The idea for AUAF began in 2002 with Dr. Sharif Fayez, then Afghan Minister of Higher Education. During his time as minister, he proposed the creation of Afghanistan’s first-ever private university. The following year in an address before UNESCO, United States First Lady Laura Bush announced her support of educational initiatives in Afghanistan. The United States Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, likely inspired from his own experience at The American University of Beirut, encouraged the establishment of The American University of Afghanistan.
The Saleha Bayat Building at the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) in Kabul.
The Afghanistan High Commission for Private Investment offered leases on two parcels of land totaling 55.354 acres (224,010 m2) in the Darulaman area of Kabul until 2103. In addition, the non-profit American University of Afghanistan corporation was chartered in the State of Delaware, under the leadership of Dr. Jacob van Lutsenburg Maas, who later became the non-profit corporation's President, to receive these leases. (In 2007, the non-profit corporation became a tax-exempt 501(c) 3 organization).
A charter for the establishment of The American University of Afghanistan was granted on July 26, 2004 by the Afghan Ministry of Higher Education, under Article 46, Chapter 2 of the new Afghan Constitution and Article 445 of the Civil Code. A feasibility study was initiated by the Coordinating Council of International Universities, based in the United States, to recommend an institutional framework.
In December 2004, the inaugural meeting of the Board of Trustees convened in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where Dr. Fayez was elected president pro tempore, serving in this capacity until April 2007, when he was named “founder” by the new president. He continues to lobby the Afghan government on the university's behalf, serves as an adviser to the current president, and maintains an office on campus.
In March 2005, then United States First Lady (and former teacher) Laura Bush visited the site and announced a substantial grant from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to launch the institution. USAID continues to be the primary financial backer of the organization as it pursues sources of private funding.
The first students of the American University of Afghanistan enrolled in March 2006. They began with classes to improve their English language and study skills. The university that September began offering its first credit-bearing undergraduate courses. In 2006 the Professional Development Institute was also launched, providing adult professional courses and adult professional level programs.
On June 8, 2008, Mrs. Bush announced an additional $40 million (USD) in funding for the subsequent five years. Funding will cover more than half of the university's operating expenses during that period, leaving the university to pursue private funding for the remainder of its operating expenses and for the development of its new campus.
The university held its first commencement ceremony on May 26, 2011, awarding undergraduate degrees to 32 graduates. It held its fourth, and largest, graduation on December 5, 2014, where 180 undergraduate and graduate students graduated. On May 22, 2015, the university held its sixth commencement ceremony, honoring the class of 2015, at the university’s International campus. The highlight of the ceremony was the presentation of the Doctorate of Humane Letters Honorary Degree to distinguished guest H.E. Hamid Karzai, the former president of Afghanistan, who also delivered the commencement address. Currently, more than 2,000 full and part-time students from all 34 provinces of Afghanistan are now enrolled in the university, including 1,190 students in undergraduate and graduate program, and 950 students in certification courses. About 35.9% of students for Spring 2015 are women, and more than 85% of the students receive financial assistance. In an interview with Film Annex, Dr. C. Michael Smith, former President of the American University of Afghanistan stated that for the 2012-13 school year over 50% of the entering students were women.
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