Kyrgyzstan Trying to Systematize University Admissions, Curbing Corruption (repost from

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Study abroad survey: part 5

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Thank you all for sticking with me as I complete the publication of my study abroad survey results. Part 5 is the finale, bringing together in my conclusion everything that I’ve discussed in the paper.

If you requested a copy of the full paper, I’ll be emailing it out shortly. (If you didn’t but would like a copy, just let me know)

My next plans are to …

a) try and get this paper published;

b) perhaps consider spin-off papers focussing on particular aspects of the study abroad experience for this group, for example by gender or by looking at only those who have completed their course;

c) think about whether there would be organisations or universities out there interested in the results to help them shape their provision for international students;

d) and then work out what I do next in terms of research. What I’m really interested in is social change in post-Soviet Central Asia but what I don’t know is how to combine my personal observations/reflections/experience with my educational background to move this forwards. Suggestions are welcome!

OK, here’s the conclusion of the paper:


Pre-departure motivations and perceptions

There were no noticeable gender differences in the survey, either by composition of respondents or by type of response. The main age group for respondents was mid 20s to mid 30s, and the majority went abroad to study either for a Master’s degree or an undergraduate degree, so their ages suggest that most respondents continued a direct progression route into higher education from secondary school. Whilst questions that could have directly inferred income or class background were deliberately excluded from the survey, the information provided by respondents suggests that they may come from higher social class backgrounds.

A number of push and pull factors were shown to have influenced individuals’ choices about studying abroad, with two pull factors dominating: the desire to improve one’s academic knowledge and the desire to improve one’s career prospects. Richters and Teichler’s notion of ‘vertical mobility’ was shown to have relevance for the surveyed group. Schweisfurth and Gu’s three categories of cross-intercultural experiences, human development and intellectual development were used as lenses to examine respondents’ perceptions of how they might change through study abroad. Human and intellectual development outweighed cross-intercultural experiences as important factors for these individuals.

Study abroad experiences

Respondents’ choice of institution for their study abroad reflected the seriousness of their choice, with quality an over-riding factor. Two high quality English-medium institutions in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan received the highest number of respondents, suggesting that geographical factors also play a role in choice. The UK and the USA were the next most popular destination countries. Every subject that was studied (where stated) could either be classed as belonging to the social sciences or the humanities, suggesting that respondents made pragmatic decisions about course choice with a view to future career prospects.

The majority of respondents reported a generally positive experience of study abroad, with positive responses outweighing reported problems by an average of 7:3. The survey results demonstrated very few problems in adapting to life as an international student, which stood out against a more usual expectation that international students may suffer from culture shock, which is often heightened when the differences between the individual’s home country and the country being visited are greater. Given that 72% of respondents moved to a country where English is an official language, it could have been expected that the adaptation process would have proved more complex. Furnham’s theory of ‘expectancy-value’ was offered as an explanation for this successful adaptation.

Post-study abroad impact and decision-making

Of the respondents who had completed their study abroad, most had successfully found employment and indeed were employed at a rate far greater than the estimated Tajik norm. Those in employment broadly fell into three sectors: international organisations, the private sector, and academia/teaching and it was suggested that these fields were predictable given the nature of the subjects that had been studied as well as the ‘premium’ placed on jobs in international organisations and the private sector. Those working in the public sector were overall more positive about their study abroad than those working in the private sector.

The fact that there was a relatively even spread between respondents who had returned to Tajikistan (31%) and those who had remained abroad (44%) suggested that the ‘brain drain’ phenomenon was potentially an issue. Although the survey was not able to ascertain whether the non-Tajikistan based respondents planned to stay abroad more permanently, the evidence provided does seem to lean towards this migration being a temporary phenomenon. Whilst Abazov believes that ‘young professionals who have been receiving education in foreign countries have little incentive to return’ (22.07.2010), Altbach’s slightly more nuanced view is that ‘while brains may no longer be permanently drained, they are nonetheless siphoned’ (26.02.2012). A longer term study of the respondents might help to elucidate this question.

Respondents’ family and friends were generally supportive of the decision to study abroad, although were not without concerns for the personal safety and well-being of respondents. During/after the study abroad, it was shown that family and friends tended to remain or become slightly more supportive. A small minority had mixed or negative attitudes towards the study abroad, and the specific context of Tajikistan was touched upon as a way to unpack some of these less positive reactions.

It was evident that study abroad made an impact on all the respondents, and for the majority this was an overwhelmingly positive experience. Respondents reported change in all three of the categories from Schweisfurth and Gu employed as a framework for analysis in this paper, although a small number did not feel they had changed particularly. This was often for specific reasons, such as the respondent who had studied abroad before and felt that the second experience, which was the one being examined in the survey, had played a lesser role than the first period of study abroad.

In summary

Yang et al’s study of Hong Kong Chinese students’ study abroad experiences contends that ‘students’ study abroad goals, host country experiences, and learning outcomes were interrelated… students are motivated by their goals to actively engage in experiences that are conducive to enhancement of their intercultural, disciplinary/career, and personal competences’ (2011). This small-scale survey has similarly demonstrated strong connections between motivations for study abroad, the actual experience of being a temporary migrant overseas, and the impact that this has on individuals after the study abroad is complete. In many instances, the perceptions and changes that took place were similar to the findings of studies of other groups of international students, for example with the weight placed on improving career prospects. The key area of divergence from other groups (particularly groups from western/more developed countries) was the relatively low occurrence of culture shock issues. The benefits to respondents of being able adapt quickly and/or with ease undoubtedly play an important part in allowing their vision of well-being to be achieved.

Overall, therefore, study abroad has a major impact on the well-being of the individual Tajik nationals surveyed for this paper, and for the most part this is a strongly positive experience. Study abroad is a step taken by these Tajik nationals towards their ambition of making their life better.

Study abroad survey results: part 4

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Hot on the heels of part 3, here is the next part of my study. In part 4, I look at the post-study abroad experience. This section uses a number of quotes from respondents, which I think complement the graphs/tables well, and deepen our understanding of the individual experience and impact. Let me know what you think!

Post-study abroad impact and decision-making

Of the 103 respondents, 44 were still studying and were therefore only able to provide limited responses to questions about how study abroad had changed them. Of the remaining 59, 42 were in employment, 12 had started a new course of study, 3 were full-time parents and 2 were looking for work.

Employment prospects

The employment rate of 95% amongst completed students compares very favourably to the general employment rate in Tajikistan, which is unofficially estimated to be around 60% (Asian Development Bank, November 2010)[1]. Three employment sectors were identified from those in employment, where this was stated in the response:

  1. Nearly half work for some form of international organisation, with the UN system featuring prominently;
  2. Just under a third work in the private sector such as banking, logistics and consultancy;
  3. Around 15% teach or research at a school or university.

A rare report on higher education in Tajikistan suggests this is to be expected: ‘graduates/alumni of the international scholarships programmes or universities, the most  talented youth, prefer to find work with international organisations or in the private sector’ (National Tempus Office Tajikistan, October 2010, p8). There also appears to be a match between the subject studied (see figure 6) and the career fields students are progressing in, reinforcing the strong inclination shown by respondents to study abroad in order to improve their career prospects.

Interestingly, respondents’ attitudes to their time abroad varied by the career sector they now worked in. Those working in the private sector were less positive about the impact of study abroad on their career prospects, as this sample response shows:

“I am working in Tajikistan now. I am an entrepreneur. To be honest I expected that studying abroad would help more with finding a good job. But so far it has turned out that it was not as helpful as I thought it would be.” – male, 24

On the other hand, respondents who said they were working for an NGO or in academia/teaching assigned greater value to their study abroad:

“I work as a development specialist at the United Nations. My studies definitely enabled me to take this path.” – female, 29

 “Now I am teaching secondary level students about Islam as a civilization in Khorog, Tajikistan. Studying abroad helps me a lot with this. For instance, I am able to use various methods of teaching; I know how to manage my classes better and effectively; I know various ways of approaching my students of different academic achievements; I know how to better and effectively approach my students’ parents and involve them in their learning process.” – male, age not stated

Where are they now?

Respondents in employment showed the highest tendency to return to Tajikistan. Whilst a quarter of those in employment did not state which country they were working in, of the remaining number, there was an almost equal split between those who had returned to Tajikistan (16) and the number who had stayed abroad (15). Of those who stayed abroad, the two biggest destination countries were the UK and the USA with 20% of respondents each, and the remaining 60% scattered across the world – from Uruguay to Ethiopia to Thailand. This result was surprising as a popular perception in Tajikistan is that once an individual has the opportunity to go abroad, they are likely to stay abroad to continue pursuing better opportunities.

For respondents doing a new course of study (12), only 2 were doing so in Tajikistan. 6 were in the USA and 4 did not state their destination. Of the three full-time parents, 2 were in European countries and 1 did not state their destination. And both of the respondents currently looking for work were doing so in the USA.

Overall, therefore, 31% of respondents were back in Tajikistan compared to 44% who were out of the country (25% did not state their location). It is not known whether those who remained out of Tajikistan planned to migrate on a permanent basis, although two respondents noted that they lived abroad permanently due to marrying someone from a different country. White and Ryan suggest that the networks built by migrants whilst abroad ‘are increasingly important to understanding patterns of migration’, and strong networks built up within the receiving country can facilitate the chances that migration becomes long term or permanent (2008). It would be interesting to track the students who stayed abroad on a longer term basis to investigate the extent to which study abroad is a form of temporary, rather than permanent, migration and how the networks students construct influence the length of the period abroad.

Impact on family/friends

Respondents were asked two questions about the opinions of their family and friends. The first question, shown in figure 10, used a Likert scale to assess how family and friends felt about the decision that respondents had made to study abroad and suggest that the reaction of family and friends was overwhelmingly positive. Three answers generated a much more mixed range of responses: ‘worried about your financial situation’, ‘worried about your safety/health, and ‘not worried’, demonstrating that whilst overall family and friends were likely to be very supportive of the decision to study abroad, this did not prevent them from harbouring concerns about aspects of the student’s personal well-being. Concerns about academic progress (‘worried that you wouldn’t do well academically’) were minimal, indicating that family and friends had confidence that by deciding to study abroad, the student was in effect already demonstrating a high level of academic ability.

Figure 10: Responses to the question ‘In general, how did your family and friends feel about your decision to study abroad’

The second question was free text and asked respondents to state what their family and friends thought of their decision to study abroad now, i.e. at the point they had either already started or completed their studies. Almost every single respondent reported supportive reactions:

“My family and friends think my decision was the best one and if I stayed here in Tajikistan then I would never [have] been able to achieve what I have achieved so far. Now my parents think that I should go on to [do a] PhD and finish up what I have started.” – male, 25

“I worked hard to study abroad because of my family. They always were supportive.” – female, 29

The strong positivity demonstrated in figure 10 has therefore for the most part been sustained and responses showed that some families and friends had become more encouraging in their attitudes. As one respondent put it:

“I am proud that my family walk with high heads because of me” – female, 29

For a small minority, however, the reaction of their family and friends is mixed, or negative:

“My family and friends are happy that I am studying and living abroad now. My parents, though, sometimes ask me to come back as they don’t want their children to live in any other country for a long period of time.” – male, 34

“My family was against my study abroad since [the] beginning and has not changed their view. My friends were neutral and do not share their view.” – female, 36

It is worth noting that family relationships in Tajikistan and other Central Asian countries are distinctive from European/American models. For example, people generally marry earlier and have more children, although this pattern is changing. Further, it is common for elders to have more control over family life and decisions, and for family life to be more intergenerational (Roberts, 2010). This may help to understand the reticence communicated by a small number of respondents.

Impact on self

The final question in the survey asked respondents to comment on how they have changed as a result of studying abroad, the aim being to understand the extent to which study abroad affects levels of well-being. The majority of respondents asserted that they had changed in at least one of the categories employed in this paper to describe change (cross-intercultural experiences, human development, intellectual development), as shown in figure 11.

Figure 11: Codings of free text responses to the question ‘How have you changed as a result of studying abroad?’

In terms of cross-intercultural experiences, Opper et al note that study abroad ‘provides a direct opportunity for cultural learning through the broadening of knowledge and views internationally… an understanding of other cultures stimulates, in turn, some reflection about one’s own culture, and even a reconsideration of values in general, apart from application to any specific country’ (1990). The responses in the survey can be grouped into two types. Firstly, some respondents noted that their views of Tajikistan had changed, either positively or negatively:

 “I used to idealize foreign specialists before going abroad myself… Today, however, after having studied so many years abroad, I think that Tajik specialists and professionals are highly underestimated and underpaid.” – female, 31

“[I] didn’t like Tajikistan before but [I] hate being there now. I would never go there if not for my family and friends.” – female, 41 or above

The second type of response commented on their changed views of other countries and cultures:

“I am no longer in love with the West. The more I studied here the more I understood the working of a neo-colonial system and how the richness of the West is built up on [the] backs of developing countries. I guess I no longer see the West or democracy as something that will ‘help’ Tajikistan.” – female, 30

 “The knowledge and experience of studying and living in the UK… will certainly have an impact on [a] person’s life and worldview…. all these studies and experiences at leading universities in the UK has changed my view about the world and Tajikistan…” – male, 38

Respondents reporting human development-related impact focused on improvements to their skills: those related to their personality (e.g. increased confidence and responsibility) and skills that would enable them to improve their career prospects:

“[I] became more tolerant and open, more self confident, improved my academic background, and being a student here I already have 2 job offers with a good salary back in Dushanbe [capital of Tajikistan]” – female, 23

“I became more independent and responsible as I thought I would be. And I feel I am ready to move on, starting with exchange programs, internships abroad, meeting more people, using any work (career) opportunities.” – female, 18

Intellectual development connects primarily to reported improvements in academic knowledge and skills, but a number of respondents also directly related this to how they perceived their responsibility to make changes in Tajikistan:

“The primary change in me personally is my academic ability, questioning various subjects across disciplines” – male, 31

“It is obvious that after studying abroad your attitude to your country changes totally. Now you begin to look at your country with the question “how I can contribute to the development of Tajikistan” and you begin to realize that the future of your country is your hands.” – female, 23

It is evident that all respondents had changed in at least some way as a result of studying abroad. At its deepest, studying abroad can be ‘a profound transformational experience’ (Gu, 29.01.2012) and many of the respondents said they had changed greatly across the three categories used in the paper:

“I am so much [a] different person now than I was back then. Education here has broadened my mind to the things that I had no idea of their existence and as I grow in possessing my knowledge I see the opportunities that I can get, and the things that I can do in my life and with my life. I am [a] much happier person now than I was before.” – female, 26

[1] It should be noted that the official unemployment rate is 2.2% but most indicators suggest that this is based on incomplete criteria and therefore does not capture the full scenario.

Study abroad survey results: part 3

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Further to part 1 and part 2, part 3 looks at the experiences respondents had during their study abroad. I’ll follow this straight away with part 4, which looks at the post-study abroad experience. As ever, your comments and questions are extremely welcome!

Study abroad experiences

Choice of university and subject

As noted in the methodology, the majority – 72% – of respondents studied/are studying in countries where English is an official language. Interestingly, no respondents had studied in Australia, although the country is a major importer of international students from other countries in Asia (Marginson, 2006). It seems that students from Tajikistan tend to follow the pattern noted by Roberts of ‘drifting’ from east to west (2010). That said, the two most popular destination universities were in neighbouring countries: to the highly regarded American University of Central Asia (AUCA) in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan (7 respondents) and the Kazakhstan Institute of Management, Economics and Strategic Research (known by its Russian acronym of KIMEP) in Almaty, Kazakhstan (6 respondents). Following these were the London School of Economics and Political Sciences (UK), Indiana State University (USA), the Institute of Education, University of London (UK) and the University of Oxford (UK).

Whilst some geographic reasoning could be drawn from the popularity of AUCA and KIMEP, the survey results suggest that quality and reputation of institution is an important driver. This is substantiated by figure 5, which breaks down the reasons that respondents chose the university they studied/are studying at. Further, a 2011 report from neighbouring Uzbekistan noted that where cost was not an issue for students considering study abroad, the quality of education offered was paramount (, 15.11.2011).

Figure 5: Answers to the question ‘Why did you choose the university you studied/are studying at?’

Although the individual subjects studied by respondents were wide-ranging, the subject groups demonstrated a clear tendency for more practical/vocationally-oriented areas over more traditionally academic subjects, as figure 6 shows. Within the social sciences, areas such as international relations/politics and business/management studies dominated. The popularity of these practical/vocational courses supports the supposition that Tajik nationals see study abroad as a means to improve their career prospects.

Figure 6: Subject areas being studied, where stated (87/103 respondents)


Respondents were asked to describe how long it took them to adapt once they had arrived at their university. Figure 7 demonstrates that for each instance, the majority of respondents found it relatively straightforward to adapt, taking either less than 1 month or a maximum of 2 months.

Figure 7: Answers to the question ‘How long did it take you to adapt to the following aspects of studying abroad?’

These responses are extremely interesting given that a study abroad experience is often ‘a significant transitional event that brings with it a considerable amount of accompanying stress, involving both confrontation and adaptation to unfamiliar physical and psychological experiences and changes’ (Cushner and Karim, 2004, quoted in Schweisfurth & Gu, October 2009). However, Furnham (1997) points out that study abroad students are voluntary migrants and therefore have assumed ‘considerable personal responsibility and control’. Furnham also propagates a theory of expectancy-value, which suggests that the more accurate/objective a person’s expectations are, the more successfully they can adapt.

These responses again underline the importance of academic improvement as a driver for Tajik nationals studying abroad, and this manifests itself both as a challenge and an opportunity.  The perception that higher education abroad is of higher quality and the opportunity to live in a foreign country have been shown to be key drivers for outbound students from a number of countries (e.g. Counsell, March 2011). The main difference that the Tajik nationals showed is a lower concern about developing foreign (English) language skills, which is highlighted in other studies as a major reason to/benefit of study abroad.

Figure 8: Answers to the question ‘What are/were the main problems of studying abroad?’
Figure 9: Answers to the question ‘What are/were the main positive aspects of studying abroad?’

Study abroad survey results: part 2

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Following on from part 1, this post covers the pre-departure section of my Tajik study abroad paper. This part looks at WHY respondents wanted to study abroad

Pre-departure motivations and perceptions

Push-pull factors

Respondents were asked to choose one or more reasons (from a pre-determined selection) to explain why they were motivated to study abroad, and the results are shown in figure 3. These are all either push or pull factors, i.e. something that stimulates a student to study away from Tajikistan or something that attracts them to study in another country.  Chirkov et al (2008) summarise these factors through two goals:

  • Preservation: motivated by the push factor of being forced to leave one’s home country to avoid adverse situations
  • Self-determination: a pull factor of wishing to obtain a better education and further one’s career prospects

Push factors in figure 3 include the availability of subjects abroad that are not offered in Tajikistan and the desire to remain overseas temporarily or permanently. Although corruption in the Tajik higher education system was not given as a choice in this question, a number of respondents refer to it in other free text questions:

“The thing is Tajik education is very corrupted, therefore being a part of different type of education will boost my perspectives for [a] future career in international fields!” – male, age not stated

“…in Tajikistan the educational system is so corrupt that you would never ever be able to tell whether you are making progress or not. Even if you try to be a good student, you won’t be able to progress because of the unfair educational system and lack of good teachers.” – female, 26

Pull factors in figure 3 include, as with the Chirkov et al study, the desire to improve one’s academic knowledge and one’s career prospects. Richters and Teichler call this ‘vertical mobility’ (in De Wit et al, , 2008), whereby students move from countries or institutions of lower academic quality to those of higher quality. This is reflected in the following free text response:

“I chose to study abroad primarily thinking that better education allows getting [a] better job in the future internationally. Particularly, in the view of great scepticism that exists in regard to Tajik education overseas. Secondly, I was happy to study abroad because I could study what I want and the way I want it, not following the prescribed subjects that sometimes you are not interested [in].” male, 32

The high number of responses to the two pull factors noted above – over three quarters of all respondents selecting both – demonstrate that for Tajik nationals, pull factors are substantially more compelling motivations for individual decision-making than push factors.

Figure 3: Answers to the question ‘What were the reasons that you wanted to study abroad?’

Perceived changes to self

The survey asked respondents to provide a free text response to a question about how they thought that studying abroad would change them, i.e. what their perceptions were prior to leaving the country. Using Schweisfurth and Gu’s analysis of international students in the UK (October 2009), the responses were coded into three categories with an added category of ‘other’ where respondents suggested they did not expect to change, hadn’t thought about the issue of change, or perceived it would be difficult.

  1. Cross-intercultural experiences (C)
  2. Human development (H)
  3. Intellectual development (I)
  4. Other  (O)

These categories were often combined, as some of the quotes below show:

 “I thought that coming back to my home country, I will have different approaches to many things. For instance to learning, making [a] career, building my future, family relationships, viewing my children’s future, academic career…” – male, age not stated

 “I knew that studying abroad in university at age 18 is the first step to an adult life. I knew the life without my parents will make me more independent, responsible and simply make me grow up….” – female, 18

 “My expectations were/are high and I always thought that I would be better with the education I would get abroad. It is better to study abroad and get [a] degree rather than wasting my time here in Tajikistan…” – male, 25

“I didn’t want to go – I had it good in Dushanbe [capital of Tajikistan]. But my parents thought that the society is decaying with a dreadful system of education” – male, 24

181 codings were recorded from 100 valid responses, an average of 1.8 per person. These are shown in figure 4, and correlate to the trend seen in figure 3 where the two most popular responses were also connected to better career prospects and improved education/academic knowledge.

Figure 4: Codings of free text responses to the question ‘Before you started studying abroad, how did you think that study abroad would change you?’

Well-being in Central Asia conference

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Guten tag aus Berlin! I’m here for a conference hosted by the German Institute for Economic Research, joining 14 other researchers who are presenting on various subjects related to well-being in Central Asia.

Humboldt University Berlin

The first day of the conference was hosted yesterday at Humboldt University in central Berlin. As an aside, it’s hugely exciting for a higher education geek (me!) to be at the university named after the man who had such a strong influence on higher education. Teichler has divided the development of higher education into three phases: from the development of medieval universities (Bologna, Paris, Oxford etc), to a major period of change in the 19th century, through to the massification of the system post-World War 2. The Humboldtian model propounding unity of teaching and research was hugely influential in the second period of development.

OK, that’s enough of a history lesson! Let’s move on to the conference itself.

Conference about to start
Conference about to start

Things kicked off with a keynote speech by Nauro Campos of Brunel University/DFID. He pointed out that research on the “economics of happiness” is very much in vogue, although as a field it has been slowly developing since the 1970s. In transition countries, i.e. those which have undergone the change from being part of the Soviet Union to being post-Soviet independent countries, it’s bad news: there is “abnormally low life satisfaction in transition countries”. People are unhappy for age-related reasons (for example, because social safety nets such as health and pensions are dissolving), because there is rising income inequality and this generates unfairness, due to inequality of opportunity, and because of increased uncertainty.

The presentations that followed afforced this theory through examinations of case study populations and/or data sets. For example, Barbara Dietz of the Institute for East European Studies in Regensburg (Germany) noted that internal migration in Kazakhstan has no significant impact on wage levels. Even if someone’s salary has gone up, their expenditure is likely to have increased on higher rents and living costs.

Tobias Kraudzun of Free University Berlin (Germany) presented his group’s research into pastoralists in Murghab in the far east of Tajikistan. They found “dramatic de-development” of the region after the break up of theSoviet Union. For example, 68% of households in Murghab have monetary income of less than 400 somoni (about $20) per month, which means that the majority of people have difficulties earning a livelihood sufficient to meet their basic needs.

Migration was a major theme underlying many of the presentations. Kraudzun noted the attitudes of young people in Murghab were more open to moving away from the region for educational purposes (though interestingly, ethnic Kyrygz families were less likely to support long-term migration than ethnic Pamiri families in the area).

Kathryn Anderson of Vanderbilt University (USA) has found that migration from Kyrgyzstan (mainly toRussiato undertake low-skilled jobs) has no impact on enrolment in school education. As in, even if household members are working in Russia to earn more than they could at home, and they send some of those funds back home, the extra income does not make any difference to the number who go to school.

One small glimmer of light was that Anderson’s research found that Tajik migrants sending remittances home do make a difference to children. Secondary school students from households with a migrant worker(s) stay at school longer and more of them go. In Tajikistan, though, one of the most important impacts on children’s education is the level of their parents’ education. Combining further research on this with the data on migrant workers could produce really interesting results.

Are you suffering from capitalism?
Are you suffering from capitalism?

I very much enjoyed a presentation by Hilal Galip of the Bremen International Graduate School of Social Sciences (Germany), which started with the image used here on the left. Hilal presented the early results of a comparison between “happy” Kyrgyz and “unhappy” Hungarians, which tries to understand why the former show higher levels of life satisfaction despite the country’s poor economic/political situation.

Day 2 of the conference had two panels, the first covering household economies and the second (including my paper) on knowledge and perceptions.

In the first panel, I was very taken by Aksana Ismailbekova‘s (Crossroads Asia Competence Network, Germany) case study approach to examining how single mothers (generally widowers) are coping in the aftermath of the summer 2010 violence in Osh, southern Kyrgyzstan. Aksana’s approach was quite different from the quantitative-heavy presentations of day 1 (see image below).

The economists in full swing – I’m sure the equations make sense to some people!

Also in that panel was a presentation about women ‘doing it all’ in Tajikistan, by Mieke Meurs of the American University in Washington, D.C. (USA). Mieke’s analysis of household survey data gave some interesting propositions: for example, women in urban areas of Tajikistan spend more time on unpaid care work (childcare, looking after elderly relatives) than women in rural areas do even though they are more likely to have paid work. I’d like to see a further analysis distinguishing between women in urban and in rural areas as my perception is that patterns of women’s work (paid and unpaid) in urban areas, especially Dushanbe, are changing – fewer children per family, more paid work etc.

My presentation was the last one and I managed to cover everything I wanted to say, although I’m sure I missed out some important points. I have realised that I collected a lot of data – enough to fill several papers! This gives me the opportunity to focus future work on particular aspects of the survey results, for example comparing experiences by gender or focussing on the post-study abroad period. Here’s my presentation:

Is the grass greener Sabzalieva presentation Berlin May 12

and I’ll continue to publish parts of the paper on this blog.

I got some interesting feedback and I’ll reflect on that and how I can take this research forward in the future.

My concluding remarks – because you have to have these at a conference! – are that I have learnt a huge amount from the presentations and fellow presenters: about different research findings, about research methodologies and about the variety of research being undertaken about Central Asia. And being able to do so in Berlin, surrounded by its history, has been a huge privilege.

Berlin by the stereotype


Teichler, U. (2007), Higher Education Systems: Conceptual Frameworks, Comparative Perspectives, Empirical Findings, Sense Publishers

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