Fulbright scholarship program reinstated in Afghanistan

The US State Department has confirmed it is reinstating its prestigious Fulbright Fellowship program in Afghanistan, allowing semi-finalists from this year’s canceled admission to have their applications considered for the 2023-24 cycle.

The State Department halted the Fulbright Foreign Fellowship Program in Afghanistan in January, citing “significant obstacles impeding our ability to provide a safe exchange experience for prospective participants.”

The decision sparked an outcry among applicants, many of whom had applied for the program multiple times and rejected other opportunities to leave Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover last year in hopes of securing a postgraduate scholarship in USA. About 140 semi-finalists were affected.

But now semi-finalists in the program have been told they can resume the interview and selection process, according to a letter sent to semi-finalists and seen by Times Higher Education.

Interviews are to take place between April and June of this year. At this time, only current semi-finalists from Afghanistan will be considered.

“If you are selected as a finalist following the interview process, we intend for your Fulbright academic program to begin in the summer or [autumn] 2023, pending an improvement in the security situation,” write Fulbright officials.

In the meantime, candidates will receive information on participating in an “online micro-master’s certificate program offered by top institutions.” These are post-graduate level courses offering “in-depth learning and a recognized credential” in a “range of subject areas”, according to the letter.

However, the authors warn that “not all semi-finalist applicants will be selected for a Fulbright scholarship, so we strongly encourage you to continue to explore other opportunities even if the selection process resumes.”

The State Department said THE that currently “the conditions on the ground have not changed” but that “the postponement of applications to the 2023-24 academic year allows more time to resolve the significant security and logistical obstacles that still need to be overcome to again support Fulbright opportunities for Afghan students”.

Either way, the letter sparked rejoicing among students for whom the past few months have been spent in fear of danger from the regime in power in Afghanistan. Concerns have been raised that their association with the West could put their lives at risk.

A semi-finalist said the good news came shortly after the Taliban carried out door-to-door searches and “destroyed everyone’s peace”.

Another student, semi-finalist Farhat Zia Alizoy, said the letter left him feeling high.

“I feel optimistic and excited for the resumption of Fulbright for Afghanistan,” wrote semi-finalist Farhat Zia Alizoy. “We appreciate the efforts of everyone who [led] Fulbright to reconsider his previous decision.

While it’s still unclear whether it will be safe for Fulbrighters to leave Afghanistan to start the program next year, program oversight officials say they will continue to push to help applicants from the country.

Fulbright board member Margaret Chai Maloney said THE: “The Fulbright Board will continue to do everything we can to try to help Afghan Fulbrighters and try to continue the program safely.”

Another board member, Heather Nauert, previously said THE that the decision to cancel the Fulbright program in Afghanistan was made by the State Department at the head of the Fulbright board.

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