Tajikistan

Free webinar on higher education transformations in Eurasia

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Happy new year to all my blog readers – all 1,000+ of you! I hope 2018 has started well for you, wherever you are in the world and whatever your plans are for this year.

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Also starting as I mean to go on with more cat memes. They may look frivolous, but they get your attention! All part of the master plan…

I am looking forward to continuing to share news and reflections on the wonderful world of education, society and politics in Central Asia, and start as I mean to go on by inviting you to join a forthcoming webinar on
higher education transformations in Eurasia.

It’s completely free to attend (virtually) and will be held on Wednesday January 31st.

The time depends on where you are in the world! It will be: 09.30 New York/Toronto time, which is 14.30 London time, which is 21.30 Astana time, and so on.

You can access the webinar at https://join.freeconferencecall.com/eurasiasig. Once you reach this webpage, enter your name and email address and click the Join button. And you’re in!

Presentations/talks will be given by:

Aliya Kuzhabekova, Nazarbayev University, Kazakhstan

Dariya Platonova, Higher School of Economics National Research University, Russia

and me! I’ll be talking about my new research on how academics are responding to European higher education reforms in Tajikistan.

Our moderator is the extremely experienced Martha Merrill of Kent State University in the US.

The webinar has been organized by the Eurasia Special Interest Group of the Comparative & International Education Society.

It is the first in a new planned series of scholarly talks aiming primarily to engage members around the year but also to share our work and research with a broader community of interested Eurasia watchers.

We hope that you will join us on January 31st!

 

Call for papers – “Global Bolognaization”: Central Asian Encounters with the European Higher Education Area

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Putting Central Asia on the Bologna Process map

Are you a Central Asia based academic or practitioner with direct experience of the Bologna Process/European Higher Education Area? If so, we want to hear from you!

I am co-Chair of a proposal for a roundtable at the European Consortium of Political Researchers (ECPR) General Conference, which will be held in August 2018 in Hamburg, Germany.

The roundtable is called:

Global Bolognaization:
Central Asian Encounters with the European Higher Education Area

The call for papers is below and attached: CfP Global Bolognaization – ECPR 2018_forcirculation. Please share widely with your networks.

Paper proposals are due by January 10, 2018.

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ECPR 2018 General Conference, Hamburg, Germany, August 22-25, 2018

Call for proposals

Within the ECPR Section Politics of Higher Education, Research and Innovation, we invite proposals for a roundtable on:

Global Bolognaization:
Central Asian Encounters with the European Higher Education Area

Abstract

The Bologna Process has now spread far beyond the borders of the European Union, a process we call Global Bolognaization. This makes it critical to understand how European higher education ideas and reforms are being transferred to other settings and what impact this is having in these expanded spaces.

This roundtable focuses on the ways in which the Bologna Process is impacting the region of Central Asia and its constituent countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. All five states have been engaging with the Bologna Process for some time: Kazakhstan has been a full member of the the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) since 2010; European-inspired reforms in the other Central Asian states are either ongoing or currently in the process of being implemented. Yet Central Asia is currently on the periphery of the EHEA, not just geographically but in terms of academic/practitioner research.

As such, the purpose of this roundtable is to bring the Central Asian experience of Global Bolognaization to the fore. As far as possible, presentations at this roundtable will be by academics and practitioners with first-hand experience of the EHEA as it is being encountered in Central Asia. We welcome research based case studies of how the Bologna Process has impacted individual or groups of higher education institutions, faculty members, students, and the public; comparative studies between and beyond institutions and/or Central Asian states; and reflective studies on the prospects of the Bologna Process in Central Asia.

Proposal requirements

All proposals for this roundtable must have an analytical component, even if they are empirical studies. Where appropriate, participants should draw on a theoretical or conceptual framework that is a suitable match for the Special Interest Group’s theme of the Politics of Higher Education, Research and Innovation.

Roundtable details

We will select up to five papers for inclusion in this roundtable.

At the conference, each presenter will give a brief presentation (5-7 minutes) and must submit a short paper before the conference (2,000-3,000 words, in English). After the presentations, there will be a moderated discussion between the presenters and the audience lasting around one hour.

The roundtable will be conducted in English.

How to apply

Email a Word document to the two roundtable Chairs – emma.sabzalieva@mail.utoronto.ca and akatayeva@mail.ru – by midnight Astana time on Wednesday January 10, 2018 with the following information:

Title of your paper:

Abstract (300-500 words):

Keywords (3-8) indicating the subject, theme and scope of the paper:

Presenter’s name:

Presenter’s email address:

Presenter’s institution:

If you have a co-author(s), please also include their name(s), email address(es) and institution(s).

Late or incomplete applications will not be accepted. 

Roundtable Chairs

Emma Sabzalieva, PhD Candidate, University of Toronto, Canada; emma.sabzalieva@mail.utoronto.ca; http://emmasabzalieva.com.

Dr Aliya Akatayeva, Head, Social Studies Department, Satbayev Research University, Kazakhstan; akatayeva@mail.ru.

Section abstract for the Special Interest Group Politics of Higher Education, Research and Innovation

Knowledge policies are at the forefront of contemporary global politics and are seen as the foundation on which societies coalesce and economies thrive. This Section builds on the previous six Sections on the Europe of Knowledge and invites contributions to consider the various dimensions of knowledge policy development.

Specifically, we are interested in theoretical, empirical, and comparative contributions that investigate the role of politics and policy in the global, multi-level, multi-issue, and multi-actor governance of knowledge. By role, we refer to effects that ideas, actors (both individual and organisational), policy instruments/mixes, and institutions have had on the governance of knowledge, and vice-versa. We focus on roles to enable a multidisciplinary discussion on whether these factors share defining characteristics across different knowledge policy domains (i.e. research, higher education, and innovation), and between distinct governance levels and geographical regions.

This Section continues to welcome scholars, globally, from all theoretical and methodological approaches to critically discuss the reconfiguration of knowledge systems around the world.

 

 

Bringing libraries to the mountains of Tajikistan

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What a super story coming out of Khorog, Tajikistan today.

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Who needs cats when you’ve got a Street Library?!

Street Libraries [ru] are being opened in this small and remote mountainous town, a wonderful initiative led by local social organization Umedvor with financial support from corporate success story Pamir Energy.

Two of the libraries are up and running in central Khorog, with a further eight planned in other locations in the town in the near future. Each mini library will hold a range of fiction and non-fiction books in Russian and English and everyone is encouraged to come and borrow a title.

The libraries are built like a closed phone booth in a design that will be familiar to Canadians, where they are often found dotted around residential areas.

But these Khorog libraries go one step further as they all feature free USB charging points! Come to charge your phone, stay to read a book (and if you like it, take it home for a day before returning it).

The aim of the project is to enhance a reading culture and encourage a shift in attitude towards books as sources of information.

This is a brilliant initiative that any town in the world would benefit from. Congratulations to Umedvor and Pamir Energy for making this a reality in Khorog.

Update on Dec 8th: if you are on Facebook, please like/follow Umedvor’s English/Russian page. They have a great photo album showing the Street Libraries in action!

Could you help?

I am looking into the possibility of shipping books from the UK and Canada to support the Khorog Street Libraries. This will involve sourcing good quality English language books and getting them at low or no cost to Khorog.

Ideas (and books) welcomed! Please use the Comments box below.

Fast facts on Central Asian higher education

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Alternative cat facts. My facts on higher education are real!

I was asked recently to give an overview of Central Asia’s higher education systems to a group of people who know a lot about higher education but less about the Central Asian context.

This was a great task. It really got me thinking about what someone would need to know in order to get a sense of how a higher education system operates and what some of the challenges and opportunities are within that system.

I decided to include indicators that would tell people about:

  • Size: overall population, number of students, % of women;
  • Money: how wealthy the country is, how much government spends on higher education, how higher education is funded;
  • Organization: who are the important actors in this system, how is research organized, how international is the system;
  • Big issues: what are some of the recent reforms to higher education, what worries people in that system.

My first thought was to lay out some data in a table by country (my research focus is Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan so those are the three countries I used in this exercise). I did this, and it was a helpful exercise in getting clear what the key points were and how these could be summarized on one sheet of paper.

But… it looked boring! (No opportunity for cat pictures in the document either)

So I decided to harness my inner designer and try presenting these facts and stats in an infographic. I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of these – using images, very small amounts of text, colour, striking design and so on not only to grab attention but to try and present information in a more visually appealing way.

Some hours later and thanks to a free online tool, I had me an infographic. It doesn’t encapsulate everything that was on my fast fact sheet, and nor does it go into any detail e.g. on data sources – but that was part of the point. The idea was to help convey a few very basic ideas about higher education in Central Asia as visually as possible.

If you’re unfamiliar with higher education in these settings, does it give you an idea of how these systems might compare with other countries you know more about?

Are there important facts or figures that I could add which would make the contexts clearer?

Do the choices of images, graphs etc make sense?

I’d love for you to take a look at what I came up with and let me know what you think:

https://infograph.venngage.com/p/353440/higher-education-in-central-asia-fast-facts-emma-sabzalieva-nov-2017

Want a PhD in Tajikistan? Then learn English or Russian

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The sages at the Ministry of Education in Tajikistan have decided that PhD candidates in the country should defend their theses in Russian or English [ru]. No official justification has been given for this November 8 announcement by Minister of Education Nuriddin Said.

The only exception would be for theses relating to ethnic and national issues, which would be permitted in Tajik, the national language.

News agency Radio Ozodi speculates that this move could be seen as a way of increasing the global audience for new Tajik knowledge given that there are more Russian and English speakers in the world than Tajik speakers.

On the one hand, there is some logic to this perspective. But on the other hand – and here we have a much bigger second hand – this new regulation appears highly problematic.

Having created its own Higher Attestation Committee (known by the Russian acronym VAK, from Vysshaya Attestatsionnaya Komissiya) with power to approve theses only in 2011, the Tajik government should surely look to this body for proposals on higher degree regulations.

What we’ve seen from the Tajik VAK so far is that it is open to postgraduates defending their work in their mother tongue. For most students these days, that is Tajik. Indeed, most universities now teach in the medium of Tajik, although some offer provision in Russian. Other than the University of Central Asia, I do not believe it is currently possible to study in the medium of English in Tajikistan.

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Would learning another language be facilitated if more cats were involved?

This raises a second objection to the Minister’s ruling: the issue of language. It shouldn’t be assumed that postgrads know either Russian or English, or that they know them well enough to defend a doctoral thesis in another language.

Whilst the point about increasing the the audience for Tajik theses is fair, this would reduce the status of Tajik and Tajik knowledge. It places lower value on Tajik in the national education system at a time when the use of Tajik is rapidly increasing in the country.

One academic interviewed by Radio Ozodi suggested that learning another language should not pose a problem. Language learning, he said, is part of your development. Many people in Tajikistan have knowledge of two languages (a common combination is Tajik and Russian) and those from the Pamir region usually have at least two – their own dialect, Tajik, and then English and/or Russian.

But that doesn’t mean there’s a national predilection for learning languages. Russian, Tajik and English are all quite different from one another: it’s not like, say, French and Spanish or Spanish and Italian which share a number of commonalities.

Another issue is resources. As one current postgraduate noted in the Radio Ozodi article, the time and cost of translating a thesis (assuming you write it in Tajik and then translate to Russian or English) is an “expensive pleasure”. Translating one page of text from Tajik to Russian costs around US$10, so imagine the cost of translating a whole thesis and remember at the same time that the average salary in Tajikistan is a little over US$100.

Radio Ozodi also points out that the number of highly qualified people in Tajikistan is growing, with over 2,500 people holding a Kandidat Nauk (Soviet-era PhD equivalent) and over 200 with a Doktor Nauk (the highest qualification in the Soviet system, similar to the European habilitation).

It doesn’t leap to any connection between the Minister’s ruling and what it sees as a “fashion trend” to a higher qualification, but perhaps makes an implicit assumption that there’s a connection (otherwise, why mention these number and talk about the growth as a “fashion trend”?).

So instead let me leave you with the words of “Librarian”, one of the commentators on the article:

…теперь поняли, что диссертация на таджикском языке дальше нашего аэропорта никуда. ДА ВАК Таджикистана желать остаються лучшего как говорят Русская рулетка кто больше ставит ставки тот и играет. За это время сколько дураков и лжеученых защитились за деньги. Мин образования все молчит и набивает карманы. Нашей стране давно это понять пора!

…now they understand that a dissertation in Tajik won’t get you further than the airport. Yes, Tajikistan’s VAK wants to remain the best [but] as they say, Russian roulette: whoever puts the highest stake will win. And during that time, so many idiots and pseudo-scientists have defended their theses for money. The Ministry of Education keeps quiet and lines its pockets. It’s long been time for our country to understand this!

Controlling Central Asian “terrorism” and “religious extremism”

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Earlier this week, Central Asia had a rare but inglorious moment in the news headlines after an Uzbek born man was found to be behind an attempt at a “terror” attack in New York City.

For those unfamiliar with the region or with the complexities of global religious extremism, this event was quickly reduced to a narrative along the lines of “Central Asia is a hotbed for terrorism”.

This is far from what life really looks like on the ground in Central Asia, as anyone who lives there can tell you.

In light of this week’s tragedy in the US, some excellent articles and news stories from journalists and researchers of the region have also attempted to combat this myth. Links to my must-read/watch reports in English can be found below.

We must also remember that what happened this week arose from the choices made by this one man who, as far as we know, acted alone and was drawn to extreme religion only after moving to the US. This could not possibly be representative of the 70 million people who live in Uzbekistan and the other countries of Central Asia.

The “terrorism” and “religious extremism” discourses are not confined to US domestic politics.

Back in Central Asia, the Tajik government issued a ruling on November 3 that will ban imams who studied religion overseas from preaching in Tajikistan’s mosques [ru].

Ostensibly, this is because some of these imams not only studied at “illegal” foreign universities and institutions, but they did so in order to “use the platform of the mosque to commit crime”.

Over the past two years, a number of foreign educated imams have already been identified and prosecuted for following the ideas of the Egypt-born Islamic group the Muslim Brotherhood [en], which is seen by some states as a “terrorist organization”.

According to the Tajik government, over 3,500 of its citizens have studied or are currently abroad studying for an illegal religious education (how it knows this and how it decides what makes the education “illegal” is not clear). The government claims that the majority have already been returned to Tajikistan, presumably to face either the same fate as those imams already behind bars or to be prevented from further dabbling in unaccepted forms of Islam.

This is far from the first time that Tajikistan has cracked down on religion.

In 2010, the government recalled all students who were studying in Egypt in a “bid to prevent radicalisation” [en].

Five years later, a new state-sanctioned Islamic university was established [en] in the capital Dushanbe – giving the state a sanctioned route to manage who receives religious education, what they learn, and so on.

Perhaps the state’s most well-known intervention in religious matters was the farcical (and ongoing) clampdown on men wearing beards, which even became the subject of a sadly ill-informed BBC “documentary” on Tajikistan earlier in 2017.

Whilst it is unlikely that a direct connection can be drawn between this week’s two news stories, the actions of one former Central Asian national in the US and the Tajik state’s decision to ban foreign educated mullahs, one thing is clear.

Terrorism and religious extremism – and here we are talking exclusively about Islamic religious extremism – have become firmly established in state discourses amongst the 21st century’s biggest threats to global peace.

The way that different states deal with and talk about terrorism and religious extremism of course varies, but the message is always the same: These people have somehow become radicalized, this is a Very Bad Thing, and we must put an end to terrorism before it overwhelms our society.

In the US this week, the government’s response to events in New York has been to seek to restrict the Green Card lottery and impose “extreme vetting” of immigrants to make it harder for some foreign nationals to get in to the US.

In Tajikistan, meanwhile, the state’s November 3 declaration aims to make it harder for people to get out of the country and be exposed to what are seen as illegitimate and extreme forms of religion elsewhere.

The perceived solution to the twin threats of terrorism and religious extremism is thus to control borders – but how can this work in a world where ideas, if not people, can be communicated in ways and at speeds that defy any physical border controls?

Until states start to address both the domestic conditions that lead to terrorism and radicalization and begin to work collectively to address the global conditions of today’s world, no amount of border controls or fiery proclamations about terrorism are going to make any difference at all.

 

My top four reports on Uzbekistan, migration and radicalization, New York and its aftermath:

A visual tour of Central Asia’s universities

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I’ve had a small gallery of my pictures of Central Asia’s universities up on this site for a while, and have been meaning to update it after taking lots more photos this summer.

So here we are, for your viewing pleasure (well, mainly for mine), here is a new and updated gallery showcasing just a few of the many and varied universities and colleges in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan: