Jack T. Lee
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.