English Medium Instruction

Want a PhD in Tajikistan? Then learn English or Russian

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The sages at the Ministry of Education in Tajikistan have decided that PhD candidates in the country should defend their theses in Russian or English [ru]. No official justification has been given for this November 8 announcement by Minister of Education Nuriddin Said.

The only exception would be for theses relating to ethnic and national issues, which would be permitted in Tajik, the national language.

News agency Radio Ozodi speculates that this move could be seen as a way of increasing the global audience for new Tajik knowledge given that there are more Russian and English speakers in the world than Tajik speakers.

On the one hand, there is some logic to this perspective. But on the other hand – and here we have a much bigger second hand – this new regulation appears highly problematic.

Having created its own Higher Attestation Committee (known by the Russian acronym VAK, from Vysshaya Attestatsionnaya Komissiya) with power to approve theses only in 2011, the Tajik government should surely look to this body for proposals on higher degree regulations.

What we’ve seen from the Tajik VAK so far is that it is open to postgraduates defending their work in their mother tongue. For most students these days, that is Tajik. Indeed, most universities now teach in the medium of Tajik, although some offer provision in Russian. Other than the University of Central Asia, I do not believe it is currently possible to study in the medium of English in Tajikistan.

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Would learning another language be facilitated if more cats were involved?

This raises a second objection to the Minister’s ruling: the issue of language. It shouldn’t be assumed that postgrads know either Russian or English, or that they know them well enough to defend a doctoral thesis in another language.

Whilst the point about increasing the the audience for Tajik theses is fair, this would reduce the status of Tajik and Tajik knowledge. It places lower value on Tajik in the national education system at a time when the use of Tajik is rapidly increasing in the country.

One academic interviewed by Radio Ozodi suggested that learning another language should not pose a problem. Language learning, he said, is part of your development. Many people in Tajikistan have knowledge of two languages (a common combination is Tajik and Russian) and those from the Pamir region usually have at least two – their own dialect, Tajik, and then English and/or Russian.

But that doesn’t mean there’s a national predilection for learning languages. Russian, Tajik and English are all quite different from one another: it’s not like, say, French and Spanish or Spanish and Italian which share a number of commonalities.

Another issue is resources. As one current postgraduate noted in the Radio Ozodi article, the time and cost of translating a thesis (assuming you write it in Tajik and then translate to Russian or English) is an “expensive pleasure”. Translating one page of text from Tajik to Russian costs around US$10, so imagine the cost of translating a whole thesis and remember at the same time that the average salary in Tajikistan is a little over US$100.

Radio Ozodi also points out that the number of highly qualified people in Tajikistan is growing, with over 2,500 people holding a Kandidat Nauk (Soviet-era PhD equivalent) and over 200 with a Doktor Nauk (the highest qualification in the Soviet system, similar to the European habilitation).

It doesn’t leap to any connection between the Minister’s ruling and what it sees as a “fashion trend” to a higher qualification, but perhaps makes an implicit assumption that there’s a connection (otherwise, why mention these number and talk about the growth as a “fashion trend”?).

So instead let me leave you with the words of “Librarian”, one of the commentators on the article:

…теперь поняли, что диссертация на таджикском языке дальше нашего аэропорта никуда. ДА ВАК Таджикистана желать остаються лучшего как говорят Русская рулетка кто больше ставит ставки тот и играет. За это время сколько дураков и лжеученых защитились за деньги. Мин образования все молчит и набивает карманы. Нашей стране давно это понять пора!

…now they understand that a dissertation in Tajik won’t get you further than the airport. Yes, Tajikistan’s VAK wants to remain the best [but] as they say, Russian roulette: whoever puts the highest stake will win. And during that time, so many idiots and pseudo-scientists have defended their theses for money. The Ministry of Education keeps quiet and lines its pockets. It’s long been time for our country to understand this!

New article out: The Dominance of Social Sciences in English-Medium Instruction Universities in Central Asia

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The latest issue of Higher Education in Russia and Beyond, 3(5) Fall 2015, is just out today and I’m delighted to say it has an essay I wrote in it. The informational newsletter comes from the prestigious Higher School of Economics in Moscow as part of a cooperation agreement with Boston College’s Center of International Higher Education.

The theme for this issue is the disciplinary divide and my short article focusses on the dominance of social sciences in English-medium instruction universities in Central Asia. Using three universities in the region – Westminster International University Tashkent (WIUT) in Uzbekistan, the American University of Central Asia (AUCA) in Kyrgyzstan and KIMEP University in Kazakhstan – I show a strong trend towards offering social sciences subjects and explain why I think that might be the case.

It’s a short article written for non-specialists so please do have a look! This is an area of research that I find very interesting so any feedback or comments you have about the essay and about the field of investigation would be very welcome.

The full issue of HERB can also be downloaded as a pdf here: HERB_05_Emma article on social science in EMI universities_Sep2015.