social change

Mapping change in former Soviet higher education systems

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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.

 

Seminar // March 2, 2018 // Toronto // Education at the roof of the world: The story of the University of Central Asia

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If you’re in Toronto on Friday March 2 between 11am-12.30pm, please consider coming to a seminar organized by my department and the Munk School of Global Affairs in which Dr Shamsh Kassim-Lakha, Chair of the Board of Trustees of the University of Central Asia, will talk about this innovative, new, multi-country university.

Details in the poster below and at https://ciheblog.wordpress.com/cihe-speaker-series/dr-shamsh-kassim-lakha-march-2-2018/.

Please note the change of venue: due to an expected high turnout, the seminar will now be held in the Library at OISE.

cihe-munk-joint-seminar1

 

The ironic fate of Soviet nostalgia

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Poster for the Soviet classic, “The irony of fate”, where the big joke is that all cities share the same street names

If you’re feeling nostalgic for the Soviet Union, for the days of free education, jobs for life, and street names that were the same in every city, then it seems you’re not alone.

Sputnik News today reports the results of a poll of over 12,000 people across 11 countries of the former Soviet Union who were asked whether life was better in the USSR than after it collapsed in 1991. On average, over 50% of those aged 35-64 agree that life was better before. This compares to an average of just under 30% of those aged 18-24 who felt the same – though how they might know this without having been born during the Soviet Union escapes me.

The breakdown of the results by country is interesting, particularly looking at unlikely outliers Uzbekistan and Moldova. In Uzbekistan, apparently almost no one misses the good old days, in stark contrast to its extremely economically successful neighbour Kazakhstan. Kyrgyzstan purports to have similar levels of nostalgia as Kazakhstan, despite enjoying a reputation as “Central Asia’s most stable state”. I’m not saying that political and economic success/stability as an independent country necessarily affects results, but I do feel surprised by the lukewarm response from older Tajiks based on my own extensive research and contacts in the country.

Comments on the Sputnik News website express a similar range of confusion and scepticism. Indeed, Sputnik News – a Russian government spin-off – is regularly accused of spouting Russian-friendly propaganda. Certainly, the way the statement is worded is highly subjective: why not flip the question and ask whether life is better now than it was during the Soviet Union? And why are the voices of those who weren’t even born when the Soviet Union collapsed given equal weight to those who lived a good part of their life with a different passport – and where are the over 65s?

Revitalizing the idea that times were better in the old days is not new – just look at the ongoing “ostalgie” stories about East Germany. If you have the time to explore this further, I strongly recommend Alexei Yurchak’s absolutely beautifully named 2005 book, Everything Was Forever Until It Was No More. It focusses on the 1960s-1980s, the many paradoxes of Soviet life and telling the story of the last Soviet generation – the very same people who now seem to be so nostalgic…

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(c) Sputnik News, August 17 2016

 

Kyrgyz MBA graduates aim to motivate and inspire others

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So, you’re one of the very few Kyrgyzstanis to have completed an MBA at a top American business school. What are you going to do about it?

Judging by the two graduates interviewed by Radio Liberty’s Kyrgyz arm, Radio Azattyk, the answer is simple: share what you’ve learnt and try and inspire your compatriots to go and do the same themselves. That’s the story that Kumar Bekbolotov and Seyitbek Usmanov tell – the article is in Russian; my English translation Mentors from Kyrgyzstan MBA is attached.

Their group, Kyrgyzstan MBA (slogan: “We could do it, and so can you”), is a great example of a grassroots initiative supporting further professional education in Kyrgyzstan, encouraging people to set their standards high and work hard. The article that describes Bekbolotov and Usmanov’s stories is also interesting for highlighting the growing variety of permutation of MBAs. These days, an MBA doesn’t have to be just a hardcore business qualification, but can also allow you to specialise in particular areas such as corporate social responsibility, or, in my case, higher education management.

The Kyrgyzstan MBA website features some good advice for applicants, and rouses national pride with this great note added at the end:

Wait until you go to the US embassy for a visa and [see] the face of the consul who learns that you are going to one of those [top business] schools (Kyrgyz anthem in your head).

Kyrgyzstanis, go forth and conquer the world of the ‘b-school’!

Steps towards gender equality in Kyrgyzstan

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Happy new year / S novim godom / Soli nav muborak to you all!

Kickstarting this year’s set of posts is a report from Kyrgyzstan on steps being taken – primarily by the government and a small but growing number of local NGOs – to bring greater equality to the country.

The article can be found at https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/cristina-maza/challenging-patriarchy-in-kyrgyzstan.

The author points out the unusual situation of formerly Soviet-run countries where women’s roles have actually decreased in equality terms since the fall of the Soviet Union at the start of the 1990s. Soviet policies towards women were, like many aspects of its rule, largely economic-led (e.g. more women in the workforce = greater productivity), but had knock on social and cultural impacts that benefitted women’s status.

Christina Maza’s balanced and interesting article offers an insight into how gender roles are developing in independent Kyrgyzstan. What is most fascinating is the stark divide for women, where the haves (middle class, educated etc) take bold steps towards a greater role for women by, for example, holding high level government posts but the have nots (often rural and from poorer backgrounds) may marry young and not be able to access opportunities for educational and/or career development.

I have in the past read about initiativesthat are bringing concepts of gender equality and women’s rights to more rural areas, but much more needs to be done to give parity to women within Kyrgyzstan. Last summer, I met with senior female university managers, one of whom has since been appointed to a very high level government post. I was perhaps even more delighted to meet a female taxi driver in Bishkek, a profession in many countries predominantly held by men. These women are in their own right extraordinary people, and I hope that across Kyrgyzstan more women will be able to develop and employ their skills on at least a level pegging with their male counterparts.

Kazakhstan distances itself from Soviet past

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Here’s a beautiful photo reportage on the gradual disappearance of large-scale Soviet-era frescos and mosaics that used to be commonplace on the walls of buildings all over the Soviet Union. Entitled ‘The walls are crying’, the article recognises that the façades of public buildings were very consciously used in Soviet times as a way of reinforcing the desired collective understanding of what it meant to be part of the system, as well as demonstrating what that system strived towards.

I’m including the article on this blog not just because I’m a big fan of socialist realist agitprop (which I am!) – both the images themselves and what they represent – but also because, to me, this disappearance is a symbol of the deliberate shift in Central Asian countries away from their Soviet heritage. I would like to do some more research into this and the impact it has on contemporary society – what does it mean for young people who have been born since 1991 or lived most of their life in an independent country?, for example.

In the meantime, enjoy the images but also reflect on what this gradual disappearance means for social construction and identity in post-Soviet Central Asia as well as the last sentence of the main text, ‘Они, как призраки ушедшей эпохи, напоминают о несуществующей стране, частью которой когда-то являлись’ which translates as ‘These images, as ghosts of a bygone era, remind us about a country that no longer exists but which we were once part of’…

Article (c) Esquire Kazakhstan; available at http://esquire_kazakhstan.yvision.kz/post/380573 [ru]

Стены плачут

Фрески, барельефы и мозаики, выполненные в стиле соцреализма, не относятся к охраняемым объектам культурного наследия. И они медленно умирают.

Стена – это поверхность, которая всегда на виду. Человек использует ее с пещерных времен – для передачи информации и самовыражения: признания в любви, ненависти. Во времена Хрущева и проводимой им массовой застройки, стены жилых домов стали одним из инструментов агитпропа. Изображения на советских зданиях были выполнены в разных техниках: от двухцветных грубых мозаик до сложных многоцветных полотен и объемных барельефов. Картины славили трудовые свершения, науку, образование и мир во всем мире. К созданию масштабных произведений привлекались профессиональные художники, а сами фасады были выполнены из разноцветной штукатурки, мозаики – из кусочков смальты, стекла, керамики. Многие из этих полотен погибли вместе со зданиями, на которых они находились. Некоторые продолжают разрушаться. Но большое количество фресок и по сей день можно увидеть в отличном состоянии. Они, как призраки ушедшей эпохи, напоминают о несуществующей стране, частью которой когда-то являлись.

Мозаика, служащая указателем на въезде перед шахтой “Долинская”, Карагандинская область. Выполнена из цветного стекла и кафеля. На каске шахтера когда-то располагался настоящий фонарь и светился.

Мозаика, иллюстрирующая труд, дружбу народов и науку. Дом Культуры, г. Каркаралинск, Карагандинская область. Даже в поселках и небольших городах декоративная отделка фасадов была обязательным элементом дизайна общественных зданий, построенных в 1960-70-х годах.

Масштабная мозаика на стене Дома Союзов в центре Караганды иллюстрирует единство рабочего класса.

Часть комплекса сложнейших барельефов в административном центре Караганды. Барельефы выполнены с портретной точностью и сохранились в хорошем состоянии.

Барельеф на здании бывшего управления Водоканала, г. Караганда. Скульптор: Юрий Гуммель, автор самого масштабного памятника Ленину в Караганде. Ныне проживает в Германии, куда уехал с семьей в 90-х годах.

Фрагмент комплекса мозаик на Доме Союзов и здания ЦентрКазНедра – самого масштабного полотна в Караганде. Сохранились в отличном состоянии.

Мозаика на здании административно-бытового комплекса шахты “Долинская”. Шахта подготовлена к ликвидации.

Фреска из разноцветной штукатурки на стене заводского здания в Караганде. Обращает на себя внимание сложностью композиции и точностью подбора цветов.

Фреска на фасаде одного из цехов завода НКМЗ, г. Караганда. Огромная территория завода, расположенного в самом центре города, уже много лет заброшена.

Редкое сочетание мозаики и барельефа, г. Караганда.

В мозаике с шахтером использовано стекло, отчего изображение блестит на солнце, п. Актас, Карагандинская область.

Жилой дом в Караганде. Мозаика выполнена из большого количества элементов.

Фрагмент мозаики с абстрактной композицией, г. Караганда.

Несколько лет назад при ремонте здания мозаику с изображением Гагарина полностью закрасили, но вовремя спасли, г. Караганда.

A growing protest culture in Kyrgyzstan?

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Linking closely to my most recent post about an article on growing social gaps in Kazakhstan, I read an article today about protest culture in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan. As with the Kazakh story, whilst this BBC article does not directly link to higher education, there are definitely possibilities for interaction.

This gives rise to some questions. How politicized are young people in Kyrgyzstan, particularly in comparison to the elders featured in the article? If young people aren’t participating in protests, why not? Are they busy doing other things, do they not care or are they afraid? Or is there something else going on?

Whilst there is a common perception in the UK that university students don’t care about politics, actually it has been shown that they really do care, but their attentions are now more commonly drawn to interest groups (e.g. relating to the environment, or to human rights) than political associations. I don’t know if the same is true of students in Kyrgyzstan so I would welcome readers sharing their experiences or observations.

The original article is (c) BBC News and can be found at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-22852857

12 June 2013 Last updated at 03:08

What is driving Kyrgyzstan’s protest culture?

By Abdujalil Abdurasulov BBC News, Jalalabad, Kyrgyzstan

Elderly Kyrgyz women sitting near a traditional yurt in Jalalabad, KyrgyzstanThe mother-heroines are demanding the release of opposition MPs
Near a traditional yurt, several elderly Kyrgyz women are sitting and sorting through children’s clothing for sale. They are not traders. They call themselves mother-heroines and they are one of the driving forces of protest in the southern city of Jalalabad.

These mother-heroines have occupied the square in front of the office of the regional governor on and off since last October. They are demanding the release of three opposition MPs arrested over an alleged attempt to topple the government during a mass rally.

Just a few days ago their supporters stormed a Jalalabad local government building, forcing the regional governor to flee. They also blocked the only highway that links northern Kyrgyzstan with the south.

Such protests have become a daily routine in Kyrgyzstan. According to Prime Minister Jantoro Satybaldiev, there were 1,286 protests across Kyrgyzstan in 2012. That means on average ,there were more than three protests a day.

A man addresses protesters in the village of Tamga in Dzhety Oguz district 31 May 2013 Even peaceful demonstrations can turn violent in Kyrgyzstan

Farmers, truck drivers, casino owners, land grabbers, traders, policemen – people from all walks of society are increasingly trying to solve their problems by taking to the streets. Tired of protests, several hundred people held a demonstration against demonstrations in Bishkek earlier this year.

Medet Tiulegenov, a political analyst from the American University in Central Asia, said a lack of trust in the government meant people readily took to the streets.

“Formal mechanisms to communicate with the authorities are weak or completely absent,” he said. “So street protests are often the only option.”

‘The people’

This protest culture has been shaped by two mass uprisings in Kyrgyzstan in recent years. In 2005 and again in 2010, mobs captured the White House, where the government sits, and ousted the ruling president.

This has led to a situation today in which a mob of a few hundred people, some perhaps paid to participate by interested parties, can “appoint” their governors, directors and other state officials. The government normally does not recognise the “people’s” appointee, but they cannot ignore the mood on the ground either.

Earlier this year, for example, a new police chief in the mountainous Naryn region had to flee his office after local residents and police officers unhappy with his appointment stormed the police department building. Although the government insists the chief remains its preferred candidate, he has not returned to his office yet.

And each mass rally becomes an example for others to follow.

“President [Almazbek] Atambayev came to power through mass protests. He also seized the White House. So why can’t we protest as well?” said Anarkhan Dehkanova, one of the mother-heroines, referring to the 2010 uprising and in response to the suggestion that the law was broken when the Jalalabad governor was ousted.

Amid this growing protest culture, the new government frequently uses the word el – “the people” – in its slogans to emphasis its claim to public legitimacy. One of the slogans on the website of the Interior Ministry reads: “Together with the people and for the prosperity of our Fatherland.”

Police are also finding it hard to disperse demonstrators even if they are breaking the law. In Jalalabad, police watched the protesters as they blocked the highway – causing a massive traffic jam and serious economic losses for local businesses.

“There were not just young men there,” said Almazbek Malabekov, police chief of the district where the road was blocked. “There were elderly men and women too. If we used force to disperse them, the situation would only have got worse.”

‘Soft approach’

Almazbek Malabekov, police chief of Suzak district, JalalabadMr Malabekov said elderly men and women were taking part in some protests

Peaceful demonstrations can, however, turn violent. Last month protesters in the Issik Kul region denouncing a gold mining deal clashed with police. The government was forced to announce a state of emergency in the area to end the mass disturbances.

To end the cycle of street protests and boost the rule of law, the government needs to punish those who break the laws, Mr Tiulegenov said.

“It’s important not to create the feeling of impunity that encourages protesters to be more radical. But it’s also important to combine negotiations and a soft approach,” he said.

Dr Erica Marat, a Central Asia expert, says that the government should also try to include opposition leaders in a political process and strengthen local government.

“Improving capacity and professionalism of the local government would enable them to respond to the very local issues people [protest about] and prevent mobilization of aggressive mobs,” she said.

Back in Jalalabad, several protesters remain on the square. Empty yurts are meant to indicate that a crowd could be gathered at any moment.

They are threatening to block the highway again if their demands are not met. As the Central Asian summer gets hotter, the protesters may take a break. But they will be back in the autumn.