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Embassy of Afghanistan Hosts Benefit for American University of Afghanistan

Hundreds of guests dined on Afghan food and received an update on progress made at the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) during a benefit event for the university held at the Embassy of Afghanistan on Monday, June 16, 2008.

Among the guests of honor at the benefit event were Ms. Joanne Herring, a longtime advocate for Afghanistan who was memorably played by Julia Roberts in the blockbuster "Charlie Wilson's War," and Mrs. Esther Coopersmith, former U.S. representative to the UN and UNESCO. Speakers included Ambassador Said T. Jawad, Mrs. Shamim Jawad, AUAF President Thomas Stauffer and Belqis Dawood and Nassria Phashton, two students from the university. First Lady Laura Bush lent her support for the university through a video message, after having visited with students during a recent trip to Afghanistan. Mrs. Bush was among the first key advocates for the university. (Read a Washington Times article on the event here.)

Ambassador Jawad praised Ms. Herring's dedication to Afghanistan, saying, "She contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union. She is a friend of Afghanistan refugees and freedom fighters." He also spoke of the importance of re-building Afghanistan's education system and stressed the important role played by similar American universities in Cairo and Beirut in helping education a new generation of leaders. "The American University of Afghanistan is emerging as a vital player in helping shape Afghanistan's future," he stated.

The American University of Afghanistan was created in 2004 by the Minister of Higher Education as the country's first private not-for-profit institution of higher learning. AUAF is located on an interim four-acre campus in Kabul and currently has 600 students, 30 percent of them being women. The university will eventually serve 5,000 students with no bar to admission. Academic programs, offered at foundation, undergraduate, graduate, and continuing/adult education levels, are built around twin themes: higher education for the professions and general studies.

According to AUAF President Stauffer, "While rooted respectfully in Afghan culture and experience, AUAF points directly toward the Afghanistan of tomorrow by facilitating a world-class education. All academic and service programs are designed around core institutional values that the university community holds high, notably freedom and responsibility. Concepts derived from these two values include open inquiry, democracy, equal opportunity, individual rights and ethical behavior."

The Government of Afghanistan has embarked on an ambitious plan to re-build the country's educational institutions and infrastructure. There are approximately six million children in school today, a five-fold increase from 2001. Additionally, university enrollment at Afghanistan's 17 public and private universities has increased dramatically from 4,000 students in 2002 to 37,000 in 2007, including almost 8,000 women. By 2010, Afghanistan expects to have 100,000 university students. Other improvements include the implementation of a credit-hour system, the updating of the country's higher education laws to allow the creation of private universities, and the development of two-, five-, and ten-year strategic plans to guide progress for the future.

Of course, significant challenges remain, including the training of professors and university staff, the re-building of university campuses and facilities, and increasing enrollment.

Click here to see a fact sheet on the American University of Afghanistan.

Click here to see the website of the Ministry of Higher Education.

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