Abay Kazakh Pedagogical University

Students in charge of universities and other quirks of Kazakh higher education history

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Zhurgenov
The dashing and extremely busy figure of Temirbek Zhurgenov, who was both student and university leader in the early Soviet period

Did you know that Kazakhstan’s first university was opened in Tashkent – in today’s Uzbekistan?

Or that the its first Rector (Vice-Chancellor) was a final year student?

Or that throughout the Soviet period, there was only ever one university in Kazakhstan’s capital?

All these fun (yes, they are fun!) facts and more can be found in a lighthearted new article by Andrei Mikhailov writing for Kazakhstan’s InformBureau [ru].

The article, which I’ve translated from Russian below, nicely captures the energy and novelty of formal higher education in the early Soviet period.

Lenin’s government couldn’t build institutions fast enough, so Kazakh students (that is, students living on the territory that has since become Kazakhstan) were sent to other parts of the Union, often to the fabulously named Communist Universities.

As an aside, I read an informative article about the Communist Universities earlier this week by Panin and Harlamova КОММУНИСТИЧЕСКИЕ УНИВЕРСИТЕТЫ ДЛЯ НАЦИОНАЛЬНЫХ МЕНЬШИНСТВ Панин Харламова 2012 [ru]. They were set up for “national minorities” and had two purposes: to train political workers for Soviet government work, and to train revolutionaries for other states. Teaching took place in a wide range of languages, from Finnish to Korean. These universities were a short-lived phenomenon, shut down in the second half of the 1930s after Stalin decided that the national question had been solved.

Back to Kazakhstan. Mikhailov suggests that back in the Soviet period, the lack of higher education made it a more valuable commodity than in today’s world of practically universal access to tertiary education. He notes with warm approval that the student to faculty ratio at Kazakh State University was an incredible 2:1 in its initial years, with over half of the faculty bearing Professor or Associate Professor designation. You wouldn’t get that nowadays, Mikhailov wants us to know.

Read on and learn more, and if that’s whetted your appetite for more Central Asian university history, take a look at my previous posts on this topic.

The first Kazakhstani university was opened in Tashket. And its first Rector was a student.

(c) Andrei Mikhailov and Kazakhstan InformBureau; English translation by Emma Sabzalieva

Kazpedvuz Tashkent
Kazpedvuz – the Kazakh Teacher Training (Pedagogical) Institute in Tashkent

Today, when higher education in Kazakhstan has become widely available (and, it seems, has lost all meaning), it’s a good time to remember how it all began.

 

Until October 1917 on the territory of modern Kazakhstan, there were only a few gymnasiums [higher schools] (including two in Verny). But there was not a single higher education institution. So until 1928, the highly educated class of Kazakhstanis were trained outside of Kazakhstan.

Our educated intelligentsia were mainly trained in three universities – Turkestan State University, Central Asian Communist University in Tashkent and the Communist Workers University of the East (KUTV) in Moscow. In 1924-25, 927 Kazakhs were trained at Turkestan University, and 100 Kazakh students in Moscow universities.

And our first higher education institute [HEI] – the Kazakh Institute of Education (Kazpedvuz) – was opened in 1926 … in Tashkent. To be fair, it was “especially for Kazakhstan.” It was transferred to Alma-Ata [now Almaty] in 1928 and became the first of our domestic universities – the Kazakh Pedagogical Institute.

Three more HEI followed specializing in veterinary and zootechnical sciences, agricultural sciences and medicine. So, when in 1932 another teacher training institute was established in Uralsk (based on the one transferred from Orenburg), the number of HEIS had grown by five times since 1916!

However, no one at that time could foresee the heyday of higher education that we are witnessing today. Now almost all school leavers are almost automatically enrolling in higher education. Nowadays, wherever you look, you will surely see an academic or someone who can offer some kind of scientific advice. For world science, such an abundance of high-level scientific minds in Kazakhstan is of little importance, but… nevertheless, it’s nice when two seemingly unremarkable Kazakhs meet by chance, and both turn out to be well-known scientists, Doctors of Science [Soviet qualification higher than a PhD], professors, “who made a huge contribution”, etc. etc.

When the first Kazakh Pedagogical Institute was organized in Tashkent, experienced teachers were especially invited from Moscow. (Surprisingly, none refused the invitation!) Among them was, for example, the famous explorer of Central Asia – Professor of Turkology S.E. Malov.

But the most curious thing is that the first rector of Kazpedvuz was… a student, Temirbek Zhurgenov. Zhurgenov studied at SAGU (Central Asian State University), the first HEI in the “Red East”, created five years earlier by the decree of Lenin.

Unlike today’s muddled nomenklatura of “doctors” and self-proclaimed academics, Zhurgenov – even as a student – was very well-known. Even before becoming the rector of Kazpedvuz in his final year of study, he became the plenipotentiary of the Kazakh ASSR in the Republic of Turkestan in his second year. And unlike the rapid career rise of today’s leaders, Zhurgenov’s career development came off the back of a series of good posts – and family money. (It is interesting that Zhurgenov was later also able to find time to Chair the People’s Commissar of Education in Uzbekistan).

The first university in Kazakhstan appeared only in 1934. It was the famous Kazakh State University (KazGU) named after Kirov in the city of Alma-Ata. In the first year, there were only 54 students in its two faculties (physics and biophysics). And for every two students in those years, there was one teacher! And what teachers there were! Amongst the 25 teachers, there were 5 professors and 10 associate professors including those from Moscow State and Kazan State [very prestigious] Universities!

It is interesting that the KazGU was located in the building of the former Verny gymnasium (where Frunze studied). And more interestingly, it was the only university in the capital of the republic all the time that Kazakhstan was part of the USSR. So when students were asked, “Where do you study?”, there was no need to clarify their answer: “At the University!”

Bedbugs and overcrowding in Kazakh uni dorms

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After recent reports of unsanitary and unsafe living conditions at a Kazakh university in the western city of Atyrau comes a new report of questionable accommodation standards – but this time at the country’s oldest (and one of its most prestigious) universities, Abay Kazakh Pedagogical University [ru].

Complaints have been made about the irregular supply of water, overcrowded dorm rooms and – the scourge of renters everywhere – bedbugs.

2017-05-28 16.14.16
If they’d found cats instead of bedbugs in the kitchen, perhaps the whole situation could have been averted

One student’s video evidence of the conditions has been rejected by university administrators, who flatly deny any problems in the accommodation. They suggested that instead, perhaps someone wanted to cast aspersions on the university’s reputation.

Despite initially being denied entry to the dorms, a TV film crew were nevertheless later able to access the building. They confirmed that rooms were being packed with double the number of people than should be permitted, and also saw bugs in the kitchen.

Forced onto the back foot, the building manager issued a statement claiming that they weren’t bedbugs, “just ordinary insects”. And if they did turn out to be bedbugs, promises to bring in sanitary inspectors were quickly made.

Students around the world are often subject to less than optimal living conditions, often because of rogue landlords. It’s less common to see issues of the type raised by here in university-run accommodation, which is one of the reasons the story is newsworthy.

It’s also interesting to see a critical piece on higher education in the Kazakh press, which in general is supportive of the state’s efforts towards higher education.

Many of the comments posted on Tengrinews, which pitched this story as “Kazakhstan’s oldest university at the centre of a scandal” [ru], did not hold back in their openness.

One anonymous commentator neatly summed up their frustration at the difference between the image and the reality of Kazakhstan:

Вот Вам и действительность нашей страны. Вот Вам и состояние системы образования в целом. ЭКСПО, Назарбаев Университеты, НИШ, Астана и другие понты.
[And there’s the reality of our country for you. The education system summed up. Your EXPO, Nazarbayev University, Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools and the other show projects.]

Another felt that this was a reflection of all that is wrong with the university:

Отвратительный ВУЗ. Сам лично убедился, что там все прогнило, начиная с ректората. При сдаче экзаменов в магистратуру, к примеру, место предоставили человеку, даже не сдававшему экзаменов. Проректор просто сказал – нам так надо, до свидания. Финпол спит.
[A disgusting university. I’m convinced that the whole university is corrupt, starting with the Rector [Provost/Vice-Chancellor]. For example, during the admissions period for their Master’s programmes, they’ve already given places to candidates who haven’t even taken the admissions exam. The Vice-Rector just said, that’s how it is, goodbye. The financial police are asleep.]

I will leave you with Alan’s comment. In true Soviet-era fashion, Alan has addressed the issue through an anekdot, a wry joke that tends to mock or mask the truth. The joke concerns the new hierarchy of higher education in Kazakhstan, from the new and uber-prestigious Nazarbayev University in the new capital of Astana to formerly flagship institution Kazakh State University and from there to Abay Kazakh Pedagogical University, the subject of the “scandal”:

Анекдот про студентов Каждый учащийся в Назарбаев университет летает на каникулах в разные страны имеет дом шикарную машину, Каждый учащийся в КАЗГУ Имеет квартиру машину, Каждый учащийся в АГУ имеет право на жизнь
[Here’s a joke about students. Every student at Nazarbayev University flies to different countries for the holidays, and they have a house and a fancy car. Every student at Kazakh State University has an apartment and a car. Every student at Abay Kazakh Pedagogical University has the right to live.]