Tajikistan

On what may lie ahead for Tajik higher education

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A recent radio interview with Umed Mansurov, Vice-Rector (President) for International Affairs of Russian-Tajik Slavonic University in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, shed interesting light on what the future may hold for the country’s higher education sector.

Couldn’t resist this one, even if the link to the topic is tangential…

Mansurov points to a number of reforms that have been introduced over the past 20 years. For Tajikistan, the most significant has been the decision to introduce ‘European standards’ (this means implementing the Bologna Process programme of reforms), which in turn requires the introduction of quality assurance measures such as having degree programs accredited by international bodies.

Mansurov praises the country’s inherited Soviet system of education as having provided a ‘more fundamental and deeper’ level of training, but also critiques both the old system and the Soviet-trained teachers still embracing that era’s pedagogical and scientific norms as outdated and no longer fit for the country’s economy.

The Bologna system is deemed to be more suitable, for example by providing greater opportunities to specialize later by studying for a Master’s degree. The big shift for ex-Soviet countries has been from a typically five year Specialist undergraduate degree – which in the West is often seen as comparable to a combined Bachelor’s and Master’s – to the European model of a three year Bachelor’s followed by a two year Master’s degree. The introduction of a new Master’s degree has been slow to embed in Tajikistan, and many employers, parents, faculty members and students themselves are sceptical about the value of a Bachelor’s degree.

Although Mansurov thinks the opportunities for greater academic mobility offered by the Bologna system are positive for Tajikistan, he realistically notes that “academic mobility is an expensive pleasure”. Mansurov mentions costs such as transport and living expenses, but his analogy could be extended to access to mobility – it remains the case that the small number of Tajik students who get to study abroad tend to be from wealthier families.

In response, Mansurov believes that there should be more inter-regional cooperation among Central Asian universities. However, “coordination [between them] is very weak”. As a result, his university tends to send students to Russia and Belarus for exchange and he says there aren’t many international students studying in Central Asia at all.

As Mansurov, says “much still needs to be done”. For the time being, that’s a comment that could easily apply to almost all efforts to make substantive changes to Tajikistan’s higher education.

You can study abroad, except where you can’t: Uzbekistan restricts students from some Kyrgyz and Tajik universities

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After a minor uproar over Uzbekistan’s February 2020 announcement that its students abroad should return home, the country’s latest announcement about where its citizens may (and may not) study abroad was unlikely to go unnoticed – even as regional travel remains restricted as a result of Covid-19.

A total of 16 universities – 8 each in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – have been identified by the Uzbek government as not providing a sufficient quality education for the ‘level of demand in the Uzbek labour market’.

This recommendation was made on the basis of reseaarch commissioned by the Uzbek State Inspectorate for Education Quality Control of the government as well as on the universities’ test results.

The universities that Uzbek students are no longer to study at are:

Is it time for the Uzbek study abroad cats to head home?

Kyrgyzstan

  • International University of Central Asia
  • Kyrgyz-Uzbek University
  • International Medical Higher School
  • Kyzyl-Kia Pedagogical Institute at Batken State University
  • Osh Humanities and Pedagogical Institute
  • Jalalabad State University
  • Osh State Law University
  • Maylu-Suu Institute of Law and Government

Tajikistan

  • Tajik Open University
  • Khujand State University
  • Tajik State Pedagogical University
  • Tajik Institute of Enterprise and Service
  • Tajik Tax and Law Institute
  • Tajik State University of Languages
  • Kurgan Tyube State University
  • Tajik State University of Law, Business and Politics

Some of the inferior institutions listed above are not a surprise (although this is the first I’ve heard of an Open University in Tajikistan, and I thought I had a pretty decent grasp of the country’s higher education sector) but others do raise eyebrows – Tajikistan’s teacher training (pedagogical) university certainly used to be among the best in the country. Perhaps – let’s hope – it is more a case of Uzbek teachers planning to teach the Uzbek curriculum in Uzbekistan needing to be trained in Uzbek universitires rather than their Tajik counterparts.

There weren’t any universities in Kazakhstan in the list, although some dissatisfaction was raised with the institutions that allow students to enrol without admissions exams and which are fully distance learning (i.e. beyond the current Covid-19 shift to remote higher education).

Overall, this is a rather dismal end of year report for Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan’s higher education institutions, despite the diplomatic language the recommendations are couched in.

It also highlights again the pivot Uzbekistan has been making away from its common Soviet past with its neighbours and towards a more global position in a seemingly relentlessly competitive world. As the report pointedly recommends, ‘it would be better for Uzbekistanis to study at universities in countries that are ranked higher in important university rankings’…

Covid-19 and education in Central Asia

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With the world’s attention drawn to the coronavirus pandemic for the foreseeable future, this week’s post looks at the current impact of Covid-19 on education in Central Asia.

First, a few shout outs to others reporting on the spread of coronavirus in the region.

For general updates on what’s happening across Central Asia, check out EurasiaNet’s coronavirus dashboard, which is updated daily.

An early analysis has been provided in a brief open access policy memo by Marlene Laruelle and Madeline McCann for PONARS Eurasia. Published on March 27, it offers insights on the political and ideological responses of the post-Soviet states.

And on March 29, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty published its latest Majlis podcast on the topic of coronavirus in Central Asia. Majlis is always worth a listen to so do subscribe to the podcast once you’ve downloaded the current episode.

For education not specific to Central Asia, four suggested resources:

1) track the astonishingly high percentage of the world’s out of school children (currently over 80%) with UNESCO’s International Institute for Educational Planning;

2) read a thoughtful letter to Education Ministers around the world by Professor Karen Mundy and Susannah Hares;

3) follow Alex Usher’s daily blog for responses to Covid-19 in higher education and some important reflection on what may life ahead; and

4) Canada specific but this spreadsheet by Ken Steele is an incredibly detailed and up to date report on the responses of higher education institutions around the country.

OK, now back to Central Asia.

Covid-19 has officially made it to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan but somehow neither Tajikistan nor Turkmenistan has reported any cases as at March 31 when this post was written. On April 1, schoolchildren in Tajikistan went back to school after their spring holidays to classrooms that have been disinfected twice – but not because there has been any coronavirus, of course…

So Tajikistan and Turkmenistan join an illustrious if rather short list of countries that also includes North Korea which are yet to report any cases. On the contrary, as has been well commented upon on social media, Tajikistan’s erstwhile Leader of the Nation Emomali Rahmon has overseen numerous well attended public events in recent days. This includes the national Navruz celebrations that brought thousands of people together in defiance of the global trend for physical distancing.

So it is to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan that we turn to see how they are responding in the sphere of education – it’s business as usual in Tajikistan and Turkmenistan’s schools and universities for now.

Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan closed all schools and has moved the spring holiday from March 16 to April 5. Teachers are working from home during that period and a government sanctioned group is working on making alternative teaching and learning arrangements in the likely event that schools will remain closed after April 5.

Pre-schools are working as usual but parents are asked to keep their children at home if at all possible; no child will lose their place at the pre-school if they are not attending.

Colleges and universities rapidly switched to distance learning with an array of technologies available for use. These include solutions common around the world such as Google Classroom, Moodle, Coursera, and Zoom as well as locally built programs. Although the government’s webpage says that universities and colleges should already be familiar with at least some of these forms of online learning, one enterprising news agency has published a list of universities where distance learning is well established.

Students who are unable to travel home are being allowed to stay in dorms but must stay in their rooms. Kazakh students who study abroad and international students in Kazakhstan have had varying fates. Some, such as a group of 54 Kazakh students studying in the Russian city of Samara, were sent home on a free bus on March 30. They will be able to continue their studies at a distance, something that will keep them busy as they complete a mandatory self-quarantine once they get home. Less lucky has been a group of 115 Indian students who are currently stranded at Almaty airport, unable either to leave for home or to get back into the locked down city.

Kyrgyzstan

The response in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, where a state of emergency has also been declared, is similar to Kazakhstan’s (albeit with significantly less funding available from the state). Schools will be shut after a long vacation that runs until April 8. After that, they will continue learning using video lessons which will broadcast on two TV channels as well as YouTube.

To support distance learning, around 400 textbooks in four languages (Kyrgyz, Russian, Uzbek and Tajik) have been made freely available online. A fantastic looking website for school children, iBilim, has been released in two languages (Kyrgyz and Russian). The site is still being tested but kudos to the developers for getting it up so fast. A government hosted learning site is also being worked on but I couldn’t get into it when I tried today. As well as Zoom and Google Classroom, Kyrgyz teachers will also be communicating with their students using WhatsApp and Telegram.

Colleges and universities in Kyrgyzstan switched to distance learning on March 30 following a government directive. Students have also been granted a longer spring break during which time instructors and administrators were asked to develop plans to use technology to support distance learning and to supervise students’ independent work. Students have been advised to return to their family homes and remain there for the time being.

The University of Central Asia is making up to 90 beds available on its Naryn campus in Kyrgyzstan and is providing food and medical supplies to vulnerable members of the local community.

Looking a little further ahead, it’s not yet clear how higher education admissions will be managed. Students finishing high/secondary school this year may end up like their British counterparts i.e. with no final/university admission exams but graded based on their classwork. This has not yet been confirmed. Some universities that hold their own entrance exams (e.g. University of Central Asia) have postponed the exams that are scheduled for this time of year.

Uzbekistan

Mirroring Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan closed all pre-schools, schools, colleges and universities for an early spring break on March 16. From March 30, during the holiday, lessons began to be shown on TV.

Disability rights researcher Dilmurad Yusupov noted approvingly that TV classes have been accompanied by sign language interpretation (except for English classes, where there is a lack of professional interpreters). This ‘Online-maktab‘, as online/TV school is being called, is being broadcast on a range of TV channels to ensure they reach as many people as possible.

The Minister of Higher and Specialized Secondary Education Imomjon Majidov recommended on March 31 that students use the newly available free time to study and do research (he’s clearly not one to waste a good crisis). He will even be using an official Telegram channel, ‘We will defeat Covid-19‘ to set up an online contest for which prizes will be offered by the Minister’s office.

No decision has been made about when students will be able to return to study. A government directive approved on March 27 on distance learning enables the introduction of relevant technologies and approaches to support undergraduate and Master’s students; these are still under development. At least two foreign branch campus universities (South Korea’s Inha U and India’s Amity U) have switched to accepting admissions documents electronically for those seeking admission in September this year.

Until then, the government has been extremely active about keeping people up to date, primarily using Telegram (which is extremely popular in Uzbekistan) and the Coronavirus Info channel, which already has 1.3m subscribers. For example, the Ministry of Pre-school Education issued a post with guidance for parents on how to support their kindergarten/nursery aged children to access and make the most of the new TV/online lessons.

That is where things stand for now, at the end of March. As we are seeing around the world, the situation is changing day by day. I’ll report again if anything major changes in Central Asia.

Catten the curve!

The one suitable way to end this round up is, of course, through the medium of feline:

Thanks to Dr Anne Marie Darling for this work of genius.

Why are Uzbek students abroad being sent home?

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No choice but to home for Uzbekistan’s overseas students

Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Education has announced that Uzbek students studying abroad in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan should return home and enrol at a domestic higher education institution.

The Ministry has been quick to underline that this decision is not connected to the novel coronavirus that has been panicking the world after spreading rapidly in and from China in early 2020.

Instead, the reasons given are two-fold. Firstly, parents of these internationally minded students are apparently concerned about the difficulties of getting money to their offspring. The second issue is that some of the universities where these students are studying are not listed in Uzbekistan’s national ranking. This in turns has led to a question about whether these universities are of sufficient quality for the nation’s next generation to be educated at.

Hm. Something’s not quite right here.

It’s true that students from Turkmenistan who are studying abroad have experienced difficulties with receiving money transfers from home or using their Turkmen-issued bank cards internationally, as I have reported on before. On that basis we could surmise that Uzbek students in Turkmenistan might indeed experience some problems with getting funds from their relatives. Tajikistan has been having a rocky relationship with money transfers too, though largely because the government is keen to scrape as much commission from the companies that are still allowed to operate. But I’m not aware of any potential issues for students in Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan.

So yes, there may be some truth to the first reason given – although is that enough in itself to summon all overseas students home? What about those studying in non-Central Asian countries?

As for the second issue of quality assurance, call me cynical but that just seems fabricated to cover for something else. Uzbekistan has barely been able to put together its own national ranking – the Ministry of Justice outright cancelled the Ministry of Education’s first effort in 2018!

Since then, Uzbekistan has proceeded to put together rankings but this is the first I’ve heard of them taking international (i.e. non-Uzbek) universities into account. It seems like an awful lot of work to go through when the country is still in the very initial phases of ranking its own universities.

The recall of students has implications for the students themselves, for the host universities, and for the relations between Uzbekistan and its neighbours.

Uzbekistan’s universities are notoriously hard to get into – not because of corruption (although that’s definitely a problem) but because there are so few places. In 2019, 1 million school leavers competed for under 150,000 places. Little wonder that many of those denied a place at a domestic university look abroad.

In a pattern than plays out across Central Asia, most of Uzbekistan’s international students head to Russia – 26,000 last year alone. But there are significant numbers nearer to home too: more than 4,000 in Kazakhstan and Tajikistan and almost 2,000 in Kyrgyzstan. So the loss of these students will have a major impact on the host universities.

This is a particular problem for Tajikistan’s Pedagogical University, which apparently has a whopping 2,500 Uzbek students on its books. Almost all of them are ‘contract’ (i.e. fee paying) students paying around 4,000 TJS (around US$400) per year, which all adds up to a significant amount of revenue for the university and will be sorely missed once the students leave.

Finally, this has ramifications for Uzbekistan’s bilateral and regional relations. Only recently starting to thaw, the Uzbek government has made huge inroads into improving its relations with its neighbours. In higher education this has led to, for example, many new cooperation agreements between universities and commitments to joint research and academic mobility.

This new and unexpected move to recall Uzbekistani students is thus not only surprising, but potentially throws a (small) spanner in the works as the overall schema for Central Asian regional relations had just begun to look more positive than ever before.

More Russian schools for Tajikistan

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A quick primer on how to say ‘cat’ in Russian. Easy, right? Oh, wait…

Here’s an interesting story on the continued growth of Russian language (and primarily Russian government funded) schools in Tajikistan. The story is (c) RFE/RL Tajikistan and author Farangis Najibullah (an excellent journalist; please check out her other work):

No Shortage Of Students As Tajikistan Builds New Russian Schools

Originally posted at https://www.rferl.org/a/tajikistan-new-russian-schools/30384557.html on January 18, 2020

Tajikistan’s parliament has approved an agreement to build five new Russian schools in the next three years, with funds largely provided by the Russian government.

The move shows the Tajik authorities’ willingness to maintain close ties with Moscow and reflects a growing demand among Tajiks for Russian-language education.

During a parliamentary debate in Dushanbe on January 15, Deputy Education Minister Rahmatullo Mirboboev said the schools will be designed to hold at least 1,200 students each.

The Russian-speaking community has significantly dwindled in the Central Asian country as the population of ethnic Russians has fallen from some 395,000 in 1979 to just 35,000 when the last census was taken in 2010.

Despite that, it’s expected there will be no shortage of students for the new Russian-speaking schools.

The demand among Tajiks for more educational facilities in which Russian is the language of instruction has risen both in cities and rural areas in recent years.

There are already 32 Russian-only schools in Tajikistan, with 10 of them established in the past two years.

Dozens of mixed-language schools offer education in both Tajik and Russian classes, taught separately.

Rampant Unemployment

Tajik parents who enroll their children in Russian schools say it will enhance their chances of studying in Russian universities and getting well-paid, white-collar jobs in Russia.

Unemployment is rampant and wages very low in Tajikistan, one of the poorest of the former Soviet republics. The average monthly wage in October was $140.

“My eldest son goes to a Russian school,” says Zahro, a pediatrician from the northern province of Sughd who didn’t want to give her full name.

She says her younger son couldn’t get a place in the Russian school and that he is “currently studying in Tajik” while waiting for a vacancy.

“A longer-term plan for them is to study medicine in Russia, possibly in some smaller cities where living costs are not high,” Zahro said. “The children are working hard, we’re also getting additional private instruction in chemistry and physics.”

Like many other Tajiks, Zahro believes the Russian-language schools in Tajikistan generally offer a better-quality education.

Russian schools are the second-best option for middle-income parents like Zahro, who can’t afford to send their children to private schools.

There are dozens of private schools and lyceums — including English schools — that enjoy a reputation for providing quality education with a broader range of extracurricular offerings, smaller class sizes, and experienced teachers.

Russian Investment

Plans to open more Russian schools in Tajikistan were discussed during a meeting between Tajik President Emomali Rahmon and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in Dushanbe in September 2018, the Tajik leader’s official website reported.

Rahmon has always maintained a close relationship with “strategic partner” Russia, which hosts many hundreds of thousands of Tajik migrant workers.

The migrants’ remittances — estimated at around $2.5 billion and equal to about one-third of the country’s gross domestic product in 2018 — is an important factor for Tajikistan’s social and economic stability.

Russia, in turn, has always been keen to keep Central Asia within its sphere of influence, and uses Russian-language education and the lure of economic opportunities as a tool of soft power.

Since August 2018, Moscow has sent more than 100 Russian teachers to Tajikistan — a mountainous country of some 8.9 million people — while also providing textbooks for the country’s Russian schools.

A large portion of the teachers’ wages are reportedly paid by the Russian Education Ministry.

During his annual press conference on December 19, 2019, Putin mentioned the need to open more Russian schools in Central Asia.

“It is more difficult to adapt for those who come, for example, from Central Asia. What can we do? We have to introduce our education systems, open Russian-language courses, Russian schools, and university branches,” said Putin when asked about Russia’s demographic situation and the immigration issues his country faces.

Tajik education officials say the five new schools will be built over the next three years in the capital, Dushanbe, as well as in the cities of Khujand in the country’s north, Bokhtar and Kulob in the south, and the western town of Tursunzoda.

New Minister of Education for Tajikistan

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Cats sparking joy, unlike certain Tajik civil servants…

Whilst Russia has been making the headlines for its more-Marie-Kondo-than-Marie-Kondo approach to replacing government personnel (if it doesn’t spark joy…), the Tajik government has been doing some pretty comprehensive new year cleaning of its own.

I heard earlier today (January 24, 2020) from a knowledgeable source in Tajikistan that many high ranking staff in the Ministry of Education have been kicked out and replaced with more forward-looking and innovative colleagues. This framing is interesting given that for the most part our outsider view of most civil servants in Tajikistan is of corrupt / nepotistic practices outweighing talent and policy vision in employee selection.

However, the source assured me that the head of the Ministry Nuriddin Said was safe in his top spot… but only minutes later, I found out that he too has been moved on. Said had been Minister of Education and Science since 2012 but as of today has been moved to lead the government’s Television and Radio Broadcasting Committee. That seems a big step down.

Said was an unpopular Minister, receiving heavy criticism for his poor Russian language skills. An online petition even circulated on social media in 2018 calling for his resignation. That is extremely unusual for Tajikistan, where social movements are not allowed to exist (unless government sanctioned) and any hint of online protest tends to get the internet shut down.

Responding to the dissatisfaction with his language skills, Said responded “I’m neither Tolstoy nor Solzhenitsyn”, but did acknowledge he has a strong accent when speaking in Russian. You can judge for yourself here.

Said has been replaced by Mahmadyousuf Imomov, who until today was Rector of Tajik Nationa University. Imomov is no stranger to government, as he is also a representative in the Majlisi Milli, the parliamentary upper house.

Imomov began his academic career in 1981 immediately after graduating from Tajik State (now National) University. He worked at the Institute of Languages and Literature before moving to the USSR Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Literature. He later switched to work at the Tajik Academy of Sciences and after the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, taught at Tajik State University. By the end of the 1990s he had worked through various promotions to the level of Dean.

His first major leadership position came in 2004 when he was appointed as Rector of the Russian-Tajik Slavonic University, at the time a new entrant on the Tajik higher education scene (it was founded in 1996) and considered at that point to be the country’s top university. In 2012, Imomov was moved to become Rector of Tajik National University and now, another eight years later, he has become Minister of Education and Science.

In other education-related government appointments:

  • Updated Jan 27: Some confusion as to who will replace Imomov as Rector of Tajik National University. Previously, it was reported that Abujabbor Rahmonzoda was taking over but today (Jan 27) I read that in fact the new Rector is the youthful Khushbakht Khushbakhzoda. Khushbakhzoda is still in his 30s and was previousy Dean of the Finance and Economics Faculty, whereas Rahmonzoda was previously a presidential advisor on social development and public relations. Prior to that Rahmonzoda was Rector of the Pedagogical University (2012-14), Minister of Education (2005-12), and a representative on the TV & Radio Broadcasting Committee (what is it with this committee?);
  • Deputy Minister of Education of Science Sayfiddin Davlatzoda has been ‘exiled’ from his cushy Dushanbe posting, replacing Muhammad Shodiyon who has been fired as Rector of Bokhtar State University.
  • The head of the Centre for Islamic Studies under the President of Tajikistan has become Murodullo Davlatzoda, an Islamic Studies scholar and ex-parliamentarian.

A full list of the government changes as at January 24 can be found here.

Why are there no foreign universities in Tajikistan?

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Fat cat Victor Aeroflot
Viktor the Fat Cat, prepare for take-off to Dushanbe! (If you missed the story of the overweight cat’s stowaway flight, Aeroflot’s response and the internet’s memetastic follow up, read this first)

This is the excellent question posed by Khaidar Shodiev writing for Asia-Plus, the nearest thing Tajikistan has to an independent newspaper. Strictly speaking, the country’s higher education system is not entirely devoid of international universities, with the regional University of Central Asia’s campus in Khorog and three Russian branch campuses all in the capital Dushanbe.

But the bigger question Shodiev is asking in the article links to the broader systemic disincentives for foreign institutions to set up shop in Tajikistan on the one hand, and the lack of discernable will to fundamentally reform the education system from the Tajik government’s side. Yes, it’s accepted a heck of a lot of cash from the World Bank to implement the Bologna Process, but scratch the surface and most people will tell you that the so-called ‘transition’ to this series of European-inspired educational transformations is nowhere near getting off the ground.

The article can be found at https://asiaplustj.info/ru/news/tajikistan/society/20191204/pochemu-v-tadzhikistane-ne-otkrivayutsya-zarubezhnie-vuzi but in case the website gets blocked again, and for non-Russian readers, here it is below after an English translation by me.

Why are there no foreign universities in Tajikistan?

By Khaidar Shodiev

Tajikistan’s higher education institutions (HEIs) don’t fall into any of the university rankings, whether global or among the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Only one well-known foreign university has opened a branch in the country – Moscow State University.

Asia-Plus reports on why this is this case, and why the country is not rushing to increase the number of prestigious foreign universities.

Past the rankings

The well-known British newspaper Times Higher Education (THE) recently released its annual World University Rankings for 2019.

The top three universities in the world haven’t changed. For the third year in a row, the first place is held by Oxford University, which has the top indicators in research (quantity of research, research income and reputation). As before, second and third places are occupied by Cambridge University and the US’ Stanford University.

Of all the countries in the CIS, Russia has the most HEIs in the ranking with 35 contenders. Kazakhstan is the Central Asian leader with 10 HEIs in the QS international education ranking. No HEIs in Tajikistan were listed in these international rankings.

What are the reasons for this state of affairs?

“If you are talking about the criteria that are used to compile international rankings, then this is first of all about scientific (research) output and the quality of teaching,” says Ilhom Kamolzoda, head of the department of international affairs at the Ministry of Education and Science.

“The level of research is measured by the quality and quantity of articles that are published in top international journals that are included in the Scopus citation database. Following that, the rankings measure the ratio of teaching staff to students, the number of international students and faculty, and so on.”

Kamolzoda noted that Tajikistan is currently in transition to the Bologna system of education.

“Furthermore, for HEIs in the country to be recognized in international rankings, degree programs need to undergo international accreditation. And of course, as I’ve already noted, more high-quality research and training of highly qualified professionals to an international standard are necessary. Work on this is ongoing,” he says.

“The old school has fallen but a new one hasn’t yet been formed”

Education expert Bakhtiyor Asliddinov believes we need to dig deeper to find the reason for the current state of affairs in the country’s higher education.

“After the fall of the USSR, the single education system collapsed, and links between HEIs in the former Soviet republics were lost,” he says.

“The situation was exacerbated by the events of the 90s [ES note: the civil war from 1992-97] as a result of which thousands of academics, researchers and lecturers fled Tajikistan. Universities like Tajik Technical University, the Polytechnic and the Medical Institute – which had been well known in the Soviet Union – lost many of their best people. The old school fell and a new one hasn’t yet formed.”

Bakhtiyor Asliddinov also explains that in its drive to increase quantity, the Ministry of Education and Science has been unable to assure the quality of education in many HEIs. This has also led to declining education quality in his opinion.

“Previously in Tajikistan there were around 10 HEIs. Now there are over 30. Previously, each course had three cohorts (per year) and now there are up to 10 and sometimes more. How do you find qualified candidates for all these HEIs with such large numbers of students? How much are these degree programs in demand? Is work available for all graduates? I don’t think these questions will find answers for some time,” the expert says.

According to Asliddinov, beyond these factors, the quality of secondary [high] school education also needs to be taken into account: how can you get a high quality higher education if the secondary level leaves much to be desired?

“For our universities to be part of the global higher education landscape and for graduates to be desirable to employers, this education issue needs to be dealt with holistically,” he noted.

Foreign universities: To be or not to be?

The establishment of branches of well-known international HEIs in a country is a common practice around the world.

In recent years, our neighbours have been actively working on this. The number of foreign branch campuses has begun to grow in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and in Uzbekistan their number has grown three times in the last two years, and now there are 21 of them!

The situation changed at the end of 2017 when the government of Uzbekistan decided to fundamentally reform the education system in the country. It announced a five-year moratorium on all forms of taxes as well as exemption from mandatory contributions to state funds for foreign branch campuses. Furthermore, branch campuses do not have to pay the single social payment and income tax on foreign individuals working at the HEI. After this, the number of foreign branch campuses grew dramatically.

In Tajikistan today there are just three Russian branch campuses: Moscow State University, the National University of Science and Technology MISIS (Moscow Institute of Steel and Alloys), and the National Research University MEU (Moscow Power Engineering).

The Ministry of Education and Science has not indicated whether there are plans to open additional branch campuses of Western or Asian universities. The government did agree that a campus of the Malaysian Limkokwing University of Creative Technology could open in Bokhtar in 2013, but that project has yet to come to fruition.

“There are particular difficulties,” explains Ilhom Kamolzoda, “largely due to the fact that Western branch campuses teach in English. Applicants are required to confirm their language proficiency by passing an IELTS exam. This would require a lot of preparation of facilities, teachers, completion of the transition of the education system to meet international standards, and much more.”

“For these reasons, I believe that it’s too early to open Western branch campuses here. But we are moving in that direction. At the moment, high school graduates have the opportunity to study abroad and over 35,000 of our citizens are studying in 40 countries.”

Competition shouldn’t be alarming

“The opening of well-known Western and Asian branch campuses will help increase the level of education and the image of Tajikistan, which at the same time will turn into an international education centre for the region. This could attract international students and researchers and overall, enhance the opportunities for international investment in Tajikistan,” believes Makhmadsalim Abdukarimov, Acting Deputy Director of Moscow State University in Dushanbe.

“As is known, we already have experience of opening such branch campuses,” said Abdukarimov. “For example, our campus in Dushanbe has been operating successfully for nearly 10 years, and it attracts experienced global authorities in research and teaching. Our students have the opportunity to do placements at the main university in Moscow.”

“Moscow State University graduates have a good education toolkit and are able to continue their studies or find work even in developed countries. For example, our graduate Farangis Umedzoda was accepted to study for a Master’s degree at Oxford University.”

According to Abdukarimov, there are many educational establishments in the country that teach in English. Graduates of these schools can be potential students of Western branch campuses in Tajikistan.

“Moreover, there will be competition between our HEIs and the foreign branch campuses, and this shouldn’t alarm local teachers. On the contrary, it’s all for the good of our education system. Another advantage of opening foreign branch campuses is that they are more affordable. For example, at the Moscow State branch in Dushanbe, the annual fees are $1,400.”

“Now try to imagine how much money a Tajik student would need if he or she studies in Moscow – for fees, living costs, food and much more. Using the educational experience of leading world universities and their potential is a sign of the times. And the sooner we start this process, the faster we will make progress in our education system.”


Почему в Таджикистане не открываются зарубежные вузы?

Автор: Хайдар Шодиев

Таджикские высшие учебные заведения не входят в рейтинг лучших университетов не только мира, но и стран СНГ. А филиалов известных зарубежных вузов в стране, по сути, только один – МГУ.

С чем это связано и почему в республике не спешат увеличить количество престижных иностранных вузов – в материале «АП».

Мимо рейтинга

Недавно известный британский журнал Times Higher Education (THE) опубликовал очередной ежегодный рейтинг университетов мира THE World University Rankings-2019.

Первая тройка университетов-лидеров в мире не изменилась. Первое место в рейтинге уже третий год подряд занимает Оксфордский университет, имеющий также самые лучшие показатели исследовательской деятельности (объем исследований, поступления от исследовательской деятельности и репутация). На втором и третьем местах по-прежнему остаются Кембриджский университет и Стэнфордский университет США соответственно.

Среди стран СНГ больше всего представлены вузы России – 35. В Центральной Азии лидирует Казахстан – 10 вузов страны входят в международный образовательный рейтинг QS. Вузы Таджикистана в международные рейтинги не попали.

В чём же причины подобного положения дел?

– Если говорить о критериях, которые учитываются при составлении мировых рейтингов, то это в первую очередь, научные труды и качество преподавания, – говорит начальник управления международных связей Министерства образования и науки Таджикистана Илхом Камолзода.

– Уровень научных исследований, в свою очередь, измеряется количеством и качеством научных статей, которые были опубликованы в ведущих научных журналах мира, включенных в международную реферативную базу данных Scopus.

Следующие параметры – это соотношение количества преподавателей по отношению к студентам, число иностранных студентов и преподавателей и т.д.

Камолзода отметил, что Таджикистан в настоящее время находится в периоде перехода на Болонскую систему образования.

– Кроме того, для признания вузов страны в мировом рейтинге, нужно провести международную аккредитацию специальностей наших вузов. Ну и, конечно же, как я уже указал, нужно проводить больше качественных научных исследований, готовить высококвалифицированные кадры мирового уровня. Работа в этом направлении ведётся, – говорит он.

«Старая школа распалась, новая ещё не сформировалась»

Эксперт в области образования Бахтиёр Аслиддинов считает, что причину нынешнего положения дел с отечественным высшим образованием нужно искать глубже.

– После распада СССР разрушилась единая система образования, были утрачены связи между вузами бывших советских республик, – говорит он.

– Усугубили ситуацию события 90-х, из-за которых Таджикистан покинули тысячи научных работников, ученых, преподавателей вузов. Такие известные в Союзе и за её пределами вузы республики как ТГУ им. Ленина, Политехнический и Медицинский институты лишились многих своих лучших кадров. Старая школа распалась, а новая еще не сформировалась.

Падение качества образования Бахтиёр Аслиддинов объясняет еще и тем, что в погоне за количеством руководство Минобрнауки не смогло обеспечить качественное образование во многих вузах.

– Раньше в республике было около десяти высших учебных заведений. Сейчас их более тридцати. На каждом курсе раньше было по три группы, сейчас их до десяти и более. Где найти квалифицированные кадры для всех этих вузов с огромным количеством студентов? Насколько востребованы все эти специальности, смогут ли обеспечить работой всех выпускников? Эти вопросы ещё долго не найдут ответа, – говорит специалист.

По его словам, помимо всего вышесказанного, невозможно получить качественное высшее образование, если среднее оставляет желать лучшего.

– Чтобы наши университеты котировались в мире, а выпускники были желанными работниками, нужно решать образовательную проблему в комплексе, – отметил он.

Зарубежные вузы: быть или не быть?

Открытие филиалов известных зарубежных вузов в стране – часто применяемая практика в сфере образования в мире.

В последние годы в этом направлении активно работают и наши соседи. Так, число филиалов зарубежных вузов начало расти в Казахстане, Кыргызстане, а в Узбекистане их число увеличилось за последние два года в три раза, и сейчас их там – 21!

Ситуация изменилась в конце 2017 года, когда правительство Узбекистана решило коренным образом улучшить систему образования в стране, и объявило о пятилетнем освобождении иностранных вузов от уплаты всех видов налогов и обязательных отчислений в государственные фонды. Им также разрешили не платить единый социальный платеж, и налог на доходы физлиц, в части оплаты труда иностранных работников. После этого число зарубежных филиалов резко возросло.

В Таджикистане на сегодня действуют филиалы лишь трех российских вузов – филиалы Московского государственного университета имени М.В. Ломоносова и Национального исследовательского технологического университета «МИСиС» (Московский институт стали и сплавов), а также Национального исследовательского университета «МЭИ» (Московский энергетический институт).

Об открытии в Таджикистане престижных вузов западных или азиатских стран, пока сообщений со стороны Минобрнауки не было, если не считать решения правительства страны об открытии Малайзиского университета креативных технологий Лимкоквинг в Бохтаре в 2013 году. Но этот проект так и остался невыполненным.

– Есть определенные трудности, – поясняет Илхом Камолзода. – Во многом это связано с тем, что обучение в филиалах вузов западных стран ведется на английском языке. Абитуриенты обязаны подтвердить уровень владения языком, сдав международный экзамен IELTS. Нужно подготовить базу, кадры, завершить переход системы образования на международные стандарты и многое другое.

По этим причинам, на мой взгляд, сейчас рано открывать вузы западных стран у нас. Но мы идем к этому. Пока же у выпускников школ республики есть возможность обучения в зарубежных вузах, выезжая из страны. Так, на сегодня свыше 35 тысяч наших граждан учатся за рубежом в 40 странах.

Конкуренция не должна тревожить

– Открытие филиалов известных вузов Запада и Азии будет способствовать повышению уровня образования и имиджа Таджикистана, который таким образом превратится в образовательный международный центр региона, сможет привлечь зарубежных студентов, иностранных специалистов, и в целом, будет способствовать привлечению иностранных инвестиций в РТ, – считает заместитель исполнительного директора Филиала МГУ им.Ломоносова в Душанбе Махмадсалим Абдукаримов.

– У нас, как известно, уже есть опыт открытия подобных филиалов, – говорит специалист. – Например, наш вуз вот уже 10 лет успешно ведет свою деятельность в Душанбе, к нам приезжают опытные, авторитетные в мире науки и образования преподаватели, наши студенты имеют возможность практиковаться в головном вузе в Москве.

Выпускники филиала МГУ имеют достаточный багаж образования, чтобы продолжить учебу или работать даже в развитых странах мира. Так, например, выпускница нашего вуза Фарангис Умедзода поступила в магистратуру Оксфордского университета.

По словам Абдукаримова, в республике много образовательных учреждений, где обучение проводится на английском языке. Выпускники этих школ могут стать потенциальными студентами западных вузов в республике.

– Кроме того, будет конкуренция между нашими вузами и филиалами зарубежных вузов, и она не должна тревожить местных преподавателей. Наоборот, это только на пользу нашей образовательной системе. Другое преимущество открытия филиалов зарубежных вузов – более доступная цена. Например, в филиале МГУ в Душанбе годовая оплата за обучение – $1400.

А теперь представьте, сколько денег нужно таджикскому студенту, чтобы он прошел обучение в Москве – за учебу, общежитие, питание и многое другое. Использование образовательного опыта ведущих университетов мира, их потенциал – требование времени. И чем раньше мы наладим этот процесс, тем быстрее достигнем прогресса в образовательной системе.

Tajikistan-China education cooperation

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yawn cat
Warning: This post may be soporific

News agency Avesta has published possibly the most boring story I’ve read about the prospects for higher education cooperation between Tajikistan and China. Seriously, this post could easily have been called ‘Diplomacy wins, or: How to make a story from nothing’.

Bear in mind I read a lot of news stories about education in Central Asia (I know, I know, it’s a selfless task) and I come across my fair share of government-issued press releases or uncritical adulation of whatever new policy the Eternal Leader of the Spotless Country has come up with.

But this one was so vague and, well, diplomatic that I am translating it in full so that English language readers can share my pain (Russian language readers, you can check out the original here):


Education cooperation between universities in Tajikistan and China discussed in Beijing

Avesta.tj, 3 December 2019

The Ambassador of Tajikistan to China Parviz Davlatzoda visited Beijing City University, the press service of the Republic of Tajikistan in the Chinese People’s Republic reports.

During the Ambassador’s meeting with Liu Song, the Rector of Beijing university, the parties exchanged views on the prospects for cooperation in the areas of science, education and culture.

Parviz Davlatzoda noted that Tajikistan attaches great importance on educational cooperation, particularly in relation to professional training of highly qualified personnel

The Rector of the university and heads of departments acquainted the Tajik diplomat with the University’s phases of development. The main directions of the university’s activities in research and teaching were presented.

The parties also discussed possibilities to cooperation in the field of international education, research and industrial activity.

The parties noted the importance of establishing and developing cooperation between universities in both countries through organizing joint events and participating in each others’ conferences and seminars.

The immportance of actively engaging in academic mobility programmes for students and faculty was also underlined.


Still awake? Well done you, and congratulations Avesta for producing this yawnfest.

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”!

New article: Negotiating international research collaborations in Tajikistan

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Hot off the online press!

International research collaborations – whether these are informal groupings of researchers working together on a scientific problem of common interest or more formal arrangements (often with a budget and fixed timelines) – have increased so rapidly in number that one expert has called this growth “one of the most dramatic social changes of the twenty-first century”.

On the one hand, this suggests tremendous possibilities for researchers in countries with open borders and technological connectivity to not only be part of knowledge generation but also to enhance the quality of knowledge through interconnectedness. Yet on the other, while global science may have shifted the ways in which knowledge is produced (just look, for example, at the dramatic growth in co-authored publications and the rise of scientific producers such as China), it has not flattened or as yet significantly altered existing knowledge hierarchies.

In my new article, published online today, I get under the skin of these international research collaborations from the perspectives of Tajikistani researchers. Such collaborations in Tajikistan are more likely to be formal and initiated by outside funders, who are commonly development agencies rather than other universities or scientifically minded alliances. Not only having to deal with the trade-offs involved in so-called partnerships where the agenda is set from the outside, Tajikistani researchers face constraints on their academic freedom from the domestic political environment.

Based on a small-scale study in which I interviewed nine Tajikistani researchers in depth about their experiences of engaging in international research collaborations, the article aims to move beyond the more usual conceptualization of the dynamics of international research collaborations from a (Global) North/ (Global) South perspective and instead bring forward voices and ideas that have not to date been sufficiently heard or heeded.

The article forms part of a special issue I have co-edited that explicitly takes up this idea of moving beyond North and South. The eight papers examine an array of ways in which we could examine international research collaborations and think about power and science differently. I’ll add a post when the entire special issue is out.

You can find the article at https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1028315319889345 – please contact me if you don’t have access to the journal.

Sabzalieva - Tajikistan article screenshot published Nov 25 2019
Article abstract from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1028315319889345

 

To close, I would like to repeat the dedication in my paper, a very small token of affection to mark the passing of a very wonderful person:

This paper is dedicated to my dear friend Ulrika Punjabi, whose untimely passing as this study was being completed in 2019 came as an enormous and unwelcome shock. This paper’s investigation of the possibilities for a better global future presents an apt way to commemorate Ulrika, who dedicated her life to making the world a more equitable place, striving for justice, and bringing joy to many.