Kyrgyzstan

Activism, academia and equality in Central Asia

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I’m a little late to the party on this, but then again it’s never too late to find time to read a brilliant series of articles on OpenDemocracy from earlier this year on how academic research is conducted in Central Asia.

Spearheaded by tireless UK/Sweden/globally based academic and activist Dr Diana T. Kudaibergenova, the series currently includes the following articles:

When your field is also your home: introducing feminist subjectivities in Central Asia by Diana Kudaibergenova

When “the field” is your institution: on academic extortion and complaining as activism by Elena Kim

How does it feel to be studied? A Central Asian perspective by Syinat Sultanalieva

Listening to women’s stories: the ambivalent role of feminist research in Central Asia by Davlatbegim Mamadshoeva

A view from the margins: alienation and accountability in Central Asian studies by Mohira Suyarkulova

“Two fields” within: Lost between Russian and Kazakh in the Eurasian borderland by Zhanar Sekerbayeva

The series has been well received by other Central Asia experts, who have been sharing their feedback on social media:

 

So what are you waiting for? Get those tabs open and set your learning mode to “on”!

Keeping the classroom secular in Kyrgyzstan

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Religion-is-the-catnip
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, catnip use is on the rise

Kyrgyzstan’s President Sooronbay Jeenbekov has called on citizens to ensure that education in the country remains secular, citing the constitutional principle of compulsory basic education.

At present, Kyrgyzstan has over 110 religious institutions – mostly medressas and Islamic colleges plus one Islamic university, but there are also 13 recorded Christian schools. This is a tiny fraction of the total number of public schools and universities in the country: there are over 2,000 schools, more than 200 colleges and 34 state universities for Kyrgyzstan’s six million strong population.

So why the concern? There are clearly enough secular schools and universities to go around.

The worry expressed by the head of state stems from the revival of Islam in Kyrgyzstan since the country obtained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and the concern that this could lead to extremism.

Professor Almazbek Akmataliyev has observed that the rapid expansion of Islamic education in the country is not only connected to the ending of communist-era clampdowns on religion but also results from an influx of foreign funding. Coming from other Muslim states – mainly the rich Arab region nations – this cash has been used to build mosques and support education. This is something I have also heard reflected in comments made to me by people I know in the country.

Professor Akmataliyev also points to the lack of state intervention in religion in the early years of independence in the 1990s as a factor that allowed Islam to spread through the country. His views are backed up by fellow academics Emil Nasritdinov and Nurgul Esenamanova. Writing in the journal Central Asian Affairs, they found that the revival of Islam in the 1990s was marked among women, and this identity is increasingly commonly visually asserted through the number of women in the capital city who now choose to wear a hijab.

After recovering from a hiatus in control in the 1990s, the government of Kyrgyzstan has been more active in responding to the growth of religion and its impact on education. However, as an OSCE report on religious freedom in Kyrgyzstan published in 2013 found:

Educational programs and training programs do not pay enough attention to nurturing of respect for religious diversity and tolerance. Publication of religious studies materials and textbooks should remain neutral and give equal treatment to different religious groups operating in the territory of the Kyrgyz Republic in accordance with national legislation. (Source: OSCE 2013, p. 28)

By the time Jeenbekov came to power in late 2017, Human Rights Without Frontiers observed that:

The Kyrgyz Republic, led by a new President, is at a cross-road, either to restrict the religious freedom of all faiths in the name of security and the fight against violent Islamic groups, or to open the space of religious freedom for all peaceful movements whilst educating their youth about religion in a spirit of tolerance and fighting any initiative inciting to violence. (Source: HRWF)

Jeenbekov’s response?

Speaking at the 2018 ‘Islam in a Modern Secular State‘ conference (launched by Jeenbekov’s predecessor as an annual conference in 2017), Jeenbekov called on the one hand for tolerance towards all religions but on the other hand, pointed to the need for the state to get involved:

We need to create new forms of relationship between religion and the state to ensure peace, order in society and inter-ethnic harmony. (Source: 24.kg)

This was connected to religious education which, according to the President, should ‘correspond to the future development of our society’ (Source: 24.kg).

And that brings us back to the President’s recent call for secularism in the classroom. Since the 2000s (if not the late 1990s), the Kyrgyz state has decided that religion is not something to be left alone – tolerance of all faiths and none is to be aided and abetted by the government. By extending this to the state education system, the government runs the risk of marginalizing those who choose to follow a religious faith and politicizing religion, which is surely a shortcut to the very intolerance the President would like to prevent…

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

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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.

Политика в сфере высшего образования в Центральной Азии и Афганистане

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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.

Conceptualizing major change in higher education

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In my research on former Soviet higher education systems, the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 continues to feature prominently as a starting point for some of the subsequent shifts that have occurred in higher education (and in society at large). More recent changes such as the introduction of principles of the European Union’s Bologna Process have shifted higher education even further away from the Soviet model that was inherited. Yet taken as a whole, the notion of a pre-1991 and post-1991 division in the direction of higher education holds quite strong.

That was the starting point for some recent research I did to find out how authors writing about those post-1991 changes in higher education have understood what has happened. I also wanted to investigate whether there are differences in how authors writing in English and those writing in Russian conceptualize these shifts.

To do this, I delved into 57 academic articles (and I read a whole lot more to whittle the number down to a suitable data set!) in English and Russian that discuss post-1991 higher education in Russia or other former Soviet republics. I devised two different methods to analyse the articles and the standpoints taken by their authors.

You can find out more about these methods and what I found at the Europe of Knowledge blog, which is the official blog of the ECPR Standing Group on Knowledge Politics and Policies. I presented my research at the ECPR Annual Conference in 2018 and am happy to say that my paper was selected for the 2018 Award for Excellent Paper from an Emerging Scholar. This is a great honour and I am very grateful to the selection committee and to the Standing Group, which I am proud to be involved with.

International students from the former Soviet space

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Internationally mobile students 2011-17The number of international students around the world is on the increase (see UNESCO graph for growth from 2011-17), and has now reached five million people.

Whilst there are major disparities in the desinations chosen by international students (Anglophone/former colonial nations top the list) and the resources they need to get there (the more financial/social capital your family has, the easier it is for you to become internationally mobile), one remarkable trend is that international students are now drawn from every country in the world.

That includes the former Soviet space, where student mobility until 1991 allowed travel only as far as Moscow, Leningrad (St Petersburg), Novosibirsk and a handful of other academic centres in the Soviet Union. Students could travel between republics but the idea of getting a degree from outside the communist space was out of the question.

In the nearly 30 years since the fall of the Soviet Union, that picture has changed dramatically. Long term readers of my blog will remember the results of a survey I did of international students from Tajikistan who had ended up far and wide, from the UK to Uruguay, from Slovakia to Singapore.

In revisiting the survey data for a new paper I am working on and will present at CHER in August 2019, I took the opportunity to look at longitudinal trends across the former Soviet space. Using data from UNESCO’s Institute for Statistcs, the graph below shows how patterns have changed since 1998 (the point at which data starts to become more reliable) across 14 of the 15 Soviet republics (there’s no data for Moldova). There are three time points over roughly ten year periods – 1998, 2008 and 2017, the latest data that is available.

The overall picture is of dramatic growth: if there were 120,000 international students leaving this region in 1998, that number had leaped to almost half a million by 2017. That’s an impressive increase of 265%!

As the graph shows, Kazakhstan now sends nearly 100,000 students abroad, a much higher number than second placed Ukraine (coming up for 80,000). And both those countries send significantly more students to other countries than Russia (not quite 60,000) despite Russia’s population being more than three times bigger than Ukraine’s and about six times higher than in Kazakhstan.

The big picture inevitably hides the array of scenarios seen in different countries at different points. In the last 10 years, for example, the number of intenrational students leaving Uzbekistan has been relatively flat, increasing by just 5%. Compare that to much larger increases in other countries such as Azerbaijan (475%) and Turkmenistan (550%). Over the period since 1998, the lowest growth in the number of international students has been from Estonia (up 20%), dwarfed by enormous increases in Tajikistan which are over 1,400%!

Outbound mobile from former SU 1998-2017

That’s a very quick analysis of some extremely interesting similarities and differences between these 14 countries. The aim was to make these numbers available in an accessible format and hopefully to inspire some curiosity to ask why we see these trends, and to think about how these might change over the next ten years.

International students in Kyrgyzstan

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A great infographic published by Russian media agency Sputnik offers a visual breakdown of Kyrgyzstan’s 20,000 international students. I’ve reproduced the infographic below but it is Sputnik’s and the original post can be found here.

For non-Russian readers, here’s a summary:

  • Kyrgyzstan’s educational ‘market’ is specific to its geographic and linguistic neighbours
  • India is by far the biggest sender of international students to Kyrgyzstan – they make up almost half of the total international student population
  • The next largest sending countries are former Soviet neighbours Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Russia
  • Students also come from Pakistan (which sends almost as many students as Russia – around 1,500) and a small number from Turkey, China and Afghanistan
  • Five higher education instutitions (HEI) host over 1,000 international students, three of which are medical institutes. South Asian students have long been attracted to Central Asia’s medical education and it is likely that the students from India and Pakistan make up the majority of international students at these institutions
  • The most popular HEI for international students is Osh State University. This is interesting as it’s in the south of the country, far from the capital Bishkek (where the majority of Kyrgyzstan’s 50+ HEIs are located) and because it’s a multi-faculty university not a specialist institute (as per the medical institutes noted in the previous point)
  • International students mainly head to HEIs where education is free (Manas Kyrgyz-Turkish University) or where fees are relatively low ($900 p/a at Osh State, around $1,700 p/a at other popular HEIs). The American University of Central Asia, which atttracts around 400 international students, charges significantly more – around $6,300 p/a.

Sputnik_intlstudents_KY_infographic_2019

And before you go, check out this 2015 infographic, also from Sputnik, for another well crafted visualization of Kyrgyzstan’s higher education sector.