Study abroad survey attracts more than 100 responses

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On 31 January I closed my study abroad survey for Tajik nationals and I was absolutely delighted to see that in total, I had received over 100 responses! This figure is more than double the number I had hoped for and I would like to extend a huge THANK YOU / РАХМАТ / СПАСИБО to everyone who participated.

Thank you in lots of languages

In its Global Education Digest 2011, UNESCO reports that approximately 5,500 Tajiks study abroad each year, with the majority going to Russia (approx 2,800) and Kyrgyzstan (approx 1,500). Around 300 students a year are estimated to go to the USA. With over 30 responses to my survey coming from people studying in the US that means I’ve managed to capture the views of around 10% of the annual total number going to that country. That’s really good going for a small-scale study.

I attribute the better-than-expected response rate to two connected reasons: firstly, the snowball sampling method I used and secondly, the power of social networking. When I created the survey, I also drew up a list of people I knew who would be eligible to participate, and – here comes the snowball part – asked them to spread the message to other people they knew. In this way I was able to reach an audience that was much wider than my own contacts. Secondly, thanks to Facebook, LinkedIn and a Central Eurasia mailing list maintained by Harvard University, I was able to reach people out of my network and my contacts’ networks.

The Facebook group Tajik PhDs abroad was a particularly dynamic group and I feel privileged to have been added to the group with its active discussions on everything from representation of the ‘other’ in Russian film to data on cotton production in Tajikistan. The Harvard mailing list also put me in touch with people around the world. The process of doing the survey may well prove to be as fascinating as the results that I will shortly start analysing!

An explanation of the study that the survey is contributing to is in an earlier blog post.

Global, but not local: Tajikistan’s new Education Minister overlooks basic reform needs

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Nuriddin Saidov, the new Tajik Education Minister

Earlier this month, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon installed a new Minister of Education: the former Rector of Tajik National University Nuriddin Saidov.

(The outgoing Minister Abdujabbor Rahmonov has been appointed Rector of Aini Pedagogical University. I don’t know if there was a particular reason for the move – the only information I can find is from state agencies who offer information but not analysis).

This week, Saidov presented some of his early plans to the Majlisi Namoyandagon, Tajikistan’s lower chamber of parliament. I found it interesting that he chose to focus on what I would consider the “garnishes” rather than the “bread and butter” issues. That is to say, he did not use this as an opportunity to address some of the fundamental issues in the education sector like low teachers’ wages and poor school conditions (lack of materials, heating etc).

Instead, he spoke about getting more young Tajiks studying abroad and improving the study of foreign languages in schools and universities. He also asked parliament to ratify the Lisbon Recognition Convention, signed by Rahmon in June 2011. This is a European initiative to recognise countries’ higher education qualifications in the European region.

Whilst this is great news for students who want a more international perspective (and would give me more respondents for my study abroad survey!), these initiatives are certainly not going to fix the underlying problems facing the sector.

Potentially positive news for the Ministry known to be the most corrupt of all government agencies in Tajikistan (quite some achievement) was Saidov’s mention of a restructure of the Ministry. However, it remains to be seen whether this mean appointing his friends to posts or driving more fundamental reforms.

Say no to corruption in education... not just applicable to students? Image (c)

Parliament’s  speaker Shukurjon Zukhurov was on hand to give Saidov some real-world advice. He noted that ratifying the Lisbon Recognition Convention did not mean that Tajik students’ levels of knowledge would improve. For this, he said, the Ministry and students themselves must work harder and do more.

Saidov responded by saying he understands the responsibility he’s taken on. Let’s just hope this is truly the case.

Students: heads you lose, tails you lose

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Are today’s students in the former Soviet Union too political or not political enough? Two recent stories from Uzbekistan and Russia suggest that either way, students will end up being criticised: you’re damned if you do care and you’re damned if you don’t.

In Uzbekistan, the government has introduced a new moral code – no less than 23 pages long – in an attempt to rectify what it sees as poor behaviour amongst students. Apparently students are getting too wild for the government’s liking, with allegations of inappropriate dressing and listening to music that’s just way too foreign. The government clearly sees this as a threat

On the other hand, a visiting student at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations in Russia has posted a well-written critique of the lack of politics at the Institute. The author sees this as contrary given that graduates of the Institute often go on to high-level positions in government and business. A small murmur of interest has arisen at the Institute since the post-election demonstrations in Russia in December 2011, but whether this is maintained remains to be seen.

I’d love to hear what current students in the region have to say about this.

20 years on: human rights in the post-Soviet countries

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I’d like to recommend a great article I’ve just read, The Soviet Fall and the Arab Spring.

By an experienced human rights researcher, the article provides six ideas “about what has to happen after the revolution to make change stick”.

The six ideas are:

1. There is nothing inevitable about transitions to democracy

2. Guard against misplaced blame (I found this a particularly interesting idea)

3. Institutionalize strong minority rights protections

4. International institutions matter

5. Establish concrete human rights benchmarks and give them teeth

6. Support a strong civil society

However, in the case of the post-Soviet countries featured in the article, it’s more of a sobering lesson in how human rights have not always been prioritised, and how motivation (political, individual) plays an important role in the success – or otherwise – of attempts to “make change stick”.

Developments in Central Asian higher education, part 3: Kazakhstan

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Today, a brief overview of the current situation for higher education in Kazakhstan, as part of my monthly series reviewing the Central Asian countries. Click on the links to read earlier posts on Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Of the Central Asian countries, Kazakhstan in particular has embraced the concept of a market-driven higher education system and national policy is aimed at ‘reforming the higher education system to meet the needs of a modern competitive economy based on international experience’ (National Tempus Office Kazakhstan, October 2010: 6). Both in number and proportion, there are more private providers of higher education in Kazakhstan than other Central Asian countries, which partly reflects low government investment in education.

That said, there has been investment in in the high quality end of the market to support President Nazarbayev’s aim of creating a knowledge economy in the country. The best example of this is the 2006 creation of a brand new university in the capital Astana. Originally called simply the New University, it has now been renamed Nazarbayev University after the President. Despite neither name being interesting or original (although New College Oxford has been around since 1379 so perhaps they should have stuck with the original name!), significant state funds have been pumped into prestigious international partnerships with universities of the likes of Harvard, University College London and the National University of Singapore with the aim of creating – at high-speed – an international standard research university with a focus on science and social sciences.

Grand plans: designs for Nazarbayev University
Grand plans: designs for Nazarbayev University

In terms of subject areas, the British Council’s review of the Kazakhstan market confirms that science, engineering and technology are priorities for the country (May 2011). These subjects have been a focus for the state-funded Bolashak Scholarship Programme (which between 1995 and 2010 sent over 7,300 Kazakh students abroad to study), demonstrating a desire to improve capacity in these areas. However, with the rise of Nazarbayev University, it is likely that the Bolashak Programme will be remodelled as a smaller programme focussing exclusively on subjects not available in Kazakhstan.

The Ministry of Education and Science in Kazakhstan has ten stated priorities for the development of higher education that aim to improve quality and enable the achievement of international standards (Omirbaev, December 2009). The priorities are geared around making Kazakhstan’s education system compatible with the Bologna process, for example moving to the three-cycle Bachelor’s-Master’s-Doctorate system and introducing a credit transfer system like the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS). Vocational training is also important, with the government recently announcing that its education development programme will bring standards up to an international level.

In summary, Kazakhstan’s ‘higher education system has come a very long way from its Soviet roots since independence’ (OECD/World Bank, 2007: 24) but it is held back on a global scene because of the slower rates of development (e.g. in institution building and basic infrastructure) in the Central Asian region as a whole. It has not been immune to the global financial crisis, as Lillis noted in 2009, with subsequent effects on the student experience that are demonstrated through student quotes used in the article.


  • British Council. (May 2011). Kazakhstan Market Briefing
  • CaspioNet. (07.01.2012). Kazakhstan transmits to international standards of vocational training. Accessed on 09.01.2012 from
  • Lillis, Joanna. (07.06.2009) Kazakhstan: Economic Crisis Crimps Astana’s Grand Plans for Higher Education. Accessed on 09.01.2012 from
  • National Tempus Office Kazakhstan. (October 2010). Higher Education in Kazakhstan: European Commission
  • OECD/World Bank. (2007). Higher Education in Kazakhstan: Reviews of National Policies for Education
  • Omirbaev, S. M. (December 2009). Национальные приоритеты развития высшего и послевузовского образования Республики Казахстан на 2010-2012 г.г (National Priorities for the Development of Higher and Post-Higher Education in the Republic of Kazakhstan, 2010-2012)

See also blogger Kazakh Nomad’s December 2011 posts answering some important questions about Kazakhstan, including on the education system, in a series of farewell posts as she prepares to leave the country.

Happy new year!

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Happy new year! I hope you enjoyed a peaceful and happy holiday and are looking forward to what 2012 will bring.

You’ll notice I had a break from this blog too, spent with my family and friends and including a fantastic four-way Skype call on New Year’s Eve with my parents in Italy, my brother in the USA, my sister in London and my husband and me in Oxford! I also caught up with family and friends as far apart as Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Hungary and Australia as well as those closer to home. The world feels even more connected and global at times like these.

For today’s post, I thought it would be interesting to look at the new year addresses given by the leaders of the four Central Asian countries this blog covers to see if these shed any light on their hopes and plans for the year ahead.

Starting with Tajikistan, President Rakhmon makes open acknowledgement of the 1 million or so Tajiks currently living out of the country by referring to them in addition to his “co-compatriots” (i.e. the ones living in Tajikistan). He looks back on “one of the most important years” of the country’s history as it celebrated 20 years of independence, and talks several times about patriotism and national unity – signs of concern about a resurgence of the regionalism that partly led to the 1992-1997 civil war? He makes no reference to ongoing poverty in the country but instead hopes that this year will see a “growth in the authority and image of Tajikistan in the international arena.”

In Kyrgyzstan, new President Atambayev also talked about unity and how people have become more confident in themselves since showing that the country can “develop under conditions of democracy and freedom.” He spoke about the government’s accountability to the people and also the responsibility of individuals to helping ensure peace and prosperity for all. He signs off with lots of warm and wonderful wishes, including my personal favourite of the four addresses: “On this New Year’s Eve, all of us, like little children, await wonders. We believe in miracles!”

Kazakhstan‘s President Nazarbayev has a head start on the other nations due to the country’s higher levels of economic wealth and development, and this is recognised in his address. His words talk about the fact that Kazakhstan is united, and seen as a “strong, contemporary and respected nation in the world” that has one of the world’s most dynamic economies. I liked the fact that he thanked Kazakhs for their support of his “course” (i.e. pathway/decision-making) over the past year, although of course this masks underlying issues about the political system that I won’t go into right now.

President Karimov of Uzbekistan also talks about unity, so clearly this is the buzzword of the moment! He believes that 2011 was a year of wide-scale reform in the country that is recognised by the respect given by other countries (is that a reference to Hilary Clinton’s total failure to mention human rights in her recent visit?). Interestingly, he mentions climate change in a speech that seems to focus on rural issues and needs, although it is passed over quickly. Like the other leaders, he too stresses the need for his fellow citizens to help retain peace and stability but in a break from the similarity, he ends on a religious note: “may the Almighty protect us from all misfortunes and be a reliable support on our way”.

Of course, a new year’s address is never going to boldly uncover the deep and pressing problems that every country faces and I’m sure that in the coming months, the Central Asian nations will give us much to think about and that my favourite category of “bureaucratic madness” will be put to use again. But in the meantime, please enjoy this opportunity to celebrate, to think positively and to hope for a better future.

Wanted: Tajik nationals who have studied abroad!

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Greetings from grey and rainy Oxford…

Last month, I wrote a post about a conference paper I had accepted and am now preparing. You can read the post again at the bottom of this story.

Since then, I have been doing my literature review and developing a survey to collect data for my paper. The literature review has been fun but at the same time challenging. To my knowledge, this is the first research into study abroad by Tajik nationals, so there is nothing written about this area. I’ve been looking at broader Central Asian educational literature (very little available) as well as comparative studies. This found me investigating research that has been done about study abroad tendencies in countries from Norway to Hong Kong!

Study abroad... where in the world would you go?

Today I’ve launched the survey, a short questionnaire that is aimed at Tajik nationals who have studied or are studying abroad. Please help me raise awareness of the survey by sending the link to anyone you know who might be eligible, posting it on your Facebook/V kontakte/Linked In/Twitter etc etc profile — and completing it yourself if you are eligible!

The survey is at and is open until 20 January 2012.

I would love to get 50 or more responses to the survey. That may not sound like much, but firstly, this is a small-scale study that has to be written up by March 2012, so I don’t have much time. Secondly, the number of Tajik nationals studying abroad in the medium of English each year is probably around 500 (based on UNESCO statistics for 2009) so if 50 people complete the survey that would be around 10% of the annual total, a sizeable proportion for such a small study.

Thank you in advance for your help!

And may I take the opportunity of today’s post to wish you all a very merry Christmas and all best wishes for the New Year:

Season's greetings from Emma!

Why study abroad?

(Post from 8 November 2011; for the original version click here)

I’ve just had a conference paper proposal accepted and so have been thinking in some detail about study abroad, the subject of my paper. The conference is called ‘Micro-level analysis of well-being in Central Asia’ and will be held at the German Institute for Economic Research in Berlin next May.

My paper will be looking at the impact of studying abroad on the well-being of Tajik nationals. ‘Well-being’ can be defined both as an ambition to make one’s life better, as well as the steps a person takes to help them achieve their ambition.

My interest in study abroad tendencies has two roots:

  1. In particular, from observing study abroad motivations and trends, as well as the impact studying abroad has on colleagues and friends from Central Asia;
  2. More generally, from working with international students at universities in London and Oxford.

So when I found out about the conference it seemed like a great opportunity to explore study abroad in more detail. I will shortly start doing interviews to examine the lifecycle of the educational experience:

  • Motivations for study abroad
  • Prior to departure, perceptions of the impact of study abroad on well-being
  • Experiences gained whilst studying abroad (e.g. process of studying, living in and adapting to a new country)
  • Post-study abroad decisions: do students return to Tajikistan? Why/why not? What qualities/experience/skills/values do they take from their experience of studying abroad and how does this impact on and change their level of well-being?
  • The impact and perceptions of the educational experience of individuals for their families and communities

If you are from Tajikistan and you are studying abroad now, or have studied abroad, and would like to be interviewed for this study, I’d love to hear from you! Please leave me a comment here, or contact me via Facebook or LinkedIn.

I’ll be posting occasional updates on my study as it progresses. If you’d like to discuss any aspect of it in more detail, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.