public policy

Mapping change in former Soviet higher education systems

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Emma_presenting_mapping-change_Mar2018_CIES
Me in action presenting at the Comparative and International Education Society’s 2018 conference in Mexico City. My ‘presenter hands’ are marginally more controlled than usual!

I recently presented at the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) Annual Conference and this blog post is about my presentation called Mapping change in former Soviet higher education systems: A view from the Russophone space.

I also presented with my colleague Hayfa Jafar on our new joint research on how faculty in post-conflict societies are experiencing internationalization in higher education – watch out for more on this to follow in the future.

As part of my PhD thesis on how higher education in the former Soviet space has responded to the fall of the Soviet Union, I want to include some analysis of how academics who have published about this regional space and time have conceptualized change.

In planning that analysis, I noticed that we know a lot about how authors writing in English conceptualize change in the former Soviet space – whether we like it or not, English is the dominant language of academic publication and there are quantitatively more articles and books available in English.

Yet my research is about a space where Russian has been the dominant language of the academic community. So this led me to wonder: do authors writing in Russian and publishing in Russian academic journals think about and write about change in similar or different ways? And how much do we know about this in the English language space?

(Spoiler alert. The brief answers are a) that there are both important similarities and marked differences, and b) not very much at all)

That explains the context to the analysis I then undertook of 23 articles written in Russian published in Russian language peer-reviewed journals published since 1991 (a list of the articles and journals can be found in my presentation). All the authors write about Russian higher education and were based at Russian institutions at the time of writing.

There are many possible ways to present what I found in this analysis (and I thank my supervisor and his research group for their feedback as I went through this process) but I decided to summarize my findings using a chronological but non-linear map. You can see it in the background of the photo above, and in full below.

The purpose of the map, which is designed like a Venn diagram, was not only to highlight some of the key themes that emerged from my analysis, but to show how these themes changed or overlapped over time.

The three phases shown are based on a framework adapted from Semyonov and Platonova’s work on policy change in higher education in Russia since 1991. They explain the three phases as:

  • Laissez-faire, from 1991 to around 2003. Although there were legislative changes, on the whole this period is considered to be one less government intervention in higher education, not least because of widespread economic crisis;
  • A period of major reform, from around 2004 to 2011. State investment in higher education led to the introduction of the Bologna Process and a unified higher education entrance exam, plus reforms to create merged and enlarged ‘super-institutions’ – the federal universities, plus the new designation of national research university;
  • Since 2012, a period epitomized by reforms aiming to improve the effectiveness of higher education through e.g. performance evaluations, competitive funding schemes, and more mergers/new institutional types emerging.

Sabzalieva_Mapping-change_Venn_Phases-of-change

My analysis showed broad convergence with Semyonov and Platonova’s findings with several notable differences. I discussed four of these in my presentation. Here’s a very brief summary:

  1. Whereas for the state, the first period might have been laissez-faire, for the people living in Russia and working in the higher education system, their response was more connected to a discourse of crisis and survival.
  2. A number of articles in the first two time periods talked about how change wasn’t happening, and in fact there was more continuity with the Soviet system. Higher education is shown in many articles as being on the sidelines of the social change happening around it.
  3. In the crossover between the two later periods, I noted that some of the articles observed contradictions in the reform process, particularly in relation to the introduction of the Bologna Process
  4. Across all three phases, there is a lot of discussion about faculty: what is their role, how should they and are they responding to change, and so on. It wasn’t surprising to find more coverage of faculty matters in the Russian articles as most are written by practising academics who are or have been in some way involved in what’s been happening in Russian higher education.

This analysis will eventually form part of my PhD thesis so I don’t have a standalone paper to share. However, if you’re interested in finding out more, I’ve uploaded my presentation to Research Gate – although do note that my presentations are highly visual, so there are not many words to read! The presentation also has a few bonus slides that I didn’t share during the conference. Also, please do leave comments after this post if there are things you’d like to say in response.

 

Could Kazakhstan become a regional higher education hub?

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With the Kazakh government’s new regional education hub plan, Meme Cat can have the best of both worlds

If you’re the Kazakh state, the answer is an obvious “yes”. No details have yet to emerge from the Centre for International Programmes, the government agency tasked with internationalizing Kazakh higher education, but you can bet that if the public policy agenda is leading in this direction, it won’t be long before the hub becomes a reality.

Higher education hubs have been successfully created in the Middle East (Dubai is a great example) and South-East Asia (Malaysia is another success story), and create special spaces for foreign universities to set up a branch campus or partner with a local university. Thus, students in the hub country and its neighbours can study for an overseas degree without leaving the region.

This has many advantages for students – hub-based campuses tend to offer a similar quality of education for a fraction of the regular tuition fee ticket, and with all the benefits of not having to travel far.

For the host country, acting as a hub can bring economic benefit by attracting more international students and staff/faculty, and enhance the country’s reputation through the legitimacy generated by the international universities. For Kazakhstan, reputation really matters and I imagine this would be seen by the state as a major benefit to creating an education hub.

This year, 14,000 international students are already studying in Kazakhstan, mainly coming from neighbouring countries. At the same time, 70,000 Kazakh students are studying abroad – not quite 10% of the total student population of a little under 650,000 – and there are plans to make the renowned Bolashak Scholarship more accessible in the coming years.

Interestingly, it was neighbouring Kyrgyzstan that until recently seemed the most likely Central Asian country to set up a regional education hub. In the 2000s, Kyrgyzstan was hosting up to ten times more international students each year than Kazakhstan, despite a population seven times smaller.

A 2012 study by Nurbek Jenish found that relatively low tuition fees and a low cost of living were the main reasons that international students head to Kyrgyzstan. International students – mainly from Central and South Asian countries – also perceived the quality of higher education and the opportunity to study in Russian or English to be beneficial, as well as the perception that admission requirements were soft.

But it is dynamic Kazakhstan that now appears to be running with the hub idea. This is not just because of the economic and reputational benefits, although those are evidently highly influential policy considerations. As Zhanbolat Meldeshov, President of the Centre for International Programs, pithily puts it:

«Студенческая и академическая мобильность, это мировой тренд в эпоху глобализации. Нельзя остановить этот процесс, можно только в нем активно участвовать.»

“Student and academic mobility is a global trend in the era of globalization. It’s impossible to stop this process, so you can only actively participate.”

This is another classic example of Kazakhstani policy pragmatism: if you can’t beat them, join them… and ultimately seek to beat them at their own game.

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

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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.
af9f221f2edd950850a07b046abec6e2
…or without printed articles

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?

There are 50 e-copies up for grabs at http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/BugJKtrEFRnhfJpkeDya/full. Go ahead, be my guest!

Feedback please!

I’d love to know what you think of the article. Questions, comments and suggestions for improvement are all welcomed.

A summer of learning: Fieldwork, conferences, and more in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan

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It’s been rather quiet on the blog of late.

Kyrgyz State Technical University-2017-07-06 11.06.08
A sneak preview of a new addition to my Central Asian university photo gallery. This beauty is the Kyrgyz State Technical University, formerly the Polytechnic Institute.

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.

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Presenting at Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan, August 2017

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.

2017-08-18 17.57.45
Nazarbayev University, impressive as heck.

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.

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

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excited
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.

 

 

Youth and Public Policy in Kyrgyzstan

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A report has been published [en] [ru] today which for the first time attempts to undertake an audit of the relationship between young people and public policy in contemporary Kyrgyzstan. Whilst I haven’t been able to read it in full, it looks like a sincere and thorough attempt to map the landscape, highlight weaknesses (many, regrettably) and look at progress that has been made.

You can link to both English and Russian versions of the report at: 

http://www.youthpolicy.org/blog/2012/10/youth-public-policy-audit-kyrgyzstan/

I have reproduced the Key Findings section below, and encourage you to peruse the whole report too.

Key Findings

As one of the 15 independent countries to emerge from the rubble of the former Soviet Union, Kyrgyzstan still faces formidable challenges posed by the collapse of Soviet-era economic, political, and social institutions, which affect the entire population, regardless of age. The remote, mountainous country, underdeveloped even before gaining independence in 1991, is poor, relies heavily on foreign aid, and does not generate sufficient jobs for its citizens. Vital public services like schools, hospitals, and power plants are falling apart, plagued by decrepit infrastructure and a catastrophic dearth of competent workers.
Access to reliable information is poor and corruption permeates nearly every sphere of life, particularly those dominated by the state, including education and health care. The justice system barely functions, with laws flouted by those meant to ensure they work. The country serves as a major drug-trafficking route
out of Afghanistan. Between 2005 and 2010, it survived two popular uprisings and a deadly bout of interethnic violence. Understandably, public trust in government is low, and people tend to rely on informal, personal support networks more than on state institutions as such.

These burdens weigh heavily on the shoulders of Kyrgyzstan’s young people, whose prospects seem quite dim, while effective tools for achieving change are in short supply. The country lacks several ingredients crucial for meaningful improvements to the quality of life—including rule of law, meritocracy, and a widely accepted value system encouraging honesty and diligence. These circumstances often lead young people to replicate the same pernicious traits and practices that are common among their elders and that have long stymied Kyrgyzstan’s development. In a practical sense, young people’s chances for economic self-sufficiency are impeded by low-quality education, poor opportunities for employment, gender stereotypes, and cultural expectations that the young should be obedient and passive. Furthermore, the end of the Soviet Union left young people without an official ideology. The resulting vacuum has been filling over the past 20 years with a paradoxical, sometimes perplexing mix of greater individualism, greater dependence on patronage networks, heightened emphasis on ethnic identity, greater religiosity, and a resurgence of traditionalist social mores. Young people account for a large proportion of the country’s population, but have a hard time achieving upward mobility. 

This ratchets up various social tensions in Kyrgyzstan. Demographically, young people, defined since 2009 as 14-to-28 years old, make up nearly one-third of the population, while children and young adults under 29 total 60 percent. About two-thirds of young people live in rural areas, many of which have little
in the way of infrastructure, services, and opportunities. This leads to widespread internal migration, particularly to the capital, Bishkek, and its environs, where migrants are often isolated, encounter problems accessing social services, and experience frictions with nonmigrant neighbors. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of Kyrgyzstanis—many of them young—travel abroad in search of work. The remittances they send home prop up the local economy, but wide-scale migration also rips apart
families and communities and often relegates migrants to low paid, dangerous work. Migration notwithstanding, data gathered recently by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) indicate that young people make up 50 percent of the country’s unemployed.

Ultimately, the young continue to rely economically on their parents and other relatives for protracted periods. They marry and have children relatively early in life, but building independent, sustainable families is difficult because of inadequate opportunities to make a living, exacerbated at times by gender stereotypes that limit young people’s flexibility on the job market. Meanwhile, the socioeconomic pressures are compounded by a politicized divide between the country’s north and south, as well as festering interethnic tensions, which periodically explode into violence. Over the past decade, Kyrgyzstan has developed a raft of youth policies, but few of these seem to genuinely improve young people’s access to information, rights, and opportunities. Too many of the laws, regulations, and conceptual documents
have been reactive: off-the-cuff responses to political events—particularly, young people’s participation in the popular uprisings that overthrew two presidents—rather than the enactment of a strategic vision. Worse still, many policies exist on paper only, without effective mechanisms to achieve their stated aims. Two
independent assessments, in 2006 and 2009, concluded that the country’s youth policy lacks “a comprehensive, systemic approach to existing problems” and “remains ineffective, poorly targeted and formalistic.”

Worryingly, many youth-related programs rely heavily on international donors and fluctuate together
with their priorities and resources. These weaknesses betray a deep-rooted problem: As part of its Soviet legacy, Kyrgyzstan lacks a strong, realistic policymaking tradition—one that relies on informed analysis and debate, prioritizes the well-being of citizens over the interests of a ruling elite and holds officials accountable for achieving measurable, demonstrably beneficial goals. Frequent changes in leadership and bureaucratic restructuring make the problem worse. In the past eight years, responsibility for youth policy has bounced around among six different agencies, creating a lack of continuity and further diluting officials’ accountability. Even the country’s first dedicated Ministry of Youth Affairs was created hastily, without a needs assessment or strategic planning, in response to young people’s participation in the deadly street protests of April 2010. The minister, a political appointee, had no previous policy experience, and the state budget provided almost no funding for the agency’s operations in its first year. Many of the ministry’s activities seemed to be more show than substance, while coordination with other agencies barely existed. 

Moreover, after less than two years, the ministry was overhauled and partially merged with another agency. Many youth policies are currently being revised or written anew; unfortunately, this has become a perennial activity that seems to bear little fruit—in part because policy goals tend to be very broad and the means
of implementation very vague.Kyrgyzstan’s approach to creating a Youth Ministry, together with the latest wave of national youth policies, suggest that the country’s leadership has not learned from past mistakes
and that, despite vocal official commitments to young people, youth policy remains a low priority for the government. (Young people get only three cursory mentions in the 80-page national development strategy for 2012–2014.) Although youth-sector bureaucrats have justifiably complained of chronic underfunding, many of the deeper weaknesses lie elsewhere: Foundational youth policy documents adopted since 2009 contain contradictions and lack concreteness; responsibility for implementation continues to be diffuse; data collection and procedures for evaluating and monitoring policy are extremely weak; policy coherence, cross-sectoral cooperation, and creative approaches to engaging young people are also missing. Overall, Kyrgyzstan’s youth policy fails to focus on young people’s needs or future roles in society. It also retains several leftovers from Soviet times—including a paternalistic approach to young people, an emphasis on “talented youth,” and a desire to indoctrinate the young ideologically—today with a focus on pseudo-patriotic platitudes instead of communism. Although considerable rights and freedoms are guaranteed by law in Kyrgyzstan, the lack of a functioning legal system and the rigidity of certain social mores confine many of these to theory.

Predictably, the positive impact of past youth policies has been minimal. Many components of the national youth agendas in place from 2000 to 2008 were never implemented, while those that were tended to focus on entertainment and mass gatherings, genres largely inherited from the Soviet past. Specific unmet objectives fall into the categories of health care, economic independence, vocational guidance, and bridging the rural-urban divide in accessing services and opportunities. Meanwhile, the policy goal of boosting patriotism among young people has too often mutated into divisive nationalist rhetoric.
Existing policies seldom support young people in exercising their rights, accessing opportunities, or achieving autonomy. One area in which this is particularly obvious is education, where quality is notoriously below par and students’ rights, from primary school through university, are routinely violated or restricted. In the health field, too, youth policies have neither helped compensate for the generally sorry state of medical care nor done much to encourage healthy lifestyles among the young; youth friendly health services and information on reproductive health are sorely lacking. Labor policy has likewise been anemic and incoherent, doing desperately little to address unemployment among the young. Young people’s ability to avail themselves of those rights and opportunities that do exist has been stymied by a number of factors. One is a lack of knowledge, as information about youth relevant policies does not, for the most part, reach the intended beneficiaries. Two more include government dysfunction—which leads, in turn, to public distrust—and cultural traditions that put little stock in young people’s opinions. Some researchers have also pointed to internal obstacles for young people, such as a poor work ethic, weak communication skills, apathy, and fear.

Certain youth subgroups have a particularly hard time benefiting from existing policies. In various cases, these include:  rural youth; physically and mentally disabled youth; homeless, abused, and institutionalized youth; young people who work; ethnic minorities; internal migrants and refugees; low-income youth; young women (especially those who have fallen victim to sexual abuse or bride-kidnapping); and young people in the hands of law enforcement or military agencies. One positive shift in youth policy over the past three years has been the explicit commitment to increase young people’s participation in decision making and public life. However, while the number of youth organizations seems to be growing and some groups of young people have shown ample energy in pursuing common aims, overall youth participation in vital sectors of the country’s life remains limited. This results both from young people’s own lack of knowledge and capacity and from a virtual absence of sustained institutional support for their meaningful participation. The most visibly active young people fall into three, sometimes overlapping categories: nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), politics, and civil service. The NGO sector includes
many impressive projects but remains quite atomized. Meanwhile, young people involved in politics have often become objects of manipulation rather than agents of positive change or the advancement of youth-relevant issues. And, though young people reportedly make up nearly one-fifth of civil servants, a fair
number of them complain that salaries are too low, future prospects are dim, and programs to train and recruit new staff have been deeply flawed, while others fall into the same patterns that have earned Kyrgyzstan’s civil service a bad reputation: corruption, nepotism, lack of professionalism, and the preeminence of personal benefit over the public good.

Finally, it is important to note that youth-related coordination and cooperation across sectors have been virtually absent. Responsibility for coordinating youth-relevant policy used to rest with the Youth Ministry, but the agency did not excel at this task. Prior to its reconfiguration and partial merger with the Ministry of Labor, Employment and Migration, the Youth Ministry was politically and financially weak and was looked at with a fair amount of skepticism by fellow government workers and NGOs alike. Often, the ministry was treated by other national agencies as a junior partner, while NGOs complained that it failed to complement their work or address pressing youth issues. Neither group had a clear understanding of the ministry’s aims and functions. At the end of 2011, the Youth Ministry proposed a number of measures to improve coordination among sectors, but they are marked by many of the same policymaking flaws that have haunted Kyrgyzstan’s youth policy for at least a decade: a lack of evidence-based planning and measurable goals; unclear responsibility for implementation; and no sanctions for non-implementation.

This excerpt (c) the authors and publishers of Youth and Public Policy in Kyrgyzstan