Avaz Saifiddinov, a journalist with as-independent-as-is-possible-in-Tajikistan Asia-Plus media group, this week reports [ru] – in almost apocalyptic terms – on the devastating impact that a lack of education and skills training can bring to a nation. He calls this qualification deficit the single biggest problem facing Tajikistan today, more so than corruption, lack of electricity and absence of democracy. He even suggests that neighbouring Afghanistan has greater levels of human capital than Tajikistan. Controversial? Yes – but the devastating fact is that despite some exaggerations in the article, much of it rings true.
Saifiddinov offers some good proposals to avoid what may lay ahead for the country if changes are not made. Business owners should be creative in thinking about different types of business and identifying their markets. Education should be properly financed. A renewed importance needs to be place on vocational education and training. Public administration should be reformed.
But – and here’s the big ‘but’… Saifiddinov points out that transformation would have to start from the top, something that’s very easy to say but in reality is unlikely without a change of government. And if you follow Saifiddinov’s logic, that won’t happen unless top government officials advocate for change and in so doing effectively write themselves out of a job… Saifiddinov is absolutely right to point out the importance of having the leadership on board for any major change project to succeed, but doesn’t seem to see or want to admit the terrible irony of this suggestion.
I second the requests from some of the people commentating on the article for more on this theme from Saifiddinov. This article makes a lot of big statements and comes up with some big suggestions. Let’s break those down, qualify and quantify the issues and look at pragmatic ways that individuals can make change happen.
English translation below is mine but the article in all languages is © Asia-Plus.
Lack of qualified staff could threaten terrible poverty
It’s scary to think about whose hands and brains will build and develop the country in 10-15 years’ time when the older generation has passed on…
If you were to ask what the most pressing problem in the country is at the moment, I would be bold enough to say it’s not a lack of communication or a lack of electricity. It’s not even high levels of corruption, the absence of democracy and a poor investment climate.
Our main problem is a lack not just of qualified, but even just competent, staff at absolutely every level…
That’s partly against a backdrop of poor overall understanding of very elementary things and concepts, such as knowledge of geography, basic mathematics, physics and grammar. It is undoubtedly the case that this is a real problem in many countries, especially poor countries, but it seems nowhere more acute than in Tajikistan, particularly among young professionals and government officials.
This is so much so that the Dushanbe City Council has openly stated that it will give preference in recruitment to candidates who graduated from Tajik universities before 1992 and graduates of foreign universities. This is further confirmation that both state and private higher education institutions are producing so-called ‘specialists’ who are either incompetent – or, with a few exceptions, have such a low level of qualification that it’s not appropriate for the modern workplace.
You might say that the problem is exaggerated and that there are countries where the situation with professional qualifications is worse? Maybe there are some countries where the overall socio-economic situation is worse (for example, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Syria, Sri Lanka and other extremely poor countries). But even in Afghanistan, for example, the level of competence and qualification of government officials, business and private sector workers is higher than ours. Our saving grace is the workforce trained up to the late 20th century, but this generation will pass on either with age or through migration.
Our problem is really so critical that even if all other fundamental issues were somehow resolved, the lack of qualified personnel would simply not allow the country take advantage of these newly favourable conditions to develop the country’s social and economic sectors. The problem of incompetence often leads to erroneous decisions, ill-considered investments of public and private resources into projects with low returns or projects destined to fail, and these can cause serious damage to the state, private businesses and the public. For example, ambitious projects for new buildings and business centres designed without business plans or for someone’s personal benefit.
It’s unacceptable that in all these years of independence, the drive for high quality education, professional competence, honesty and integrity has been lost. The most ‘successful’ and richest people in the country generally don’t have the professional qualifications appropriate to their status in society or position in the civil service. Then they pass this ‘legacy’ to their children and extended family. This ‘role model’ behaviour is also transmitted more widely in society, undermining its foundations and creating unrealistic outlooks for young people, where they don’t put high quality education and professionalism first. When asked about their future, rural high school students usually say that leaving to work in Russia is their ultimate life ambition.
As a result, everyone suffers, both rich and poor:
– A Minister makes ignorant statements or can’t coherently argue the state’s position;
– A government official can’t make an educated decision about recruiting staff and allows corruption and misuse of public funds;
– A Member of Parliament makes a declaration in all seriousness that marriages between Tajiks and foreigners (non-Muslims) should be banned;
– Builders build poor quality houses and take too long, leading to many contracts being given instead to Turkish or Chinese companies;
– There’s a lack of qualified plumbers and electricians;
– A doctor makes a wrong diagnosis, often leading to fatal consequences;
– Teachers make students learn songs, history and poems by heart, instead of offering them basic knowledge;
– Students often do not have a basic grasp of elementary mathematics and can’t write properly, whilst at the same time most textbooks aren’t even in the state language;
– A traffic inspector doesn’t even know the rules of the road and doesn’t know how to control traffic;
– Lawyers and judges don’t know the law, and economists have no idea what the model of supply and demand is;
– Trader don’t know anything about the goods in their shops other than their price…
This lamentable list goes on and on.
Separately, we should also mention our migrant workers who through blood, sweat and tears earn a living in Russia, and in so doing uphold the country’s economic solvency and social security. However, due to their extremely low level of education and qualifications and ignorance of their rights, they are employed in the lowest paid and the most difficult jobs. This leads to low earnings, widespread violation of human rights, extortion and a high death rate. And so the story of the lack of education of our migrant workers is becoming the talk of the town.
As for the local labour market, there is a serious and imminent prospect of our local workforce being replaced by invited [foreign] specialists not only in high-tech sectors, but also in construction and even in agriculture.
On the plus side, however, the problem of incompetent staff is a universal one for rich and poor, the powerful, the oligarchs and ordinary citizens. The funds of rich and successful businessmen, bank and factory owners are also affected: whilst they have money and the desire to invest it profitably, they often – through ignorance – are unable to find a decent and professional team of employees to be entrusted with management and business development. Distrust between company owners and their managers is a particular problem. The owner doesn’t pay the employee for poor performance, and the employee tries to steal or cheat it out of the company. The state itself often does the same when it comes to public property, public services or state-owned enterprises.
Among company owners, there’s also an extreme shortage of ideas for the development of a productive and interesting business. Everyone’s building houses, business centres, hotels, supermarkets, pharmacies, restaurants, and demand for these is not that high. Or things are done without consideration about whether there are workers qualified enough to take the business forward. Few people are thinking where money could be invested effectively, for example, in private medical clinics, quality nurseries and children’s centres (in a country where many children), private tourism, consulting, and so on.
And even if you have ideas and investment, it’s impossible to find specialists who could make them into reality, whether these are educated waiters and good cooks, traders, educators and so on. Where such specialists exist, there is a fear that a successful business will be forcefully taken over. When this happens, the new ‘owners’ aren’t in a position to support and develop these ideas to make a profit for themselves and society, because once a team leaves, the business often goes too, even if there’s money in it.
The problem of unprofessionalism and incompetence is fundamental and universal. This does not mean that the people in themselves aren’t good, but it means that for a number of reasons they don’t have a competitive advantage or professional skills. At the highest level, this means that the entire country is not able to develop effectively and compete in the region, to defend and promote our interests in both foreign and domestic policy.
It is very sad that the phrase ‘Made in the Tajik way’ (‘Tojiki’) is increasingly associated with poor quality, poor service, but high cost.
But there is a solution
The solution to this problem must also be fundamental. Starting right from the top, we must fundamentally change the way people are motivated towards a high quality education, putting professionalism at the forefront, particularly for the leaders of the country (instead of regionalism and tribalism). It will demonstrate a new scale of values for the entire population which in turn will help to bring in a new wave of civil servants from top to bottom. This should be followed by major reform of public administration and the civil service.
The education system needs to be radically reformed at both school and university level, so that pupils and teachers stop being undervalued in themselves and as a profession, and so that schools and universities are properly financed by the state and not by parents’ pockets.
And finally, the system of vocational education needs to be restored so that, as before, the role of the worker and the master become more valued professions – instead of the tax inspector or the state worker. This would also improve the competence and skills of potential migrants. And for that we need incentives and people, people, people – experts in their field, of whom we have so few left.
The very first step must be made from the top, otherwise the best case scenario is that we’ll continue to remember our glorious past, praising the greatness of culture and poetry of the 10th century. At worst, we will be absorbed by the new great empire of the East.
I don’t usually post job vacancies here, but I’m excited to share these positions at the European School in Central Asia with you: http://www.europeanschool.kg/work-with-us/employment/current-vacancies/. Can I particularly draw your attention to the Head of Education vacancy?
The School is based in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, and is committed to providing children with a high quality education that will be internationally recognised.
Please share this weblink with others!
I try not to blindly copy and paste articles about Central Asian higher education so I’m passing on today’s link with a little bit of hesitation. The reason for this is that the article takes an uncritical approach to the subject. Whilst the article is factual and informative, it’s not controversial (in its true meaning that it may give rise to disagreement): there’s simply nothing much to discuss. The title sounds promising but it doesn’t deliver. Nonetheless, I’m including it and think you should read it because:
a) I like to keep tabs on developments at Nazarbayev U
b) there is a little bit of insight into how India approaches higher education in neighbouring Central Asia and that comparative perspective is valuable
Oh and also to make sure the blog doesn’t become obsolete (there isn’t much happening in Central Asian higher education at the moment)!
No evidence of education-linked brain drain in Kazakhstan, says Nazarbayev Varsity Provost
Astana, July 5 (ANI): Tertiary or higher education in Kazakhstan is being given the utmost importance by the Government of Kazakhstan as I understood from my interaction with Professor Simon Jones, the Provost of Nazarbayev University, one of the country’s better known institutions of higher education.
Hailing from Wales in the United Kingdom, Professor Jones, a specialist in micro-engineering and a passionate follower of the game of cricket, told me that Nazarbayev University is an autonomous research university located in Astana, and just two years old, and aiming to be the best research-oriented university in Central Asia in collaboration with 30 universities, including the National University of Singapore, the Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Cambridge.
Having already been informed by Kazakhstan’s Minister of Culture that about 9000 Kazakh students were studying abroad on scholarships, I asked Professor Jones whether there is a possibility of Kazakhstan experiencing a brain drain of sorts similar to what India had experienced between the 1960s and 1990s.
Emphatically stating that there is no evidence of Kazakhstan experiencing or suffering from brain drain now or in the future, Professor Jones said: “The Government of Kazakhstan is following an education policy that is progressive, that believes in encouraging the younger generation to strive for higher educational qualifications, whether here or from abroad, as it believes that it is important to develop the country, and ensure a better future for Kazakhstan. The Kazakhstan Government is the single biggest employer of students who have acquired higher education degrees from abroad.
Making a specific reference to the “Bolashak Scholarship”, Professor Jones said this scholarship was created by decree by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev in 1993 as part of Kazakhstan’s transition towards a market economy and its desire to expand international contacts through its workforce.
He said that in the early 1990s, there was an acute need for a workforce with advanced western education, and therefore, it was deemed necessary to send the most qualified youth to study in leading educational institutions in foreign countries.
Kazakhstan’s “Bolashak Scholarship” is merit-based and the selection process includes not only academic credentials, but also competence in the language of study, psychological testing and an interview process.
A student has to also profess commitment to the development of Kazakhstan and have a spirit of patriotism to be eligible for the scholarship.
Jones said that the final decision on which student or students are eligible is made by the Republican Commission, chaired by the State Secretary and composed of the Ministers, members of Parliament, and members of the Office of the President.
The Republican Commission also approves the country of study and program of study.
The scholarship requires that all recipients return to Kazakhstan after graduating and work for five years in Kazakhstan. The scholarship pays for all costs related to education, including tuition and fees, costs of travel, and a living stipend. Scholars are expected to maintain academic excellence.
The most popular countries are the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, Australia and Malaysia.
Other interesting information made by Professor Jones were that the university is determined to attract the best of faculty from around the world, including from India, to teach its students, who are currently from Kazakhstan. He said that probably from next year, students from other countries maybe admitted.
He said that Nazarbayev University has on its faculty academicians from the IITs, Non-Resident Indian researchers who teach a wide variety of subjects.
He said Nazarbayev University is legally linked to both the Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools and the Nazarbayev Endowment Fund, all of which are dedicated to promoting educational reform in Kazakhstan.
The Supreme Board of Trustees is the managing authority of the University, Intellectual Schools and the Fund, and is headed by the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev. The Board of Trustees is in charge of general management of the university’s activities.
The university currently consists of six schools: the School of Engineering, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, the School of Science and Technology, the Graduate School of Business, the Graduate School of Education, and the Graduate School of Public Policy. The School of Medicine is expected to open in 2015, and a School of Mining is currently being considered.
Nazarbayev University offers a variety of undergraduate and graduate degrees, ranging from bachelor’s degrees to the Ph.D.
As of 2012, undergraduate majors available to students included anthropology, biology/biomedicine, chemical engineering, chemistry, civil engineering, computational science, economics, electrical and electronic engineering, mathematics, mechanical engineering, physics, political science/international relations, robotics and mechatronics, sociology, world history/philosophy/religion, and world languages, literature and culture.
Most students at Nazarbayev University are initially admitted to the Centre for Preparatory Studies, a one-year programme operated by University College, London. At the end of this programme, they then apply to undergraduate programmes in the University itself. In addition, some students are admitted directly to the undergraduate programmes at the University, while others transfer to the University from other universities.
Nazarbayev University has established six internationally respected partnerships. Each school in the university has one or more partner institution, with which it works on issues of curriculum and programme design, student admissions, faculty recruitment, and quality assurance.
For example, the partner institution of the School of Engineering is the University College London, which also operates the Center for Preparatory Studies at Nazarbayev University. The partner institution of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences is the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Carnegie Mellon University is the partner institution of the School of Science and Technology.
The university is also home to the Centre for Life Sciences (CLS) and the Nazarbayev University Research and Innovation System (NURIS).By Ashok Dixit (ANI)
A detailed and interesting story from Kazakh news agency Tengri News today, reporting on a recent conference for higher education leaders in the country. There is reportedly a strong move towards offering greater independence to universities in the country on everything from curriculum to revenue streams.
I couldn’t quite work out from the story why the Education Ministry is promoting this push. In the UK it’s labelled as ‘autonomy’ for universities but generally what that means is that the government can no longer afford (or no longer wishes) to provide as much public funding.
My immediate reactions on reading the story were two-fold:
1: Quality, quality, quality. Who is going to make sure that the programmes being offered by universities are good enough to be worthy of Kazakhstan’s young people? Who is going to make sure that universities are all delivering at the right level? Who is going to make sure that funding freedoms don’t allow dodgy deals to take place at the front door (and not the back door)? And so on…
2. This will undoubtedly work in the favour of the more elite institutions in the country but may not be as advantageous for lower ranked state universities and polytechnics.
Here is the original story, (c) Tengri News and also available at http://en.tengrinews.kz/opinion/382/.
Kazakhstan universities to have policy-setting freedom by 2016, conference participants told
Within three years Kazakhstan’s universities will have the authority to decide what academic programs and courses they’ll offer, speakers at a recent educational leaders conference said.
This autonomy will help the universities respond better to changing student, employer and society demands for skills, according to speakers at the Second Annual Eurasian Higher Education Leaders Forum at Nazarbayev University.
But autonomy will not be restricted to academic-program and course selection. Universities will also have the freedom to choose their vice presidents and provosts, to allocate funds the way they want and to own their land, which will help them raise funds.
This decentralization of university decision-making will mark a major shift away from the Soviet-rooted system of the Ministry of Education and Science dictating much of what universities do.
Since Kazakhstan’s independence in 1991, the ministry has decided what programs and courses a university can offer, who its vice presidents and provosts are and how its funds are spent. And the government, not the universities, owned the land on which the universities sat.
It’s almost ironic, then, that the driving force behind university autonomy is Minister of Education Bakytzhan Zhumagulov, who gave the keynote speech at the June 12 and 13 conference.
But university autonomy is just part of the sweeping changes that Zhumagulov’s team has been making at all levels of education – from preschool to graduate school.
Because the pace of the change has been so frenetic, Nazarbayev University leaders started the forum in 2012 to help university presidents, vice presidents, provosts, deans and other educational leaders cope. Participants learn from both the speakers – many of whom are from the West – and also by exchanging ideas at forum panel sessions.
Nazarbayev University President Shigeo Katsu moderated the conference’s general sessions, with experts on various topics leading the more specific panel sessions.
In addition to autonomy, the conference dealt with the need for universities to have an independent board of trustees to oversee the management team, to develop programs to assure quality of teaching, research and other services, and to develop non-government sources of funding.
Other issues raised at the forum included the need for an independent, non-government body to accredit universities, and for the government to award more research money to universities rather than to independent research institutes – the current system. Kazakhstan is making progress on both issues, moving toward an independent accrediting body and awarding more research money to universities.
The two most discussed issues at the conference were university autonomy and quality control.
At the moment, three-year-old Nazarbayev University is the only Kazakhstan higher educational institution with autonomy. That’s because its founders thought one of its key roles should be spurring higher-educational innovation in Kazakhstan. To ensure that it could carry out that role, the founders believed, the university needed to be independent of the Ministry of Education or other government authority.
Parliament listened to that argument by granting Nazarbayev University autonomy. It came in the form of a law giving the university “special status” to set its own course.
Deputy Prime Minister Yerbol Orynbayev underscored Nazarbayev University’s role in educational innovation by saying in his welcoming address that it was “the experimental platform that is allowing the state to reform existing universities” and create new ones.
Key elements of the autonomy that Nazarbayev University enjoys are already being phased in at other universities, said Fatima Zhakypova, head of the Education Ministry’s Higher-Education Department. For example, universities are deciding what courses to offer and choosing their vice presidents and provosts.
The bottom line is that universities with autonomy do a better job than those under the government’s thumb, asserted Mary Canning, a member of Ireland’s Higher Education Authority.
“I believe that when our universities are fully financially autonomous,” they will have a shot at becoming world-class, Zhakypova enthused.
Kazakhstan hopes to have two universities among the world’s top 100 in coming years.
Vanderbilt University Professor Stephen Heyneman said a common denominator among world-class universities is diversified sources of revenue. In fact, top universities get more of their funding from non-government sources than from government, he said.
Kazakhstan universities need to obtain more of their revenue from sources other than the Education Ministry, which provides the bulk of funding at the moment, Heyneman maintained.
Aslan Sarinzhipov, who led the team that founded Nazarbayev University and is now one of its trustees, said that for diversified funding to occur, Kazakhstan needs to develop an educational-philanthropy culture, which will take time.
Nazarbayev University is leading the way by starting the kind of endowment that many Western universities have long used to make their programs world-class.
Full financial autonomy includes a university – and not the government — owning the land on which a university sits, according to Heyneman, who specializes in university management.
Owning land is an important fund-raising tool for a university, he said. That’s because the institution can use the land as collateral to borrow money to improve programs and facilities.
Part of a university setting its own course is being able to establish its own quality control system, rather than having the government impose a system on it, according to Tom Boland, head of Ireland’s Higher Education Authority.
The primary responsibility for quality control should lie with universities, while the government’s role should be to ensure that universities take the responsibility seriously, he said.
Boland said students should be part of the quality-control-setting process, since they are the major consumers of a university’s services.
He also said that the main thrust of a quality control system should be improving quality, not finding fault. The process “needs to avoid the trap of bureaucracy” – that is, forcing a university to comply with reams of rules and regulations, he said.
Richard Miller, president of Olin College near Boston, said the best universities these days have shared governance – an independent board of trustees that oversees the university management team. One advantage of shared governance is helping ensure that management has the right priorities. Another is helping preventing management conflict of interest – for example, a university president awarding a contract to a company he owns, or to a family member or friend.
Quality control is particularly important in today’s higher-education landscape because competition for faculty and students is now international rather than confined to within a country’s borders, said Michael Worton a vice provost of University College London. His point was that these days Kazakhstan’s universities must compete not only with each other, but with universities in Europe, the United States, China and elsewhere, for professors and students.
Boland said a country should not focus too hard on getting universities on the lists of the world’s top educational institutions, however.
When a country pours a lot of resources into a few universities that it hopes to make world-class, it may be “impoverishing other universities,” he said.
“Countries should focus their institutions on what the country needs and not on international rankings,” he said.
Two stories about 30% today, both – sadly – focussing on failure.
First, from Kazakhstan where EurasiaNet reports that nearly 30% of high (secondary) school leavers failed to pass their final exams. These standardised exams pave the way for entry to university, determining who can go, who gets state funding, and who is going to have to look for another option instead.
Read the story, (c) Eurasianet, at http://www.eurasianet.org/node/67116.
And then from one cheery bit of news to another: Kyrgyzstan’s 24 news agency. Even if you do get to university in Kyrgyzstan, your prospects of employment post-graduation are pretty slim. According to the government’s Education Minister, only 30% of graduates manage to find employment. It’s not entirely clear whether graduates’ prospects improve longer term, or what the data sources are for this number, but if there is something in this, the government needs to act quickly.
This story is (c) 24.kg and can be found at http://eng.24.kg/politic/2013/06/14/27274.html.
Sorry for the silence from this blog. Firstly, there hasn’t been much happening in Central Asian HE (or not that I have seen) – no high heels scandals this month! Secondly, we’re in the summer term at the University where I work and that means exams, panicking students, organising everything for next year and generally no time whatsoever to relax!
The post today is an interesting observational article about Kazakhstan, exploring whether gaps are emerging in contemporary society. I think it’s worth including here as there may be a spillover effect onto higher education. This could materialise, for example, in students joining in protests (in these cases they usually take up the left-wing anti-government side), or in a discourse around access to higher education for students from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
Article is (c) Eurasianet and can also be found at http://www.eurasianet.org/node/66575.