Higher education reforms in Uzbekistan

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Once the ball of higher education reform has started rolling, where will the chasing end?

In an interview with Gazeta.uz [ru] published on 18 September, Uzbek Deputy Prime Minister Aziz Abdukhakimov offers some insights into higher education reforms in the country. The list is impressively long, indicative of broader reform trends taking place across government and in society as a whole.

In higher education, I’ve already flagged Uzbekistan’s growing interest in cooperation with neighbour and former arch-enemy Tajikistan, the release of the first national university ranking and the role of higher education in the country’s international relations.

Now let’s add to those efforts the reforms described by Abdukhakimov earlier this week:

  • Autonomy – there’s a proposal for Rectors (Vice-Chancellors) to be elected by faculty under an open vote. This makes the state one step further away, and the open voting is intended to avoid the possiblity of what Abdukhakimov calls ‘clan politics’ entering the higher education system. However, Abdukhakimov notes that the state will retain the right to veto the choice of Rector in state universities, so let’s not get carried away with too many ideas about academic freedom and the like;
  • Decentralization – universities are to bring in their own managers to deal with finance and local administration, and should establish governing bodies (usually called boards of trustees in former Soviet systems) to oversee their affairs;
  • Expansion – universities will be allowed to recruit more students (within the limit of the number of faculty they have and capacity of their facilities – classrooms, dormitories etc) and offer a wider range of course ‘in order to respond to the demands of the market more flexibly’;
  • Income – connected to the point on expansion above, universities will be able to admit students who did not achieve the required admissions test score by charging them tuition at between 1,5 and 3 times the amount of the regular fee. Whilst Abdukhakimov does not encourage universities to admit students who did not meet the requirements [ru], it’s hard to see how the prospect of extra income that these ‘super-contract’ [ru] students will bring with them will deter HEIs;
  • Privatization – the legal system will recognize private higher education institutes (HEIs) and the government is planning tax breaks and other incentives to encourage more such HEIs to open. The government also wants to encourage more public-private partnership HEIs e.g. by offering state-owned buildings for privately run use;
  • Internationalization – the country wants more international students and has ambitions – rather like Kazakhstan – to become a regional education hub. Abdukhakimov asserts that these international students will then return home to be brand ambassadors for Uzbekistan, ‘which is very advantageous for the country’s image’;
  • Choice – new admissions processes will be introduced allowing prospective students to apply earlier and to more HEIs than the current system permits;
  • Access – the state will fund a small number of students from disdvantaged or rural backgrounds to attend privately run universities (a grant system already exists in publicly funded HEIs). Former military personnel will be able to get funding from a specific grant scheme rather than applying to the main grant pot;
  • Commercialization – the state is going to invest in 80 HEIs and provide free places so that they can turn into what Abdukhakimov calls ‘Universities 3.0’. Beyond teaching and research (as making up 1.0 and 2.0 if you want to think about it like that), these HEIs will emphasize the commercialization of knowledge – so I’m imagining the government is thinking of US models like Stanford or MIT that has many highly successful spin-off companies and opportunities for students to be involved in social and business entrepreneurship.

The interview is followed by a fairly lively discussion which mainly focusses on the financial aspects. The idea of ‘super-contracts’ [ru] is new and is quite clever if you think about it from the government’s point of view. By legitimizing practices they know are already happening (I too have heard about this in other universities in neighbouring countries – e.g. you pay a ‘double contract’ – two years’ fees – for the first year of study if you didn’t quite make the grade), the state gets to take the credit for giving HEIs more flexibility and income, all the while arguing that this low stakes because if the students aren’t smart enough to make the admissions cut-off, they’ll probably drop out – but not before paying at least a year’s worth of fees. But on the other hand, as one commentator suggests: “The name ‘super-contract’ makes it sound like an achievement, but really it’s just a straight path into university for rich idiots’.

There’s an awful lot to digest in this short summary of the Uzbekistan government’s plans, and it’s an exciting time for those of us (OK, for me!) interested in how higher education is changing in the Central Asia region. Almost all of what Abdukhakimov is proposing puts Uzbekistan squarely in the growing group of nations seeking to conform to what they see as ‘global best practices’ in higher education, which basically means attempting to emulate the US research university system and neoliberal funding models where higher education is seen as primarily a private good.

Many of the ideas for reform are also underway in neighbouring countries, although as far as I know, the ‘super-contract’ is unique to Uzbekistan. I’m planning to discuss the prospects for regional integration in the Central Asian higher education systems in a future blog post, and something I will consider there is the extent to which the convergence on the type of reforms being pursued helps or hinders those prospects.

There’s much more to say about the direction Uzbekistan is choosing to travel in when it comes to higher education, but that’s enough for today.

New publication: Emerging global players: Building institutional legitimacy in universities in Estonia and Kazakhstan

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Summer 2018 is turning out to be a productive time for book publishing: in July, a chapter I wrote with Professor Creso Sá on scientific nationalism and scientific globalism was published; late August saw the publication of my new chapter with Dr Merli Tamtik called:

Comparing post-socialist transformations book cover
Book cover of ‘Comparing Post-Socialist Transformations’

Emerging global players: Building institutional legitimacy in universities in Estonia and Kazakhstan

 

It’s out as part of an exciting new collection, Comparing Post-Socialist Transformations: Purposes, policies, and practices in education, edited by Maia Chankseliani and Iveta Silova.

Our chapter compares how Estonia and Kazakhstan are using their two flagship universities – the University of Tartu and Nazarbayev University – as tools in their broader quest to find a place towards the top of the global hierarchy of nations with high quality (and top ranking) universities.

Why compare Estonia and Kazakhstan?

Apart from the obvious sharing of 20th century educational and political history as republics of the USSR, both states have in recent decades been investing heavily in higher education reforms. They do this in their effort to transform into the much desired ‘knowledge economy’, which is basically a global panacea for all countries’ educational and labour market problems.

Adding a really interesting dimension to the comparison is the historical differences between the two countries and universities we examined. Estonia was a nation-state well before being annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940, and the the University of Tartu is one of the oldest universities in the European model, having been founded in 1632. That makes it older than any university in the United States which has a plethora of institutions in the global rankings.

At the other geographical end of the former Soviet space, Kazakhstan became an independent state only after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. It does have a deep and rich history, just not in the geographic and political formation it inherited last century. Our case study Nazarbayev University is an archetypal creation of contemporary Kazakhstan, teaching in English, recruiting academics from around the world and rapidly expanding after admitting its first students in 2010.

Building international legitimacy

To make our comparison, we used the theoretical idea of international legitimacy building. This is a dynamic process in which actors – in our case, the governments of Estonia and Kazakhstan and the two universities – discover, shape, adopt and diffuse ideas or sets of norms with the aim of enhancing their global standing.

Having a top university is one symbol of being a highly ranked nation, which is why we focused in on the flagship university in each state.

Going through the four phases of international legitimacy building, we found both patterns and divergences between the two countries. For example, strong leadership from the top in steering higher education was found in both settings, as were a series of rapid reforms to higher education made as soon as economically possible after 1991.

The clearest distinction between the two states was the much greater agency of higher education institutions in Estonia than their counterparts in Kazakhstan, where persistent centralization has only very recently started to shift towards offering universities greater autonomy.

Why is this important?

It’s never enough to say that your study is important because it is the first of its kind (although it is true that this is the first comparison of national/higher education developments in Estonia and Kazakhstan and we are pretty excited about having done this!).

We believe the chapter makes a contribution in the understanding and analysis of processes of state formation in the post-socialist space – states that are (re-)forming under intense global pressures not experienced by other countries that came into existence in the mid-20th century or earlier.

We have also used our study to raise the important question of ‘what happens next’ for states like Estonia and Kazakhstan that choose to adopt dominant global discourses. Can they get their heads above the parapets and get the universities into a global top 100 ranking? Will they have to change their systems completely to achieve what they see as ‘global best practice’? Or is there a way in which Estonia and Kazakhstan can use this global discourse to enable their universities to flourish as global players on their own terms?


Reference

Tamtik, Merli, and Emma Sabzalieva. 2018. “Emerging Global Players? Building International Legitimacy in Universities in Estonia and Kazakhstan.” In Comparing Post-Socialist Transformations: Education in Eastern Europe and Former Soviet Union, edited by Maia Chankseliani and Iveta Silova, 127–45. Oxford: Symposium Books.


More details about the book including a useful summary and chapter listing can be found at: http://www.symposium-books.co.uk/bookdetails/104/

Under copyright rules, I am not allowed to freely distribute our chapter. Sorry. But if you are based at a university or college, would you encourage your library to stock a copy? Thank you to Max Antony-Newman for requesting a copy for the University of Toronto library already!

Alternatively, if you would like to buy a copy, I can help you get one with an extremely respectable 50% author discount. Please drop me a note to follow up.

Privatizing Kazakhstan’s universities

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Kazakhstan has embraced private ownership of higher education and many other sectors since it became an independent state following the fall of the Soviet Union. This initially stemmed from the economic turmoil of the early and mid-1990s that led to a need to diversify what had once been a totally state owned and funded higher education system.

Privatization has led to the creation of new organizational statuses in higher education.

Kazakhstan may be the only country in the former Soviet space to have created the category of ‘joint stock company‘ covering higher education institutions (at least, it’s the only instance I’m aware of – please correct me if you know differently). This is, according to Ahn et al (2018):

a scheme where the Kazakhstani government shares ownership with other shareholders, which could be a private individual(s) or corporation. (p.208)

Joint stock companies have ‘the same legal status as privately owned businesses’, according to Hartley et al (2016, p.280). Just a handful of universities were created as joint stock companies to begin with, although an identifiable wave of privatization in the 2000s led to the conversion of some existing state universities into joint stock companies.

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Kazakh-British Technical University’s main campus, the former Supreme Soviet of the Kazakh SSR

One of the country’s first joint stock company-universities was the Kazakh-British Technical University (KBTU), founded in 2000. KBTU makes a fascinating case study in and of itself, not least because of its initial links with then British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the recent debacle about its on-again off-again merger with Satbayev University (about which very little is publicly available so I am waiting to learn more from an inside source. See my April 2017 post for the “on-again” story).

So KBTU is a joint stock company-university, and here’s where it gets even more interesting. KazMunayGaz, an oil and gas company, currently owns 100% of the shares in the highly rated Kazakh-British Technical University (KBTU).

Yes, that’s right, petrol is fuelling degrees (sorry, couldn’t resist that one).

But the story doesn’t quite end there.

KazMunayGaz is not quite the sole proprietor of KBTU. It may own all the shares [ru], but KazMunayGaz itself is fully owned by the Samruk Kazyna Sovereign Wealth Fund, which in turn has just the one shareholder: the government.

So does that make KBTU a private or a public university? The answer is somewhere in between.

NB: Higher ed researchers take note: a new category is needed here!

Having not quite established what sort of higher education institution KBTU is – or is not – the next part of the story only complicates matters.

Earlier in August 2018, it was announced that KazMunayGaz will be selling all of its shares in KBTU.

This time, it seems, KBTU really is going private.

This is not a shock, as it formed part of the second wave of a government-led plan for privatization announced in 2015.

Nevertheless, the various news articles announcing the details of the share sale raise more than an eyebrow about the very fact that a cold hard value has been placed on education.

piles of cash
Ah, so that’s where I left that $30m

And, it seems, the cost of education is high: starting offers of US$31 million are expected to buy KBTU. Expressions of interest may be made until early November, at which point a bidding process will take place (these details included in case any of my blog readers ever felt like owning their own university and have some spare cash…).

The new owner is required to retain KBTU’s current profile i.e. range of academic specializations for at least 10 years, ensure that at least 50% of staff are Kazakh, promise to maintain student living conditions for the next five years, and retain use of the current buildings (including the iconic former Kazakh SSR Supreme Council in Almaty) for at least two years.

Further, the new owner may not re-sell or pass on its shares for at least two years and for the three years that follow may only do so with KazMunayGaz’s permission.

So KBTU is going private and it’s going to cost a helluva lot to buy it. And even once you’ve bought it, it’s not quite yours for a good decade, given the buying conditions.

I can’t wait to see who raids their piggy bank for this investment.

 

 

Reference

Ahn, Elise, John Dixon, and Larissa Chekmareva. 2018. “Looking at Kazakhstan’s Higher Education Landscape: From Transition to Transformation between 1920-2015.” In 25 Years of Transformations of Higher Education Systems in Post-Soviet Countries: Reform and Continuity, edited by Jeroen Huisman, Anna Smolentseva, and Isak D. Froumin, 199–227. Palgrave Studies in Global Higher Education. Palgrave Macmillan. www.palgrave.com/de/book/9783319529790.

 

Hartley, Matthew, Bryan Gopaul, Aida Sagintayeva, and Renata Apergenova. 2016. “Learning Autonomy: Higher Education Reform in Kazakhstan.” Higher Education 72 (3): 277–89. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-015-9953-z.

 

 

Uzbek-Tajik higher education relations are warming up

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Uzbekistan’s Mirziyoyev and Tajikistan’s Rahmon – new BFFs??

The honeymoon period of Uzbekistan’s now not-so-new President Mirziyoyev just keeps on going. Even hardened critics of what was once a solidly authoritarian regime in Uzbekistan are having to admit that the reform-driven new leader, who took the reins after the death of longstanding President Karimov following his death in December 2016, may be serious about making serious and positive change in the country.

I have already reported on a historic recent trip by Mirziyoyev to the United States as one indication of the country’s new openness and readiness to engage with the world.

Today, I want to focus on Uzbekistan’s relations with neighbour Tajikistan. Historically frosty at best, the two countries mainly seem to disagree about water and borders – but of course the relationship is more complex than that. Yet in recent months, international roads that have long been closed are beginning to open and there are a small but growing number of direct flights between the two countries. There is a buzz around the possibilities for bilateral tourism and trade, the turnover of which has already doubled.

Following a state visit by Mirziyoyev to Tajikistan this March, his Tajik counterpart Rahmon has this week made a return visit. The agenda for the two day visit was wide-ranging, with talks and agreements planned spanning commerce to music. It was the first official visit by a Tajik leader to Uzbekistan since 1998, according to news agency Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

In the field of education, bilateral relations have been warming up since before this week’s official state visit. At the start of this month, an agreement between Tajikistan’s top ranked National University and Uzbekistan’s Samarqand State University was signed. It’s quite a broad agreement to cooperate on research, but is an important addition to Tajik National University’s existing partnerships with states universities in the Uzbek cities of Andijon, Ferghana and Tashkent.

Hopefully the relationships between universities and colleges in both countries will continue to improve, paving the way for greater exchanges of people and ideas. And improving cooperation in education may also help underpin a strong foundation for the countries’ broader bilateral relations.

A good news story to end the week!

Uzbekistan releases first university ranking

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Five years after the government resolved to introduce a national university ranking, Uzbekistan’s first domestic higher education league table was announced in July 2018 [ru].

23 indicators were used to assess state-funded universities and institutes. These covered students’ learning outcomes, curriculum quality, faculty composition, research activity and classroom and ICT resources.

All 57 public higher education institutions (HEIs) were covered by the league table. Foreign branch campuses were not included in the ranking.

Nine of the top ten universities are located in the capital Tashkent with the National University of Uzbekistan unsurprisingly taking the top spot. In the former Soviet system, the ‘National’ university would previously have been the ‘State’ university and was the flagship university in each republic. In parts of the Soviet Union like Uzbekistan which did not have a history of formal higher education, the State universities were often the first to be founded in the republic.

The National University of Uzbekistan, which was upgraded from State to National in 2000, claims 1918 as its founding year, making it the oldest university in the Central Asia region. It has a fantastically interesting history, being born in the glow of revolutionary fervour as the Turkestan People’s University. I won’t get into that now, but check out my 2017 post on Central Asia’s first universities if, like me, university history floats your boat.

My point in mentioning the year of foundation is that – as in many national higher education systems – age is equated with prestige. When you think of a prestigious university in England, you tend to think of Oxford or Cambridge (whether you like them or not). Of course, universities don’t always get better with age, and sometimes a new institution comes along that competes for the top spot. In Kazakhstan, for example, just look at Nazarbayev University, one of my favourite case studies: see posts here, here and here.

Another interesting observation on the top ten is that it is dominated by specialist institutes, with eight out of the ten specializing in a particular area. Four specialize in engineering or technology, two in medicine/allied subjects and two in the humanities. The narrow specialization typical of the Soviet period appears to persist – just take a look at number three on the list.

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Super cute kittens all round for Uzbekistan’s top HEIs

Without further ado, here are the top ten HEIs in Uzbekistan:

  1. National University of Uzbekistan
  2. Tashkent State Institute of Oriental Studies
  3. Tashkent Institute of Agricultural Irrigation and Mechanization Engineering
  4. Tashkent Institute of Textiles and Light Industry
  5. Samarkand State University
  6. Tashkent Medical Academy
  7. Tashkent State Dentistry Institute
  8. Uzbek State University of World Languages
  9. Tashkent Institute of Railway Engineering
  10. Tashkent University of Information Technology

Before signing off (or getting into a discussion about the relative worth of rankings), I should point out that Uznews has also published the HEIs that performed least well in the rankings.

In a reverse of the top 10, almost all of the bottom 10 are located outside Tashkent. There is clearly a centre/periphery divide at play here.

There are also three teaching training (pedagogical) institutes in the bottom ranked group and none in the top 10. During interviews for my PhD thesis, a number of respondents talked about a decline in quality at these institutes in neighbouring settings, and it’s a worrying tendency given that these institutes are producing the teachers who will prepare the university students of the future.

And so, to end, here is that ‘name and shame’ bottom 10:

48. Namagan Engineering and Technology Institute
49. Navoi State Pedagogical Institute
50. Qarshi Engineering and Economics Institute
51. Qarshi State University
52. Jizzakh Polytechnic Institute
53. Samarkand State Architecture and Building Institute
54. Uzbekistan State Institute of Art and Culture
55. National Institute of Arts and Design
56. Jizzakh State Pedagogical Institute
57. Kokand State Pedagogical Institute

Chinese corporate social responsibility in Tajikistan, or, How to build a school for free

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Cats may not be qualified to build schools. But Chinese businesses in Tajikistan are.

The might of Chinese businesses operating in Tajikistan is growing, with news emerging of one company alone that will build three new schools in the country [ru] later this year, supporting over 1,000 students. This is not the first such initiative, which is being posited as evidence of Chinese corporate social responsibility. Other road-building companies have already financed the construction of of seven large schools in Tajikistan.

As the article on Radio Ozodi’s website [ru] points out, China is the largest foreign investor in Tajikistan. For a number of years it has been providing goods for markets and financing and undertaking a great number of construction and infrastructure projects for new roads, buildings and factories.

Chinese companies engaging in extra-mural activities to build schools is in keeping with the Chinese government’s foreign policy on education towards Tajikistan and Central Asia as a whole. In higher education, for example, Chinese efforts have led to the creation of initiatives such as the Universities Alliance of the New Silk Road which includes a Kazakh university partner and the Belt and Road Scholarship scheme targeted at students from Central, South, and South-East Asia.

Radio Ozodi also notes a proposed new Chinese-funded International University in Tajikistan which would accommodate an enormous 40,000 students (to put that into context, the entire tertiary student population of Tajikistan is around 250,000, so this new university would be able to teach nearly a fifth of that number!).

On the one hand, this is a clear example of a foreign government extending its ‘soft power‘ to another state, in this case China continuing to grow its influence in the Central Asia region through marketing-friendly projects in education.

On the other hand, there are also indications that the Tajik government is not just blindly accepting foreign cash. From my thesis research, for example, I’ve found that whilst the government is happy to allow such investment, it is far less content to accept Chinese cultural influence, something that often comes as a by-product of soft power initiatives. So yes, the government takes the money – and goodness knows it needs it – and it’s great that it is being invested in education, but once it’s in Tajikistan, the line is drawn and the money/investment is controlled locally.

Oh, and one of the three new schools – the biggest of the trio – will be in the President’s home region of Dangara. That must be a coincidence. Right?

New publication: Scientific nationalism in a globalizing world

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Handbook on the Politics of Higher Education
Hot off the press copies of the Handbook on the Politics of Higher Education

After a break from blogging to attend the recent and quite fantastic World Cup in Russia, I’m back with the good news that I have a new publication out.

This is a book chapter co-written with my supervisor Professor Creso Sá and is titled Scientific nationalism in a globalizing world.

It’s part of a hefty new Handbook on the Politics of Higher Education, which also features chapters by luminaries in the field such as Susan Robertson, Rosemary Deem, Roger King and many, many others. The aim of the Handbook is straightforward: to address the growing politicization of higher education and offer a variety of perspectives on the politics of higher education that will improve our understanding and analysis.

Our chapter, part of a section on political economy and global governance, dives deeper into the politics of academic science. We take two notions – scientific nationalism and scientific globalism – that have different ways of conceptualising the purpose of science as well as how and why it is supported (and by whom) – but which both in different ways help to explain patterns seen in science policies around the world.

On the one hand, scientific nationalism offers a viewpoint of science as being of critical importance to nation states – even as they are increasingly intertwined in global affairs, the idea is that support for academic science will enhance national competitiveness or innovation.

On the other hand, the idea of scientific globalism is one that derives from universalist ideas of the pursuit of science being borderless and not something that can or should be privatized or commercialized. Cross-national academic communities of scientists working together on ‘grand challenges’ would be an excellent example of scientific globalism.

We studied national science policies in twenty countries across all continents and with a very wide range of economic and political contexts. Despite this diversity, we found the depth of commonalities across the policies remarkable. For instance, almost all of the policies expressed a desire to become (or remain) globally competitive, with great importance placed on science as a tool to achieve that goal. From Saudi Arabia to South Africa and from Canada to China, this positioning was embraced around the world.

In addition to similarities across the policies, we also identified a number of tensions that arise from the dual existence of both logics of scientific nationalism and scientific globalism. Whilst scientific nationalism is well anchored in a global institutional order, there was  clear friction with ideas stemming from more globalist thinking. This is encapsulated well in how the policies talk about the mobility of scientists and researchers. Nations want their scientists to cooperate globally and to be able to travel around the world, but many countries also expressed a desire for said scientists to ultimately return to their home country to utilize the skills and experience gained abroad.

Written at the end of 2016 and start of 2017, we end the chapter by considering some areas for future research in this topic. For example, how will science policy making be affected by the emerging politics of neo-nationalism or nativism (e.g. Brexit in the UK, Trump in the US to name just two mid-2010s events)? And – worryingly – could scientific globalism be under threat from the rise of xenophobic right-wing populism?

The Handbook has had some very nice reviews already, being described by Simon Marginson as ‘much the best available collection of its kind’ (praise indeed!).

The attached flyer – Handbook on the Politics of Higher Education – gives more details about the book and how to buy it with a 20% discount. You can also access details on the publisher’s website at https://www.e-elgar.com/shop/handbook-on-the-politics-of-higher-education. If you’re based at a university/HEI, do please encourage your library to get a copy either of the heavyweight hardback or the e-book.