government policy

Resit required: Uzbekistan university rankings declared invalid

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No - grumpy cat
Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Justice says no to the first national university rankings

Just weeks after the release of Uzbekistan’s first national university rankings, it has emerged that the country’s Ministry of Justice has demanded the rankings be annulled.

This is almost unheard of: one state department publicly admonishing another. The Ministry of Justice must have serious concerns to go public with its beef against the Ministry of Higher and Vocational Education and the State Inspection agency that together compiled the rankings.

From the limited information [ru] I have been able to find, the Ministry of Justice has voided the rankings on three main grounds: legal-technical reasons, incorrect use and application of data, and lack of communication.

On the first factor, the Ministry claims that the rankings were not registered with them, nor were they subject to legal review, thus violating the requirements for the adoption of regulations. As such, the rankings cannot have any legal force or be legally binding.

On the second factor, there are claims that data presented in the rankings was either incorrect or misleading:

  • The number of international faculty in the rankings are alleged to be incorrect: some universities included what the Australians call FIFO professors (fly-in fly-out i.e. there to teach a particular subject or class rather than based at the institution longer-term) – the implication being that this massaged their rating upwards;
  • The rankings are not proportional and value quantity over quality. The use of quantitative indicators favours larger universities, who appear to be doing ‘better’ when measured against e.g. number of faculty members or degree programmes;
  • The focus of the rankings was apparently ‘one-sided’, focussing only on research activities (this does not seem to correspond with the indicators I am aware of, which also include items such as ICT resources).

On the point about lack of communication, the Ministry complains that the rankings were not shared with universities before they were published, nor were universities informed that the rankings were going ahead. This is apparently out of line with ‘international standards’ as developed by the Berlin principles on rankings of higher education institutions and the International Ranking Expert Group.

What happens next is unclear. I don’t see any response from the Ministry of Higher & Vocational Education, though that may be forthcoming. It is not evident that the rankings have been officially withdrawn, or whether there is any prospect of resolving the issues flagged by the Ministry of Justice and coming up with a revised version.

This bizarre case raises a larger issue about inter-governmental policy coordination, which in this case appears non-existent. Are departments talking with each other; are there forums for them to do so? This is not an Uzbekistan-specific issue, as some of my other research has shown.

The story also demonstrates that rankings are being taken seriously as a policy solution in Uzbekistan. This is shown by the Ministry of Justice taking such interest in the detail of the ranking and in the fact that it is connected to the work of international bodies dealing with rankings.

It would be fascinating to be behind the scenes at the Ministry of Higher & Vocational Education right now to see how (if) they are going to take this forward, but unless any reader has inside information to share, we will be limited to what our imaginations might suggest about the current machinations of Uzbek policymaking.

Mapping change in former Soviet higher education systems

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Emma_presenting_mapping-change_Mar2018_CIES
Me in action presenting at the Comparative and International Education Society’s 2018 conference in Mexico City. My ‘presenter hands’ are marginally more controlled than usual!

I recently presented at the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) Annual Conference and this blog post is about my presentation called Mapping change in former Soviet higher education systems: A view from the Russophone space.

I also presented with my colleague Hayfa Jafar on our new joint research on how faculty in post-conflict societies are experiencing internationalization in higher education – watch out for more on this to follow in the future.

As part of my PhD thesis on how higher education in the former Soviet space has responded to the fall of the Soviet Union, I want to include some analysis of how academics who have published about this regional space and time have conceptualized change.

In planning that analysis, I noticed that we know a lot about how authors writing in English conceptualize change in the former Soviet space – whether we like it or not, English is the dominant language of academic publication and there are quantitatively more articles and books available in English.

Yet my research is about a space where Russian has been the dominant language of the academic community. So this led me to wonder: do authors writing in Russian and publishing in Russian academic journals think about and write about change in similar or different ways? And how much do we know about this in the English language space?

(Spoiler alert. The brief answers are a) that there are both important similarities and marked differences, and b) not very much at all)

That explains the context to the analysis I then undertook of 23 articles written in Russian published in Russian language peer-reviewed journals published since 1991 (a list of the articles and journals can be found in my presentation). All the authors write about Russian higher education and were based at Russian institutions at the time of writing.

There are many possible ways to present what I found in this analysis (and I thank my supervisor and his research group for their feedback as I went through this process) but I decided to summarize my findings using a chronological but non-linear map. You can see it in the background of the photo above, and in full below.

The purpose of the map, which is designed like a Venn diagram, was not only to highlight some of the key themes that emerged from my analysis, but to show how these themes changed or overlapped over time.

The three phases shown are based on a framework adapted from Semyonov and Platonova’s work on policy change in higher education in Russia since 1991. They explain the three phases as:

  • Laissez-faire, from 1991 to around 2003. Although there were legislative changes, on the whole this period is considered to be one less government intervention in higher education, not least because of widespread economic crisis;
  • A period of major reform, from around 2004 to 2011. State investment in higher education led to the introduction of the Bologna Process and a unified higher education entrance exam, plus reforms to create merged and enlarged ‘super-institutions’ – the federal universities, plus the new designation of national research university;
  • Since 2012, a period epitomized by reforms aiming to improve the effectiveness of higher education through e.g. performance evaluations, competitive funding schemes, and more mergers/new institutional types emerging.

Sabzalieva_Mapping-change_Venn_Phases-of-change

My analysis showed broad convergence with Semyonov and Platonova’s findings with several notable differences. I discussed four of these in my presentation. Here’s a very brief summary:

  1. Whereas for the state, the first period might have been laissez-faire, for the people living in Russia and working in the higher education system, their response was more connected to a discourse of crisis and survival.
  2. A number of articles in the first two time periods talked about how change wasn’t happening, and in fact there was more continuity with the Soviet system. Higher education is shown in many articles as being on the sidelines of the social change happening around it.
  3. In the crossover between the two later periods, I noted that some of the articles observed contradictions in the reform process, particularly in relation to the introduction of the Bologna Process
  4. Across all three phases, there is a lot of discussion about faculty: what is their role, how should they and are they responding to change, and so on. It wasn’t surprising to find more coverage of faculty matters in the Russian articles as most are written by practising academics who are or have been in some way involved in what’s been happening in Russian higher education.

This analysis will eventually form part of my PhD thesis so I don’t have a standalone paper to share. However, if you’re interested in finding out more, I’ve uploaded my presentation to Research Gate – although do note that my presentations are highly visual, so there are not many words to read! The presentation also has a few bonus slides that I didn’t share during the conference. Also, please do leave comments after this post if there are things you’d like to say in response.

 

The Kazakh National Plan: 100 steps to success

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The Kazakh Minister of Education and Science Dr Aslan Sarinzhipov has this week laid out the steps identified by the national government to improving human capital and therefore economic prosperity in 21st century Kazakhstan.

In May 2015, the government identified five areas of institutional reform, which collectively have 100 steps that must be achieved before completion of the National Plan. The five areas are:

  1. forming a professional state apparatus;
  2. strengthening the rule of law;
  3. supporting industrialisation and economic growth;
  4. bolstering identity and unity; and
  5. building an accountable government

(source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

The language of reform is typical of the neoliberalism that has been sweeping the world since the latter years of the 20th century: words such as ‘modernisation’, ‘economic prosperity’, ‘highly qualified’ offer clear markers as to the aims of the government. Dr Sarinzhipov’s statement abounds with ideas drawn from and enabled by processes of globalisation – Kazakhstan seeks to draw on expertise from Japan, Korea and Finland where global measures have demonstrated success in areas such as school achievement, and a review of major national government scholarship schemes has been drawn on to drive forward changes in Kazakhstan’s own national scheme, the Bolashak Scholarship Programme.

Sarinzhipov outlines a number of specific measures in education and science that will enable his domain to work towards the National Plan. These include:

  • Moving from an 11 to a 12 year education system
  • Greater use of other languages (including English) throughout the school and postcompulsory levels
  • Provision of new facilities and science clusters
  • Training for professional staff either abroad or provided by brought-in international experts
  • Streamlining of the Bolashak Scholarships: the range of universities where Kazakh students can study will be further restricted to institutions classified as world-class in global rankings systems

Whilst the language and the desire to emulate can be seen in national government reform packages around the world, and where many of the reforms are common across postsocialist systems (e.g. the increase in compulsory schooling to 12 years), I would argue that Kazakhstan’s plan for education and science has a number of factors that differentiate it.

The primary differential, in my view, is that the driving force for change appears to be the national government, where in many other nations reform is driven by international agencies, in particular those that offer financing such as the World Bank group. That is not to say that international organisations have not influenced the government’s strategy, either through their continuing involvement in the country or indirectly by senior level officials (Sarinzhipov is an example) having worked for these organisations and therefore having been exposed to their ways of working.

This view can be substantiated by the importance being placed on embedding the Mangilik El  [ru] (Eternal Nation) values system throughout the education system. Rather than simply taking on the (perceived) best features of other countries, Kazakhstan’s plan sets these into a firmly identified national context. Nation building for this and other postsocialist countries may seem overtly ideological to those from countries with a longer independent history, but in the context of contemporary Kazakhstan this strategy is seen as a way to unify the concept of a nation – one that generate economic prosperity and social and cultural capital through the implementation of the National Plan.