imageI can’t draw a speech bubble from the photo, but this is me, Emma Sabzalieva. Hello!

Since 2011, I’ve been blogging about education, society and politics in Central Asia. I’m particularly interested in higher education and social change, which stems from working in Central Asia for an educational charity in the early 2000s, plus subsequent freelance and voluntary work as well as a host of other ongoing connections and commitments to the region.

My blog has been named one of The Guardian’s “best social media accounts for academics” (2016) and my blog posts have attracted attention from a wider audience, including El País, Huffington Post and Yahoo Canada.

I’ve also written about Central Asia in academic journals and online magazines. Find out more about all my publications on the Publications page of this website.

In addition to this regional specialization, my research interests broadly cover the politics and history of higher education.

I am currently pursuing a PhD on how and why change happens in higher education, with a focus on post-Soviet higher education systems, at the Centre for the Study of Canadian and International Higher Education, based at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto in Canada.
Leverhulme Trust logo

I am the proud recipient of a prestigious Leverhulme Trust Study Abroad Studentship for 2015-2017.

Prior to starting doctoral research, I worked in higher education administration and management for 13 years in progressively senior roles in universities in Central Asia and the UK. I am co-author of Managing your career in higher education administration (with Michelle Gander and Heather Moyes, 2014), part of Palgrave Macmillan’s Universities into the 21st century series.

I’m keen to build up links with others working in and on Central Asian higher education with a view to future collaborations and knowledge exchange, so please get in touch.

You can also find me on…

Twitter @EmmaSabzalieva



27 responses »

  1. If you read my blog over 3 1/2 years you will find out what I experienced teaching at western universities in Almaty and also in Astana. I won’t name their names but it is not too difficult to figure out if you know anything about Kazakhstan. Enjoy blogging about two of MY favorite topics, higher education in Central Asia.


    • Thanks for your reply, Kazakh Nomad, and I can take a wild guess at the two universities you are talking about! It’s great to know there are other people out there interested in higher education in the region, and you found the blog before I’d even attempted to publicise it! (I’d love to know how you picked it up?).


      • I think I did my usual Tag Surfer on WordPress to find your blog that has tags connected to KZ. Every day I read a LOT of other interesting blogs like people who are biking through Central Asia or I found out more things about the April 2010 uprising in Kyrgyzstan that way. I stay informed about a place I love and care about the people who live in places where I have spent some time. You are right, there is NOT much written about higher education in Kazakhstan simply because it is a delicate subject. Cultural and linguistic issues along with East meets West is all a part of the mix. I hope you can unravel some of the mysteries that reside alongside each other such as urban vs. rural education. The privileged vs those in poverty. I fear the divide may be worsening instead of getting better. But working with those Kazakh students in the western universities gave me hope for the country’s future. Strange paradox. Work IN the university system under some of the KZ or other administrators and there is reason to not be hopeful. Work with the parents or the young people and there is good things in store for you. Keep writing, please!!!


      • An interesting observation about working in the university system vs working with parents/young people.

        As the blog develops I hope to have contributions from both groups you mention so that should bring a deeper perspective to my own contributions.


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  3. Hi Emma, I’m a spanish journalist from El País Newspaper and I want to send you some questions about your last post about the high heels. Could you contact me, please? Thanks!


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  5. Hi Emma, I’m terrible at writing comments on blogs, so I’ll just say that I really like the idea and design of your website, and look forward to exploring your posts. I’m a Russian translator and writer with a Central Asia fixation…



    • Thanks Jon and nice to hear from you (we connected on LinkedIn a while ago). Are you planning any trips to Central Asia? You’d definitely have plenty to write about if you went!

      The blog uses a free WordPress template, but I chose it very deliberately because part of the design is similar to the Central Asian/Iranian suzani textile. The content of the blog is also quite deliberate, picking up on my two key interests in the region and in higher education around the world. Put the two together and there you go! I do sometimes write on more general themes such as politics and social change as well.

      Happy reading!


  6. Dear Emma,

    I hope you still remember me!

    I’m writing to ask a small favour. I have been asked to write a short article about Uzbekistan, in particular the game of cricket there. Cricket is very popular in the Asian subcontinent, and as there are many Indians and Pakistanis living in Central Asia as students, I was wondering if you knew some people working at international Uzbek schools or universities, who could could put me in touch with some of them?

    I know it’s a long shot, but I’m struggling!

    Best wishes,



    • Hi Viktor. I worked in Tajikistan after studying Russian at university, which is where my interest stems from. The decision to study Russian was a chance one that I hadn’t planned, but it has changed my life!


      • Interesting. I was born in Dushanbe in 1982. When were you last be in Tajikistan? I am native of Dushanbe city, but I live in USA now because of the war in Tajikistan. Many Koreans lived in Dushanbe in 1980s, along with Tatars, Russians, and others. Alas, the country is in a new era now.


      • Hi Viktor I was last in Tajikistan two years ago but am in frequent contact woth friends and family there. Would you ever consider moving back?

        Best wishes, Emma


  7. Hi Emma,
    I’ve just stumbled upon your excellent blog as well as a paper you did on the impact of study abroad. I’d love to be in touch! I’ve recently finished a book length manuscript on cultural globalization as it relates to return migration in Kazakhstan, and I’m researching a piece on Central Asian students abroad. So we obviously have a lot of interests in common.


    • Hi Doug,
      Thanks very much for the message, and I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog. It would be great to be in touch. In the meantime I’m going to make sure I find a copy of ‘National Identity and Globalization’ which looks really interesting! I have a growing interest in young people in Soviet and post-Soviet Central Asia and am thinking about how to take that forward in the longer term.


  8. Hello,Emma.
    I am Muqaddas.I am Tajik and am living in Dushanbe,studying in the Moscow state university in here. I really dont like life in Tajikistan,I dont mean my family,what I mean is,the life in here for youngers is very hard. If you have money,you can live good in Tajikistan ,otherwise you feel yourself as Nothing. No good Education,no place for students to go after the school, no clubs(extracurricular activitied) for us to express ourselves,there is only one exception,is sport,but it casts money. Damn,thats so hard in here. Please if you have free time and any questions to ask about Tajikistans education,corruption in here you can ask me,I will tell you not only my oppinion but other Tajiks too.
    Thank you.


    • Dear Muqaddas,
      Thanks for both of your messages. I’m privileged to know that you have found my blog although sad that you share some of my negative outlooks for higher education in Tajikistan. The main question I am asking at the moment is “why is higher education not developing in Tajikistan?”. Because there is a lot of money coming from the World Bank etc etc, but we aren’t see real change in the system. I would love to hear your views about that question.


      • Hello.
        Thanks for your reply. We dont know about money that come to us from the World Bank,we dont feel it,but we see how people who are working in the best places in here get their pockets bigeer and fill them with money. Thats a corruption,its a big problem in here,everyone can see it but noone is changing that. Thats very bad for students psychology,some may get crazy because of that. You are welcome to ask more questions. If you want you can add me in the viber.


      • Hi Muqaddas,
        Thank you for the generous offer to ask you more questions! I can see that corruption is a major issue for you. Have you or your friends personally experienced problems?
        We can continue this discussion by email/viber – I will contact you directly.
        Best wishes, Emma.


  9. Hi Emma,

    I’m really glad to have come across your blog. I’m currently working on a couple of projects (both totally still in their formative stages) on cultural heritage and revival in Central Asia. I was particularly interested in your comment about suzani, above.

    One of these projects involves providing opportunities for students from the region to study at postgraduate level in the UK. This, of course, runs completely counter to what your own work is focused upon achieving! But it’s precisely for this reason that I’d like to talk to you about it. It’s important that we have properly considered all the potential ramifications of this project.

    I’d be delighted to speak to you further about this.



    • Dear George,

      Thanks for getting in touch and I hope you will find my blog a useful resource. I don’t have any stance on studying abroad, contrary to what I think you’re suggesting! In fact, I am currently an international student myself… I think there cam be many benefits both for students and host nations to having student mobility programmes. I would be happy to discuss your projects further with you. I will email you to start the ball rolling.


  10. Hi Emma!

    I found your article ‘Challenges in contemporary higher education in
    Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia’ while doing a coursework. I haven’t read it yet. Despite that happy to see your contribution to the development of Central Asia.

    Thank you a lot,


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