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.
In print at last!
My latest article – The policy challenges of creating a world-class university outside the global ‘core’ – which was published online in March, has finally found a home in a print edition of the journal it is published in. (There is usually a lag because publishers do their best to get online versions of papers out quickly but will have a limited number of print editions during the year. It’s a great example of old and new technologies coming together in a slightly awkward way.)
So, if you are an avid reader of the European Journal of Higher Education – and I have no doubt that if you aren’t now, you will be soon – you will find my article in issue 4 in the “Debate” section.
This gives it a full and fancy reference should you ever wish to cite my ideas about world-class universities in Kazakhstan:
Sabzalieva, Emma. 2017. “The Policy Challenges of Creating a World-Class University Outside the Global ‘core.’” European Journal of Higher Education 7 (4):424–39. https://doi.org/10.1080/21568235.2017.1292856.
What’s it about?
I was hoping you’d ask… Here’s a copy of the abstract, which hopefully whets your appetite:
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.
Would you like a free copy of the article?
I’d love to know what you think of the article. Questions, comments and suggestions for improvement are all welcomed.
It’s been rather quiet on the blog of late.
Don’t worry – I haven’t run out of ideas to keep the blog going. On the contrary, I probably now have too many. I also have a LOT of new photos of universities to add to my photo gallery (see the bottom right part of the homepage). Bet you can’t wait for that!
The reason for the lower than usual level of activity is that I’ve been doing fieldwork for my PhD thesis over the last two months.
This has involved meeting with over 30 wonderful academics in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and spending a time with each of them discussing their personal experiences of working in higher education since the late Soviet period.
I have learned so much from my respondents and am incredibly grateful to each of them, not just for their time, but also for their willingness to share their own stories with me. Once I am back in Canada next month, I will need to spend time reflecting on these interviews and making sure I do justice to the rich data I have been able to gather.
All the interviews have been anonymised so I can’t thank people publicly – but they know who they are. Thank you. Спасибо.
In addition to doing these interviews, I’ve also been selected to present at three conferences, one in each country.
At the joint ESCAS-CESS conference in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan in June, I organized a panel on The shifting landscapes of post-Soviet higher education, presenting the paper Conceptualizing change in post-Soviet higher education. I also convened a roundtable on to discuss the future for higher education in the post-Soviet space. Read more about the conference here.
In July, I was invited to present at a conference on Tradition and change in a contemporary world in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. This is a very fitting theme for my thesis work on change (and stability), although at the request of the conference organizer, the paper I presented drew on my earlier comparative work on the UK and Canada and was entitled Connecting history with contemporary identity in higher education. The article that this paper is based on can be found here.
Finally, here in Astana, Kazakhstan, I am pleased to have presented today (19 August) at the first annual conference of the Graduate School of Public Policy at Nazarbayev University.
My paper was Public policy and higher education reform in Central Asia, which discusses how the world-class university has become a global public policy strategy for higher education.
Although this is an excellent example of policy convergence, I argue that Kazakhstan’s strategy in creating Nazarbayev University offers a creative shift to this world-class university model: one that embraces the dominant global university model whilst at the same time transforming it to be useful and applicable for other purposes. You can read my related article on this subject here.
The conference was themed around good governance and attracted a diverse array of international presenters. Each of the presentations I was able to see added something new to my understanding of governance and public policy, from thinking about the state as a supplier of institutions for economic diversification in Kazakhstan (by Zhanat Murzakulova) to learning more about the implications of informal institutions for post-Soviet education systems (by Dr Dina Sharipova), and a lot more in between.
And last but not least, in amongst all the interviews and conferences and photographing university buildings, it’s been absolutely wonderful to catch up with family and friends. Being dispersed so globally can have its downsides, so it makes the moments of being together even more special.
What a great summer.
A small flurry of press stories recently (e.g. in University World News on 2 June, University World News on 4 May, The PIE News, Today.kz and ICEF Monitor) announced the arrival of a new partnership of higher education institutions, the Asian Universities’ Alliance (AUA). Bringing together 15 universities from 14 countries, the AUA aims to promote academic mobility between institutions and countries and enhance collaborative research activity.
As reported by University World News, the founding members include China’s Tsinghua University and Peking University, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology or HKUST, the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, South Korea’s Seoul National University, Japan’s University of Tokyo, Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University, Myanmar’s University of Yangon, Malaysia’s University of Malaya, National University of Singapore, University of Indonesia, Sri Lanka’s University of Colombo, United Arab Emirates University, Saudi Arabia’s King Saud University and Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev University.
University alliances are an excellent manifestation of the soft power potential of higher education (check out this Google search for many, many examples of this). As also noted by Andrew Gunn and Michael Mintrom writing for University World News, what is unusual about the AUA is its choice to focus only on top-ranking universities in Asia – many alliances bring together a range of institutional types from a number of world regions.
Gunn and Mintrom go a step further, suggesting that the AUA is “distinctive because of the extent to which it is a form of Chinese soft power.” Indeed, the AUA is led by Bejing-based Tsinghua, considered one of China’s best universities.
At a time when responses to China’s (literally) far-reaching One Belt, One Road economic and foreign policy have often expressed concern/fear about China’s grand plans, it is interesting that responses to the AUA have been largely positive, even though it is unashamedly focussed on increasing Asia’s position in global higher education.
Perhaps the lack of negativity comes from the lead institution’s more nuanced vision for the alliance. Quoted in The PIE News, Tsinghua University president Qiu Yong said that this was not about Asian universities trying to mimic their Western counterparts:
Higher education should not have only one voice. Western education is also successful but I do believe that there are Eastern educational philosophy and heritage that deserves to be cherished also.
(The fact that Tsinghua is providing US$1.5m of funding to kickstart the AUA may also help explain the aura of positivity…)
As you’ll have seen from the list of members above, there is one Central Asian institution in the new alliance – Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev University. This gives me the opportunity to reflect on the impact that the new AUA may have in Central Asia, not just for Nazarbayev University, but more generally for higher education in the region.
I suggest that this could go one of two ways for universities in Central Asia.
First and foremost, Central Asian universities will be able to use the AUA to position themselves as a bridge between the US/Europe and Asia. Kazakhstan has already been doing this very effectively for a number of years, and the country’s President is very fond of the “heart of Eurasia” geopolitical symbolism in describing his country.
Indeed, Nazarbayev University President Shigeo Katsu echoes this discourse directly, and is quoted by Today.kz as saying:
Казахстан находится в сердце Евразии, между Востоком и Западом, поэтому я думаю, что важно развивать сотрудничество не только с западными, но и азиатскими вузами. Учрежденный сегодня Альянс азиатских вузов будет полезным не только для учреждений высшего образования как таковых, но и, в первую очередь, самих студентов, которые смогут общаться друг с другом на площадке молодежного форума Альянса.
[Kazakhstan is at the heart of Eurasia, between East and West. That’s why I believe that it’s important to develop cooperation with both Western and Asian universities. The new Alliance of Asian Universities will be useful not only for higher education institutions like ours, but also – and importantly – for students, who will be able to communicate with each other through the Alliance’s youth forum.
There are opportunities for other Central Asian universities to replicate this bridging symbolism in a way that makes sense for their own institutional missions.
A second possibility is that, rather than the AUA offering the opportunity for Central Asian universities to position themselves between Asia and the West, they might instead prefer to move in just one direction. I think it is feasible that a number of universities will see the AUA as legitimizing their own interests/strategies in connecting with Asian higher education.
China is increasingly influential in Central Asia, primarily through its economic might (although reports suggest this may be taking some time to embed). Universities could see the AUA as a way to benefit from this regional leadership, rather than struggling against it. Joining an alliance as an active and willing partner would certainly give institutions a stronger position in the AUA than being co-opted (coerced?) further down the line.
Does the AUA force universities to make a choice about whether to align with Asia or to join Kazakhstan’s strategy of straddling global groupings?
I don’t think so. Rather, I believe that universities in Central Asia that are minded to think strategically can benefit from the AUA without closing themselves off to other alliances. As Indian Institute of Technology Bombay Deputy Director Prasanna Mujumdar noted,
If we have strength to pool universities together, the best of minds from both sides, each with their own niche expertise to contribute…
…then you create the possibilities of enhancing the educational offerings of your university. You have a formal network of partners with whom you can exchange students, supporting their learning and broadening their worldview. You have the opportunity to draw on expertise (and potentially physical research equipment) not available in your own setting. And you are part of a bigger whole, able to look not just at the local and national environment but to a regional setting as well.
Creating and developing these factors means that your university is better positioned to then join other networks, whether these are bilateral partnerships or larger associations like the AUA.
The key challenge for universities in Central Asia will be to demonstrate the value they can bring to such partnerships. The many strengths they have are often overlooked because the countries of Central Asia are considered to be marginal in the world system or because the legacy of the Soviet higher education system is (wrongly, in my view) dismissed as weak/irrelevant. Views like this are hard to overcome, and make the challenge for universities harder, but it is imperative that universities do what they can to step up to this challenge.
After recent reports of unsanitary and unsafe living conditions at a Kazakh university in the western city of Atyrau comes a new report of questionable accommodation standards – but this time at the country’s oldest (and one of its most prestigious) universities, Abay Kazakh Pedagogical University [ru].
Complaints have been made about the irregular supply of water, overcrowded dorm rooms and – the scourge of renters everywhere – bedbugs.
One student’s video evidence of the conditions has been rejected by university administrators, who flatly deny any problems in the accommodation. They suggested that instead, perhaps someone wanted to cast aspersions on the university’s reputation.
Despite initially being denied entry to the dorms, a TV film crew were nevertheless later able to access the building. They confirmed that rooms were being packed with double the number of people than should be permitted, and also saw bugs in the kitchen.
Forced onto the back foot, the building manager issued a statement claiming that they weren’t bedbugs, “just ordinary insects”. And if they did turn out to be bedbugs, promises to bring in sanitary inspectors were quickly made.
Students around the world are often subject to less than optimal living conditions, often because of rogue landlords. It’s less common to see issues of the type raised by here in university-run accommodation, which is one of the reasons the story is newsworthy.
It’s also interesting to see a critical piece on higher education in the Kazakh press, which in general is supportive of the state’s efforts towards higher education.
Many of the comments posted on Tengrinews, which pitched this story as “Kazakhstan’s oldest university at the centre of a scandal” [ru], did not hold back in their openness.
One anonymous commentator neatly summed up their frustration at the difference between the image and the reality of Kazakhstan:
Вот Вам и действительность нашей страны. Вот Вам и состояние системы образования в целом. ЭКСПО, Назарбаев Университеты, НИШ, Астана и другие понты.
[And there’s the reality of our country for you. The education system summed up. Your EXPO, Nazarbayev University, Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools and the other show projects.]
Another felt that this was a reflection of all that is wrong with the university:
Отвратительный ВУЗ. Сам лично убедился, что там все прогнило, начиная с ректората. При сдаче экзаменов в магистратуру, к примеру, место предоставили человеку, даже не сдававшему экзаменов. Проректор просто сказал – нам так надо, до свидания. Финпол спит.
[A disgusting university. I’m convinced that the whole university is corrupt, starting with the Rector [Provost/Vice-Chancellor]. For example, during the admissions period for their Master’s programmes, they’ve already given places to candidates who haven’t even taken the admissions exam. The Vice-Rector just said, that’s how it is, goodbye. The financial police are asleep.]
I will leave you with Alan’s comment. In true Soviet-era fashion, Alan has addressed the issue through an anekdot, a wry joke that tends to mock or mask the truth. The joke concerns the new hierarchy of higher education in Kazakhstan, from the new and uber-prestigious Nazarbayev University in the new capital of Astana to formerly flagship institution Kazakh State University and from there to Abay Kazakh Pedagogical University, the subject of the “scandal”:
Анекдот про студентов Каждый учащийся в Назарбаев университет летает на каникулах в разные страны имеет дом шикарную машину, Каждый учащийся в КАЗГУ Имеет квартиру машину, Каждый учащийся в АГУ имеет право на жизнь
[Here’s a joke about students. Every student at Nazarbayev University flies to different countries for the holidays, and they have a house and a fancy car. Every student at Kazakh State University has an apartment and a car. Every student at Abay Kazakh Pedagogical University has the right to live.]
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.