Thanks to the European Association for International Education and the Association of University Administrators

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Many thanks to the European Association for International Education (EAIE) which has featured this blog in its Comprehensive list of online resources for international educators.

How exciting!

They tweeted this to me on a Twitter account I haven’t used for a year so I have now got my account back up and running. I can sense myself already falling down the slippery slope of time spent on yet another social media tool. Ah well. If you’re on Twitter you can find me @EmmaSabzalieva

Another exciting piece of news for today was the news that I’ve been awarded a Joan Balchin Memorial Travel Fund grant from the Association of University Administrators. The grant will fund exploratory research on university administration and management in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, which I will undertake this summer. I will be interviewing administrators/managers in a range of universities (public/private, old/new etc) to start investigations on the following topics:

  • Is there a concept of ‘university administration’ or ‘university management’ in Central Asian universities?
  • What are working conditions like for university administrators?
  • What is the relationship between administrators and academics? Does the same concept of a divide between the two groups exist as in the UK?
  • Does the notion of the ‘third space worker’/’blended professional’ exist?
  • Can you have a career as a university administrator?
  • If you can, what routes are there for the career?
  • What is the most senior position that administrators can attain?  

If you work in a Bishkek-based university or know someone who does, please get in touch! I can do the interviews in English or Russian and it should take no more than an hour of your time.

I’m hoping to have enough material from the interviews to write the research up into an article, but at the very least will be writing a report for the AUA newsletter, Newslink, in the autumn.

From wandering scholars to strategic partnerships: the experience of British universities in Central Asia

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My new article ‘From wandering scholars to strategic partnerships: the experience of British universities in Central Asia‘ is out this week in new publication Perspectives on Central Asia. Published by Eurasian Dialogue, Perspectives is a quarterly bulletin dealing with the many aspects of life in Central Asia. This innovative publication provides Central Asia specialists and enthusiasts with perspectives on the region from an array of different academic disciplines.’

Here’s the abstract of my article:

‘Universities around the world are increasingly seeking to establish partnerships with higher education institutions in Central Asia. This article, written by a British higher education practitioner, builds on the author’s research into higher education in the UK and in Central Asia by exploring some of the key benefits and drawbacks of such partnerships from the perspective of British universities. An exclusive interview undertaken with the Registrar of Nottingham University offers a more detailed view of how one British university, which, although not operating directly in Central Asia, has engaged extensively with universities in other parts of Asia.’

The issue is available to download here: Perspectives_on_Central_Asia_nr4-ESpp11-15 or at; my article is on pages 11-15.

Tajikistan: some social progress; a distance to go to achieve wellbeing for all

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I am impressed by the infographics used by the recently founded (2012) non-profit, The Social Progress Imperative. The Social Progress Index attempts to ‘measure the extent to which countries provide for the non-economic needs of their citizens’. Their argument goes that GDP is insufficient as a measure of wellbeing, that economic growth is not enough for a country to progress as it is not always accompanied by social and environmental improvements. As a result, they measure social progress (which is also defined as social innovation) to offer a more holistic understanding of a country’s wellbeing.

The text summary for Tajikistan is:

Of issues covered by the Basic Human Needs Dimension, Tajikistan does best in areas including Nutrition and Basic Medical Care and has the greatest opportunity to improve human wellbeing by focusing more on Shelter. Of issues covered by the Foundations of Wellbeing Dimension, Tajikistan excels at providing building blocks for people’s lives such as Access to Basic Knowledge but would benefit from greater investment in Ecosystem Sustainability. Of issues covered by the Opportunity Dimension, Tajikistan outperforms in providing opportunities for people to improve their position in society and scores highly in Personal Freedom and Choice yet falls short in Tolerance and Inclusion. 


You can then explore elements of the Social Progress Index in more detail and in comparison to countries of similar GDP per capita (proving that you can’t completely escape GDP!). See this screenshot for how Tajikistan measures up against the UK:


Nice concept and nice design. But will we be able to convince the world that economic success does not always equate to poverty reduction? This at least is a step in a more holistic direction.

High heels in the headlines again

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What is it about Tajik educational leaders and fashion? Not content with the controversy this caused last year (see my articles high heels for higher learning and high heels hit the headlines), the Pro-Rector of the Tajik Pedagogical University has followed in the (high-heeled?) footsteps of his Rector Abdujabbor Rahmonov by banning several female students from class yesterday… for wearing shoes without heels.

Pro-Rector Iskandar Aminov said “We don’t want these girls who’ve turned up in shoes without heels to fall ill in this weather. These girls are future mothers, and our roads are full of water. In those shoes they could get ill. It would be better if they wore heeled shoes. Scientific advice supporting this initiative suggests that girls [coming to university] shouldn’t be allowed in with shoes without heels.”

The six ‘girls’ (where has the respect gone for these poor women?) were sent home to change their shoes.

The story [ru], reported yesterday by Ozodagon, a Tajik news agency, is starting to spread very quickly on social media. People are discussing it vigorously; there is outrage (especially among women) that people are being dictated to about the way they dress; there is also bemusement that someone in such a senior position could genuinely think that there is ‘scientific’ evidence somewhere out there to support this.

Readers outside of Central Asia may well be wondering how on earth a university – supposedly a fount of knowledge and learning – could make such an outlandish proclamation. Those of you who are more familiar with Tajikistan are more likely to see this absurdity as yet another example of  the misguided way that the country is supposedly being run.


Studying abroad: no longer just a dream?

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Here’s a transcription (though not a literal translation) of a very informative 8 minute video from Radio Ozodi [ru]. It shows a growing interest in studying abroad, but the programme has a clear moral drive behind its interesting content – see the last paragraph. Makes me wonder if the Kazakh government didn’t inspire the piece: the state provides excellent funding for its young people in the form of Bolashak scholarships but the programme notes that more than half of the 10,000+ scholars haven’t returned to Kazakhstan (which is a condition of the award). Brain drain alert?

Emma’s transcription. Original video can be found at, (c) Radio Ozodi, 12.03.2014

In Kazakhstan, the Bolashak scholarship competition is now open. Thousands of ambitious young people will apply for funding to study in Europe, USA and China. And across Central Asia, study abroad isn’t just a sign of quality and reputation but an investment in their future. The programme discusses the possibilities of studying abroad.

Abu Bakri Saidullo is studying in Dresden, Germany. He wants to graduate with distinction before returning to Tajikistan where he plans to run a business. “We get really up to date knowledge here. I don’t think you can get that kind of knowledge in universities at home,” he says. Abu Bakri is self-funding his studies. The cost per semester is €250 which covers tuition and six months of accommodation in halls of residence.

There are also plenty of opportunities for talented students to obtain funding to study abroad. 30 year old Ilkhom Aslanov from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, has studied in India and Japan and is now in Germany. He comes from a modest background and couldn’t have afforded to self-fund his studies. He says there is a good choice of institutions in Germany and that influenced his decision to apply. The application process was quite cumbersome but in the end he was awarded a grant by DAAD (

Young people in Turkmenistan, however, prefer to study in former Soviet countries and Turkey, mainly for language reasons. Eliza Kenenbaeva is completing her studies at the American University of Central Asia (AUCA) in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Her studies are funded by the Soros Foundation which is why she took up her place, but she says that other Turkmen students are attracted by the low fees and proximity of AUCA to their home country. She also says that it helps that the educational systems are similar, as are Turkmen and Kyrgyz languages.

Although the number of Turkmen students in Kyrgyzstan has fallen in recent years due to travel restrictions on Turkmen citizens, they continue to be attracted by the low cost of study ($2-3,000) and the absence of a language barrier.

The criteria for obtaining a scholarship to study abroad, which the commentator points out is the only way to study abroad without cost, can include:

  •          Academic achievements
  •          Research and academic potential
  •          Leadership qualities
  •          Financial situation

Aynura Chollonkulova, a Bishkek-based careers adviser, says that funding bodies will also consider your personal characteristics. Students initially want to base their choice by the country they want to study in, but she and her experienced consultants advise them instead to focus on their area of specialisation.

In Kazakhstan, the state-funded Bolashak scholarship programme has enabled more than 10,000 Kazakh students to study abroad over the last 20 years. More than 6,000 of them have already completed their studies. The aim of the programme is to train highly qualified specialists who can work at an international level.

Scholars have to return to Kazakhstan and work for at least five years for any public or private sector company or the state as a condition of the funding. However, according to official figures, more than 50% of scholars haven’t returned to Kazakhstan.

Gulzira Amanturlina did her Master’s at LSE, one of the best universities in the world. She then returned to Kazakhstan where she pursued a career in banking. She says she found work in a bank straight away after graduating, and that she was able to put into practice what she learnt in London. She was promoted to Director in 2010. Now she runs Eldani, a non-governmental organisation working with disabled people. Her work on social entrepreneurship and charity developed from what she learnt when studying abroad.

So, studying abroad provides a launching pad for your career – but it isn’t always a guarantee of success. Much depends on what you want to get from it: are you doing this just to live abroad, or do you want to obtain valuable knowledge and experience? It shouldn’t just be the scholar that benefits, but society as a whole.


Stripped to their last pair of knickers… currency devaluation and protest in Kazakhstan

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With everything that’s going on in Ukraine, you’ve probably missed a much smaller scale series of protests that have taken place this month in Kazakhstan. These protests, stimulated by the government’s decision to devalue the tenge (Kazakh currency) by nearly 20%, are nonetheless noteworthy. Pretty much for the first time in its post-Soviet existence, young people in Kazakhstan are joining the protests, previously ground well covered by the country’s pensioners. Radio Azattyk has an interesting story which I picked up via Kyrgyz blogging site [which I can’t access today; hope it hasn’t been pulled offline] on the protests and the green shoots of a new generation of activism. The story [ru] is at with photos and videos, but I have provided an English language translation below. Story (c) Eldiyar Arykbaev, Azattyk Radio; English translation (c) me.


Even in the biggest cities of Kazakhstan, no more than 1,000 participants gathered for unsanctioned protests against the devaluation of the tenge [Kazakh currency]. However, experts say that the protests that did take place show that there are young people willing to take action, even though young people have been considered an apolitical mass. 


The recent sharp devaluation of the national currency [by 19%, see and for English articles] is much like the previous one of 2009, also in February. 

The depreciation of tenge savings, the jumping numbers on currency exchange noticeboards, the rising price of imports… Those were the arguments used by the government then, which seem to be being used again now. Five years later this ‘economic measure’ (as Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev called the devaluation) is called an economic benefit.  

But there is something that distinguishes this devaluation from 2009: protests. They haven’t been mass protests, or carefully organised or centrally coordinated. 

The people taking part in these protests are not the pensioners who usually take to the streets when monopolists raise the prices on communal services. It has been young people acting against the devaluation, those who have grown up in independent Kazakhstan, during the reign of its first, and so far only, President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

A few dozen young people gathered for the unsanctioned public meeting in Almaty on 15 February and it appeared that many of them met each other in person for the first time. They may know each other in virtual communities and probably even read and cite each other on the web.

And what’s even more surprising is that a protest against economic problems – the devaluation of the tenge and its aftermath – led to political appeals from a fragmented and apolitical group of young people.

“Shal, kyet!” (“Old man, leave!”) chanted protestors in Almaty on 15 February. When the police and municipal services staff blocked their way to the Abai monument, they moved to Republic Square, where the most active protestors were detained. As a result, dozens of demonstrators were fined and there were reports that one activist was arrested for 10 days. 

Saturday rally in Almaty: 


On Sunday 16 February, another protest against devaluation took place on Republic Square.

Those who came to the unsanctioned rally found that the area around the Independence monument in the centre of Republic Square had been closed off with a sign saying ‘Works taking place’ – but there were no signs of repair crews. Instead, there were dozens of police officers and police cars.

Activists resorted to allegorical methods: Zhanna Baytelova and Yevgeniya Plahina unsuccessfully attempted to lay lace knickers on the Independence monument. Art historian Valeria Ibraeva came to the square wearing lace knickers on her head.

The choice of women’s underwear was no coincidence: countries in the [Eurasian] Customs Union are bringing in a ban on the production, import and sale of lace underwear, designating it ‘not meeting the regulation’ of the union. The weakening tenge has been connected to the devaluation of the Russian ruble, the currency of Kazakhstan’s main trading partner in the Customs Union. 

[See for an English language report on the ‘panty protests’]

“Our message was that, with this devaluation, the state has stripped us to our last pair of knickers. It’s a violation of our rights – decisions are being made for us that we have to wear,” said Zhanna Baytelova to Azattyk.

In total, three protestors in the ‘lace knickers riot’ were held by police. Several hours later the court fined them around US$100 for ‘disorderly conduct’. Coming out of the court, the activities waved their lace knickers… 

Photo at

The police also detained several activists from the Sunday protest and released them after taking statements.

Detention of activists on Republic Square, Almaty, 16 February: 


During the protests of recent days, experts have observed the growth of a general trend towards the formation of a new protest and political culture in Kazakhstan. The main role in that process is being played by young people, who have access to alternative information sources on the internet and indeed are spreading this information. 

“The anti-devaluation protests haven’t been organised by political groups or by the opposition group Acorda. These protests reflect a growth in political participation, in citizenship in general,” said political scientist Talgat Mamyrayimov. 

Dosym Satpayev, Director of the Risk Assessment Group, believes that the anti-devaluation protests show signs of dissent amongst Kazakh people, and not only amongst young people. He gives as an example the fact that the older generation were also present at protests at the National Bank of Kazakhstan and at Almaty city council held immediately after devaluation was announced.

“This is a serious signal for the Kazakh authorities, who for a long time have convinced themselves that society is under control and that there are no protest groups. The saying ‘from a spark comes a flame’ is very real for post-Soviet states. The ‘Arab spring’ has demonstrated that the logic of protest and waves of dissent can be completely unpredictable for governmets. These past rallies shouldn’t be seen as small actions of protest that won’t affect people. On the contrary, many have seen that there are people who are ready to publicly assert their rights, publicly criticise and protest the state’s policies,” said Dosym Satpaev. 

He suggests that youth leaders and new socio-political movements representing a wide range of interests will start to form. Under certain conditions, believes Satpaev, it is just these ‘new players’ who will define the political landscape in Kazakhstan after a change of power.

Academic freedom restricted in Tajikistan

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It’s all rather Soviet.. criticism, freedom of speech and free movement are all being restricted in Tajikistan. The article below from the reliably good Konstantin Parshin outlines yet another example of academic freedom being curtailed in the country. When will the government realise that this will only create more opposition?

(c) K. Parshin,

Tajikistan: Intellectuals Finding Little Room for Reasoned Discourse