Education deficit in Tajikistan
Malaysian Limkokwing University has committed to opening a campus in Tajikistan, a not unexpected move by this ambitious and globally facing technical/creative university, which I first investigated in 2011.
The announcement was made during President Rahmon’s visit to Malaysia earlier this week. In the press release on the President’s website [ru], it is noted that there are ‘only’ around 40 Tajik students studying at Limkokwing (at its main campus in Malaysia) and around 200 Tajik students studying across that country. Presumably the aim now is to encourage more Tajik students to experience a Limkokwing education without leaving Tajikistan, a trend that has been growing around the world and particularly in the Middle East and some African countries (Mauritius seems to be a popular destinations for UK universities setting up overseas).
I think this is a great move both for Tajikistan and for Limkokwing. Tajikistan brings its first major overseas branch campus to the country (not counting the Moscow State University branch that opened a few years ago; using the wonderfully Soviet concepts of ‘near abroad’ and ‘far abroad’, I’m referring now to developments with the ‘far abroad’) and assurances that this will be an opportunity to develop home-grown talent and not to import the so-called ‘fly in-fly out’ lecturers who come from outside the country to teach a class and then leave again. According to trusted Tajik news agency Asia Plus’ story on the new campus, 80% of the teaching staff will be Tajik. In addition, there will be a quota of places for Tajik students, who will also benefit from tuition fee reductions.
What’s in it for Limkokwing, you might ask? This will be its first full foray into Central Asia and will add to established branch campuses in Asia, Africa and the UK as well as partnerships around the world (see www.limkokwing.net/malaysia/about for more). I expect that the academic offering of creative and technical courses geared towards getting graduates ‘job ready’ will be popular not just amongst Tajik students but with students from other Central and South Asian countries and with employers too. It’s a great foothold into a market (inasmuch as we can call it a ‘market’) with great potential (e.g. to increase participation in higher education, to fill the gap left by students who leave the country for study) and I am really pleased to see the Tajik government ostensibly being so welcoming and forward facing towards this relationship. And I’m sure it helped seal the deal for President Rahmon to be awarded an honorary professorship at Limkokwing out of it too.
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I had no idea that this story would keep running and running… but now Eurasia Net have got in on the act and published their own story about the higher education system in Tajikistan.
Entitled ‘Tajikistan: Even the Government Won’t Hire College Graduates‘, Asel Kalybekova’s story focusses on two quality issues:
1. The perceived lack of quality in the Tajik higher education system, in this case reinforced by the Dushanbe local government’s announcement in summer that they’d prefer to hire people who graduated pre-1992 (i.e. Soviet-educated students) or those who studied abroad
2. The lack of data to measure the actual quality of higher education. This means that only inferences about quality can be made e.g. based on Tajikistan’s position in the UN Human Development Index. When I researched the impact of studying abroad on Tajik nationals, I too found it difficult to obtain directly relevant data to put the contextual picture together and had to resort to proxies such as participation rates.
I’m not sure what particularly has prompted Kalybekova’s article this week but there can be no harm in continuing to deliver the message about the problems facing the Tajik higher education sector… if this means that they are listened to and acted upon.
In a week when the Tajik press reports the Dushanbe authorities’ concerns over young people attending night clubs (because they lead to ‘the moral decay of Tajik youth’ – see http://news.tj/en/news/dushanbe-authorities-tighten-control-over-night-clubs [en]) and the national government appearing to clamp down on young people driving to university lectures (ostensibly because young people are the biggest single group involved in road accidents – see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-news-from-elsewhere-24712884 [en]), my fears are that there is no sign whatsoever that national or regional governments are truly addressing the root causes of the education deficit in Tajikistan.
I didn’t realise when I blogged last month about the skills deficit in Tajikistan that this would become the first in a rather sad series of stories about educational deficit. The first post was followed by a story from the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, and today it’s the turn of American funded website Central Asia Online to report on undergraduate education in the country.
Nadin Bahrom’s story goes for a more positive spin but I’m afraid I don’t share the optimism. It’s not something to be proud of, surely, when a university cites its expulsion rate as a sign of increasingly quality? (NB: Tajik Medical University’s hit rate is nothing compared to Liberia, where every single one of the 25,000 University of Liberia candidates failed this year’s entrance examination…)
Also, this is the first I’ve heard of an ‘oversight agency’ to check for cheating in universities: presumably it’s government-run, in which case, who’s monitoring the agency against the bribery and corruption that we know is embedded in public administration??
Anyway, here’s the story, all (c) Central Asia Online:
Tajikistan strives to improve undergraduate education
By Nadin Bahrom
(c) Central Asia Online, http://centralasiaonline.com/en_GB/articles/caii/features/main/2013/09/18/feature-01
DUSHANBE – Tajikistan is moving to improve its undergraduates’ preparation for the job market after graduation.Education fell to a very poor standard during the 1992-1997 civil war and has not yet recovered, Education Ministry spokesman Makhmudkhon Shoyev said.
“The unrest … meant that our compatriots did not have the opportunity for a decent education in schools and universities,” he said. “But they still received diplomas.”
Tajik university graduates are repeatedly proving unfit for many jobs despite graduating, he said.
For example, over the past two years, the mayor’s office has struggled to find qualified candidates to fill vacancies, Shafkat Saidov, the mayoral spokesman, said.
“Our unfortunate experience has shown that people with degrees from other countries or from the Soviet days are far more qualified and are much more knowledgeable than those who have received degrees since the country became independent [in 1991],” he said. “We have some good job opportunities but, more often than not, no one to fill them.”
University graduates from other Russian-speaking countries appeal more to Tajik employers because they tend to have more work experience, Russian-Tajik Slavonic University Deputy Rector Rahmon Ulmasov said.
Steps to improve education
Authorities are aware of the problem and are working to fix the system’s flaws, Shoyev said.
“Every university has set up a department to monitor exams [to prevent cheating],” he said, adding that an “oversight agency regularly inspects the universities”. Schools are upgrading their equipment and also are providing more opportunities for students to undertake practical training.
Reports so far are positive and indicate “the level of knowledge and academic performance of [university] students are increasing”, Shoyev said. Schools also are stiffening requirements for admission and retention.
Tajik Medical University raised its standards, Shoyev said, noting that it expelled 116 students in the first six months of this year for various academic shortcomings, 29 more than in the first half of last year.
The country needs to transform its education system, journalist and commentator Jhongir Bobev said, arguing that the government needs to eradicate corruption from higher education.
“Then educated young people will enter our universities instead of going to study abroad,” he said.
Tajiks also need to pay better attention to the labour market, education watcher Azim Baezoyev said.
Students from developed countries learn what skills and knowledge they will need and then obtain them, he said. “We need to do better in addressing this part of the problem” because Tajiks have to be absolutely qualified to prevail in the stiff competition for jobs in Tajikistan, he said.
University graduates of the past few years have been an improvement over their predecessors, Shoyev said, adding that authorities were considering enabling those who have been out of school longer to upgrade their skills.
“The current generation is much smarter and more aware,” he added. “International academic competitions prove that the number of talented and praiseworthy Tajik students is increasing. It is encouraging that they come not only from elite academic schools but also from public high schools.”
In 2012, 263 Tajik schoolchildren returned from international contests with 132 medals (21 of them gold), a 15% increase from the previous year, the Education Ministry said.
Parents devote more attention to their children’s education than they did before, Shoyev noted.
“There are many difficulties and problems, but the Ministry of Education is working on solving them,” Shoyev said. “This is not a matter that can be resolved in one or two days.”
It seems that everyone wants to get in on the game of identifying deficits in Tajikistan. This time it’s the turn of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, in an audio report published [ru] [tj] at http://iwpr.net/report-news/tajikistans-education-deficit.
I couldn’t access either audio stream but the text below [en] (is it a transcript?) is reproduced below. (c) IWPR, Shahodat Saibnazarova.
Qarshiboev’s contribution echoes my previous reporting of Saifiddinov’s Asia Plus article of 7 August by focussing on the lack of leadership support for good quality education and well trained staff.
Afghanov’s findings echo those of my 2011 research on Tajiks who study abroad.
I’m not sure I agree with Hakimov’s suggestion to reduce the number of universities and specialisations offered by those institutions that are left. I’d suggest instead that cash is pumped into school education and into widening access and participation initiatives to help increase enrolment into higher and further education. Put more access on vocational education as Saifiddinov suggests and then pump your next batch of cash into post-graduation employment prospects.
Easier said than done…
Text of article at http://iwpr.net/report-news/tajikistans-education-deficit
Tajikistan is desperately short of graduates, particularly in engineering and other applied sciences, because so many prefer to go abroad in search of work.
Nuriddin Qarshiboev, head of the National Independent Media Association, says state policy needs to change so as to provide more incentives for graduates to stay.
“I believe that as long as the government doesn’t put a value on highly-qualified, education personnel, this systemic problem is unlikely to be resolved,” he told IWPR. “I know many young people who are very well qualified but who, because they can’t get decent, properly paid jobs, are forced to leave the country, or else do work that isn’t what they trained for.”
Many prospective students apply for university places in the West or in Russia. Few return to apply their skills in Tajikistan.
“We’d like them to return, but only between 25 and 35 per cent do so. The rest remain in Russia, carry on studying, or emigrate to Europe,” said Samariddin Afghanov, director of the Centre for International Programmes based in Dushanbe.
The only exception is an group of around 80 a year who get government grants and are contractually obliged to repay them by working five years in their own country.
Part of the impetus to study abroad comes from the perception that higher education in Tajikistan is second-best. Most commentators agree that school, technical college and university education is in urgent need of reform.
Analyst Shokirjon Hakimov says the 30-plus universities and colleges that now operate in the country should be reduced in number, with specialisations concentrated in particular department.
Shahodat Saibnazarova is IWPR Radio Editor in Tajikistan.
Avaz Saifiddinov, a journalist with as-independent-as-is-possible-in-Tajikistan Asia-Plus media group, this week reports [ru] – in almost apocalyptic terms – on the devastating impact that a lack of education and skills training can bring to a nation. He calls this qualification deficit the single biggest problem facing Tajikistan today, more so than corruption, lack of electricity and absence of democracy. He even suggests that neighbouring Afghanistan has greater levels of human capital than Tajikistan. Controversial? Yes – but the devastating fact is that despite some exaggerations in the article, much of it rings true.
Saifiddinov offers some good proposals to avoid what may lay ahead for the country if changes are not made. Business owners should be creative in thinking about different types of business and identifying their markets. Education should be properly financed. A renewed importance needs to be place on vocational education and training. Public administration should be reformed.
But – and here’s the big ‘but’… Saifiddinov points out that transformation would have to start from the top, something that’s very easy to say but in reality is unlikely without a change of government. And if you follow Saifiddinov’s logic, that won’t happen unless top government officials advocate for change and in so doing effectively write themselves out of a job… Saifiddinov is absolutely right to point out the importance of having the leadership on board for any major change project to succeed, but doesn’t seem to see or want to admit the terrible irony of this suggestion.
I second the requests from some of the people commentating on the article for more on this theme from Saifiddinov. This article makes a lot of big statements and comes up with some big suggestions. Let’s break those down, qualify and quantify the issues and look at pragmatic ways that individuals can make change happen.
English translation below is mine but the article in all languages is © Asia-Plus.
Lack of qualified staff could threaten terrible poverty
It’s scary to think about whose hands and brains will build and develop the country in 10-15 years’ time when the older generation has passed on…
If you were to ask what the most pressing problem in the country is at the moment, I would be bold enough to say it’s not a lack of communication or a lack of electricity. It’s not even high levels of corruption, the absence of democracy and a poor investment climate.
Our main problem is a lack not just of qualified, but even just competent, staff at absolutely every level…
That’s partly against a backdrop of poor overall understanding of very elementary things and concepts, such as knowledge of geography, basic mathematics, physics and grammar. It is undoubtedly the case that this is a real problem in many countries, especially poor countries, but it seems nowhere more acute than in Tajikistan, particularly among young professionals and government officials.
This is so much so that the Dushanbe City Council has openly stated that it will give preference in recruitment to candidates who graduated from Tajik universities before 1992 and graduates of foreign universities. This is further confirmation that both state and private higher education institutions are producing so-called ‘specialists’ who are either incompetent – or, with a few exceptions, have such a low level of qualification that it’s not appropriate for the modern workplace.
You might say that the problem is exaggerated and that there are countries where the situation with professional qualifications is worse? Maybe there are some countries where the overall socio-economic situation is worse (for example, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Syria, Sri Lanka and other extremely poor countries). But even in Afghanistan, for example, the level of competence and qualification of government officials, business and private sector workers is higher than ours. Our saving grace is the workforce trained up to the late 20th century, but this generation will pass on either with age or through migration.
Our problem is really so critical that even if all other fundamental issues were somehow resolved, the lack of qualified personnel would simply not allow the country take advantage of these newly favourable conditions to develop the country’s social and economic sectors. The problem of incompetence often leads to erroneous decisions, ill-considered investments of public and private resources into projects with low returns or projects destined to fail, and these can cause serious damage to the state, private businesses and the public. For example, ambitious projects for new buildings and business centres designed without business plans or for someone’s personal benefit.
It’s unacceptable that in all these years of independence, the drive for high quality education, professional competence, honesty and integrity has been lost. The most ‘successful’ and richest people in the country generally don’t have the professional qualifications appropriate to their status in society or position in the civil service. Then they pass this ‘legacy’ to their children and extended family. This ‘role model’ behaviour is also transmitted more widely in society, undermining its foundations and creating unrealistic outlooks for young people, where they don’t put high quality education and professionalism first. When asked about their future, rural high school students usually say that leaving to work in Russia is their ultimate life ambition.
As a result, everyone suffers, both rich and poor:
– A Minister makes ignorant statements or can’t coherently argue the state’s position;
– A government official can’t make an educated decision about recruiting staff and allows corruption and misuse of public funds;
– A Member of Parliament makes a declaration in all seriousness that marriages between Tajiks and foreigners (non-Muslims) should be banned;
– Builders build poor quality houses and take too long, leading to many contracts being given instead to Turkish or Chinese companies;
– There’s a lack of qualified plumbers and electricians;
– A doctor makes a wrong diagnosis, often leading to fatal consequences;
– Teachers make students learn songs, history and poems by heart, instead of offering them basic knowledge;
– Students often do not have a basic grasp of elementary mathematics and can’t write properly, whilst at the same time most textbooks aren’t even in the state language;
– A traffic inspector doesn’t even know the rules of the road and doesn’t know how to control traffic;
– Lawyers and judges don’t know the law, and economists have no idea what the model of supply and demand is;
– Trader don’t know anything about the goods in their shops other than their price…
This lamentable list goes on and on.
Separately, we should also mention our migrant workers who through blood, sweat and tears earn a living in Russia, and in so doing uphold the country’s economic solvency and social security. However, due to their extremely low level of education and qualifications and ignorance of their rights, they are employed in the lowest paid and the most difficult jobs. This leads to low earnings, widespread violation of human rights, extortion and a high death rate. And so the story of the lack of education of our migrant workers is becoming the talk of the town.
As for the local labour market, there is a serious and imminent prospect of our local workforce being replaced by invited [foreign] specialists not only in high-tech sectors, but also in construction and even in agriculture.
On the plus side, however, the problem of incompetent staff is a universal one for rich and poor, the powerful, the oligarchs and ordinary citizens. The funds of rich and successful businessmen, bank and factory owners are also affected: whilst they have money and the desire to invest it profitably, they often – through ignorance – are unable to find a decent and professional team of employees to be entrusted with management and business development. Distrust between company owners and their managers is a particular problem. The owner doesn’t pay the employee for poor performance, and the employee tries to steal or cheat it out of the company. The state itself often does the same when it comes to public property, public services or state-owned enterprises.
Among company owners, there’s also an extreme shortage of ideas for the development of a productive and interesting business. Everyone’s building houses, business centres, hotels, supermarkets, pharmacies, restaurants, and demand for these is not that high. Or things are done without consideration about whether there are workers qualified enough to take the business forward. Few people are thinking where money could be invested effectively, for example, in private medical clinics, quality nurseries and children’s centres (in a country where many children), private tourism, consulting, and so on.
And even if you have ideas and investment, it’s impossible to find specialists who could make them into reality, whether these are educated waiters and good cooks, traders, educators and so on. Where such specialists exist, there is a fear that a successful business will be forcefully taken over. When this happens, the new ‘owners’ aren’t in a position to support and develop these ideas to make a profit for themselves and society, because once a team leaves, the business often goes too, even if there’s money in it.
The problem of unprofessionalism and incompetence is fundamental and universal. This does not mean that the people in themselves aren’t good, but it means that for a number of reasons they don’t have a competitive advantage or professional skills. At the highest level, this means that the entire country is not able to develop effectively and compete in the region, to defend and promote our interests in both foreign and domestic policy.
It is very sad that the phrase ‘Made in the Tajik way’ (‘Tojiki’) is increasingly associated with poor quality, poor service, but high cost.
But there is a solution
The solution to this problem must also be fundamental. Starting right from the top, we must fundamentally change the way people are motivated towards a high quality education, putting professionalism at the forefront, particularly for the leaders of the country (instead of regionalism and tribalism). It will demonstrate a new scale of values for the entire population which in turn will help to bring in a new wave of civil servants from top to bottom. This should be followed by major reform of public administration and the civil service.
The education system needs to be radically reformed at both school and university level, so that pupils and teachers stop being undervalued in themselves and as a profession, and so that schools and universities are properly financed by the state and not by parents’ pockets.
And finally, the system of vocational education needs to be restored so that, as before, the role of the worker and the master become more valued professions – instead of the tax inspector or the state worker. This would also improve the competence and skills of potential migrants. And for that we need incentives and people, people, people – experts in their field, of whom we have so few left.
The very first step must be made from the top, otherwise the best case scenario is that we’ll continue to remember our glorious past, praising the greatness of culture and poetry of the 10th century. At worst, we will be absorbed by the new great empire of the East.