New education research on Central Asia

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

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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:

  1. What factors persuade faculty members to relocate to Kazakhstan for full-time employment?
  2. What types of individuals pursue this relocation?
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Unlike this cat, the article investigates faculty members who decided not to stay but to move to Kazakhstan

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:

Push factors

  • 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).

Pull factors

  • 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.

 

Reference

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.

Full text available at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/321142176_Reverse_flow_in_academic_mobility_from_core_to_periphery_motivations_of_international_faculty_working_in_Kazakhstan

New education research on Central Asia – “Problems of forming tolerance in the educational environment of Tajikistan” by Diloro Iskandarova

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imageWelcome to the first in a new occasional series on the blog called New education research on Central Asia. The idea is that from time to time, I will review new 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, then please get in touch to discuss. I’d be pleased to hear from you!

I also welcome your feedback on the new look for the blog. I hope it now looks and feels “cleaner” and the links to various pages are easier to navigate.

So – back to new research from Central Asia. The book chapter I’m reviewing today is called “Problems of forming tolerance in the educational environment of Tajikistan” by Diloro Iskandarova of the Russian-Tajik Slavonic University in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. The chapter appears in an edited collection called Digital Transformation in Journalism and News Media published by Springer in 2017.

Iskandarova describes a research project carried out with university students in two different locations in Tajikistan, one in the north of the country (Khujand State University) and one in the south (Kulyab State University and Kurgan-Tyube State University). The aim of the research was to use linguistic association to test levels of inter-ethnic tolerance amongst young people. Put in straightforward terms, the research team asked students to list words that they felt best described different groups (both as noun and adjective) – Tajik, Russian and Uzbek. If the respondents listed negative characteristics, it would suggest lower levels of tolerance than if they gave more positive word associations.

The chapter provides detailed description of the words/phrases that came up in the students’ responses, which in general were positive towards the ethnic group at hand across both regions under study. Tajiks (noun) were most associated with hard work, hospitality and Islam, for example.

There was, however, some ambiguity in the words used to describe Uzbeks, which the author ascribes in part to the Uzbek government’s policy of exclusion and generally poor relations between the two countries [though since the chapter was written, there has been a change in President in Uzbekistan and some early signs of a detente in the Uzbek-Tajik relationship].

The overall conclusion of the chapter is, as shown in the key quote below, that students are in general tolerant people. The author found some difference between the two regions, with students from the north being more open to the study and actively providing responses (which were all collected anonymously). An expressed desire to conduct further research, both in other parts of the country and using different word associations, would add greater value to the findings.

Whilst the chapter is rather short and the English language is clunky – and it seems a rather odd choice to publish this in a book on digital transformations – readers should look beyond this to the real value of the study, which is the rich data it has generated. The use of word associations is a smart idea, even if I’m not convinced that testing against ethnoynms tells us much about tolerance in general.

Key quote: “university students [are] fairly tolerant people with very little negative judgments. At the same time, we must remember that stereotypes tend to develop quickly enough in a particular environment” (p.554)

Link to publicationIskandarova – Education tolerance Tajikistan (whole chapter) 2017