Uzbekistan: A breathtaking shift from autocracy to an open HE system

Posted on

My latest piece for University World News, a global online publication for anyone with a passing interest in higher education, was published on October 19. I wanted to bring UWN’s readership up to date with recent developments in Uzbekistan, which have been taking place at breakneck speed over the past couple of years.

Please find the article at https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20191017104759957; a copy of the text is below:

UZBEKISTAN

A breathtaking shift from autocracy to an open HE system

The higher education landscape in Uzbekistan, Central Asia, has been changing rapidly over the past three years. Since the passing of Uzbekistan’s first president, Islam Karimov, in 2016, who had been in power since 1991, the country has seen an about-face under the leadership of his successor, Shavkat Mirziyoyev.

Under Mirziyoyev, a swathe of policies aim to transform higher education into what one government minister has called ‘Universities 3.0’.

These policies will give universities more autonomy to choose their own leaders and to manage their own affairs through their governing bodies, will give universities greater control over student numbers and course offerings and will liberalise price controls on tuition fees and increase the number of public-private partnerships.

In October 2019, these and other ideas were formalised through the ratification of the Higher Education Development Plan to 2030.

Although Uzbekistan was the first of the Central Asian states to permit international branch campuses, having hosted the United Kingdom’s University of Westminster and Russia’s Plekhanov Russian University of Economics since 2001-02, the number of foreign higher education institutions remained very limited at just five.

However, under Mirziyoyev, regulation was introduced in late 2017 offering tax breaks and other financial incentives. Since then, international branch campuses have spread ‘like mushrooms’, according to Yekaterina Kazachenko, a journalist with the independent Russian agency Fergana News.

Much fanfare accompanied the opening of the American Webster University, where bilateral talks on opening campuses in Tashkent and Samarkand had apparently begun under the previous leadership in 2012. However, it was not until the 2019-20 academic year that the campuses were inaugurated, with just under 500 students.

According to the university, this makes the Uzbekistan branches the largest population of Webster students outside of the university’s St Louis, Missouri, main campus.

Interest from Russia and Asia

It’s not just English-speaking countries that are getting in on the branch campus act. Russia, which is the largest provider of branch campuses to the countries of the former Soviet Union, has also been increasing its efforts to expand the presence of its universities in Uzbekistan.

Campuses linked to six Russian universities opened in 2019 alone and talks are ongoing to create other branches.

With the country’s strategic location between Europe and Asia, it is unsurprising that interest in opening branch campuses in Uzbekistan is also emanating from the south and east.

The relatively well established presence of Singapore (Management Development Institute of Singapore) and South Korea (Inha University) is being joined by Malaysia’s University of Technology and India’s Amity University, among others.

There are also rumours that China will be creating not just a branch campus but a fully-fledged university in the capital Tashkent.

The flourishing of branch campuses is one obvious area of change for the size and shape of the higher education system in Uzbekistan. Other reforms have also had a demonstrable impact, such as the resumption of the teaching of political science in 2019 after it was banned under Karimov, ostensibly because it did not represent the then president’s ideological leanings.

The speed of reform

Many of the plans being put forward adhere to what we might think of as a ‘standard operating procedure’ global template for higher education reform. It’s not only Uzbekistan that is welcoming international branch campuses, creating university rankings, opening science parks and pushing for publications in ranked international journals, as readers of University World News will be well aware.

Arguably, however, there are two things that make the reforms in Uzbekistan stand out. The first is the sheer speed with which a systemic overhaul is being introduced. Mirziyoyev has been at the helm for less than three years, but he has already made a significant impact, not only in higher education but in the media, economy, social policy and other areas.

The second is the distance that these reforms are taking Uzbekistan from the previous authoritarian regime.

In September 2019, academics in Uzbekistan and around the world rejoiced at the wonderful news that the scholar Andrei Kubatin had been acquitted of all charges and released from jail. Kubatin, a well-known Turkic studies expert and historian, had been imprisoned in 2017 and subjected to torture after being sentenced to an 11-year term on false charges of treason.

Human rights watchers and academics alike are hopeful that the reversal of Kubatin’s charges could lead to the re-examination of other politically motivated cases.

Ongoing challenges

Nevertheless, Uzbekistan’s higher education sector continues to experience significant challenges. One is systemic corruption, which ranges from bribing professors for grades to using connections to obtain places on popular courses.

Another challenge is the limitation on who can access a degree. Although a record number of students applied to get into university in 2019, participation rates in higher education are still low at 10% (the gross enrolment ratio in tertiary education for 2018).

This figure is even less encouraging for women (8%), who continue to experience gender discrimination and inequality. It is also known that students from rural areas find it more difficult to get into higher education.

A third barrier comes from the top-heavy governance of the system, where university leaders are appointed (and removed) at the state’s behest.

Yet, as experienced journalist Navbahor Imamova has recently pointed out, despite continuing curtailments on citizens’ liberties and low trust in government, the reforms in Uzbekistan to date nevertheless reflect a “remarkable shift, one that stands in sharp contrast to what often seems like a relentless international trend toward greater repression, increasing autocracy, and eroding liberties”.

 

Supporting female students in Tajikistan

Posted on Updated on

cats make you smarter
Pet therapy is also supposed to be helpful for students… let’s get the cats in!

Female students in Tajikistan are to get a boost from the new Intellect centre at Khorog State University.

Opened with a US$40k grant from the World Bank/Ministry of Education, the centre aims to support women’s learning by improving their living and studying conditions as well as their academic preparation.

Female students from all regions of Tajikistan living in Khorog State student accommodation will now enjoy a well-equipped reading room featuring high-speed internet connected computers (no small matter for Khorog, where the remote and mountainous location is often deployed as a reason for typically poor internet access) and text based resources.

The new space will also be used for seminars, clubs, debates, quizzes and more.

Recognizing the positive impact of nature, attention has also been paid to the physical environment, with the introduction of plants and foliage in the space and its surrounds.

Congratulations to Khorog State on this exciting new development!

Material from Murod Mirzoev’s article for Asia Plus, 8 October 2019

Tashkent’s ‘most corrupt university’ has a new boss

Posted on

Several weeks after news broke that the head of Tashkent’s ‘most corrupt university’ had been fired, a new appointee has taken up the mantle.

Tashkent State University of Law (TSUL)’s Rector Yesemurat Kanyazov was fired not just from his university leadership position but also from his other job as Deputy Minister of Justice. The official reason now given was that Kanyazov was leaving for another role – Deputy Director of the Intellectual Property Agency at the Ministry of Justice, according to sources.

Taking the helm at TSUL is 36 year old Rahim Hakimov. Hakimov has a doctorate in law [the higher-than-a-PhD level Doctor of Sciences degree] and is a graduate of TSUL, from which he graduated with a Specialist degree [like a combined Bachelor’s and Master’s] in 2005. He joins TSUL from government, having previously served on the defence and security committee as a member of parliament.

Like his predecessor, Hakimov has also been given the dual role of Deputy Minister of Justice. Let’s see whether he has more effect in clamping down on the corruption that has given his new workplace the not so illustrious title of ‘most corrupt university’ in Tashkent.

 

exictement-cat-birthday-meme
No cat memes have been harmed in the making of this blog

PS Today is my blog’s 8th birthday! Having set out in 2011 to share stories about Central Asia and the former Soviet space and links to higher education, I’ve been true to form over the years. The blog has been viewed nearly 50,000 times to date and well over 1,000 of you subscribe to receive updates from the site. My top post – in terms of how many times it was viewed and shared on other sites – remains my bruising critique of the Tajik government’s introduction of a dress code for university students, High heels for higher learning

Thank you very much indeed for reading the blog. Here’s to the next eight years!

Recommended article – “Educational research in Central Asia: methodological and ethical dilemmas in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan” by Dilrabo Jonbekova

Posted on Updated on

Published in well rated peer-reviewed journal Compare, Dilrabo Jonbekova’s 2018 article examines the challenges and opportunities open to researchers of Central Asia, studying both ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ researcher perspectives (and the blurring of the lines between these two groups).

Jonbekova, a faculty member at Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan, is well placed for a study like this, being able to draw on her own research expertise as well as professional background and contacts to recruit respondents for this paper.

She argues that researchers face various ‘methodological dilemmas’ when conducting research in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The dilemmas are multifarious, sometimes connected and sometimes not. They range from poor internet access in rural areas to self-censorship in more constrained political environments. As a result, some methods become problematic – surveys may get low response rates, focus groups could be ineffective and secondary data may be unreliable or inaccessible.

In addition to methodological dilemmas, Jonbekova also highlights ethical dilemmas facing researchers. These too have multiple roots and consequences, whether this is a fear of signing a written consent form or selective choice of research owing to safety concerns.

Whilst Jonbekova finds that these findings were fairly consistent across the three countries she compares, she also notes similiarities with dilemmas facing researchers in other contexts such as the Middle East. On balance, as might be expected, ‘outsider’ researchers face greater barriers than ‘insiders’ in conducting research in Central Asia, but no one was immune from challenges.

This article is well worth reading in its entirety (please contact me or the author if you are unable to access it directly) as it adds valuable perspectives to our understanding of the specifics of doing research in Central Asia as well as the suite of challenges and opportunities faced by researchers doing on the ground work across a range of contexts.

Reference

Jonbekova, Dilrabo. 2018. “Educational Research in Central Asia: Methodological and Ethical Dilemmas in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.” Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, October, 1–19. https://doi.org/10.1080/03057925.2018.1511371.

Most popular degrees in Tajikistan

Posted on Updated on

The results of this year’s university admission testing in Tajikistan (which, like in many other former Soviet countries, is now centralized) are now in. Over 100,000 higher education hopefuls took entrance exams in 2019, most for entrance to university. Around 10% were seeking admission to college i.e. the final two years of secondary education (usually ages 16-18).

This year’s top courses are in the social sciences, for which there were over 1.7 applications for each place available. This continues a trend seen in Tajikistan since the fall of the Soviet Union as students have increasingly turned to subjects such as management, banking and law.

Closely following demand for social sciences were courses in medicine, biology and sport. Across these subjects (which are grouped by the National Testing Centre into clusters), the overall number of applications to places available was 1.7.

cat scan
Medicine and related subjects are the most popular in Tajikistan based on number of applications in 2019

The most popular courses based on the highest number of applications received were:

  1. Medicine at Tajik State Medical University – over 14,000 applications for state-funded full-time places
  2. Pediatrics at Tajik State Medical University – over 11,000 applications for state-funded full-time places
  3. Pediatrics at Tajik State Medical University – over 7,500 applications for tuition paying full-time places

So, lots of young Tajikistanis want to be doctors – and many are prepared to pay if they don’t get a free ride from the state.

In terms of highest competition per place (places are capped by the state), the top three looks quite different:

  1. Judicial/Forensic Expertise (help me out here Russian speakers – the original is Судебная экспертиза) at Tajik National University – over 500 applications per place
  2. Structural Engineering at Tajik Technical University – nearly 450 applications per place
  3. Chemistry and Biology at Tajik State Pedagogical University – over 400 applications per place

 

Head of Tashkent’s ‘most corrupt university’ fired

Posted on Updated on

you're firedCatching up on recent higher ed news, here’s a story from Uzbekistan that speaks both to the ongoing wave of education policy reforms in that country as well as to the persistence of corrupt practices in higher education.

At the end of August 2019, the Rector (Vice-Chancellor) of Tashkent State University of Law (TSUL) Yesemurat Kanyazov was dramatically fired from his top position. The resignation was ordered by no less than the President of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev.

The reason(s) for his removal from the university post were not given. Kanyazov had been at the helm of TSUL since 2013 having previously developed a career in government. Indeed, at the same time as being Rector of TSUL, he also held the position of Vice Minister of Justice. It’s not clear whether Kanyazov has managed to hang on to this job either.

Ironically, TSUL is reported to be the capital city’s ‘most corrupt university’ as selected by a third of respondents in a survey undertaken by popular Telegram channel Qo’shni Mahalla.

At the time of writing this piece, TSUL’s website is still showing Kanyazov as its Rector and there are no news stories about his departure…

Политика в сфере высшего образования в Центральной Азии и Афганистане

Posted on

Мой отчет о политике в сфере высшего образования в Центральной Азии и Афганистане теперь доступен на русском языке. Его можно найти на сайте Университета Центральной Азии (заказчик проекта) илл скачать здесь.

Огромное спасибо УЦА за перевод! If you prefer it in English, you can find my report on higher education policy in Central Asia and Afghanistan here.

О докладе:

Данный отчет преследует две цели. Первая – рассмотреть сферу высшего образования в Центральной Азии, делая особый акцент на Кыргызстане, Таджикистане и Афганистане. Вторая цель – предложить политические решения, способные помочь этим государствам сделать их системы высшего образования более инновационными с опорой на науку и технологии. Отчет состоит из двух разделов. В первом разделе рассматриваются некоторые общие тенденции и вызовы в сфере высшего образования в Центральной Азии и Афганистане.

Выделены основные проблемы и возможности, стоящие перед системами высшего образования и обществами стран региона, с точки зрения государственных приоритетов, сформулированных в общедоступных документах и материалах. Во втором разделе на основе обзора текущей ситуации делается переход к будущему планированию.

В отчете изложены факторы, способствующие инновациям в системе высшего образования, и приведены примеры того, как это делалось в других местах. Наконец, в тексте предлагается ряд предложений в сфере политики высшего образования для трех государств, которые направлены на развитие научно-технического потенциала, что, в свою очередь, может заложить основу для внедрения инноваций в Афганистане, Кыргызстане и Таджикистане. Рекомендации, представленные в отчете, сгруппированы в план, охватывающий пять областей: нормы, навыки, исследования, научная культура и бизнес. Целью стратегического плана является поддержка развития науки, технологий и инноваций в сфере ысшего образования.