Tag Archives: Kazakhstan

Mergers and acquisitions in Kazakhstan’s universities

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mergersIn an expected but still noteworthy move, the Kazakh-British Technical University (KBTU) in Almaty, Kazakhstan has now officially been merged with Satpayev Kazakh National Research Technical University (known by its Russian acronym as KazNITU). Announced in 2015, the merger is the brainchild of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev [ru] that aims to strengthen the engineering and technical specialties found in both institutions. To smooth the acquisition from the side of the junior partner (KBTU), the President has appointed Iskander Beisembetov – formerly Rector of KBTU – as the Rector of the newly enlarged institution.

Other than a short story covering the merger in Forbes Kazakhstan [ru] in April 2017, there is very little outward evidence of the change. The only mention I could find on the universities’ websites about the merger was a small link to KBTU’s website next to KazNITU’s on the latter’s homepage, and the story noted above from November 2016 about the appointment of the Rector.

Both institutions have interesting histories. KBTU was an early initiative of President Nazarbayev in higher education, being founded in 2000 by agreement with Tony Blair, then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (as an aside, this helps set into perspective the longer-term working relationship maintained by the two leaders, which has been reported on rather incredulously from the West as if it was something more recent). KBTU has always been a specialist science and technology university and leads national rankings in these areas.

In contrast to KBTU’s positioning as being part of a ‘new generation’ of universities, KazNITU in its various iterations is one of the oldest higher education institutions in Kazakhstan, with a history dating back to 1934. Founded as the Kazakh Mining and Metallurgical Institute, it now has a mission much like KBTU’s, namely, to be a leading provider of high quality teaching and research specialising in technological education.

For the two institutions, it looks like – for the moment, at least – very little will change. But for the higher education system in Kazakhstan, this represents an important moment. Mergers reflect a change in the way institutions are governed and the context within which they operate. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, mergers are often symbolic of a shift towards a managerial logic in higher education. Out are the old practices of academic collegiality and the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake (and at whatever cost), ushering in instead governance by tuition fee in a (pseudo-)market environment.

The good governance of universities is critical to their effective running, and there are doubtless cases where the introduction of new forms of governance (that may include mergers and acquisitions, as well as the closure of institutions) has helped universities and the system they operate in. Yet there are also concerns that the imposition of externally driven reorganizations may reduce institutional autonomy and differentiation or damage academic morale. And whether they improve the university’s core ‘business’ of teaching and research is, as well-known British higher education scholar Michael Shattock has argued, unproven.

 

Reference

Shattock, M. (2006). Managing good governance in higher education. Open University Press.

 

MOOC, meet Kazakhstan: Surfing a new wave of MOOC innovation

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Who needs a cat when you’ve got a Kazakh superhero?  The wording translates as ‘higher education without leaving home!’

More MOOC madness?

The trend in higher education for MOOCs – massive open online courses – shows no sign of abating.

We’re now five years on from the so-called Year of the MOOC in 2012 and whilst MOOCs don’t make the headlines so often any more, the number of courses and providers continues to mushroom.

In 2016, an estimated 58 million students around the world signed up for a MOOC. 23 million of these students (an impressive 40%) enrolled in a MOOC for the first time. Over 700 universities are involved in offering nearly 7,000 MOOCs. Check out ClassCentral’s 2016 report for more MOOC-tastic stats.

As Ben Wildavksy has argued, this is much more than ‘MOOC Ado About Nothing‘ (groan away – it’s his line, not mine!).

Now that the first wave of MOOC enrollment has passed, access begins to open up to a wider audience, following the same pattern as the disbursement of the internet (first to the elites who could afford a computer as an expensive piece of tech, later spreading to society more broadly). The metaphor is apt given that the internet is a crucial reason for the birth and growth of MOOCs.

MOOCs speak your language

One of the most interesting trends in 2016 is the growth in regional providers of MOOCs, which attracted around 25% of all new learners last year. Most of these courses are offered in languages other than English.

The days of the arena being dominated by North American providers and English language medium of instruction may well be numbered, especially with the entry of Chinese language providers to meet the huge education market in China.

Bilim (knowledge) for all

It is on the coat-tails of this regionalization movement that the recent launch of Kazakhstan’s own Open University, Қазақстанның ашық университеті [kz], can be located. OpenU, as it is billing itself, has set itself the lofty aim [kz] of increasing the intellectual level of the country by delivering high-quality online courses.

Courses will be developed by leading Kazakhstani academics and are aimed at high school students (an interesting target audience often overlooked by other MOOCs), university students and those who for some reason are unable to access face-to-face higher education.

All ‘interested citizens’ are also invited to join in too, so the mission is highly inclusive. As with other MOOCs, all OpenU courses are free.

The founders of OpenU

Although pitched as a university, OpenU is in fact a joint project, created by the public fund WikiBilim [bilim = knowledge in Kazakh] with KCell, a leading Kazakhstani mobile phone provider, as the main sponsor.

The initial university partners are:

Satpayev Kazakh National Technical University
Kazakh-British Technical University
Almaty Management University
Suleyman Demirel University
Institute of Mathematics and Mathematical Modelling [ru]

Four more courses are due to go live in April and a further three this May. Most courses are around five weeks long with one session a week.

In a country where (multi-)language policy is a major issue, it is interesting that 80% of the course content is being offered in Kazakh. That said, English and Russian language subtitles are planned for all video content, which will enhance accessibility.

What can you study?

The initial courses, like the global pattern for MOOCs, focus on computer science and business/management.

Students can sign up for courses in Matrices and Determinants, Public-Private Partnerships, Web Programming Fundamentals, Fourier Analysis [Maths], Robotics and Introduction to Computer Science Using Java [all kz or ru].

The course creators have outstanding academic credentials. Professor Askar Zhumadildayev, for example, holds a Doctor of Science degree (equivalent to the ‘habilitation’ in some other contexts, i.e. a more advanced degree than the PhD) in Mathematical Physics and is an academician of the Kazakh National Academy of Sciences.

Zhumadildayev is committed to this new style of learning: “Если эти лекции посмотрят даже 20 человек, я буду счастлив. Все должно развиваться постепенно. Это настоящая академичная наука и настоящие знания, это полезно” (“Even if only 20 people watch these lectures, I will be happy. Things should develop gradually. This is genuine science and genuine knowledge – it’s useful.”)

The project’s founders hope that the OpenU courses will provide a means for students in regions of Kazakhstan to learn from the country’s great academics [ru], who tend to cluster in the two main cities of Astana and Almaty.

Surfing a new wave of MOOC innovation

There are three reasons why I believe that OpenU offers a new way of thinking about MOOCs that may help to refresh the format and generate a third wave of MOOC development.

I would argue that the first wave lasted until 2012, with the massive rise and popularization of the MOOC. The second wave of 2013-2016 was characterized by the personalization of MOOCs, where provision became more oriented around individual needs in terms of scheduling, credentials being made available and so on.

So what makes OpenU a breath of fresh air in the increasingly jaded world of MOOCs?

  1. The pedigree of the course creators is stunning. Whilst you can certainly find other MOOCs offered by ‘star’ academics, the concern of many universities when they rushed to joined the MOOC bandwagon was to generate course content. Less attention was paid, at least in the early days, to quality and delivery. OpenU’s collaboration with a range of universities and its focus on working with leading academics means that quality is being put first.
  2. The partnership between a non-profit public organization, WikiBilim, and a corporate, KCell, is an extremely interesting model. Rather than a single university trying to create its own MOOC platform, or the wholesale adoption of an outside model (Coursera, EdX etc), the OpenU model creates a different type of structure through which partner institutions can offer selected courses. This is advantageous for the universities in terms of resource sharing and also for the prospects for publicity (and thus potential future student recruitment) it offers.
  3. OpenU has not been set up to offer degrees [ru], as is now possible through the combination of some MOOCs. Rather, it is an ‘educational upgrading’ experience to support growth in educational quality not just for individual learners but also for universities in Kazakhstan. The idea is that they may adopt some of the course content as part of their own curriculum in order to draw on expertise available within the country but not within their own institution.

 

 

 

 

New article published: The policy challenges of creating a world-class university outside the global ‘core’

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Yup, I am pretty excited about this one

I’m pleased to share the publication of my latest journal article. Out online in the European Journal of Higher Education now (and in print in June), my article is called The policy challenges of creating a world-class university outside the global ‘core’ and takes a fresh look at the now commonplace idea of the world-class university.

I used a case study of recently founded Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan to highlight some of the challenges and opportunities for policymakers and people working/studying at the university arising from this new and in many ways experimental project.

You can download the article in full at: http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/BugJKtrEFRnhfJpkeDya/full, and the abstract is below.

Abstract

Although the idea of the world-class university is not a new one, it has become increasingly commonplace in public policies around the globe, also gaining traction in states outside the global ‘core’. Kazakhstan, the only Central Asian member of the European Higher Education Area, is no exception as it too aspires to have a world-class university. This paper examines the policies of the Kazakhstani government towards a recently founded institution, Nazarbayev University, as it seeks to position Kazakhstan as a credible global knowledge economy, but also use the university as a means of fulfilling domestic nation-building objectives. Addressing the policy challenges of creating a world-class university in this particular Central Asian context, the paper contributes to a reshaping of our understanding of how certain states currently outside the global ‘core’ are using higher education as a neoliberal development strategy. This paper offers the prospect that there might not just be multiple paths to the creation of a world-class university, but also multiple interpretations of what it means to be a world-class university.

 

 

New research from Central Asian university students

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relevant-to-my-interestsIntrigued by reforms to education in Kazakhstan, from the new trilingual education policy to greater steps towards decentralization of governance?

Want to know what students at a new Kazakh university think about life on campus or the effectiveness of their institution’s strategic plan?

Curious to learn more about students’ views on learning methods, from videoessays to critical thinking skills?

I thought so.

You need to subscribe to a great blog run by students at Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev University, which has published posts on all these themes and much more. Stories are short, evidence-based and offer some great insights into two areas.

Firstly, there are articles that enhance empirical understanding of education at all levels, with a particular focus on the Kazakh situation. Secondly, the blog offers some interesting insights into the contemporary Central Asian student experience by allowing students to choose (within a framework) what they are writing about, how they express themselves, and how their articles are received and discussed by others.

Holiday viewing: Universities in Soviet Kazakhstan

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Every now and again, I treat you (well, really this is as much for my own benefit) to a visual offering on this blog. In previous years, we’ve had early Soviet era Central Asia posters, a tour of Bishkek’s universities and a selection of Christmas trees for the Tajik school and university students who were banned from putting up Christmas trees for the festive season in 2015.

For the winter holidays this year, I offer you another sojourn into the recent history of Central Asia with a series of images of Kazakhstan’s universities from the Almaty City State Archives. This photo story is from Kazakh news agency BNews by journalist Aigul Mukhambetova. The story is in Russian and I’ve given an informal English translation below.

On the subject of university history and the importance of place (but not on Central Asia), you might also be interested in a recent article I’ve had published in the Canadian journal Comparative & International Education on the connections between universities’ foundations and their current levels of engagement with their local communities.

So – happy viewing and happy reading, but most of all happy holidays. May peace, reason and expertise reign in 2017 for everyone in the world.

Какими были крупнейшие вузы страны в годы их становления (ФОТО)

Which were the country’s best universities during its founding years?

ФОТО: предоставил Госархив г. Алматы
Photos provided by Almaty City State Archive

В современном Казахстане огромную роль играют высшие учебные заведения, которые за годы независимости выпустили сотни тысяч высококвалифицированных специалистов. Однако их история началась еще в довоенный период. Редакция BNews.kz предлагает провести небольшой экскурс в первые годы становления нескольких алматинских  вузов.

In contemporary Kazakhstan, higher education institutions play an important role, and since independence in 1991, hundreds of thousands of highly qualified specialists have graduated. Yet the institutions’ histories started even before the Second World War. The BNews.kz team invite you on a small excursion into the first years of some of Almaty’s universities.

КазНУ им. аль-Фараби // Al-Farabi Kazakh National University


Казахский национальный университет им. аль-Фараби был основан в 1934 году.  Тогда университету было присвоено имя С.М. Кирова. В становлении университета оказали помощь вузы Москвы, Ленинграда, Казани, Украины.

Al-Farabi Kazakh National University was founded in 1934. At that time, it was named after Sergei Kirov [Russian Communist leader assassinated also in 1934, possibly at Stalin’s (indirect) order]. Universities in Moscow, Leningrad [St Petersburg], Kazan and Ukraine provided support to the foundation of the Kazakh National University.

Во время становления университета в  КазГУ работали известные ученые и общественные деятели. В первый год существования вуза работали два факультета, когда сейчас студентов обучают по 80 с лишним специальностям на 14 факультетах.

At the time it was founded, well-known scholars and public figures worked at Kazakh State University. In its first year, there were two faculties. Today, students can study for one of around 80 degrees in 14  faculties.

Сегодня КазНУ успешно сотрудничает более чем с 400 крупнейшими университетами из 25 стран мира. В  2015 году вуз вошел в топ-300, заняв 275 место среди 800 лучших мировых университетов.

Today, Kazakh National University successfully cooperates with more than 400 excellent universities in 25 countries. In 2015 it joined the top 300 universities, taking 275th place amongst the world’s best 800 universities.

КазНАИ им. Т.К. Жургенова // T. K. Zhurgenov Kazakh National Academy of Arts

История КазНАИ им. Т.К. Жургенова начинается с 1955 года. В институте искусств им. Курмангазы (ныне Консерватории) был открыт театральный факультет.

The history of the T. K. Zhurgenov Kazakh National Academy of Arts started in 1955 when a theatre faculty was opened at the Kurmangazy Institute (now Conservatory) of Arts.

В 1977 году на его базе был создан алматинский государственный театрально-художественный институт. Сегодня в академии функционируют 6 факультетов: театральное искусство, кино и ТВ, хореография, живопись, скульптура и дизайн, искусствоведение и музыкальное искусство.

Сегодня в вузе подготовку специалистов осуществляют 23 кафедры, из которых 17 являются выпускающими и 6 общеакадемическими.  

In 1977, the Almaty State Theatre Institute was founded on the Academy’s site. Today, there are six faculties: theatre, cinema and TV, choreography, drawing, sculpture and design, art history, and music. Today the Academy prepares students in 23 departments.

КазНПУ им. Абая // Abai Kazakh National Pedagogical University

Казахский национальный педагогический университет имени Абая основан в 1928 году.

Сегодня это крупнейший и ведущий университет Казахстана, один из центров отечественной педагогической науки и культуры. Университет сейчас занимает достойное место среди 10 лучших университетов республики и первое – в рейтинге педагогических.

Abai Kazakh National Pedagogical University was founded in 1928.

Today it is one of Kazakhstan’s leading universities and a centre for national pedagogical science and culture. The university is ranked amongst the top 10 in the country and the first for pedagogical studies. 

КазНПУ им. Абая включает 11 факультетов, институт магистратуры и докторантуры PhD, 10 научно-исследовательских институтов и центров, лаборатории и более 64 кафедры. В университете обучается  свыше 11 тысяч  будущих специалистов по 55 специальностям бакалавриата, 46 специальностям магистратуры и 16 специальностям докторантуры PhD.

Abai Kazakh National Pedagogical University has 11 faculties, an institute for Master’s and PhD students, 10 research institutes and centres, laboratories and more than 64 departments. More than 11,000 future specialists study at the university for over 55 undergraduate degrees, 46 Master’s degrees and 16 PhD degree subjects. 

КазНМУ им. С. Д. Асфендиярова // S. D. Asfendiyarov Kazakh National Medical University


Решение об открытии медицинского института в Алма-Ате было принято в 1930 году. Штат института в 1931 году включал 5 профессоров, 4 доцента, 13 ассистентов и 2 преподавателя.

The decision to open a medical institute in Alma-Ata (Almaty’s previous name) was taken in 1930. the institute opened in 1931 with five professors, four assistant professors, 13 assistants and two teachers.


За годы войны институт окончили около 2000 врачей, 75% выпускников были направлены на фронт. Бессмертный подвиг во имя свободы Родины совершили на фронте воспитанники медицинского института – Маншук Маметова и Владимир Иванилов, которым посмертно были присвоены звания Героя Советского Союза. Они навечно зачислены студентами медицинского университета.

Сегодня в КазНМУ им. С.Д. Асфендиярова работают известные ученые-педагоги Казахстана, академики Национальной академии наук РК, Российской академии медицинских наук, Академии профилактической медицины РК, Международных академий, заслуженные деятели науки и образования, заслуженные врачи и фармацевты.

During World War Two, around 2,000 doctors graduated, of whom 75% were sent to the front. Two Medical Institute graduates, Manshuk Mametov and Vladimir Ivanilov, were recognized posthumously with Hero of the Soviet Union status for their heroic efforts in the name of freedom for the Motherland. They have been marked for eternity a students of the medical university.

These days, well-known Kazakh science teachers, members of the Kazakhstan National Academy of Science, the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences, the Kazkhstan Academy of Preventative Medicine, International academies, recipients of national science/education awards and honoured doctors and pharmacists all work at the S. D. Asfendiyarov Kazakh National Medical University,

КазНТУ им. К.И. Сатпаева // K. I. Satpaev Kazakh National Technical University


История казахского национального технического университета им. К.И.Сатпаева — флагмана инженерного образования республики берет начало в 1934 году. Тогда вуз назывался   Казахский горно-металлургический институт.

K. I. Satpaev Kazakh National Technical University is a leading provider of engineering education and was founded in 1934. At that time it was called the Kazakh Mining and Metallurgy Institute.

В 1999 г. за особые заслуги в подготовке инженерно-технических кадров страны постановлением Правительства Республики Казахстан КазНТУ присвоено имя выдающегося ученого, академика Каныша Имантаевича Сатпаева. КазНТУ сегодня – это 11 профильных институтов и 54 кафедры, где преподают и ведут научные исследования около 200 докторов и более 500 кандидатов наук.

In 1999 the university was given the name of academic Kanish Imanatevich Satpaev by government decree in recognition of its important role in the training of engineering and technical graduates. Today the university has 11 institutes and 54 departments, where teaching and research is undertaken by around 200 PhDs and more than 500 Candidates of Science.

Is President Nazarbayev legacy building?

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Better than a cat meme… A recently unveiled bronze monument of Nursultan Nazarbayev in Taldykorgan, south-eastern Kazakhstan

There have been a spate of stories recently about Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev that suggest a new stage in his quarter century long leadership of the nation. This stage consists of the development of a legacy that seeks to frame Nazarbayev as if being written for future history textbooks.

He has already taken on the mantle of Leader of the Nation (2010) after apparently relenting to pressure from parliament, has had the country’s vastly funded and international prestige-seeking university named after him (2010), and more recently has sought to quash rumours that he seeks to have the capital city named after him. Take a look at the US Washington Post’s story “What do you give the autocrat who has everything?” from November 2016 for a tongue in cheek retelling of the latter story.

Although such tendencies are often associated with the notion of the autocratic or authoritarian regime, as the American article noted above demonstrates, recent comments by Nazarbayev suggest that he is seeking to mould an image of himself that turns the tables on these well-worn and Western-centric tropes.

In a recent televised documentary about the past 25 years, Nazarbayev said:

We get called a “dictatorial” country, or moreover “autocratic.” This is nonsense. This is told by those who know nothing of our way of lives… the way we rule today is normal for our country

(Source: http://akipress.com/news:586373/, 12 December 2016)

Further, in an interview with Bloomberg Press last month [ru], Nazarbayev reminded readers that:

The desire of western countries to make Kazakhstan into an American-style democracy is completely unsustainable

This is not to say that Nazarbayev is against political change: in both sources I mention, he talks about the long-term nature of a shift in ideology. He mentions steps taken by Kazakhstan on this path, such as freedom of religion and language.

Despite these proclamations, US-based scholar Mariya Omelicheva suggests that this is more a quest for legitimacy building than for creating a legacy based on genuine change. Her recent study compares Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, noting that presidential speeches by Nazarbayev and his recently deceased Uzbek counterpart Islam Karimov share similarities in that

The leadership of these states have been determined to maintain power under the guise of democracy without exposing themselves to the political risks of competition… They have every single formal democratic institution, but they strip them of their democratic essence.

In relation to what the leaders have promised to the people on the terms they define, progress is considerable. But as we are seeing around the world, not just in Central Asia, “rhetoric is manipulative” (Omelicheva).

To answer the question this blog poses – is Nazarbayev legacy building? – I think there is evidence that, at least through the official discourse, there is a trend in this direction. Yet what Omelicheva’s piece reminds us is that discourse and rhetoric are one thing, whereas genuine change in a political system is quite another. In this, legitimacy trumps legacy.

Corruption corrupted in Kazakhstan

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Cash for university and school places? This cat’s ready to pay.

Kazakh civil servant Almat Yermagambetov wins this week’s prize for bare faced deception.

Yermagambetov handed over to the police a woman who falsely claimed she could obtain admission at Nazarbayev University and a place at a top school in return for a large amount of cash – $20,000 US to be exact. This sounds great for moves towards transparency in a country that despite significant reform still struggles to eliminate corruption.

The plot thickens, though, not when you learn that the accused flatly denies any allegation of wrong doing – but when you find out that the person who paid out the not-to-be-sniffed-at sum of $20,000 to buy admission places for his children is Yermagambetov himself. Yes, the very same civil servant who brought the corruption to light. And, yes, as the 100+ comments on the original article also note, the very same civil servant who does not appear to be facing any charges for his own highly corrupt behaviour.

You couldn’t make it up.

Thanks to news portal Nur.kz for the story – https://www.nur.kz/1319394-chinovnik-otdal-moshennice-20-tys-dlya-zach.html [ru]

I’d close some universities if I could – Kazakh Ambassador to Canada

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Panellists at the “Kazakhstan After 25 Years” roundtable at University of Toronto, November 2016

The number of higher education institutions in Kazakhstan – a country with a population of 17 million – rocketed up from 55 in 1991 to a peak of 182 just a decade later. Many of these were very small institutes, privately run and focussed on teaching. A number of these naturally fell away in the subsequent years, but there were still a whopping 126 higher education institutions in operation in 2015 – one for every 135,000 people! Since 2012, the government has been taking measures to optimize both the quantity and quality of higher education [ru] in Kazakhstan as I showed in a blog post from 2013, The state of higher education in Kazakhstan:

EurasiaNet.org: Kazakhstan has almost 150 higher education institutions for a population of about 17 million… How is Kazakhstan trying to change this perception that there are too many degrees being awarded, but not the labor market to support the thousands of yearly graduates?

Dr. Mukash Burkitbayev, Vice Rector of Al-Farabi Kazakh National University [my emphasis]: You’re right, there are so many universities for a [population] of 15 million. It is too much. Our minister of education understands this situation and now they are making a special policy. They make more requirements for the universities for the scientific material base, for quality of the staff. If the universities do not meet with such requirements such kind of a university will be closed or it will [be joined with another]. This is the main activity of ministry of education. And life demonstrates it, which university should be top; which university should be closed…

The quality of higher education remains a hot topic in Kazakhstan, so it was little wonder that the Kazakh Ambassador to Canada, Konstantin Zhigalov, expressed his views on this issue at a public roundtable on Kazakhstan’s achievements, missed opportunities, and future prospects over the last 25 years hosted at the University of Toronto this month.

Higher education has been a priority of the Kazakh state since becoming independent in 1991. A flagship programme, the Bolashak Scholarships [ru], have sent 12,000 Kazakhs to study abroad since its inception in 1993. The word Bolashak means Future in English – an apt reminder of the power of education to drive a country forward. As the situation within Kazakhstan has stabilized and with the emergence of a distinct middle class, another flagship programme, Nazarbayev University, is on the rise. Both initiatives are designed to nurture the academic elite and offer generous financial support to the brightest students to pursue cost-free higher education in a top quality setting.

These two grand projects seem to get much of the (still sadly limited) international attention paid to Kazakhstan’s higher education system, which drove me to ask the Ambassador about the challenges for the rest of the system. What are the opportunities for the majority of students who won’t get a Bolashak scholarship or entry to Nazarbayev University?

And that’s where Ambassador Zhigalov talked about the importance of raising quality across the board. This means continuing to close down institutions that are not meeting the government’s requirements and creating mergers between institutions. Beyond this, measures are being taken to reform the system in line with international norms such as the Bologna Process, engender competition through developing a national rankings system, endeavouring to place two universities amongst the world’s best, enhancing accreditation systems, and continuing the drive towards “modernization” which has been a watch word in national strategies for many years.

These are challenging targets, but the consistent efforts towards achieving these reforms are clear and commendable. Whether or not you agree with the direction of travel, it is hard to disagree that the higher education system in Kazakhstan is on the journey of its life.

 

A new phase for Central Asian higher education begins

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After many years in the pipeline (just do a quick search on my blog if you want to check the archives!), the University of Central Asia (UCA) has today welcomed its very first undergraduate students. True, they are a select few: just 71 students selected from the three UCA countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan, and it’s also true that just one of the three envisaged campuses is up and running… but nonetheless, this is quite some achievement. Creating any new organisation is a challenge, but UCA has deliberately added to the complexity by working over three countries and physically building campuses in somewhat remote mountainous areas of those countries.

The university also grapples with other challenges such as dealing with endemic corruption in the region, raising awareness of and interest in an American style English-language education, proving that a good higher education can be obtained at home as well as abroad and more. Some of these issues are not specific to UCA but are issues all institutions in the region must deal with. Having worked for UCA (in a different guise) nearly 15 years ago when it was in the early stages of development, I sense that some of the great creativity and genuine innovation in earlier versions of the undergraduate curriculum have been lost or overtaken by other ideas and needs. Time will tell how the UCA offering is received and whether the concept will catch on.

For today, though, I would simply like to pass my congratulations to everyone involved in the grand UCA project, and to wish the students, staff and faculty all the very best of luck. An exciting adventure awaits!

The ironic fate of Soviet nostalgia

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Poster for the Soviet classic, “The irony of fate”, where the big joke is that all cities share the same street names

If you’re feeling nostalgic for the Soviet Union, for the days of free education, jobs for life, and street names that were the same in every city, then it seems you’re not alone.

Sputnik News today reports the results of a poll of over 12,000 people across 11 countries of the former Soviet Union who were asked whether life was better in the USSR than after it collapsed in 1991. On average, over 50% of those aged 35-64 agree that life was better before. This compares to an average of just under 30% of those aged 18-24 who felt the same – though how they might know this without having been born during the Soviet Union escapes me.

The breakdown of the results by country is interesting, particularly looking at unlikely outliers Uzbekistan and Moldova. In Uzbekistan, apparently almost no one misses the good old days, in stark contrast to its extremely economically successful neighbour Kazakhstan. Kyrgyzstan purports to have similar levels of nostalgia as Kazakhstan, despite enjoying a reputation as “Central Asia’s most stable state”. I’m not saying that political and economic success/stability as an independent country necessarily affects results, but I do feel surprised by the lukewarm response from older Tajiks based on my own extensive research and contacts in the country.

Comments on the Sputnik News website express a similar range of confusion and scepticism. Indeed, Sputnik News – a Russian government spin-off – is regularly accused of spouting Russian-friendly propaganda. Certainly, the way the statement is worded is highly subjective: why not flip the question and ask whether life is better now than it was during the Soviet Union? And why are the voices of those who weren’t even born when the Soviet Union collapsed given equal weight to those who lived a good part of their life with a different passport – and where are the over 65s?

Revitalizing the idea that times were better in the old days is not new – just look at the ongoing “ostalgie” stories about East Germany. If you have the time to explore this further, I strongly recommend Alexei Yurchak’s absolutely beautifully named 2005 book, Everything Was Forever Until It Was No More. It focusses on the 1960s-1980s, the many paradoxes of Soviet life and telling the story of the last Soviet generation – the very same people who now seem to be so nostalgic…

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(c) Sputnik News, August 17 2016