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.
It was perhaps only a matter of time before the rapid internationalization* of higher education in Central Asia made its ways outside the region’s borders, moving away from the current focus on internationalization within the region.
There are examples of internationalization reaching Central Asia littered all over the place. Here are just a few to illustrate the multitudinous growth: the first US branch campus to set up in Uzbekistan, the recently founded English-medium instruction International University of Humanities and Development in Turkmenistan, the recruitment of foreign faculty to work in Kazakhstani universities (a review of a new article on this is coming soon to the blog), and the introduction of Master’s degrees in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan as a new level of degree that would in the old system have slotted between the old five year “spetsialist” degree and PhD-equivalent Candidate of Science.
Like other states and regions, the countries of Central Asia are now thoroughly exposed to the range of ideas, influences and processes flowing through higher education systems around the world.
What differentiates one state or region from another is how it decides to deal with those flows, and how much power, legitimacy and money it has available in making those decisions.
Kazakhstan has long stood out from its Central Asian neighbours in terms of the attention given to higher education. As I have argued elsewhere, the state takes higher education seriously and the extensive activity in this sector demonstrates the importance of higher education to the country.
In that context, it is unsurprising that a Kazakh university has become the first in Central Asia to establish a branch campus [ru]** outside the region.
The South Kazakhstan Pedagogical University has opened an office in Brussels, Belgium, with the aim of opening a full branch campus in the future. The university also hopes to build international partnerships, support “integration into the international education space” and “promote the image of education and science of a Kazakhstani higher education institution abroad”.
These are lofty ambitions. It is interesting to see the reputational/brand-building element, as this suggests that the initiative is not just to be beneficial to the institution but to the Kazakh higher education system more generally. This stands out from other similar initiatives where the common motivation tend to centre on the benefits for the institution opening the branch campus – financial gain, opportunity to support exchange of their academics and students, etc.
South Kazakhstan Pedagogical University also has ambitions to open offices at the University of Barcelona, Spain, and the University of Aveiro, Portugal.
We should applaud the initiative of this Kazakhstani institution to bring Kazakh higher education to Europe and its efforts to broaden academic mobility beyond the longstanding “North to South” flow of students to what they perceive as “better” academic systems.
I just hope that in this rush to “internationalize”, higher education systems and institutions retain distinctiveness. By copying models and ideas seen elsewhere, we can’t help but become more similar to one another. That might be seen as beneficial if it uniformly raises the quality of higher education, the options available to students regardless of their geographic location, and the ability to share and produce knowledge.
But if we forget our histories and we no longer care about having a diversity of different types of institutions in different parts of the world, then I worry that higher education will lose the ability to inspire, engender and build on creativity. Without creativity, there will be no discovery, and without discovery our world would become a very small and limiting place.
*By internationalization – a now over-used term that runs the risk of becoming a catch-all term like globalization – I mean exposing higher education institutions, curricula, faculty, students and structural arrangements to ideas from other systems. For Central Asia this mainly means harmonization with European higher education standards propagated through the Bologna Process, although the American higher education system also provides a strong model.
This exposure to outside ideas is taken on board locally in three different ways (I am grateful for “finding” new institutional theory, which gives me the ability to identify and summarize this). Firstly, ideas can be voluntarily adopted by individuals/institutions/their states. Secondly, they can be taken on because there is a feeling of “catch up” (our system is less good than X’s system, we’d better adopt Y change in order to avoid the risk of falling behind) or stemming from a desire to join an imagined international higher education community. Thirdly, there may a coercive element to the adoption, usually as a condition of receiving funding from an outside body for reform – such as the World Bank/Russian government funded project in Tajikistan to implement changes to the system of admissions to higher education.
**Branch campus – see Wikipedia for a decent explanation