National university entry exams resume amid security fears

Just over a week since a deadly attack on an exam preparation centre in the capital Kabul, Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers are this week overseeing nationwide university entrance tests – the first to be held since the Taliban came to power in August 2021.

Locally known as ‘Kankor’, the written test is the only gateway for thousands of young Afghans to enter public sector universities.

Meant to take place in March this year, the exams were postponed and are now being conducted from 6-8 October in 33 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. Kabul will hold the exam on 13 October.

“We have made all the arrangements for the tests, including the biometric registration of the applicants,” Ahmad Taqi, spokesman for the Taliban-run Ministry of Higher Education, said in a statement.

He went on to claim that up to 150,000 students had enrolled for the tests and that the enrolment capacity in Afghanistan’s public universities had increased from around 86,000 last year to nearly 115,000 this year.

These claims could not be verified by independent sources as Taliban security did not allow the media to cover the tests across the country.

However, EZ Daily has noted that in Herat Province, which is the second most populous province of Afghanistan after Kabul, 6,899 people have participated in the Kankor this year, while the number in previous years in the province was said to be more than 15,000. It said this year’s statistics show a 60% decrease in the attendance of students in the entrance exam in Daikundi Province.

Naqibullah Ghazizadeh, president of Badakhshan University, said the number of candidates for the entrance exam has decreased by 30% compared to last year. Last year, a total of 10,827 students from Badakhshan Province participated in the entrance exam, of which 4,759 were girls.

Deadly attack

Kabul residents and those sitting for the test in the capital are on edge after the gruesome terrorist attack on the ‘Kaaj’ education institute, a Kankor preparation site frequented by female students of the ethnic Hazara community on 30 September – days before the exams were due to be written.

A suicide attacker at the Kaaj detonated explosives which killed at least 53 students, mostly girls, and injured more than 100. Many more were traumatised.

The institute in the city’s western suburb was a bustling learning facility for the Hazara community, known for its desire for education and progressive values. On the day of the attack, students were sitting a pre-Kankor practice test.

So far, there has been no claim of responsibility for the widely condemned attack, but it was a chilling reminder to all Afghans, particularly the youth, that no place is safe. As a result of the attack, many have stayed home instead of showing up at the Kankor test locations.

Local resident Iqbal Safari told University World News the Kaaj attack was not the first of its sort and most likely not the last.

“The enemies of enlightenment have not spared any moment or any space to attack those seeking education and freedom. We are tired of carrying the coffins of our sons and daughters,” he said before bursting into tears.

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