Uzbekistan

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’…

Adapting to online learning in Uzbekistan (Gazeta.uz)

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Around the world, stories are emerging sharing the experiences of students, teachers and families as they adjust to the ‘new normal’ of distance learning while schools are shut and universities have switched to online delivery. Below is a recent article from Gazeta.uz reporting from Uzbekistan on university students’ adaptation – it’s in Russian but you can run it through DeepL for a decent translation into English.

It’s worth pointing out before reproducing the article that the views are of students at three of capital city Tashkent’s top universities: the University of World Economy and Diplomacy, Webster University, and the Uzbek State University of World Languages. The facilities and resources available to students studying here are quite a bit superior to what’s offered to other students. And the situation outside the capital city often paints quite a different picture with unreliable electricity supply in many rural areas coupled with far less access to internet-connected devices.


Точка зрения. Как студенты относятся к онлайн-образованию

(c) Gazeta.uz, https://www.gazeta.uz/ru/2020/05/13/distance-learning/

С середины марта во всех учебных заведениях Узбекистана досрочно начались каникулы и дистанционное образование. «Газета.uz» спросила студентов трех вузов о результатах онлайн-учебы и отношении к ней.

13 мая 2020, 13:21

16 марта, на следующий день после регистрации первого случая коронавируса в Узбекистане, школьников и студентов по всей стране отправили на каникулы, а затем — на дистанционное обучение. «Газета.uz» спросила студентов отечественных вузов, как они оценивают учебу в режиме онлайн.

О платформах для дистанционной учебы

Студентка 1-го курса филиала Университета Вебстера в Ташкенте:

Мы перешли на дистанционную учебу 16 марта. В принципе для нас ничего особо не изменилось, потому что мы всегда работали на платформе WorldClassroom. В обычное время учителя грузили на эту платформу задания, а мы отправляли уже выполненные. На эту же платформу они могли загрузить подкасты, чтобы нам было легче учиться. Все остальное проходило в WebEx и Zoom.

WorldClassroom используют все университеты США. Есть версии для ПК, для IOS и Android. В приложении приходят уведомления, если, например, учитель поставил оценку. На главной странице есть ToDo-list, чтобы не забыть ничего. Есть чат для личных и публичных сообщений.

Студент 4-го курса Университета мировой экономики и дипломатии (УМЭД):

После [выявления коронавируса] нам объявили, что учеба будет дистанционной. Студенты выпускного курса начали учебу онлайн спустя полторы-две недели после начала карантина. Студенты младших курсов — немного раньше.

Мы учимся на платформе moodle. Для лекций мы также иногда использовали Zoom. Когда онлайн-учеба только началась, какие-то задания, которые мы и так должны были сдавать, уже были загружены на платформу. Остальное уже потом загрузили.

Бывает, платформа виснет, когда все студенты заходят. Или задания загружаются по два раза, и мы не понимаем, что происходит. Или например, когда мы решаем тесты, вводишь правильный ответ «2», а правильный ответ оказывается не цифра «2», а слово «два». Но это если придираться. Такие мелочи доставляют неудобства.

Не хватает хотя бы каких-то лекций. Сейчас нам просто загружают очень много заданий. У учителей тоже не особо есть время и желание заниматься этим. Они просто загружают все материалы. У студентов таких предметов может быть 10.

Я уверен, что студенты даже не просматривают эти материалы, а просто смотрят вопросы, пытаются найти ответы в интернете, быстрее сдать и перейти к другим предметам. Потому что в день бывает несколько дедлайнов.

Студент Узбекского государственного университета мировых языков (УзГУМЯ):

Дистанционное обучение у нас началось примерно с 25 марта. Сначала мы использовали Telegram, затем частично перешли на платформу moodle.

Нам дают сухой учебно-методический комплекс, чтобы мы сами его переварили, а потом сдали домашнее задание и тесты. Сложность в основном в усвоении материалов онлайн. Их тяжело понимать без объяснений преподавателя.

Выполненные задания мы отправляем по телеграм или загружаем в moodle. Нам в принципе так удобно. Вот только некоторым учителям тяжело. Иногда учителя нам пишут поздно вечером, и я понимаю, что их график сдвинулся сильно. Мне немного жаль их.

Без писанины у нас никак. Мы даже контрольные некоторые писали в тетрадях, потом фотографировали их и отправляли учителю.

Студентка 3-го курса УМЭД:

Есть только один предмет, где требуется писать конспекты. В целом, к третьему курсу такое уже почти не наблюдается. Видеоуроки по предметам у нас не проводятся ввиду отсутствия хорошей скорости интернета у многих студентов.

О разнице между онлайн и оффлайн образованием

Студентка Университета Вебстера:

Есть некоторые предметы, которые трудно проходить в онлайне. Например, я учусь на направлении Медиа-коммуникации. У нас есть урок фотографии, на котором мы берем камеру, фотографируем и редактируем. Камеры есть не у всех. Поэтому сложно.

Еще не хватает академической атмосферы университета, учителей. Это же американский университет. Дома, конечно, тоже комфортно, но в университете другая обстановка.

Студент 4-го курса УМЭД:

Лекции прошли только по одному предмету. Слава богу, по специальному. Остальное прошло в письменном варианте.

Кому-то нравится оффлайн, кому-то онлайн. Кто-то ложится поздно, не ходит в университет, и это его устраивает. То есть студент особо и не любил ходить в университет. Наверное, таких большинство.

Мне кажется, в онлайне есть свои плюсы. С ним можно немного время сэкономить. Но на лекциях нам хоть и было не особо интересно, но мы краем уха могли что-то услышать, хоть что-то для себя воспринять.

С научными руководителями можно связываться онлайн. Руководители помоложе используют Telegram. Со своим руководителем я могу списываться в основном через почту. А каждый раз названивать ему, чтобы он посмотрел, тоже неудобно. В университете мы могли бы после пар или на переменах задавать им свои короткие вопросы и получать хорошие консультации.

Студент УзГУМЯ:

В оффлайне мы хоть немного, но получали информацию на лекциях. Некоторые из них были очень интересными. Было видно, что учителя готовятся к своим занятиям. На семинарах нас оценивали объективно. Всем студентам были понятны их текущие оценки.

Студентка 3-го курса УМЭД:

Учеба протекает плавно, волей-неволей привыкаешь. Основная проблема заключается в том, что не успеваешь уследить за накапливающимися заданиями, поэтому зачастую приходится даже расставлять приоритеты в пользу тех или иных предметов.

При традиционном обучении количество заданий на вид умеренное. Несмотря на то, что каждый день проводились семинары, подготовка к ним не была такой насыщенной, как сейчас. Зачастую преподаватели оценивают студента по тому, как студент преподносит материал, а не по его информативности. В онлайн-обучении приходится уделять больше времени поиску и анализу информации, чтобы сдать достойную работу, т.к . всё сдается в письменном виде и проверяется на плагиат.

О выпускных экзаменах

Студентка Университета Вебстера:

Учеба у нас закончилась 8 мая. Экзамены мы уже сдали. У нас были тесты, по каким-то предметам мы писали курсовые. На каждый экзамен дается определенное время. Учитель может отследить, сколько человек выполняют задание. У нас есть программа Turnitin, которая отслеживает плагиат. Поэтому если кто-то будет подглядывать, то в читерстве его уличить легко.

Студент 4-го курса УМЭД:

Мы уже начали сдавать итоговые тесты. Это как онлайн-сессия. Нам сказали, что пока неизвестно, как мы будем сдавать выпускные квалификационные работы. Говорят, их вообще могут отменить. Студенты не хотят зря готовиться и теряют время. Я думаю, это нормальная логика любого студента.

Были ребята, которые начали готовить дипломные работы давно. Но из-за очень интенсивной работы в «модуле» браться за дипломную работу не удавалось. Сейчас нам сказали обязательно писать дипломные работы. Но мы до сих пор не понимаем, как мы будем их защищать.

Студент УзГУМЯ:

Про формат экзаменов точно не говорят. Но однозначно сдавать их мы будем онлайн.

Студент 3-го курса УМЭД:

Экзамены будем сдавать в moodle. Формат, насколько я знаю, будет зависеть от преподавателя. Один из них — традиционная раздача билетов, который нужно будет решить в течение определенного времени.

С одной стороны, не будет такого напряжения, как в аудитории с несколькими десятками студентов и гуляющими из одного угла в другой наблюдателями. С другой, зная, что за тобой никто не наблюдает, можно запросто зайти в интернет и найти нужную тебе информацию, что значительно демотивирует на подготовку к экзаменам. Поэтому у меня к этому пока противоречивое отношение.

О готовности Узбекистана к дистанционному образованию

Студентка Университета Вебстера:

Знакомые из национальных университетов рассказывают, что учителя пропускают уроки, для учебы они используют Telegram, их заставляют писать конспекты. Поэтому я думаю, что Узбекистан пока не готов к онлайн-обучению.

Студент 4-го курса УМЭД:

Некоторые ребята говорили, что если бы платформа лучше работала, можно было бы учиться онлайн всегда.

Неудобно и неприятно, что у нас очень много ненужных предметов. И ладно бы мы проходили их для общего развития. Мы проходим их на таком уровне, как будто бы это наши «спецы». На это уходит очень много времени.

Мне кажется, Узбекистан еще не готов к дистанционному образованию. И это я говорю, будучи в Ташкенте. У меня с сетью проблем нет. Но иногда бывают перебои. В областях у кого-то вообще света по два дня нет. Даже не говоря об этом, просто сама система дистанционного обучения, мне кажется, вообще не проработана.

Карантин дал какой-то толчок. Но нужно хорошо проработать систему, чтобы таких казусов, которые происходят, не было. Даже если они мелкие, они сразу отталкивают студента от самообучения. А студентов, я считаю, нужно либо настолько мотивировать, либо заставить их учиться. В таком возрасте мало кто с энтузиазмом все подряд сам будет учить. Хотя такие есть.

Студент УзГУМЯ:

Учебу онлайн можно было бы продолжить. Но только с тем преподавателем, который разбирается в онлайн-образовании и может разработать нормальную учебную программу под удобную онлайн платформу.

На мой взгляд, Узбекистан пока не готов к онлайн-образованию, но первые шаги уже сделаны. Возможно, лет через 5−10, но не сейчас.

Студент 3-го курса УМЭД:

Я скорее за онлайн-образование, чем нет. У меня появилась возможность самостоятельно распределять свое время и учиться в соответствии с собственным режимом дня. К тому же, усвоение материала дается гораздо легче и интереснее, когда сама нахожу ответы на вопросы.

При появлении вопросов можно без труда связаться с преподавателем, что перечеркивает утверждение о том, что для легкого усвоения материала требуется прямой контакт между студентом и преподавателем.

На данный момент Узбекистан не готов к дистанционному образованию. Исходя из опыта своих сокурсников, могу сказать, что дистанционное обучение подходит далеко не всем. Одна из главных причин — отсутствие нормальной скорости интернета (в основном в областях). Нынешняя ситуация должна стать толчком не только для модернизации образования, но и нашей телекоммуникационной системы в целом.

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.

International Women’s Day: Celebrating female success, still marching for progress

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If cats did celebrations… PS Women: you don’t need a cat to be successful. But you knew that already.

8th March saw the annual marking of International Women’s Day (IWD), which is a formal opportunity to celebrate female success on the one hand, but also a time to lament the continued global persistence of male-dominated structures and norms, and to work on ways to reverse this situation.

IWD has developed and gained prominence since its founding at the beginning of the 20th century, and was a firm fixture in the Soviet calendar.

IWD continues to be celebrated around the former Soviet space to this day. I particularly enjoyed the Moscow Times’ Buzzfeed-friendly feature ‘5 Russian Women You Haven’t Heard Of But Should Have‘. (Check out number 5!).

Over in Uzbekistan, the local Sputnik news agency ran with a story about Gulchehra Rikhsieva, currently the only female Rector (Vice-Chancellor) of a higher education institution in the country. Rikhsieva heads Tashkent State Institute of Oriental Studies, having worked there since 2000 and assuming the leadership in 2019 after a short spell in government as Deputy Chair of the Senate Committee on Science, Education and Healthcare. She is a member of the Republican Commission on Gender Equality and the national Higher Education Council.

In an interview with Rikhsieva, she brings up some of what has become the ‘new normal’ in Uzbekistan’s higher education – rapid reforms, university rankings, competition, internationalization and so on. So far, so on message.

But a couple of the questions really grate, undermining everything Rikhsieva has to say about her plans for the university, the future for Uzbekistan, and so on. Could you ever imagine a male Rector being asked ‘How compatible is your role as a Rector with your family responsibilities? How do you cope with managing the university and household chores?’, or ‘Do female Rectors accept male Rectors? Isn’t it difficult for them to work with you?’

I didn’t think so.

Next door in Kyrgyzstan, women leaders of a different kind have also been facing both gendered and physical barriers. A women’s march on March 8 was initially banned by local authorities and then permitted to proceed, but then got cut off and assaulted by a group of masked men. Things turned from bad to worse when the police, who had been waiting in the background, arrested around 70 people who had been attacked.

Yes, that’s right. Not the attackers. The victims of the attacks. They were arrested.

The country that was once touted as the island of democracy is rapidly sinking under the weight of a shift to a set of norms that normalize so-called ‘traditions’ like bride kidnapping, permit abuse against women, and ban the expression of female issues.

The brilliant Kyrgyzstan-based movement Bishkek Feminist Initiatives calls for the development of feminist values in Kyrgyzstan and beyond, solidarity and respect for fairness and human rights, and the creation of a feminist space that will increase rights and opportunities for women and girls.

There are many ways we can do this, as individuals and by working together. Let me ask you to take the time to work out what (more) you can do. Even if you don’t think you can do much on your own, there is always somewhere to start.

It could be by supporting an organization involved in education and training for women or girls (as you probably know, I’m a huge fan of the Kyrgyz Space Program). It could be by educating yourself on the key issues faced by women and girls in Central Asia and around the world. It could be by amplifying the voices of females, whether that’s at a work meeting or on social media.

We all need to stand up and take action to end inequality against women and girls, and create a world where anyone can be and do anything.

You’re fired: 10 university heads lose their jobs in Uzbekistan

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There was no love lost this Valentine’s Day as ten university leaders in Uzbekistan were fired

It was not an auspicious Valentine’s day for ten of Uzbekistan’s university leaders this year, with several newspapers running a story with the tantalizing title ‘10 university Rectors lose their jobs in one day‘ on February 14.

If previous leadership changes are anything to go by (see e.g. Tashkent State University of Law, Tashkent State University of Economics), there is probably more to this than the bureaucrat’s favourite reason: “they reached pensionable age”.

Hints at the reasons for the mass removals came during a meeting between the President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and industry, university and research representatives at the end of January. Mirziyoyev was scathing in his criticism:

In the coming days, we’re going to fire a number of Rectors. According to information I have here, these Rectors aren’t even worthy of being security guards at their university. They lack knowledge, education, patriotism and the ability to do their job.

Ouch.

Mirziyoyev also said that throwing these leaders in jail wouldn’t end the corruption that remains endemic in Uzbekistan’s higher education. The whole environment needs to be changed. True.

The universities involved in the February 14 changes at the top are:

Tashkent State Pedagogical University

Jizzakh State Pedagogical Institute

Navoi State Pedagogical Institute

Namagan State University

Tashkent Chemical-Technological Institute

Karshi Institute of Engineering and Economics

Namagan Institute of Civil Engineering

Kokand State Pedagogical Institute

Tashkent District branch of Astrakhan State Technical University

Tashkent State Dental Institute

Samarkand State Medical Institute

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.

DIY budgeting: The self-financing experiment in Uzbekistan’s universities begins

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Further to my December 2019 post, An Uzbek experiment, the new do-it-yourself funding model for 10 of the country’s higher education institutions (HEIs) has now come into force. All 10 will be under the watchful eye of the Ministry of Higher and Secondary Specialized Education to ensure that prices don’t jump too high, too fast and that standards don’t slip – and most importantly, as one news agency points out, to prevent corruption slipping in.

If cats could account for themselves…

So, as of January 1, 2020, the HEIs, a mix of universities and specialized institutes, are now able to:

  • Set their own tuition fees
  • Introduce new Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees
  • Continue to receive state funding for some students
  • Decide how their institutional budget will be split

This last point is one of the most important, although not getting as much press attention as the excitement generated by the possibility of new courses / fear that fees will be hiked.

Why? Because until now, all HEIs in Uzbekistan had to conform to the rigid model imposed by the government: 46.8% on salaries, 33.1% on scholarships, 11.5% on budget deductions (i.e. retained by the government) and 8.6% on other expenses. So now, if one of the 10 DIY-HEIs wants to increase faculty salaries, buy more computers or offer more student funding, it can do so.

Next door in Tajikistan, where I have been doing interviews with university-based researchers, this self-financing model and the flexibility it provides to set your own budget is seen as a very positive move for the woefully underpaid academics still committed to the academic cause. In Tajikistan (as in some other former Soviet countries), self-financing is offered to universities that obtain ‘national’ status. So far only one university of 35 in Tajikistan has this, but there are others that are keen to upgrade both for reputational purposes and financial flexibility.

An Uzbek experiment: Self-financing for universities

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Hot on the heels of being awarded The Economist’s ‘Most Improved Nation‘ in 2019 and just ahead of parliamentary elections that may pave the way for future steps towards political openness, the government of Uzbekistan is not resting on its laurels.

Uzbek HEIs demand to be given all the bills

In early December it was announced that ten higher education institutions (HEIs) in Uzbekistan (of a total of 74) will be part of an experimental reform that will see them become self-financing. This is a huge shift from the top-down state-centric way that public HEIs have been funded and governed until now.

The HEIs, listed below, were chosen because of their “high research and teaching potential, financial stability, adequate resource base and high demand for their courses”, according to a post by the Ministry of Justice.

As of January 1, 2020, the HEIs will be allocated “additional tasks” that will enable them to earn income from non-state sources. These include expanding course options, offering professional development courses and introducing other paid services.

This experimental reform is part of a Presidential Decree signed on 11 July 2019 that is called ‘Measures to Introduce New Principles of Governance in the Higher and Technical and Vocational Education System’.

Many new principles, and still no sign of the Uzbek energy for reform flagging…

List of HEIs to shift to self-financing on an experimental basis from 2020:

  1. Samarqand State University of Foreign Languages
  2. Samarqand Institute of Economics and Service
  3. Tashkent State University of Law
  4. Tashkent State University of Economics
  5. Tashkent Institute of Finance
  6. Tashkent State Institute of Oriental Studies
  7. Tashkent Institute of Pharmacy
  8. Uzbek State University of World Languages
  9. Urgench State University
  10. Tashkent Institute of Railway Engineering

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”!

Getting around the law to get in to university in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan

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cat breaking law
Cats are above the law

Central Asian faculty and friends I know are fond of observing that higher education in the region is not as good as it used to be, and/or is facing a ‘crisis’ because of a lack of quality, corruption, outflow of good teachers and so on.

All of these points are valid. Yet at the same time, a university degree continues to be in high demand. Two recent stories from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan that happened to pop up in my newsfeed on the same day show the lengths that some are prepared to go in the clamour for admission to university.

In Kazakhstan, it has been reported that five higher education institutions (HEI) have had their licenses taken away, and a further 12 have been fined, with one being taken to court. Given that the state-issued license gives an HEI the right to operate legally, its removal effectively closes down operations, at least temporarily.

This particular crackdown is a response to what some might see as actually a pretty canny move by students. Kazakhstan, like most (if not all) of the former Soviet states, has a national admissions entrance testing system, an exam taken by domestic high/secondary school graduates to determine which courses and universities they are eligible for.

To get around this barrier, it seems that some students – as many as 37,000, according to the news story on MK Kazakhstan – had enrolled at universities in neighbouring (ex-Soviet) countries as international students i.e. without having to sit that country’s entrance exam. Then, after a semester or a year, they transferred to an HEI in Kazakhstan, typically a smaller institution based outside of one of the bigger cities in the country. Whether or not these students ever even went to the foreign university to study before transferring is questionable; it seems likely that this is purely a paper shuffling exercise.

Not only a strategy deployed by students, the HEIs are also benefiting from this ‘market’: students who for whatever reason did not want to take the national entrance exam, as well as recruiting those who were thrown out of other universities for poor results. But with this latest crackdown, it looks like it’s 1-0 to the government for now.

Over in Uzbekistan, it’s Russian HEIs getting into hot water. According to Russian news agency RIA Novosti, five HEIs have been accused of recruiting Uzbek students without the proper authorization.

The HEIs – a mix of state funded universities and smaller private institutions – have allegedly been signing contracts with students for 2019/20, even though the academic year is already well underway. This would be OK if the HEIs were properly accredited in Uzbekistan (as over 20 Russian universities are), but in this case the paperwork wasn’t in order.

So, the State Inspectorate for Education Quality Control has put its foot down, issuing a stern warning to the institutions concerned. They’ve even put out a reminder that it now only takes ten days to get the right documents, down from one month. These Russian HEIs have been named and shamed, but whether this step or the Kazakh government’s legal actions make any significant difference to students’ and institutional behaviour when it comes to higher education admissions remains doubtful.