The next ten years in Central Asian higher education: Looking to the future after a decade of blogging

I’ve spent many a happy hour enjoying the challenge of finding a vaguely suitable cat meme to go with many of my blog posts

Somehow, the tenth anniversary of this blog has rolled around. From my very first post published on 30 September 2011, I’ve published 345 posts, averaging around three posts a month. In total, I’ve shared over 200,000 words, and in my most wordy year (2012) I produced almost 32,000 words across 46 posts.

WordPress tells me that the site has had over 40,000 visitors and almost double that number in terms of page views. Thank you all very much for your engagement!

I’ve stuck with the idea of bringing together my two main professional areas of interest – Central Asia and the former Soviet world on the one hand, and higher education on the other – and along the way carved out enough space in the middle of this unusual Venn diagram that it’s become part of my everyday. Indeed, I spent about half of the last decade working on a PhD on precisely that topic: higher education in Central Asia.

The blog has been instrumental in developing my academic/policy interests in this area and remains an excellent way to build a global network with others working on similar themes. Although my work on higher education now takes an international focus, I decided to keep the blog focussed on Central Asia.

The region now benefits from more attention than it did a decade ago, but there’s still much more to learn and to work on, and it remains a source of frustration that relatively little research and policy attention is paid to (higher education and related issues in) Central Asia. This blog, therefore, remains my own modest contribution to this endeavour.

Over the last decade, I’ve read hundreds (if not thousands) of newspaper articles, reports and academic articles; been to conferences to hear other researchers and practitioners present; and work and study with many brilliant people who share my passions – or who have been open to being convinced by them!

It’s been an immense privilege to be able to use this blog, along with other outputs, to share what I’ve learnt – and continue to learn – along the way. This year also marks the 30th anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union and is as good a moment as any to stop and reflect on the higher education landscape in this part of the world. As I found in my thesis, there have been many fundamental transformations to higher education during this time, but there are also many elements that are strikingly similar to their Soviet-era predecessors. And in between, there are institutions and practices that have been gradually changing, perhaps not noticeable on a day-to-day basis but visible if studied over a longer period.

What does the next decade hold for higher education in Central Asia? Unwise as it might be to make predictions, let me nevertheless suggest a few things to look out for in each of the five countries:

  1. Kazakhstan’s radical policy-led drive to oust the older (read: Soviet-era) generation from academia (see e.g. this story about one of a spate recent appointments) will prove successful, helped by natural retirement patterns. With a new generation of internationally educated, globally savvy leaders at the helm, universities and colleges will innovate and risk more, introducing new kinds of courses for new types of learners. The Ministry of Education and Science will work more collaboratively with a system that is better prepared to steer itself.
  2. The Kyrgyz Republic‘s plethora of higher education institutions (over 70 at last count, or roughly 1 per 90,000 inhabitants) will slowly be curtailed, following a pattern seen in Kazakhstan and Russia during the 2010s. Expect the breathing space given to higher education – especially to pioneering liberal arts based American University of Central Asia – to be reduced as politics takes a more authoritarian turn. One or two more Islamic institutions might set up shop as religion becomes more (tacitly) supported by the state.
  3. At some point during the next decade, a change of leadership in Tajikistan is inevitable. For higher education, two things could happen as a result. If the leadership change is anything like Uzbekistan’s after Islam Karimov died, there will be a wave of rapid reforms that will see more foreign branch campuses open (there are only two at present, both Russian) and much greater emphasis on quality of provision. If the leadership change is more like Kazakhstan or Turkmenistan’s, then we’re in for much of the same: the odd policy shift here or there, perhaps one or two more universities opening, but no major change.
  4. I’d love to see Turkmenistan opening up its higher education system but I don’t think there will be much change over the next ten years. Access to higher education will remain limited, perhaps increasingly so for women and those from rural communities. The universities that stick it out will be reasonably well resourced and offer a decent basic higher education, although there will be no room for genuine critique. Novel research and science will be practically off the agenda as the emphasis for higher education will be on teaching.
  5. Current reform favourites Uzbekistan will continue the hell for leather pace of change as the country seeks to ‘catch up’ with whichever outside country/norm is most fashionable. Expect the adoption of the European Bologna Process principles fairly soon (already adopted in the other countries except Turkmenistan) and the opening of yet more international universities and branch campuses. Higher education institutions, even the public ones, will get more power to charge and raise fees as the state reduces funding even as it continues to keep a careful eye on developments.

I plan to keep this blog going (if slightly less frequently than before) and if it’s still around in 2031, then I’m sure my artificial intelligence driven robot-clone will be happy to inform you of the progress or otherwise of my predictions.

Thanks for reading and stay in touch!

3 thoughts on “The next ten years in Central Asian higher education: Looking to the future after a decade of blogging

  1. Fiona

    Hi Emma,
    I really enjoyed listening to the tail end of your session at the EU-India conference and would love to learn more about your current research project on COIL. Even if we did not get to walk on the beach in Manipal, I am interested in connecting with you!


  2. Pingback: Coming from the top: Steps towards autonomy in Uzbekistan’s universities – Emma Sabzalieva

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