The Academy of Sciences in Turkmenistan is facing major budget cuts that will see a third of its personnel lose their jobs and structural changes that may see the Academy disappear from the science scene in the country.
As an institution, the Academy of Sciences brings together researchers from across disciplines, historically separating them from their teaching counterparts in universities and specialized institutes. Although the Russian Academy of Sciences was founded under Peter the Great in 1724 [ru], it is the Soviet-era version that was propagated around the Soviet Union, reaching Central Asia in the 1940s/1950s.
Fast forward to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the Academy of Sciences – now divided into national branches, no longer held together as a single entity – has met varying fates. In Russia and Kazakhstan, there have been moves to get rid of the Academy by merging its functions with universities, whereas in other states like Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, its work continues moreorless in the same format as was inherited in the 1990s (even if the structures and disciplinary groupings have changed).
Turkmenistan’s Academy of Science was already dealt a near fatal blow in 1995 when it was closed down, also leading to the closure of postgraduate studies in the country as the Academy of Sciences is also responsible for training the next generation of researchers.
But with a change of president in 2007, the Academy was reopened in 2009. A government sanctioned list of its achievements testifies to the variety of science and research activities being undertaken (or at least reported to the government).
Sadly, notwithstanding the re-emergence of the Academy, it will mark its tenth anniversary as the latest institution to be hit by a series of state funding cutbacks. Budget belt tightening has been underway for three years, as the ever reliable (and very witty) Bruce Pannier of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Qishloq Ovozi reported in December 2018.
Government funding for the Academy is due to be phased out over the next three years and 30% of staff will lose their jobs [ru] in the immediate future. That’s around 200 researchers from the nine research institutes that remain. Mergers will also be underway, bringing the Biology Institute into the University of Engineering and Technology, for example.
Turkmenistan Chronicle tells the sombering tale [ru] of how 2,000 people – including 450 researchers at the Academy of Science – were obliged to attend an event lasting several hours, in which they were ‘treated’ to 23 songs in honour of the President before hearing the Rector of the University of Engineering and Technology give a speech extolling the virtues of the President’s latest great idea. Imagine what it must have felt like sitting in that audience, either knowing or being able to make an educated guess about your unlucky fate.
Even before the news broke, the future for science in Turkmenistan has not been looking promising. Just 300 people in the country hold a Candidate of Sciences (PhD equivalent) degree, and fewer than 100 have the higher level Doctor of Sciences. Of the 12 people awarded a Doctor of Sciences in recent years, only four are working in science and research. And while on a more positive note, 1,200 people have written a Candidate thesis, none have been allowed to defend it.
The science pipeline is not leaky in Turkmenistan anymore. It’s not even burst: it seems to have completely dried up. And that is not a situation that any country with a plan for the future should want to find itself in.
Congratulations to Professor Saidrahmon Sulaymoni of Tajik National University, who has been awarded a Sheikh Hamad Award for Translation and International Understanding!
Professor Sulaymoni built his academic career in Arabic language at Tajik National University (TNU), working there from 1972 to 1985. He then worked at the Soviet/Tajik Academy of Sciences but in 2005, returned to TNU to lead the Arabic Language department.
In 2012 he was elected to the Egypt based Academy of Arabic Language, the first academic from Central Asia to receive this honour.
One of Professor Sulaymoni’s key achievements was the publication of an Arabic-Tajik dictionary, which he worked on for over 20 years! He has also found time to publish over 100 articles and a five volume collection of works by Abuali ibn Sino (probably the most famous Tajik* academic ever; commonly known in the English-speaking world as Avicenna).
According to Trend News Agency, the Hamad Awards seek to
honor translators and acknowledge their role in strengthening the bonds of friendship and cooperation amongst peoples and nations of the world. It hopes to reward merit and excellence, encourage creativity, uphold the highest moral and ethical standards, and spread the values of diversity, pluralism and openness. The Award also aspires to inculcate a culture of knowledge and dialogue, promote Arab and Islamic culture, develop international understanding, and encourage mature cross-cultural interaction between Arabic and other world languages through the medium of translation.
A photo of Professor Sulaymoni collecting his award in December 2018 was shared by Asia Plus.
Congratulations again to Professor Sulaymoni! It is exciting to see researchers in Tajikistan being recognized on an international stage.
This news also allows me to end the 2018 blogging year on a lovely positive note. I’ll be back in January, but in the meantime, many thanks to all my readers and followers.
In 2018, you found the blog from over 110 countries! My top readers for 2018 based on site visits are in the US, UK, Canada, Kazakhstan and India – but I am delighted that one reader each from locations as diverse as Cambodia and the Cayman Islands also found their way here! Have a very happy (Orthodox) Christmas to those who celebrate, and all best wishes for a successful, healthy and cat-meme-filled 2019!
*For fact lovers: Ibn Sino was born near Bukhara and lived his life in the territory that is now Uzbekistan, but it is generally accepted that he was Tajik. Here’s a Canadian perspective from the Global Affairs Canada department’s Country Insights section:
“In the finest Soviet tradition, dead poets and writers are revered. Tajikistan does have an extraordinarily rich cultural legacy of poetry and music, and just about every Tajik can recite some lines by poets such as Rudaki or Rumi, among others. Avicenna, the great Tajik philosopher-scientist, is to the East what Aristotle is to the West.”
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.
Tajik researcher Alexander Sodiqov, a PhD student at the University of Toronto (Canada) was arrested on Monday and his whereabouts are currently unknown. He was in Khorog, regional capital of the Autonomous Region of Gorno Badakshan in eastern Tajikistan, undertaking academic research as part of an Economic & Social Research Council (UK Research Council) funded project on recent political turmoil in the region.
News of Alexander’s disappearance has spread fast amongst the small community of Central Asian researchers around the world and support for him is strong. Today the UK’s Guardian newspaper has a good story which provides a helpful update on the situation: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/19/fears-grow-for-canadian-researcher-arrested-in-tajikistan.
The two petitions mentioned in the Guardian article can be found at:
http://www.avaaz.org/ru/petition/Gnu_Yatimovu_Predsedatelyu_Goskomiteta_Nacionalnoy_Bezopasnosti_RT_Prizyvaem_osvobodit_Aleksandra_Sadykova/?nIuqKhb – an open letter from Central Asian scholars expressing concerns about the situation
http://scholarsforsodiqov.blogspot.co.uk/ – for scholars of Central Asian affairs who share a concern for Sodiqov in particular and for scholarship about Central Asia in general, please email ed[dot)schatz@utoronto[dot)ca with your NAME, UNIVERSITY AFFILIATION, and COUNTRY to be added.
Please do what you can to raise awareness about this unacceptable situation, and help call for Alexander’s release, and for improved relations between national and local governments in Tajikistan and researchers wishing to analyse developments in the country. If you’re on Twitter, use #FreeAlexSodiqov.
The Avaaz petition has the following English language translation:
We, a group of Tajik students and graduates of foreign higher educational institutions, are concerned about our friend and colleague, Alexander Sadiqov, who was arrested June 16, 2014 by law enforcement agencies in Khorog, Tajikistan. We are alarmed by the fact that the research activities of Alexander Sadykov, aimed at exploring the positive experience of the countries of Central Asia in relation to conflict resolution measures, has been labeled by law enforcement agencies of Tajikistan as an act of espionage supported by foreign countries.
Evidence to the contrary includes his professional and scholarly writing on the internet as well as his prolific writing as a journalist which he has been very public about sharing. Moreover, according to Professor John Heathershaw of the University of Exeter, (UK), Mr. Sodiqov possesses all of the required documents confirming that the study was approved by the Academic Council of the University.
We welcome the efforts of the Government of Tajikistan in building an open democratic society and note that the process also involves open exchanges of ideas, knowledge and information. Open exchange is impossible without the participation of the academic and educataional institutions and associated scholars and students of which Mr. Sodiqov belongs to as a current PhD student at Toronto University.
The ongoing detention of Alexander Sodiqov makes us – students, young scientists and researchers, feel at risk and vulnerable as we conduct our research and other related activities both abroad and in Tajikistan. Having the privilige of getting an advanced degree, we, as a group, always try to use our knowledge and skills for the prosperity of our country. The vast majority of the citizens of Tajikistan who are educated abroad, come back home and continue to make contributions to the development of the country and civil society within education, the economy, health care and many other areas.
Concerning the arrest of Mr. Sodiqov, we – students and graduates of foreign universities – respectfully urge Tajik law enforcement agencies to inform the public about the fate of Alexander Sodiqov and take all possible measures for his release. We also hope that the detention of our colleague – a PhD student and known researcher on Central Asia – is an isolated case that will be resolved quickly by Tajik law enforcement agencies.
With this letter, we, as representatives of science and education, also call on the leadership of the country to support research conducted by students in Tajikistan by both national and foreign universities