Study abroad survey results: part 1

The long awaited publication on this blog of my recent study abroad survey starts now…

Read my earlier post for background to the survey, but briefly: I undertook a survey between December 2011 and February 2012 of just over 100 Tajik nationals who are either studying abroad now, or who have studied abroad in the past.

The aims of the survey were to find out:

  • what motivates people to study abroad?
  • what do people think it will be like abroad?
  • how easy or difficult is it to adapt once abroad?
  • what happens to people once they have finished studying?

The results of the survey will be presented at a conference called ‘Micro-Level Analysis of Well-Being in Central Asia‘ being held at Humboldt University and the German Institute for Economic Research in Berlin later this week.

In today’s post, I’m including three sections from the conference paper:

1. Research into study abroad

2. Tajikistan: brief context

3. About the respondents

Call back soon for more! Comments and feedback are most welcome.

1. Research into study abroad

Two main reasons explain the lack of research into 20th century study abroad tendencies amongst Tajik nationals as well as nationals of other former Soviet countries. By 1945, the Soviet Union had a well established higher education system and growing state expectations that young people should continue into higher education (Shpakovskaia, 2007). Nearly 900 institutions of higher learning existed by 1990[1] covering a vast spectrum of qualifications and subjects, and high levels of integration meant there was more than sufficient capacity to educate students within one of the republics of the Soviet Union (Brunner & Tillett, 31.01.2007). At the same time, travel beyond the borders of the Soviet Union was extremely limited, meaning that students who did want to travel abroad for study were unlikely to be permitted to do so.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the parallel opening of borders and reduction in state funding for higher education has led to a small but growing number of Central Asian nationals seeking to pursue higher education abroad. Only a handful of reports have reflected on this, such as the British Council on Kazakhstan (British Council, May 2011). However, this paper is the first time that analysis has been undertaken with a specific focus on Tajik nationals. The literature review therefore focussed on the following areas:

  • Motivations of either international students going to one destination country or students from one destination country going abroad to one of many countries
  • Experiences of being an international student
  • Education and young people in post-Soviet Tajikistan/Central Asia

2. Tajikistan: brief context

Tajikistan is a developing country of nearly 7.5 million people, with 59% aged between 15-64 (Asian Development Bank, 2010 ) and an average age of just over 22 years (UNICEF, November 2011; World Bank, no date). It is the least developed of the Central Asian countries and around 2/3 of the population live in poverty. There are serious challenges to reducing poverty and stimulating sustainable economic growth, from the reliance on income from migrant workers abroad to extremely low investor confidence (Asian Development Bank, 2011).

Based on this context, it is unsurprising that the Ministry of Education’s policy focuses on basic education. It has identified that ‘the sector [as a whole] faces three main problems: absence of a rational and streamlined process of decision making; low capacity in the area of policy development and system management; a system of assessment of learning results and effectiveness of educational establishments’ (August 2005: 10). Looking specifically at higher education in the country, enrolment represents around 20% of the total potential population of students, which is extremely low compared to neighbours Kazakhstan (41% enrolment) and Kyrgyzstan (51%) (World Bank, no date). An unpublished report written with the support of the Ministry of Education in 2005 highlight no less than twelve groups of major problems facing the country’s higher education system post-independence (Education Reform Support Unit “Pulse”). The groups cover wide-ranging issues such as human, financial and technological resources, quality, systems, and corruption.

A further issue affecting not just higher education but that has permeated Central Asia societies is migration. In Tajikistan it has become ‘a key characteristic of the economic and social development’ of the country (UNICEF, November 2011). Official statistics point to around 1 million of the 7.5 million population living abroad at any one time, usually for work and mostly inRussia, although actual figures are likely to be up to double that. Roberts argues that as a result of migration becoming accepted as normal, ‘youth in Central Asia know that they can move, and large numbers do so’ (2010). Although the most common type of migration is for economic purposes, Roberts notes that young people also travel for study because they know that ‘qualifications guarantee nothing, but they also know that with higher education they will at least be able to compete for the inadequate number of decent jobs’ (ibid). The results of the survey suggest that migration for study abroad purposes is generally seen as a temporary, rather than a permanent move.

UNESCO estimates that in 2009, around 5,500 Tajik nationals studied abroad (UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2011). The major destination countries are Russia (51% of all students) and Kyrgyzstan (27%). Whilst there are a handful of English-medium universities in these countries, it is most likely that the majority of this 78% of outbound mobile students have studied in Russian-medium universities. The number going to English-speaking countries is very low – whilst the USA was the third most popular destination for Tajik students, only 336 students are recorded to have gone there, or just 6% of the total. As such, it can be argued that this survey of 103 respondents represents a relatively high proportion of the outbound mobile Tajik students going to English-medium universities and the results are therefore broadly representative of opinions and attitudes across this sub-group of study abroad students.


3. About the respondents

The self-selecting participants in the survey were almost equally split gender-wise, with 48% of respondents male and 52% female. The current age range of respondents was wide, from 18 to over 40, with just over half aged between 25 and 34. Most respondents reported that they were either in their teens or aged 20-24 when they first started studying abroad. This is substantiated by figure 1, which shows the highest level of qualification achieved by respondents prior to studying abroad. The majority hold either the Tajik school leaving certificate (attestat o srednom obrazovanii in Russian), usually received at the age of 17 or 18, or an undergraduate diploma/degree, usually received in one’s early 20s.

Figure 1: Highest level of qualification pre-study abroad

Over half (57/103) of respondents had already been abroad before the study abroad experience and many had been abroad for more than one reason. Of those who had been abroad, 50% had already studied abroad, either at degree level or on a short course/exchange programme. 30% had been abroad for tourism, and 25% for work. This suggests that respondents are already pre-disposed to look internationally to enhance their experience, and it is suggested that as in other countries, ‘students abroad tend to have higher social class backgrounds than their counterparts’ (Wiers-Jenssen, October 2003). Whilst this claim cannot be qualified because income and class questions were not included in the survey (following feedback from  the first test group), Whitsel does suggest in the Tajik-specific context that students who complete secondary school and/or do an undergraduate degree in the country are indeed likely to come from better off families, as financial resources are a major barrier to school completion (March 2009).

Figure 2 shows that nearly half of all respondents were working towards a Master’s degree during their study abroad period, and just under a third were studying for an undergraduate degree. This shows a tendency to progress directly from school or undergraduate study to studying abroad for the next level of higher education. The number of students returning to study at a later stage (e.g. studying after working for a number of years) or studying abroad for short/non-degree courses is relatively limited. The next section explores whether this tendency affects the motivations of respondents to study abroad.

Figure 2: Qualification studied for during study abroad


10 thoughts on “Study abroad survey results: part 1

  1. Hey There. I discovered your blog the usage of msn. That is a really neatly written article. I’ll make sure to bookmark it and come back to learn extra of your useful information. Thanks for the post. I’ll certainly return.


  2. Pingback: Study abroad survey results: part 2 « Emma Sabzalieva

  3. Pingback: Study abroad survey results: part 3 « Emma Sabzalieva

  4. Pingback: More on Tajikistan’s education deficit | Emma Sabzalieva

  5. Rohila

    Dear Emma,

    Thank you so much for the blog.Great Job. Hope, who graduated from the university abroad will return back. What concerns me I will never come back. I was looking for the job since 1 year nobody accept me, whose relative is a manager they are lucky. I hope that my comment will not frustrate you , I do appologize.


    1. Don’t apologise! Your comment highlights the sad but endemic problem of corruption in Tajikistan. At the moment simply studying abroad won’t guarantee you a better job when you get home. But perhaps in time, when more people have been abroad and experienced different political and social systems, there will be a greater demand for change. What do you think?

      Ps I’m glad you enjoy the blog! I wish I had more time to write it.


  6. Pingback: New publication: Who are Tajikistan’s international students? « Emma Sabzalieva

  7. Pingback: International students from the former Soviet space « Emma Sabzalieva

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s