New education research on Central Asia – “Reverse Flow in Academic Mobility from Core to Periphery: Motivations of International Faculty Working in Kazakhstan” by Jack Lee and Aliya Kuzhabekova
This is the second in an occasional series on the blog called New education research on Central Asia. In this series, I review new books/book chapters and journal articles written about education in Central Asia. My aims are to raise awareness of these new publications and offer a summary of the key points and my views on the piece.
If you would like to suggest a publication for review – or would like to review something yourself for this blog – please use the Comments section underneath this post to get in touch.
I’m very pleased to review (and recommend) a new article by Jack T. Lee (now at University of Bath, UK) and Aliya Kuzhabekova (Nazarbayev University, Kazakhstan) called Reverse flow in academic mobility from core to periphery: motivations of international faculty working in Kazakhstan.
Lee and Kuzhabekova used to work together at Nazarbayev University and this article is the result of a Kazakh Ministry of Education and Science funded research project they undertook to interview international faculty members working in Kazakhstan.
The article seeks to answer two questions:
- What factors persuade faculty members to relocate to Kazakhstan for full-time employment?
- What types of individuals pursue this relocation?
Using a well-recognized “push-pull” framework to analyse the reasons that faculty are pushed from their home country to work in Kazakhstan and pulled towards Kazakhstan, the authors identify the following motivational factors amongst their interview participants:
- Job market – lack of employment opportunities in home context, (for junior scholars) avoid a post-doctoral position or contract position;
- Unsatisfactory work conditions – mismatch between academic’s interests and that of their previous institution, workplace bullying, desire for greater freedom/creativity;
- Age and marital status – youth and lack of family obligations (those in their 20s and 30s), good health and grown up children who have left home (older participants), purposefully seeking international/intercultural experience for children (30s and 40s).
- Salary – whilst not the most important pull factor, a decent financial package acts as a good incentive to move;
- Adventure – wanting to explore a new geographic context, curiosity about Kazakhstan;
- Institution building – opportunity to engage meaningfully in building something new, from a new program through to a new university;
- Research opportunities – especially important for junior scholars and regional experts.
These factors are largely in line with findings from other studies, which Lee and Kuzhabekova review very helpfully in the literature review section.
The article adds to our understanding of recent trends in internationalization in higher education in three ways:
Firstly, Lee and Kuzhabekova are very clear that the push and pull factors they identify should not be viewed in isolation. They recognize that “a person’s reasons for mobility are often enmeshed with other push and pull factors” (p. 8) and thus a more nuanced analysis is critical. They very skilfully demonstrate the need for this nuance when they discuss the push factor of age and marital status, which as the bullet point above demonstrates, they break down by different groups.
Secondly, in the Discussion section, they bring up two extremely pertinent points which I think are worthy of further resarch (both p.14). The authors suggest that the era of “permanence”, when academics remained at one university or country for their entire career, is now far less common. This fluidity is driven at least as much by universities as by individual faculty members, they suggest.
They then ask whether “Perhaps international faculty mobility is a rite of passage for contemporary academics rather than a voluntary pursuit?” This is a great question and I would be curious to know how this might be addressed in future studies.
Thirdly, although the authors begin by emphasizing Kazakhstan as a “peripheral” country in the world system (partly, I think, to show the novelty of their research), they nevertheless treat Kazakhstan as a serious player in higher education. I applaud all efforts seeking to move beyond the notion of North/South, developed/developing (etc) because I feel that these binaries strongly limit our ability to understand and analyse the contemporary world.
This sentence in the conclusion suggests a future research agenda that continues to raise Kazakhstan’s visibility and explore what we can learn from policymaking in the country: “While Kazakhstan may not be very visible in the international arena, the country touts a dynamic policymaking landscape that affirms a strong desire to change and improve society.”
Lacking in the article is any discussion of the social and political situation of Kazakhstan, and the impact this may have on faculty members’ decision to move and then stay in the country. This is hinted at e.g. on p.7 when they mention “a largely traditional Kazakhstan” in the context of faculty marital status, but not fleshed out. Recent reports on global student mobility show that domestic politics does make a difference: applications from European Union students are down in Brexit-era Britain; applications to study in Trump-era USA are also down – and I would be surprised if faculty members were totally unaffected by this broader context.
However, I am told by one of the authors (personal correspondence) that the reason this is not raised in the article is that none of the 50+ participants raised the social or political dimension of Kazakhstan when asked about motivations for moving there.
Overall, however, this article is a solid contribution to the literature and an excellent addition to English language studies of contemporary higher education in Kazakhstan. As an open access article, the full text is available to download (see link below) and I hope you will enjoy reading it too.
Lee, Jack T., and Aliya Kuzhabekova. 2017. “Reverse Flow in Academic Mobility from Core to Periphery: Motivations of International Faculty Working in Kazakhstan.” Higher Education, November. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-017-0213-2.
Once known as Tajikistan’s most prestigious higher education institution, the Russian-Tajik Slavonic University (RTSU) in the country’s capital Dushanbe, has certainly fallen from grace in recent years.
Last October, I reported on a sad and disturbing story about a student at RTSU being set upon by fellow coursemates, ostensibly simply for speaking up in class.
The lustre of the joint partnership between former master Russia and its humble (and generally obliging) servant Tajikistan has been decisively dulled in the light of a recent report from Fergana News [ru] claiming that faculty members have not been receiving salaries and students have not been able to obtain stipends for three months now. Some students are now so hard up that that they can’t even afford to take public transport to get to university, according to the article.
This inaction on the part of the Russian state has been put down to the “economic crisis” in Russia. This “crisis” has been brewing for a couple of years, bringing together causes and effects: declining global oil prices, sanctions imposed after the annexation of the Crimea, reduced investment, high inflation and currency devaluation (see this February 2016 article from RFE/RL [en] for more). Its impact is already felt in Tajikistan, where anywhere up to around 1 million of the 8 million population are attempting to make a living as migrant workers in Russia, and from where remittances sent back home plummeted by nearly 50% in 2015 [en].
Thus the students and faculty members are caught up in a bigger struggle, and likely viewed by the Russian government as insignificant in comparison to the other issues Russia faces. The academic profession in Tajikistan has been hit hard over the last 25 years – salaries and working conditions have diminished, with many lecturers needing to seek private employment or multiple jobs to make ends meet. Corruption in the form of payment for admissions and bribes for results is rampant. As a result, the quality and reputation of higher education is frequently questionable.
The disregard being shown to RTSU faculty and students is yet another blow for higher education in Tajikistan. With more than a hint of resignation mixed with frustration, one anonymous lecturer summed this up succinctly in the Fergana News piece:
Мы уже привыкли к таким задержкам в январе-феврале, но обычно в марте нам выплачивали всю задолженность. А в этом году денег до сих пор нет. Каждую неделю обещают. Зарплаты и так невелики, да еще и не получаем вовремя.
We’re used to payment delays in January and February, but we usually get everything we’re owed in March. But this year there’s been nothing. Every week they promise to pay. The salaries aren’t even high and we still don’t get paid on time.
Like many others, I will be keeping my fingers crossed that the Russian government alleviates what must be becoming an increasingly pressured and uncomfortable environment at RTSU as soon as possible.
Academics working in one of Kyrgyzstan’s many state funded universities get a bonus in their monthly pay packet if they have a higher degree of Candidate of Sciences or Doctor of Sciences. Quick contextual note: Kyrgyzstan still follows the Soviet system (which itself is heavily influenced by the German higher education model) of awarding two doctoral-type degrees. The Candidate of Sciences is closest to the PhD and the Doctor of Sciences is a higher degree, similar to the habilitation used in some countries.
But that bonus doesn’t count for much when it equates just to US$4 or US$8 – even allowing for lower overall salaries and cost of living in Kyrgyzstan. This has spurred Kyrgyz parliamentarian Alfia Samigullina to call for a salary increase, which she claims will increase the prestige of the academic profession in the country.
Writing for Kyrgyz news agency 24.kg, journalist Anastasia Bengard interviewed a number of academics to ask whether a salary boost would indeed lead to higher standing for academia. The article is at http://www.eng.24.kg/perekrestok/179446-news24.html and also copied below [en].
Without denying that a (healthy) salary increase would make some difference, the academics interviewed also raised a number of other issues that in their view would enhance the profession. Their top tips were:
- Greater integration and coordination between higher education (especially science) and the country’s economic and social goals;
- Moral support from the government demonstrating the value it places on these higher degrees;
- Careful recruitment of candidates with a genuine desire to use their higher degree as more than a certificate;
- Improved quality of academic provision;
- Support for under-studied or currently less popular subjects.
Do these ring true for the setting you work in? What would you add to the list to make the academic profession a (more) desirable career route?
Academic degrees. For the sake of prestige and salary?
25/02/16 12:38, Bishkek – 24.kg news agency, by Anastasia BENGARD
Deputy of Parliament Alfia Samigullina took care of the low prestige of science. “The Candidates of Sciences monthly get extra 300 soms, and the Doctors of Sciences – 600 soms for their academic degrees. Therefore, the prestige of science is very low. It is necessary to increase salaries, and then, probably, the prestige of science will grow and more people, including the field of arts and sports, will be ready to defend the candidate and doctoral theses,” the MP said.
24.kg news agency asked the people how to raise the prestige of science and whether a good salary is enough to change the situation for the better.
Aiylchi Sarybaev, Doctor of Economic Sciences, Professor:
– Salary increase alone is not enough. It does not solve anything at all. Science must be tied to the social and economic problems of the country, to the government’s program for the development of various sectors. It is necessary to use the achievements of science and technology in real companies and organizations. Then there can be their development. In the meantime, we have the research work and the real economy completely separated from each other. We are developing chaotically, primitively, in the wild market economy. Science and technology achievements are not in demand because we have virtually no real economy; there is no stability in the country and in the government.
Salary increase is equivalent to rising of pensions or benefits. It’s not 300 soms, or 600, these are the vestiges of the past period, the socialist one. We must move to a new payment system based on the results of work. For example, someone has defended his thesis 30-40 years ago, and he is increased premium all the time. We shouldn’t do it in such a way.
– That is to say, some people have got degrees, but have invented nothing?
– Of course. So, there is an eternal pensioner constantly requiring assistance.
Ainura Arzymatova, Doctor of Historical Sciences, Professor:
– Prestige is at the same level as before: we have a lot of people who defend candidate and doctoral dissertations. But another question is when it is done not for the development of science itself, but for the personal image. Number of PhDs has increased, but there is no quality. I think that we have chosen wrong priorities. It is necessary to improve prestige through the quality and its control. There are reforms in the field of attestation of scientific personnel now. In June 2015, for example, it was decided that those who want to defend the candidate and doctoral theses should publish articles outside Kyrgyzstan. This factor, to some extent, will stop the flow of theses. Previously, someone published an article at Batken University, and it was considered to be a publication, but it has not been read. Now, articles should be published in international journals. So the people, who really want to deal with science, will come to it.
Under the conditions of poor budget, we need to raise wages to those who need it – teachers and doctors. Or it’s better to build a hospital. Not a single hospital has been built for 25 years. There are bestial conditions in the clinics. Money should be directed to priority sectors. People become scientists even without higher wages. Although, the salary is really tiny.
Tabyldy Akerov, lecturer, Candidate of Historical Sciences:
– One salary is not enough: it is usually increased only by 15-20 percent. It is necessary to develop a whole program to improve the prestige of science in order the graduates, who have achieved good results, be able to stay in the sphere and continue their education, and devote their life to science. One needs a lot of money to defend a master’s thesis. No one wants to research certain topics, for example, the Middle Ages and ancient history. It is very difficult to study the history of the Kyrgyz of ancient times: there are no sources. But today, the universities close or combine their departments. The National University used to have eight departments and it trained good professionals then, but today there are only four departments. And what specialists will we get then? What kinds of reforms can we talk about?
Everyone wants to defend his thesis quickly, and therefore he takes easy topics. Now it is impossible, as it was in the Soviet Union, to study one theme for 5-10 years. Today, there are market conditions, one need to feed the family, to solve social issues. And of course, young people do not want to engage in science in such conditions. We need to completely overhaul the education system, in order to have ministers, who are competent, but not “managers who can make reforms.”
Alexander Katsev, Head of the Department of International Journalism at KRSU:
– Science does not depend on the salary. But, of course, it is needed. If a person is engaged in some kind of mining machines, he needs the money to design them. If he is a humanitarian, he needs money for books. Russian universities have the so-called payments for books – $ 15 have been paid per month to a person to buy books. It’s not about the salary. We need to create conditions in which one would like to be engaged in science, in which the authorities want to publish the results of my research activities, my training load should be so that I could work with the students, and do science, that is to write books.
Mambetov Shergazy, Doctor of Technical Sciences, Professor:
– Taking into account the work of scientists and their contribution to the scientific field, it would be a good idea to increase the payments. These people, as a rule, have no additional income, or business, or anything else. But it does not depend on our wish.
– And what has inspired you to engage in scientific activities?
– Internal calling. I am a PhD for 40 years already. Social spheres are changing, and there should always be the pursuit of science. It is a necessity for the development of society.
Tolobek Abdrakhmanov, principal of the Kyrgyz State University named after Arabaev:
– Financial encouragement is one of the points. 300 or 600 soms – how much is it now? So I think the question is correct. But in parallel there must be other leverages – moral, financial incentives and financing. Science is almost not funded in our country. Everything is done on the enthusiasm alone.
-What do moral incentives imply?
– I have not heard for a long time that someone got the title of Honored Worker of Science. At the same time, a lot of people received the title of Honored Worker of Culture and Honored Artist. Universities, by the way, are also working on incentives. In our university, we pay extra 3,000 soms for candidate, and for doctorate – 6,000 soms. Those, who have defended their candidate theses, get one-time premium in the amount of 30,000 soms, and for doctoral one – 50,000.
– How would you comment on the statement that academic degrees are bought?
– There are those who buy, well, at least, there were some. Someone who has the money can buy also a deputy mandate, master and doctoral degree for prestige. And does the university or academic staff have money for that? They work and conduct researches honestly.