study according to their competency in order to become effective in the future as well.”