Politics

Harnessing Tajikistan’s growing diaspora

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Tajikistan stamp cat
Expat cats of Tajikistan are not writing home

Website Cabar recently published a thought provoking report by political scientist Muslimbek Buriev on the potential role of the one million+ Tajikistanis living outside the country. The report is available in Tajik, Russian and English.

A sizeable proportion of the nine million strong population of Tajikistan can be considered disaporic in the sense that they are geographically dispersed beyond the country’s borders. The estimate of one million may well be an under-statement of the true number, which could be anywhere up to two million – as much as 20% of the population.

The vast majority of Tajikistanis living abroad are based in Russia, making this group a logical focal point for Buriev’s report. Buriev discusses the activities of expat Tajikistanis in Russia and shows how the lack of proactive government policy towards citizens living abroad misses opportunities to harness their significant potential (although the remittances sent back to Tajikistan prop up the national economy – it is estimated that around 30% of GDP comes from these overseas transfers, making Tajikistan a top five global recipient of remittances).

Buriev makes an interesting comparison with Armenia, where the government has helped to formalize the relationship between the homeland and its diasporic communities, suggesting ways that this experience could be helpful in the case of Tajikistan.

An underplayed aspect of Buriev’s report is the role of the diaspora in promoting alternative visions for the future of Tajikistan. Buriev does note that Rahmon’s regime attempts to ‘reduce the risks of ideological influence’ on those living abroad who may be opposed to the current administration in Tajikistan, but it would have been really interesting to delve into this issue further.

The Tajikistan government’s ability to act extra-territorially is well-established, whether this be undeniable connections with the murder of opposition figures or pressure placed on the family members of those who have escaped the country (with very rare positive outcomes).

The (very) long arm of the law likely precludes many ‘ordinary’ diaspora Tajiks from collectively or publicly voicing their opposition to the current regime, although people are comfortable expressing their views in private and amongst friends. On the other hand, this type of action also drives people away from the country – not only those who overtly oppose the regime but those who see better prospects for themselves and their families outside the borders of an increasingly authoritarian state.

Both cases point to a future where the Tajikistani diaspora remains in much the same condition as it is now: quiet on the outside, increasing in number, social rather than political when diaspora groups do come together, and largely ignored by the government. On the whole, this is probably the best state of affairs that both sides could hope for.

Politics is back (on the curriculum) in Uzbekistan

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poli sci cat
Fortunately, students in Uzbekistan soon will

Uzbekistan watchers must be exhausted with the near-constant flow of news about reforms in the country, but as the reforms appear to be supporting people in the country to live better and happier lives, this is a fatigue worth accepting.

I’ve written a summary of the reforms that are affecting higher education and about a wave of new higher education institutions with plans to open. That post already has three updates based on additional news releases – a good indication of the scale and speed of change.

The latest announcement is that politics – political science for the North Americans among you – is to make a return to the university curriculum [en] later in 2019. Admissions to politics courses stopped in 2010, teaching ended in 2013 and the subject was banned in 2015 under the previous Uzbek President, who decreed it a ‘pseudoscience’. (no snarky comments from natural scientists, please!)

Politics will be back on the menu at the state-run University of World Economy and Diplomacy [ru] (UWED) from autumn/fall 2019. 20 lucky school leavers will get to join the undergraduate class, 25% of whom will also get a state scholarship to pay for their studies. UWED will also take ten students for an Applied Politics Master’s degree (20% to be funded) and a handful of PhD and Doctor of Science students too.

The presidential decree may seem unexpected, but experts have been advocating for the lifting of the ban for some time. Professor Alisher Faizullaev, a Professor at UWED, wrote in June 2017 in defence of politics [ru], pointing out the subject’s long roots in Uzbekistan and around the world. He argues that the need for political analysis had never gone away and that it would be in the country’s strategic interests to now bring the subject back.

As UWED prepares to admit its new students in the coming months and as Uzbekistan watchers consider just how much caffeine another year of reform will require, Professor Faizullaev’s parting words in his 2017 article [ru] are worth repeating:

Но есть одно очень важное условие для адекватного развития политологии в любой стране. Политология должна быть наукой, а не проявлением идеологии или конъюнктурных соображений. Государство и общество только выиграют, если политология будет развиваться именно как независимая наука.

But there is one very important condition for political science to develop appropriately – in any country. Political science must be a science, not a display of ideology or opportunism. State and society can only benefit if political science develops as an independent science.

New(ish) publication: The politics of the great brain race

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Going for a literal image rather than a cat meme on this one

I realized I didn’t blog about a recently published article I co-authored with Prof Creso Sá, my supervisor at the University of Toronto. How remiss of me! (?!)

So, let me tell you about our article, The politics of the great brain race: Public policy and international student recruitment in Australia, Canada, England and the USA, which was published in leading journal Higher Education in February 2018.

For regular readers of the blog, the first thing you may notice is that this is not about Central Asia or indeed anywhere in the former Soviet space. Keep breathing!

The rationale for looking in depth at Australia, England, Canada and the US, four majority Anglophone jurisdictions, was based on their historic ability to attract significant numbers of international students – just under 40% of the world’s total in 2015. The fact that all have similar linguistic and cultural characteristics in their higher education systems was a deliberate choice to compare similar cases (take a look at this article by Chris Pickvance for more on types of comparative analysis).

We wanted to find out how governments in these four jurisdictions have used public policy to deal with (I wouldn’t go as far as to say ‘manage’) international students in the period 2000-2016. To do this, we looked at legislation that had been passed, new programmes, and other policy changes. Overall, I read somewhere around 200 articles, books, reports and other publications to learn more about student mobility in the four case study jurisdictions.

A nice addition to this was a comprehensive table I compiled that gives you a side-by-side comparison across the four jurisdictions in the policy areas of immigration, labour market, family and health, finance, education and quality assurance, and promotion/marketing. So if you want to know, for example, which is the only jurisdiction that has legislation protecting the (financial) rights of international students, check it out!

Creso has written up a very nice summary of our findings in the most recent issue of International Higher Education. This is open access and the article, with the excellent title, Forget the Competition Trope, can be downloaded here.

The title of his piece makes the key idea pretty clear. As he notes in the article (page 11):

we argue that none of these major countries have dealt coherently with international student attraction and retention. Furthermore, the long-term outlook required to cope with the assumed global competition for students is glaringly absent.

International student growth has been fairly consistent over the 16 years we studied (despite the odd dip e.g. after violence against a small number of students from South Asia studying in Australia).

That was a real surprise to us.

Not only is policy towards international students fragmented across a range of goverment ministries and agencies, but there were no clear patterns of governments facilitating international student mobility. This is not the kind of behaviour you would expect to see of a truly competitive jurisidiction engaging in the so-called ‘great brain race’.

This led us to the conclusion that international student enrolments are likely to continue to grow and that this happens despite not because of political and policy changes.

This article was the result of a nine month long project funded by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities under their OHCRIF scheme. Miigwetch Thanks / Merci!

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References

Sá, Creso M., and Emma Sabzalieva. 2018. “The Politics of the Great Brain Race: Public Policy and International Student Recruitment in Australia, Canada, England and the USA.” Higher Education 75 (2): 231–53. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-017-0133-1.

Sá, Creso M. 2018. “Forget the Competition Trope.” International Higher Education 0 (95): 11–12.

New publication: Scientific nationalism in a globalizing world

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Handbook on the Politics of Higher Education
Hot off the press copies of the Handbook on the Politics of Higher Education

After a break from blogging to attend the recent and quite fantastic World Cup in Russia, I’m back with the good news that I have a new publication out.

This is a book chapter co-written with my supervisor Professor Creso Sá and is titled Scientific nationalism in a globalizing world.

It’s part of a hefty new Handbook on the Politics of Higher Education, which also features chapters by luminaries in the field such as Susan Robertson, Rosemary Deem, Roger King and many, many others. The aim of the Handbook is straightforward: to address the growing politicization of higher education and offer a variety of perspectives on the politics of higher education that will improve our understanding and analysis.

Our chapter, part of a section on political economy and global governance, dives deeper into the politics of academic science. We take two notions – scientific nationalism and scientific globalism – that have different ways of conceptualising the purpose of science as well as how and why it is supported (and by whom) – but which both in different ways help to explain patterns seen in science policies around the world.

On the one hand, scientific nationalism offers a viewpoint of science as being of critical importance to nation states – even as they are increasingly intertwined in global affairs, the idea is that support for academic science will enhance national competitiveness or innovation.

On the other hand, the idea of scientific globalism is one that derives from universalist ideas of the pursuit of science being borderless and not something that can or should be privatized or commercialized. Cross-national academic communities of scientists working together on ‘grand challenges’ would be an excellent example of scientific globalism.

We studied national science policies in twenty countries across all continents and with a very wide range of economic and political contexts. Despite this diversity, we found the depth of commonalities across the policies remarkable. For instance, almost all of the policies expressed a desire to become (or remain) globally competitive, with great importance placed on science as a tool to achieve that goal. From Saudi Arabia to South Africa and from Canada to China, this positioning was embraced around the world.

In addition to similarities across the policies, we also identified a number of tensions that arise from the dual existence of both logics of scientific nationalism and scientific globalism. Whilst scientific nationalism is well anchored in a global institutional order, there was  clear friction with ideas stemming from more globalist thinking. This is encapsulated well in how the policies talk about the mobility of scientists and researchers. Nations want their scientists to cooperate globally and to be able to travel around the world, but many countries also expressed a desire for said scientists to ultimately return to their home country to utilize the skills and experience gained abroad.

Written at the end of 2016 and start of 2017, we end the chapter by considering some areas for future research in this topic. For example, how will science policy making be affected by the emerging politics of neo-nationalism or nativism (e.g. Brexit in the UK, Trump in the US to name just two mid-2010s events)? And – worryingly – could scientific globalism be under threat from the rise of xenophobic right-wing populism?

The Handbook has had some very nice reviews already, being described by Simon Marginson as ‘much the best available collection of its kind’ (praise indeed!).

The attached flyer – Handbook on the Politics of Higher Education – gives more details about the book and how to buy it with a 20% discount. You can also access details on the publisher’s website at https://www.e-elgar.com/shop/handbook-on-the-politics-of-higher-education. If you’re based at a university/HEI, do please encourage your library to get a copy either of the heavyweight hardback or the e-book.

Uzbek university leader makes fresh appeal for civil rights to be restored after fighting unjust dismissal for over a decade

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Allakulov
Professor Khidinizar Allakulov, former Rector of Termez State University and victim of human rights violations. Photo (c) Sputnik Uzbekistan

Imagine you were unjustly accused of massive corruption and fired from your job. It’s an indignity. But then imagine that you’ve been fighting for well over a decade in no fewer than 14 courts to clear your name, each time with an unsatisfactory ending – or simply no real conclusion at all.

During that time, you haven’t been able to find work in your area of expertise, you’ve been prevented from joining professional associations, and your family have been affected.

This is the incredible situation that Professor Khidirnazar Allakulov, former Rector of Termez State University in Uzbekistan, has found himself in since being fired in 2004.

It also represents a blatant and prolonged abrogation of his human rights. The United Nations Human Rights Committee which reviewed his case in late 2017 held that:

 

Uzbekistan failed to implement domestic judgments upholding Professor Allakulov’s right to retraction. This failure deprived him of the possibility to rehabilitate his reputation, honour and dignity, violating his rights under article 17 of the international Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

This is from UN Human Rights on Facebook – not a source I would normally use, but it’s a very clear and compellling summary of the full UN Human Rights Committee findings available in five languages including Russian and English.

The story begins in 2002 when Allakulov was appointed as Rector of Termez State University. Within three years he was fired on the basis of allegations made in a national newspaper branding him a criminal and accusing him of defraduing the university [ru].

Professor Allakulov claims that during his short tenure as Rector, he actually rooted out some of the corrupt activity at his institution. He provided evidence to local authorities on nearly 1,000 students who had somehow managed to enrol at Termez State despite not having achieved the required entrance exam grade (some had not even taken the exam at all). Furthermore, he says he made the admissions requirements fairer and ensured that entry to the university was strictly on the basis of the entrance exam results. He also managed to return $600,000 of university money that had been ciphoned off or stolen by officials at the institution.

And these actions, he suspects, are what led to his rapid downfall.

Although he was acquitted in every single one of the 14 court cases held at district, regional and national levels, Allakulov has been unable to satisfactorily clear his name. His aim remains to have his honour, dignity, and professional reptuation restored, according to an article published this week in Sputnik Uzbekistan [ru].

Allakulov states in the Sputnik article that he has written to the President and state officials 12 times since 2006, but is uncertain that his appeals have reached the head of state.

He is counting on a recent fresh appeal to President Mirziyoyev, who took over from long-time post-Soviet leader Islam Karimov in December 2016, and hopes that it will fall on more sympathetic ears.

This does seem to be a time of renewed optimism for Uzbekistan, and I reported last week on the prospects for higher education following the state visit of the Uzbek President to the US, the first since 2002. Earlier this week, human rights supporters celebrated the visit of the first delegation of Amnesty International into Uzbekistan since 2004.

In this case, I truly hope that Mirziyoyev lives up to the nascent reputation he is building for greater openness and tolerance in Uzbekistan and agrees to the long overdue restoration of Professor Allakulov’s civil and political rights.

Paid to protest: More on student protests in Tajikistan

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grumpy-cat-speed-bumps-protesters
Grumpy cat may or may not also pay people to protest. Unconfirmed rumours of levity yet to be quashed.

In my most recent post, Protests? What protests?, I discussed recent protests both against and in favour of the government in Tajikistan. Following up on this, I want to share an excellent and highly informative article from Russian-language site Fergana News, which Open Democracy has reproduced with permission and translated into English.

The article, provocatively called Tajikistan’s imitation civil society in English and Не народ, а массовка. Как провластные движения в Таджикистане имитируют гражданскую активность in Russsian gives a great deal more detail about the pro-government “civil society” youth movements that it appears are being mobilized with increasing regularity.

The type of protests we commonly hear about in the news are from groups of people who have come together to demonstrate against a particular issue or idea. This generally happens of their own free will. Indeed, just today, there is news that a series of protests in Poland – another former socialist state – against a proposed change in the law on abortion have been so effective that the government has been forced to think again. So from the point of view of more open political regimes, it might even seem laughable that the Tajik government pays people to go out and “protest” in its favour.

But this is no laughing matter, as the article points out:

It’s dangerous not to be part of the crowd if they want you in it, to go against it. And the student “volunteers”, who never protest if they have no electricity in their flats for days on end, muddy water with bits of sand in it flowing from their taps and their parents and brothers slaving away for years as migrant workers in Russia know this.

…опасно не влиться в эту толпу, если тебя хотят в ней видеть, пойти против нее. И это понимают студенты-«добровольцы», никогда не протестующие, если в их домах сутками нет электричества, из кранов течет мутная с песком вода, а родители и братья годами горбатятся в трудовой миграции в России.

Despite my ongoing attempts to lighten some of what I report on with frivolous cat memes, there is a very serious undercurrent to these “protest” movements in Tajikistan, raising a number of major questions: How does this affect the generation of young people growing up in the country who have never known another leader (sorry, Leader of the Nation and Founder of Peace)? What does it tell us about the prospects for plurality in Tajikistan? There are many other issues that remain both unasked and unanswered.

Central Asia in 2016 – part 2

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This mini-series on the year ahead for Central Asia was kicked off with a global analysis of the opportunities and challenges facing the region by Kazakh thinktank Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies under the President of Kazakhstan (KazISS) and was inspired by two early January stories on the broader future for Central Asia.

This second part draws on a recent report by the International Crisis Group on Tajikistan, which flags some serious concerns about developments and prospects in the country. Published on 11 January 2016, the report,

Tajikistan Early Warning: Internal Pressures, External Threats

can also be downloaded as a pdf here: Tajikistan-early-warning-internal-pressures-external-threats ICG Jan 2016.

In summary, the report points to the potential for the deteriorating situation to become a serious problem unless conflict prevention measures are taken. Writing in The Diplomat, Katie Putz highlights the report’s focus on opposition crackdowns as an indication that Tajikistan has become unstable. She notes that internal and external pressures have long been brewing, and that events of 2015 offered no exception to what seems to be a trend.

Russia in particular ought to take action and bordering Central Asian countries need to beef up security arrangements. The USA and EU have a role to play in encouraging greater regional border security. The language used by the ICG tends towards the rhetoric of chaos, crisis and collapse: in one sense I can understand this as they are doing their best to gain attention in a world crowded with state failure and near misses. On the other hand, this belies some of the complexities underlying what is happening in Tajikistan. Here I agree with Putz who in a previous article of December 2015 calls for more nuance in the instability debate.

However, reporting anecdotally from informal conversations with colleagues in Tajikistan, there is little optimism that there will be positive change in the country this year. People continue to see corruption permeate all aspects of public life, from the highest echelons downwards, which collides (colludes?) with schizophrenic policy-making to leave Tajikistan vulnerable to richer and more powerful neighbours. It’s possible to earn a living, enjoy being around family and friends, and in general live (reasonably) well in Tajikistan in 2016, but the effort involved in doing so is becoming greater all the time.