SEATTLE, Washington — The Asian University for Women (AUW) is a unique nonprofit dedicated to educating women in the Global South. Based in Chittagong, Bangladesh, the university offers a liberal arts degree to women across Asia and the Middle East. The organization believes that by giving higher education to women, they will see more female leaders in their communities and countries. From a life-saving medicine to a brilliant piece of new code, the possibilities are endless.
The Need for Higher Education
To Kamal Ahmad, the President and CEO of the Asian University for Women Support Foundation, providing women higher education is just as important as investing in primary and secondary education. In fact, he argues there is a “false dichotomy” with school education. Schools need teachers and countries need leaders, lawyers and scientists. “We also need to think of how much more unstable the world would be if all of the world’s thinking were done on in one part of the world and the rest of the world just watched,” Ahmad added.
Ahmad’s comments align with other findings. Scholars have discovered the link between the proportion of collegiate graduates and labor productivity. Moreover, studies have further revealed that private returns are higher for university graduates versus primary and secondary schooling. However, research shows that private returns and productivity increases are contingent on the amount of quality education.
Additionally, the Population Reference Bureau has found that women who achieve higher levels of education are more likely to become activists. They are also less likely to get married and give birth young. As a result of earning more wages, child nutrition improves.
How AUW is Different
Established in 2008, AUW provides higher education for women that they likely would not receive elsewhere. With more than 800 students from at least 17 different countries, AUW is committed to accepting women primarily by their merit instead of their financial status. AUW markets itself online, offering an acceptance test that any woman can take. Moreover, in 2016, they launched a program called “Pathways for Promise” that actively targets women from under-resourced communities in Asia. As a result, women come from places such as Bangladeshi garment factories or as refugees from war-torn regions.
Despite being a young school, AUW has already earned a global reputation and partnerships with institutions such as Harvard University and Haverford College. The university offers five majors for a three-year degree: bioinformatics, economics, environmental sciences, politics, philosophy and economics and public health. Before university begins, AUW offers an Access Academy. This is a year-long course to prepare future students for the rigorous academics at AUW. Above all, this program helps many women who come from underfunded school districts. Already, the women graduating from AUW are achieving success.
The driven women who show up on the first day of classes are “self-selecting.” Ahmad says that “what you get at the end, is this enormously determined person who will not accept failure ’cause they risked everything in their life to get here.” Graduates have gone on to pursue further education at institutions such as Duke University and the University of Oxford. Women from AUW are working at organizations such as the United Nations and Translators Without Border or become local activists. Others find work in politics or pursue careers in the private sector. Higher education for women can impact local communities in important ways.
Also, Ahmad hopes the experience women receive at AUW will be “transformative enough in changing lives.” AUW also attempts to make a difference in its host community of Chittagong, Bangladesh. AUW students tutor local children often focusing on literacy. Students also run clubs to protect stray animals. Furthermore, the institution also hires many Bangladeshi nations as faculty and staff, providing benefits and fair salaries. Half of the AUW student body is from Bangladesh, sending Bangladeshi women on an upward trajectory.
AUW has a powerful mission to present higher education to a diverse range of women. One can only imagine how these women will fully succeed when given the support and opportunities of higher education.
– Chace Pulley