Tajikistan

The Bologna Process in Central Asia

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EU-cat
The blog reaches a new level with its first ever moving cat

The Bologna Process is a programme of reforms/policies co-opted by the European Union (EU) that are designed to harmonize higher education systems and facilitate greater mobility. Partnership and mobility programmes include Tempus and Erasmus (now Erasmus+) and a major cross-national research scheme, Horizon 2020. Reforms include aligning degree cycles to the Bologna Bachelor’s-Master’s-PhD cycle to ensure mutual recognition of qualifications (dealt with in the Lisbon Convention) and introducing/upgrading quality assurance processes. Taken together, all of these initiatives lead towards the Bologna Process’ main objective, the creation of a European Higher Education Area (EHEA).

First formalized in 1999, the influence of the Bologna Process has now spread well beyond the confines of the EU, from Australia to states in Latin America. Bologna has also reached the Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Yet only countries with territories in Europe can ever be members of the EHEA. So, for Central Asia, this means that only Kazakhstan – which has a sliver of European land in the western part of the country – will ever be able to join the EHEA.

This raises an interesting question: Despite their inability to join the EHEA, why do policymakers outside the EU choose the Bologna Process as a means of implementing change in higher education?

Once the decision is made to adopt Bologna-compliant policies, this leads to another interesting question: How are these reforms received by those at the frontline of implementation, namely faculty members?

I’m tackling these two questions in a new study I am working on, and which I am presenting at the Canadian Political Science Assocation annual conference (if by chance you’re in Vancouver and free at 8.45am on June 6, please come!).

As you might expect, I’m looking at these issues in the context of Central Asia. Each of the five states has connections to the Bologna Process, from Turkmenistan’s minimalist approach to Kazakhstan’s full-on adoption of the Bologna Process in 2010. The image below, one of the slides from my conference presentation, sets out the Central Asian journey to implementing Bologna:

BP-Central-Asia-timeline

In the course of the interviews I undertook with faculty in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan as part of my PhD research, I asked respondents what they felt had been the biggest change in higher education in their country since they had obtained independence in 1991.

Many – and an overwhelming majority in Tajikistan – brought up some aspect of the Bologna Process. Some thought Bologna was a really positive step for higher education in their country, particularly the opportunities for student/faculty mobility and the ability for their students’ qualifications to be recognized by other countries. Others were more critical in their attitudes. In Tajikistan, this was mainly in relation to teething issues as new reforms bed in. Across all three countries, some respondents were cynical about the necessity/appropriateness of Bologna for their national systems.

What was particularly interesting in these discussions was that regardless of whether or not faculty found the Bologna reforms to be useful or appropriate, everyone who brought up the Bologna Process did so in the broader context of changes to higher education.

In this way, I found that the Bologna Process has become – or is becoming – a metaphor that is deployed by faculty to help them make sense of and navigate the fluctuating environment in Central Asian higher education. Framing the Bologna Process in this way helps us better understand the worldviews of the faculty who are at the frontline of implementing reforms. Further, it also shines a light on the processes, strategies and behaviours that faculty use to bring meaning-making into action.

I hope that at some point in the future I’ll be able to find a home to publish the study as that will be an opportunity to bring forward the voices of faculty members whose views are rarely heard, not only within the domestic policymaking scene but in the Anglophone academic literature.

 

Higher education policy in Central Asia and Afghanistan – new report published (open access)

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Grumpy cat
RIP, Grumpy Cat. My blog won’t be the same without you.

What are the challenges and opportunities in higher education in Central Asia and Afghanistan?

What kind of government policies can introduce innovation?

How can science and technology capacity be promoted?

For more on these important questions and some ideas about further developing science, technology and innovation in Central Asia and Afghanistan, please take a look at my newly published report for the University of Central Asia.

Currently available in English, I am told a Russian version will also be available soon.

Here’s a direct link to the report in pdf format: UCA-IPPA-Wp51 – ENG

I welcome your thoughts and feedback on the propositions in the report.

Internationalizing Kyrgyzstan’s higher education: Double degrees and digitalization lie ahead

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world is a cat
All the world’s a cat and all the universities merely players… [with apologies to Shakespeare]
Everyone’s at it these days – internationalization of higher education, that is. Internationalization is a loose enough term that it can encompass a wide range of activities, from attracting more international students to redesigning the curriculum to incorporate a broader array of global perspectives.

Higher education systems in the Central Asian countries have dutifully leaped onto the internationalization bandwagon since obtaining independence in 1991. The last decade has seen a particular uptick in activity, although in Kazakhstan this can be dated back even further to the late 1990s.

Prominent features of internationalization in Central Asia are similar to trends found in other countries that have been paying greater attention to global higher education in recent years. These include:

A recent conference in Kyrgyzstan [ru] sought to tease out some of the challenges and opportunities faced as the country continues its internationalizing path in higher education.

An interview [ru] with Rector of ADAM University and higher education expert Dr Svetlana Sirmbard revealed two interesting emerging trends for Kyrgyzstan. The first of these is the development of double degrees, degrees taught and certified equally by two universities in different countries. Sirmbard offers double degrees as a cost-effective alternative to studying for a degree abroad, noting that an increasing number are organized not by two universities but by a larger consortium, allowing each to draw on its strengths and tap into the resources already available elsewhere.

The second area for development noted by Sirmbard is digitalization. Thus, we should expect to see further expansion of online learning that will widen access to highier education (for those with good internet connections) – especially women at home with young children, Sirmbard suggests. Massive open online courses (MOOCs), which took off in a big way in English speaking countries a few years ago, will also be in the pipeline for Kyrgyzstan.

A challenge that remains as Kyrgyzstan – and indeed, other countries around the world – continue their drive to internationalize is how to ensure that the opportunities opened up internationalization are available to everyone. Online learning and MOOCs are two ways to open or extend access to higher education, but as Dr Sirmbard notes, challenges remain for students with additional needs, whether as a result of disabilities or other issues. Really emphasizing the importance of ensuring internationalization is maximally inclusive will be where value can really be added for higher education.

If you’re excited by internationalization and its possible futures, let me offer a quick plug for a conference I am co-organizing on exactly this topic. Being held at the University of Toronto on June 24-25, Shaping Sustainable Futures for Internationalization in Higher Education has an excellent line-up of no fewer than 36 workshops, roundtables, sharing circles and panels along with three exceptional keynote speakers. Registration for the conference is open and I hope you will consider joining us!

Harnessing Tajikistan’s growing diaspora

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Tajikistan stamp cat
Expat cats of Tajikistan are not writing home

Website Cabar recently published a thought provoking report by political scientist Muslimbek Buriev on the potential role of the one million+ Tajikistanis living outside the country. The report is available in Tajik, Russian and English.

A sizeable proportion of the nine million strong population of Tajikistan can be considered disaporic in the sense that they are geographically dispersed beyond the country’s borders. The estimate of one million may well be an under-statement of the true number, which could be anywhere up to two million – as much as 20% of the population.

The vast majority of Tajikistanis living abroad are based in Russia, making this group a logical focal point for Buriev’s report. Buriev discusses the activities of expat Tajikistanis in Russia and shows how the lack of proactive government policy towards citizens living abroad misses opportunities to harness their significant potential (although the remittances sent back to Tajikistan prop up the national economy – it is estimated that around 30% of GDP comes from these overseas transfers, making Tajikistan a top five global recipient of remittances).

Buriev makes an interesting comparison with Armenia, where the government has helped to formalize the relationship between the homeland and its diasporic communities, suggesting ways that this experience could be helpful in the case of Tajikistan.

An underplayed aspect of Buriev’s report is the role of the diaspora in promoting alternative visions for the future of Tajikistan. Buriev does note that Rahmon’s regime attempts to ‘reduce the risks of ideological influence’ on those living abroad who may be opposed to the current administration in Tajikistan, but it would have been really interesting to delve into this issue further.

The Tajikistan government’s ability to act extra-territorially is well-established, whether this be undeniable connections with the murder of opposition figures or pressure placed on the family members of those who have escaped the country (with very rare positive outcomes).

The (very) long arm of the law likely precludes many ‘ordinary’ diaspora Tajiks from collectively or publicly voicing their opposition to the current regime, although people are comfortable expressing their views in private and amongst friends. On the other hand, this type of action also drives people away from the country – not only those who overtly oppose the regime but those who see better prospects for themselves and their families outside the borders of an increasingly authoritarian state.

Both cases point to a future where the Tajikistani diaspora remains in much the same condition as it is now: quiet on the outside, increasing in number, social rather than political when diaspora groups do come together, and largely ignored by the government. On the whole, this is probably the best state of affairs that both sides could hope for.

Regionalism in higher education – new journal special issue (open access)

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What do the European Union, the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), the Western Balkans and the Association of Asian Universities have in common?

720px-Peter_karta1707
I love maps almost as much as I love cats! This is a fantastic view of the world from 1713 by Russian cartographer Vasiliy Kipiyanov that I chose for the special issue front cover.

Answer: They are all excellent examples of regional groupings, alliances or partnerships that higher education institutions and nations within the former Soviet space have become involved with in recent years.

This notion of regionalism – the introduction of supranational political initiatives for higher education that are formed around regional alliances, associations and groupings – is fairly new in higher education studies. This is despite the fact that such partnerships have proliferated and continue to flourish, whether organized by universities themselves or as priorities within groupings of multiple nations.

Regional initiatives are not always based around geographic blocs, as the example above of the BRICS suggests, although it is common to focus on shared spaces. In this way, regional identities and initiatives do not only reflect historic legacies or geographic commonalities, but also represent imaginaries of future constellations of actors.

The rationale behind entering into regional higher education initiatives, the power dynamics among the actors involved, and the impact of these partnerships and alliances on the everyday lives of those working in higher education are among some of the many important issues raised in a new special issue for Higher Education in Russia and Beyond (HERB) that I have guest edited and which has just been published.

The special issue begins with four articles exploring different varieties of regionalism, assisting in the conceptualization of the term and its role for higher education in the former Soviet/communist space. Larissa Titarenko discusses how policymakers prioritize different regions for both economic and political purposes, observing that the economic dimension makes Asia an important focal point for cooperation in Belarus. In my article, I lay out why Russia too shares a growing interest in educational cooperation with Asia, offering several examples to illustrate how and why regional connections to Russia’s east are on the rise.

Heading west, Alenka Flander’s article ties together regionalism in the Western Balkans with national initiatives to internationalize the Slovenian higher education system. Looking to the future, she posits that other Slavic language groups outside the EU may be a new region in the making for Slovenia. The final article in this part by Maxim Khomyakov frames Russia’s involvement with the BRICS within the Global North-Global South discourse, arguing that this non-geographic region holds fascinating possibilities for Russia as it looks forward beyond its own Soviet legacy.

The second part of the issue contains four articles that consider the scope and prospects for higher education regionalism within the former Soviet space. Natalia Leskina asks whether there is such a thing as a Eurasian Higher Education Area, showing that while the political odds make it unlikely, it is actually bottom-up initiatives by universities that are driving the development of this regional grouping. Abbas Abbasov considers how Russian branch campuses can be seen as a new form of (post-colonial) regionalism, shining a spotlight on the regional activities of Russia’s leading university, Moscow State University, as a case study.

Keeping the focus on Russia, Zahra Jafarova examines patterns of student mobility to the former metropole. She unpacks the dynamics of shifting trends from Ukraine and Kazakhstan, finding that student mobility is being influenced by Russian soft power, albeit in different ways in the two countries. While Russia may be leading the way in former Soviet higher education regionalism, Martha Merrill’s piece on Central Asia makes it quite clear that these countries’ very different visions and abilities to develop education do not offer promising prospects for a Central Asian regional identity to emerge in higher education.

The third part of the triptych deals specifically with the European Union (EU), which is currently the most significant region for higher education ideas, policies and programmes across the former Soviet space. Chynara Ryskulova explains how the choice made by Kyrgyzstan’s policymakers to adopt European reforms has heralded a new quality assurance system that has not yet been fully absorbed or accepted by the faculty that have to deliver the new reforms on the ground. On the other side of the former Soviet Union, Nadiia Kachynska also points to the difficulties of integrating into the EU’s Horizon 2020 research program, analyzing the reasons that Ukrainian universities still struggle to participate on an equal basis with their EU counterparts.

Svetlana Shenderova and Dmitry Lanko then take us to the Russian-Finnish borderlands, pointing out the gaps that emerge as the two countries attempt to cooperate on double degrees without sharing experiences and expertise obtained from their involvement in other regional initiatives (the Shanghai Cooperation Organization for Russia; the European Union for Finland). Finally, Aytaj Pashaeva looks at a twining project that brought EU experts to Azerbaijan to support the development and launch of the Azerbaijani Quality Assurance Framework in 2018.

Taken together, the 12 articles add considerable depth to our understanding of what regionalism in higher education looks and feels like across the ex-Soviet/communist space. The articles help us move beyond describing the wealth of regional initiatives – although this is in itself is an important contribution – towards answering more profound questions around what engagement in these initiatives signifies at individual, institutional and national levels and how regionalism can be used both to perpetuate existing hierarchies and inequalities but also to break free from them and look in different directions.

Higher Education in Russia and Beyond is an open access non-academic journal published by the Higher School of Economics (HSE) in Russia. The special issue on regionalism is one of four volumes that will be published in 2019; the back catalogue from its inception in 2014 can be found here.

My huge thanks go to the authors of the articles in the issue for such interesting and insightful contributions as well as their willingness to engage with me and the regular editorial team as we moved towards publication.

Thank you also to Maria Yudkevich, Vice Rector of HSE, for the invitation to guest edit an issue of HERB and for being open to the exploration of this relatively novel topic. Finally, thank you to Vera Arbieva, HERB’s coordinator, for her constant professionalism and support.

 

University of Central Asia Students Hold First TEDx in Khorog

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It’s exciting to hear about the initiative taken by University of Central Asia (UCA) students in Khorog, Tajikistan, to hold the town’s first TEDx.

TED (the ‘x’ afterwards indicates it’s an independently organized event) is now a well-established idea. TED talks are mini-conferences in which people have just a few minutes to share a small number of key points in an accessible approachable way.

The Khorog session sounds like it was a fantastic event and I wish I could have been there! Here’s a news story about TEDxUCA from UCA’s website:

https://ucentralasia.org/Resources/Item/2128/EN

Undergraduate students at the University of Central Asia (UCA) organised the first TEDxUCA event in Khorog, Tajikistan with the theme “Encounters at the Edge”, gathering over 100 guests. Five speakers from different backgrounds discussed their experiences of how they have “stood on edge” of what is known and comfortable, and then to develop and grow as individuals within the global society.


UCA undergraduate students and speakers at the first TEDx in Khorog.

Speakers included Hadi Husaini, CEO of the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat Central Asia, who expressed how communities could prosper as they are on the edge of survival; Ozodkhon Davlatshoev, Global Director of Accelerate Prosperity, who explored how technology can influence an individual’s life; Daler Jumaev, CEO of Pamir Energy, and Furough Shakarmamadova, Communications Officer at the Pamirs Eco-Cultural Tourism Association. Sahar Ibrahim, Communications Officer at the Aga Khan Education Services Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan also made a presentation.

TEDxUCA was realised by UCA students, Saif Ur Rehman, Parvina Sultonmamadova, and a dynamic group of volunteers on March 9th 2019. The event was supported by Tcell of Tajikistan, and also included performances from the Khorog Music School and UCA’s Undergraduate Performing Arts Society, who presented Prometheus.

The event created an environment of excitement within the Khorog community, and was attended by Mr. Yodgor Faizov, Governor of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast, representatives of the Education Department, the Mayor’s office, Aga Khan Development Network agencies in Khorog, as well as UCA’s School of Professional and Continuing Education and undergraduate campus faculty, students, and staff.

TEDx is an independently organised event that brings people together to share TED-like experiences to spark deep discussion and connection.

“We have kept our traditions” – Why not everything has changed in higher education – Seminar, Feb 22, online access

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After an event as momentous as the fall of the Soviet Union, it would be natural to expect significant changes as a result, whether that be at the macro-level of new states being created to the micro-level of people being forced to change profession in order to earn enough money to keep their families going in the economic crisis that followed the Union’s dissolution.

It would be logical to expect major change in higher education too, given that in the Soviet system, universities were funded and managed solely by the state – so when that centralized state disappears along with the ideology that underpinned it, you might even have predicted the collapse of higher education. This was amplified in Central Asia, where, despite rich educational legacies stretching back hundreds of years, the newly independent states inherited only the formal Soviet system of higher education that had been built up since the 1920s.

And yet, as the quote in the title of the post implies, higher education in Central Asia has not completely transformed.

In the course of my PhD fieldwork, I found out from the faculty members I interviewed that certain aspects of higher education seem to be incredibly durable. This doesn’t mean they are totally unchanged, but that certain values and ideas persist despite change.

presentation laser point
No cats were harmed in the making of this presentation.

Intrigued?

I hope so!

(Honestly, dear reader, if you’ve made it this far into the post it suggests that you might have an inkling of curiosity, or at the very least share a tiny bit of my passion for higher education in Central Asia!)

I’d be delighted if you’d join me on February 22, 2019, so I can share more of my findings and ideas with you. I’ll be presenting as part of the Joseph P. Farrell Student Research Symposium organized by the Comparative, International and Development Education Centre at the University of Toronto. The whole symposium will be streamed online at https://zoom.us/j/661234725.

I’m on between 10.45am-12.15pm EST as part of a panel with two excellent fellow researchers in my department, Nadiia Kachynska – who will be talking about the idea of ‘research excellence’ in universities in Central and Eastern Europe – and Scott Clerk, who will present his emerging thesis research plans to study south-south development cooperation in higher education.

Here’s the schedule for the whole day: JPFSRS Final 2019

Hope to see you online then!