UK universities in Uzbekistan: what is the ‘right thing’ to do?

Trying to catch up on reporting on Central Asian higher education, here’s an article from the UK’s The Guardian newspaper from October 2013 (thanks to David Wolfson for bringing it to my attention).  It’s on partnerships between UK universities and institutions in Uzbekistan. Full text here:

UK universities move into Uzbekistan even as human rights fears grow

Such partnerships pose potentially very difficult decision for the UK partners. They have to find a balance between

  • their internationalisation/international agendas
  • their broader mission as an institution and how they interpret that in the way they undertake their responsibilities to their various communities (for more on how UK universities engage with these issues, see my published article Understanding universities’ responsibilities to their wider communities)
  • the national (UK) political environment
  • the fact that ‘how we do things here’ can be very different in Uzbekistan
  • cultural norms, particularly in regards to how Western countries view human rights

London Metropolitan University responds by saying ‘it was aware of the country’s [human rights] record, but that it was committed to both the exchange of ideas and the raising of educational standards.

The University of Bath goes a little further, with their spokesperson saying: “Working to improve academic standards is an apolitical act and in no way constitutes support (tacit or explicit) for the political regime of the country. The work … was carried out in a collegiate spirit of helpfulness and support. It reflects the capacity of higher education in the UK to strengthen civil society.”

Nonetheless, there is no escaping that making the conscious decision to work in Uzbekistan means negotiating the political and ethical environment, and any attempt to ignore that would be disingenuous.

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