Study abroad survey results: part 1

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The long awaited publication on this blog of my recent study abroad survey starts now…

Read my earlier post for background to the survey, but briefly: I undertook a survey between December 2011 and February 2012 of just over 100 Tajik nationals who are either studying abroad now, or who have studied abroad in the past.

The aims of the survey were to find out:

  • what motivates people to study abroad?
  • what do people think it will be like abroad?
  • how easy or difficult is it to adapt once abroad?
  • what happens to people once they have finished studying?

The results of the survey will be presented at a conference called ‘Micro-Level Analysis of Well-Being in Central Asia‘ being held at Humboldt University and the German Institute for Economic Research in Berlin later this week.

In today’s post, I’m including three sections from the conference paper:

1. Research into study abroad

2. Tajikistan: brief context

3. About the respondents

Call back soon for more! Comments and feedback are most welcome.

1. Research into study abroad

Two main reasons explain the lack of research into 20th century study abroad tendencies amongst Tajik nationals as well as nationals of other former Soviet countries. By 1945, the Soviet Union had a well established higher education system and growing state expectations that young people should continue into higher education (Shpakovskaia, 2007). Nearly 900 institutions of higher learning existed by 1990[1] covering a vast spectrum of qualifications and subjects, and high levels of integration meant there was more than sufficient capacity to educate students within one of the republics of the Soviet Union (Brunner & Tillett, 31.01.2007). At the same time, travel beyond the borders of the Soviet Union was extremely limited, meaning that students who did want to travel abroad for study were unlikely to be permitted to do so.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the parallel opening of borders and reduction in state funding for higher education has led to a small but growing number of Central Asian nationals seeking to pursue higher education abroad. Only a handful of reports have reflected on this, such as the British Council on Kazakhstan (British Council, May 2011). However, this paper is the first time that analysis has been undertaken with a specific focus on Tajik nationals. The literature review therefore focussed on the following areas:

  • Motivations of either international students going to one destination country or students from one destination country going abroad to one of many countries
  • Experiences of being an international student
  • Education and young people in post-Soviet Tajikistan/Central Asia

2. Tajikistan: brief context

Tajikistan is a developing country of nearly 7.5 million people, with 59% aged between 15-64 (Asian Development Bank, 2010 ) and an average age of just over 22 years (UNICEF, November 2011; World Bank, no date). It is the least developed of the Central Asian countries and around 2/3 of the population live in poverty. There are serious challenges to reducing poverty and stimulating sustainable economic growth, from the reliance on income from migrant workers abroad to extremely low investor confidence (Asian Development Bank, 2011).

Based on this context, it is unsurprising that the Ministry of Education’s policy focuses on basic education. It has identified that ‘the sector [as a whole] faces three main problems: absence of a rational and streamlined process of decision making; low capacity in the area of policy development and system management; a system of assessment of learning results and effectiveness of educational establishments’ (August 2005: 10). Looking specifically at higher education in the country, enrolment represents around 20% of the total potential population of students, which is extremely low compared to neighbours Kazakhstan (41% enrolment) and Kyrgyzstan (51%) (World Bank, no date). An unpublished report written with the support of the Ministry of Education in 2005 highlight no less than twelve groups of major problems facing the country’s higher education system post-independence (Education Reform Support Unit “Pulse”). The groups cover wide-ranging issues such as human, financial and technological resources, quality, systems, and corruption.

A further issue affecting not just higher education but that has permeated Central Asia societies is migration. In Tajikistan it has become ‘a key characteristic of the economic and social development’ of the country (UNICEF, November 2011). Official statistics point to around 1 million of the 7.5 million population living abroad at any one time, usually for work and mostly inRussia, although actual figures are likely to be up to double that. Roberts argues that as a result of migration becoming accepted as normal, ‘youth in Central Asia know that they can move, and large numbers do so’ (2010). Although the most common type of migration is for economic purposes, Roberts notes that young people also travel for study because they know that ‘qualifications guarantee nothing, but they also know that with higher education they will at least be able to compete for the inadequate number of decent jobs’ (ibid). The results of the survey suggest that migration for study abroad purposes is generally seen as a temporary, rather than a permanent move.

UNESCO estimates that in 2009, around 5,500 Tajik nationals studied abroad (UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2011). The major destination countries are Russia (51% of all students) and Kyrgyzstan (27%). Whilst there are a handful of English-medium universities in these countries, it is most likely that the majority of this 78% of outbound mobile students have studied in Russian-medium universities. The number going to English-speaking countries is very low – whilst the USA was the third most popular destination for Tajik students, only 336 students are recorded to have gone there, or just 6% of the total. As such, it can be argued that this survey of 103 respondents represents a relatively high proportion of the outbound mobile Tajik students going to English-medium universities and the results are therefore broadly representative of opinions and attitudes across this sub-group of study abroad students.


3. About the respondents

The self-selecting participants in the survey were almost equally split gender-wise, with 48% of respondents male and 52% female. The current age range of respondents was wide, from 18 to over 40, with just over half aged between 25 and 34. Most respondents reported that they were either in their teens or aged 20-24 when they first started studying abroad. This is substantiated by figure 1, which shows the highest level of qualification achieved by respondents prior to studying abroad. The majority hold either the Tajik school leaving certificate (attestat o srednom obrazovanii in Russian), usually received at the age of 17 or 18, or an undergraduate diploma/degree, usually received in one’s early 20s.

Figure 1: Highest level of qualification pre-study abroad

Over half (57/103) of respondents had already been abroad before the study abroad experience and many had been abroad for more than one reason. Of those who had been abroad, 50% had already studied abroad, either at degree level or on a short course/exchange programme. 30% had been abroad for tourism, and 25% for work. This suggests that respondents are already pre-disposed to look internationally to enhance their experience, and it is suggested that as in other countries, ‘students abroad tend to have higher social class backgrounds than their counterparts’ (Wiers-Jenssen, October 2003). Whilst this claim cannot be qualified because income and class questions were not included in the survey (following feedback from  the first test group), Whitsel does suggest in the Tajik-specific context that students who complete secondary school and/or do an undergraduate degree in the country are indeed likely to come from better off families, as financial resources are a major barrier to school completion (March 2009).

Figure 2 shows that nearly half of all respondents were working towards a Master’s degree during their study abroad period, and just under a third were studying for an undergraduate degree. This shows a tendency to progress directly from school or undergraduate study to studying abroad for the next level of higher education. The number of students returning to study at a later stage (e.g. studying after working for a number of years) or studying abroad for short/non-degree courses is relatively limited. The next section explores whether this tendency affects the motivations of respondents to study abroad.

Figure 2: Qualification studied for during study abroad


Former President calls for higher education reform in Kyrgyzstan

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Another re-posting, this time from Central Asia Online (

If anyone out there knows Kyrgyz and would be prepared to summarise the interview for me, please get in touch! (The Russian version is the same as the English one).

Otunbayeva calls for higher education reform

Staff Report


BISHKEK – Former Kyrgyz president Roza Otunbayeva called for higher education reform in an interview published April 29 by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Kyrgyz service.

To improve the quality of higher education, Kyrgyzstan should close up to 70% of its 50 universities, leaving only 10-15, she said.

Some “semi-literate professors” force their students to write summaries of the professors’ lectures and give them to the professors to prove they were paying attention or risk failing the course, she added, saying she had seen such behaviour when she worked in a university.

(c) Central Asia Online

Higher education in Afghanistan

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Another foray into the fringes of my blog’s remit, but this is the first time I have read anything about contemporary Afghan higher education (anything else to do with education focusses on school level) and I thought it was worth re-posting from the original on Deutsche Welle.

My paper on Tajik nationals who have studied abroad is now just about finalised ahead of the conference “Micro-Level Analysis of Well-Being in Central Asia” on 10/11 May and this week I will post some of my key findings. I’ll also put up the paper and would welcome feedback and comments on it. I’ll also plan to post from the conference, which is being held at the German Institute for Economic Research in Berlin (DIW Berlin).

Higher education in Afghanistan pinched by war

Fighting Taliban militants in Afghanistan consumes most of the country’s resources. Rebuilding the educational system is not a political priority.

Professor Abdul Iqrar Wasel is pacing back and forth in front of the first row of students in his seminar. He is lecturing about the rights of government to impose punishments and the rights of the accused. About 50 students are writing down as much as they can. None of them have a laptop or books. The 15 young women in the course are all sitting on the left at the front of the class.

“You have to understand the individual in the social system,” explains Professor Wasel. He is the dean of the law and political sciences faculty at the University of Kabul – with more than 10,000 students, the largest university in Afghanistan. Toward the end of the previous Taliban regime, there were fewer than 8,000 students in the entire country.

“It is incredibly important that so many young Afghans are studying in this faculty because they will be the ones, after graduation, working in the justice, foreign and interior ministries,” stresses Wasel. “I hope that these young people will rebuild our country and change it, if we can successfully prepare the ground for them.”

Wasel’s faculty currently has 1,400 students learning in two groups. There is no other way – for space reasons. Those who study during the day do not have to pay anything. The evening courses for those who work cost about 80 euros ($104) a semester. For most Afghans, this is an enormous sum.

Past versus future

Dunia is one of the lucky ones to have been accepted for one of the highly coveted spots in law school – in the day group.

“This is the only faculty with which we can understand our society and how it works. We learn how other countries function and what rights and obligations they have toward each other. Afghanistan has changed a lot in recent years, but compared to other countries, there has been no breakthrough yet. We are still a backward and underdeveloped nation. I would like to help change that,” says Dunia.

Dunia wears tight jeans and a long, black blouse underneath a fashionable blazer. She wears make-up and her eyebrows have been carefully plucked. When she graduates, the 18-year-old wants to work in the foreign ministry – preferably as a diplomat.

“I would like Afghanistan to be just like any other country in which all the people are educated. More than half of the population here cannot read or write. But if my generation works hard enough, we can change that,” she says.

Lack of funding – lots of corruption

The thirst for education is huge in Afghanistan. Some 150,000 high school graduates took part in the most recent university entrance exams, but only 40,000 were accepted; a circumstance that generated a lot of anger and disappointment.

However, most of Afghanistan’s 20 state-run and private universities lack qualified lecturers, modern curricula, books, networked computers, seminar rooms and dormitories.

Nearly all students in Afghanistan who wish to study beyond a Bachelor’s degree need to go abroad because there are no suitable programs available at home – and that means going to Pakistan, India or Iran.

More than 30 years of war have left their mark. 19-year-old Farid would like to see more money invested directly in higher education.

“The international community needs to ensure more transparency with its financial aid. Foreign countries send so many millions of dollars to Afghanistan, but only a small portion of that reaches the people who need it. Our government is profoundly corrupt. The politicians can misuse the money because it does not flow directly into specific projects. That makes donor transparency all that more important,” he says.

Low priority investment

The first 10 years of the international Afghan mission cost Germany roughly 17 billion euros, according to finance experts. During this period, the German government says it spent just 110 million euros on education and cultural projects in Afghanistan. The figures are not much better for other donors.

The academic reconstruction of Afghanistan does not have a high political priority and military expenditures swallow up most of the money. Farid, meanwhile, dreams of a career in Afghanistan in the faculty for law and political science at the University of Kabul:

“Our future has not been decided, but if we are able to strengthen the rule of law, battle corruption and govern our nation better, then we have a chance.”

Author: Sandra Petersmann / gb
Editor: Sarah Berning

© Deutsche Welle

Interesting times for Ukrainian higher education

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Whilst this blog has a key focus on higher education in Central Asia, it occasionally visits other post-Soviet countries to catch up with developments there. Today we’re in Ukraine, at the western edge of the former Union.

Map of Commonwealth of Independent States

Whilst Central Asian countries and Ukraine share a Soviet heritage, there are also some notable differences. For example, Ukraine’s geographical location at the western edge of the former Soviet Union thereby puts it on the eastern fringe of the current European Union. With the addition of Bulgaria and Romania to the EU in 2007, and with Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and other Eastern European countries members since 2004, this eastern fringe has become less of a fringe and more of a normality. Other than Russia, Central Asia’s key neighbour is China, with potential growth in relationships with India (and Pakistan, to a lesser extent). The EU is far less significant for Central Asian countries.

Politically, Ukraine has appeared to be more open to opposition than the Central Asian countries, as the Orange Revolution of 2004 demonstrated – though like Central Asia, the country has by no means thrown off its Communist-era bureaucracies and corruption in public service. The sum of politics and geography equates to Ukraine’s relationship with the European Union, often testy but never really moving anywhere.

The influence of the European Union is relevant for Ukrainian higher education, as many players in the sector are keen to integrate more closely with the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). However, at the start of this year, the Minister of Education and Science Dmytro Tabachnyk seemed to have made a literal about face on this European enthusiasm by returning to Russo-centrism in his draft Law on Higher Education. The draft Law was criticised in January as being ‘shaped primarily by purely technical aspects of the “Russian model”‘ (Kvit, 29 January 2012). Kvit also claims that the draft Law blocks university autonomy and by doing so, prevents alignment and integration with European (and other international) partners and organisations.

So far, so bleak for the prospect of change.

It was therefore a pleasant surprise to read of yet another volte-face for higher education. Again reported by Serhiy Kvit in University World News, an early April article notes that despite the draft law having already been shown to parliament, the prime minister Mykola Asarov “took part in a round-table discussion with representatives from the academic community, and said that he wanted them to review the draft law on higher education”.

This was totally unexpected – and made all the more enigmatic by the banning of Education Minister Tabachnyk from the meeting! The working group has taken on board more than 4,000 proposals from the wider academic community. As Kvit says, “literally everyone could participate.”

The end of this twisting and turning story has not yet been reached. Whilst the prime minister has promised that previous drafts of the new Law will be withdrawn so that a version drawn up by the working group can be considered, I think Kvit is right to reserve his optimism for now.

Will Tabachnyk claw his way back into the process (he remains Minister)? Or will prime minister Asarov, Kvit (rector of the western-facing National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy) and colleagues see their draft through parliament?

I will be watching University World News closely to find out what happens next…


Kvit, S., 29 January 2012, Draft higher education law is retrogressive, obstructs integration, University World News issue 206. Accessed 19 April 2012 from

Kvit, S., 08 April 2012, New dawn for higher education in Ukraine?, University World News issue 216. Accessed 19 April 2012 from

For more information about Ukraine’s higher education sector, read their 2004 report submitted as a new member to the Bologna Process (which led to the EHEA). UNESCO has also published a monograph on higher education in Ukraine (2006).

My first journal article has been published!

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I’m delighted to let you know that my first article has just been published online!

Entitled Understanding universities’ responsibilities to their wider communities, the article investigates what responsibilities universities have to the communities around them beyond their immediate constituents of students and staff. Using a framework developed by the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement to highlight some of the issues a university may need to consider when undertaking engagement activity. The article uses case studies from eight UK universities and concludes that:

Universities needs to be clear about what their aims, purposes and priorities are. Engagement can be a motivation for searching for these purposes and, if necessary, redefining them to fit today’s circumstances.

You can access the online version on Taylor & Francis’ website at

And if you can’t access the online version, download it here: Sabzalieva_Understanding universities’ responsibliities to their wider communities

Reference details:

Emma Sabzalieva (2012): Understanding universities’ responsibilities to their wider communities, Perspectives: Policy and Practice in Higher Education.

Postscript to What’s your brand?

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Just a few days after my post about universities’ brands, I enjoyed reading an article in the Times Higher Education, the UK’s specialist higher education publication, about Nazarbayev University.

The article “No shame in the name” explains how a Cambridge University college has (at least temporarily) withdrawn a fellowship named after Nazarbayev. As in Nazarbayev University, not the President – but that lack of clarity was enough to embarrass Cambridge, which, it should be pointed out, has a growing partnership with Nazarbayev (Uni). Along with Pennsylvania State University (USA), Cambridge will help Nazarbayev Uni launch graduate degrees in education in 2013 and is already working on English language programmes with the Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools.

As such, it’s not entirely clear why the fellowship was withdrawn. But it does highlight the critical importance of a university’s brand.

It’s also worth noting that it’s a little odd that the Times Higher has chosen now to publish this article. As far as I can see, the Fellowship was advertised some months ago with one Kazakh website suggesting it closed in January. Ah well. News doesn’t always travel fast from Central Asia to the rest of the world.

Post-soviet universities need academic salaries reform to succeed – University World News

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Re-post of an interesting article from:

By Gregory Androushchak and Maria Yudkevich

For decades, universities in Soviet countries were governed, evaluated and financed according to the same principles. The system is not like this any more. However, faculty contracts – a core element in any university – have not changed much.

Faculty contracts in post-Soviet countries reflect the fact that many universities are built around teaching and learning processes. So, faculty contracts more or less explicitly describe teaching loads and obligations, and most monitoring and reporting activities are concentrated around contractual arrangements.

At the same time, the professoriate in general has few incentives and opportunities to be actively involved in research; research is poorly rewarded and teaching loads are heavy.

Teaching is far more relevant as a source of income for faculty, compared to other countries. At the same time, faculty in many post-Soviet countries (Russia and Armenia are typical examples of this) do not participate in consulting but rather engage in non-academic jobs.

Compared to professionals outside universities, university teachers are relatively poorly paid. That is the case for both top rank (such as associate professor or full professor) and entry rank (assistants or lecturer) academics.

Low salaries, moonlighting common
It is a common pattern in all developed countries that academics obtain less money but enjoy non-monetary benefits. However, even taking that into account, faculty salaries in former Soviet countries are significantly lower than those in other countries.

At least in part these conditions are based on the fact that, in general, these countries are relatively poor, compared to Western European countries, the United States, Canada or Australia.

But this does not explain why these salaries are more than twice as low in terms of gross domestic product per capita. In Nigeria, Ethiopia or India, where GDP per capita is also low, relative earnings of university professors are huge, compared to the rest of the population.

Since salaries are low and insufficient, moonlighting is quite common. Many teachers are engaged in teaching at several universities (including on for-profit programmes), offer private lessons or take on extra teaching at the same university.

Many teachers use the university reputation of their main employer (a position that does not pay very much money as a salary) to gain a good per-hour contract at a less reputable, for-profit university, which provides good money.

Many post-Soviet countries gave up university-specific entry examinations and substituted them with unified government exam systems, which have not continued in a widespread form.

However, private tutors are still in great demand, since they now help people to prepare for these unified tests; and many applicants from all income groups use preparatory lessons to increase their chances of enrolment to the best universities.

Fringe benefits
While academic contracts in post-Soviet countries differ substantially from those in developed countries, the fringe benefits are more or less the same as in the rest of the world.

Faculty enjoy retirement funds and longer vacations – the only time that academics who are overloaded with teaching but have not given up on research ambitions can engage in research. Other potential benefits, such as housing or work loads, are generally unavailable.

In the Soviet period, university teachers had access to many non-monetary benefits, and also had a higher social status than those who worked in business. So, the academic profession at that time attracted the brightest graduates and was able to provide them with quite good remuneration, high social status and fringe benefits – as well as clear career prospects.

Today, the conditions offered to university professionals, especially young ones, have the opposite effect with the best potential researchers choosing non-academic work or leaving the country to work in universities around the world.

Whether proper incentives can be restored, and how, are the key questions for building word-class universities in Russia.

Many post-Soviet countries are experiencing a demographic shock: the size of the 16- to 19-year-old age cohort is critically low. Few babies were born in the early 1990s as not many people felt brave enough to have children.

The lack of students creates huge competition in the university sector, for good or even not-so-good students. While university administrators are facing up to this challenge, they also need to reform the university sector by removing weak institutions and cheap diploma mills.

Reforming academic contracts is a key ingredient for creating better incentives for teachers, and would attract new young people into the higher education sector.

Gregory Androushchak is adviser to the rector at the National Research University – Higher School of Economics. Email: Maria Yudkevich is vice-rector of the National Research University – Higher School of Economics.Email:

This is an edited version of the chapter, “Faculty Contracts in Post-Soviet Countries: Common features, different futures”, inPaying the Professoriate: A global comparison of compensation and contracts, edited by Philip G Altbach, Liz Reisberg, Maria Yudkevich, Gregory Androushchak and Iván F Pacheco. New York: Routledge 2012. It is republished with permission.

(c) University World News, 08 April 2012, issue 216