students

Town and gown clash at the University of Central Asia in Kyrgyzstan

Posted on Updated on

593411.1496916935.b
Local residents gather at the UCA campus in Naryn on June 8, 2017. Image (C) Akipress

Reports are coming in of a clash between university students at the new campus of the University of Central Asia (UCA) in Naryn, Kyrgyzstan, and local inhabitants. Tempers flared between town and gown in which some of the university’s students from neighbouring Tajikistan allegedly “beat up locals during the basketball match” (source: Akipress).

This led a large group of local residents to gather at the university campus on June 8 to demand retribution. The Akipress story is reproduced below. A video on the Akipress Facebook page shows a large gathering that is heated at times. It ends with Dr Diana Pauna, UCA’s Dean of Arts & Sciences, explaining the need for the students to learn not only to be better sports people but to learn some life lessons from this unfortunate incident.

Apparently, five students – and also some professors – got down on their knees by way of apology to the local residents.

Today, June 9, news is emerging that the national government is treating the response of local residents as hooliganism and a violation of public order.

The flare-up has become a nationwide controversy in Kyrgyzstan. There are several reasons for this.

Firstly, the images of angry protesters humiliating  young students and their professors by making them (not violently) get down on their knees is shocking and embarrassing and uncomfortable to watch. Bear in mind that this happened in a country where social and cultural norms and traditions are an extremely important part of life with continuing relevance. The Kyrgyz are known for being extremely hospitable and most pride themselves on this reputation.

This has led to media responses by some well-known Kyrgyz figures such as Ilim Karypbekov, also from Naryn. In a passionate article singing the praises of UCA [ru, reproduced from his Facebook page] (with some great photos too), Karypbekov writes that he is speechless, unable to explain the “horror, disturbance, shame and bitterness” of what happened. He says that the people of Naryn are the ones that should be on their knees in front of the AKDN. He says the incident will make people question Kyrgyz hospitality and the safety of international students in the country.

Secondly, the government will be highly conscious of the particular university that is the target of locals’ anger. The UCA is a major new university funded mainly by the Aga Khan Development Network and the brainchild of the Aga Khan himself, with a vision firmly rooted in positive development for Central Asia.

Thirdly, there’s more than a whiff of social tension in the air. This is not just a hierarchy mismatch – students vs elder local residents, town vs gown. There are potentially some ethnic issues too, given that the students who allegedly sparked the fight on May 27 are not from Kyrgyzstan but southern neighbour Tajikistan. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, new national identities have been forged and (re)created and seemingly out of nowhere, a new or revived sense of difference between former Soviet republics has emerged. Kyrgyzstan has a rocky history with another neighbour, Uzbekistan, with frequent border clashes in the Ferghana Valley area (see e.g. this story from August 2016). There has been significantly less conflict with Tajikistan despite the thorny and probably unresolvable border question created by Stalin, but there have been a few incidents. (Madeleine Reeves’ Border Work is a great book if you want to get into this area more deeply.)

There is no official response from UCA about the incident. It seems to me that something indeed must have happened at that ill-fated basketball match, and indeed we have video and photographic evidence of the response by locals on June 8. How and if the students will be disciplined is a matter for UCA.

_49783235_512_verdantgreen
Town and gown disputes in university towns like Oxford would often lead to violent fights in the past

Disputes between students and local residents is a theme that has been recurring as long as universities have existed. Such conflicts in today’s world are normally raised and resolved through non-violent means, which is in part why the Naryn/UCA scandal hits hard.

The bigger and longer-term question is whether this causes irreparable damage to town and gown relations between UCA and the residents of Naryn. I tend to think not. There is enough vested interest in the UCA project that means a resolution is likely to be reached quickly.

Whether this will do enough to overcome any lingering concerns local residents may have is another matter, and I very much hope that in bringing a resolution about, methods that are appropriate and accepted by all parties are employed.

 

Akipress story from June 8:

Angered Naryn youth made the University of Central Asia foreign students to get down on their bended knees to apologize for a conflict that arose after the students “beat up locals during the basketball match.”

On June 8, dozens of young people in Naryn gathered for protests in front of the University demanding the authorities to step in the conflict. The protesters demanded to detain responsible students from Tajikistan who have allegedly beaten up local residents during the sports competition at the UCA on May 27.

Governor of Naryn region Amanbai Kayipov and other officials met with the protesters.

During the meeting, the angered mob demanded the Tajik students to apologize on bended knees and also demanded to expell the students from Kyrgyzstan.

After a while, students and some of the professors got on their knees and asked for apology.

The University of Central Asia (UCA) was founded in 2000. The Presidents of Tajikistan, the Kyrgyz Republic, and Kazakhstan, and His Highness the Aga Khan signed the International Treaty and Charter establishing this secular and private University; ratified by the respective parliaments, and registered with the United Nations. The Presidents are the Patrons of UCA and His Highness is the Chancellor.

The UCA Naryn Campus launched in September 2016. It is the first phase of a larger vision for the 252-hectare site, gifted by the Kyrgyz Government. Classes commenced for the inaugural class of 71 undergraduates at the Naryn Campus on 5 September.

 

Bedbugs and overcrowding in Kazakh uni dorms

Posted on

After recent reports of unsanitary and unsafe living conditions at a Kazakh university in the western city of Atyrau comes a new report of questionable accommodation standards – but this time at the country’s oldest (and one of its most prestigious) universities, Abay Kazakh Pedagogical University [ru].

Complaints have been made about the irregular supply of water, overcrowded dorm rooms and – the scourge of renters everywhere – bedbugs.

2017-05-28 16.14.16
If they’d found cats instead of bedbugs in the kitchen, perhaps the whole situation could have been averted

One student’s video evidence of the conditions has been rejected by university administrators, who flatly deny any problems in the accommodation. They suggested that instead, perhaps someone wanted to cast aspersions on the university’s reputation.

Despite initially being denied entry to the dorms, a TV film crew were nevertheless later able to access the building. They confirmed that rooms were being packed with double the number of people than should be permitted, and also saw bugs in the kitchen.

Forced onto the back foot, the building manager issued a statement claiming that they weren’t bedbugs, “just ordinary insects”. And if they did turn out to be bedbugs, promises to bring in sanitary inspectors were quickly made.

Students around the world are often subject to less than optimal living conditions, often because of rogue landlords. It’s less common to see issues of the type raised by here in university-run accommodation, which is one of the reasons the story is newsworthy.

It’s also interesting to see a critical piece on higher education in the Kazakh press, which in general is supportive of the state’s efforts towards higher education.

Many of the comments posted on Tengrinews, which pitched this story as “Kazakhstan’s oldest university at the centre of a scandal” [ru], did not hold back in their openness.

One anonymous commentator neatly summed up their frustration at the difference between the image and the reality of Kazakhstan:

Вот Вам и действительность нашей страны. Вот Вам и состояние системы образования в целом. ЭКСПО, Назарбаев Университеты, НИШ, Астана и другие понты.
[And there’s the reality of our country for you. The education system summed up. Your EXPO, Nazarbayev University, Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools and the other show projects.]

Another felt that this was a reflection of all that is wrong with the university:

Отвратительный ВУЗ. Сам лично убедился, что там все прогнило, начиная с ректората. При сдаче экзаменов в магистратуру, к примеру, место предоставили человеку, даже не сдававшему экзаменов. Проректор просто сказал – нам так надо, до свидания. Финпол спит.
[A disgusting university. I’m convinced that the whole university is corrupt, starting with the Rector [Provost/Vice-Chancellor]. For example, during the admissions period for their Master’s programmes, they’ve already given places to candidates who haven’t even taken the admissions exam. The Vice-Rector just said, that’s how it is, goodbye. The financial police are asleep.]

I will leave you with Alan’s comment. In true Soviet-era fashion, Alan has addressed the issue through an anekdot, a wry joke that tends to mock or mask the truth. The joke concerns the new hierarchy of higher education in Kazakhstan, from the new and uber-prestigious Nazarbayev University in the new capital of Astana to formerly flagship institution Kazakh State University and from there to Abay Kazakh Pedagogical University, the subject of the “scandal”:

Анекдот про студентов Каждый учащийся в Назарбаев университет летает на каникулах в разные страны имеет дом шикарную машину, Каждый учащийся в КАЗГУ Имеет квартиру машину, Каждый учащийся в АГУ имеет право на жизнь
[Here’s a joke about students. Every student at Nazarbayev University flies to different countries for the holidays, and they have a house and a fancy car. Every student at Kazakh State University has an apartment and a car. Every student at Abay Kazakh Pedagogical University has the right to live.]

Paid to protest: More on student protests in Tajikistan

Posted on

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.

Education deficit in Tajikistan, part 3

Posted on Updated on

I didn’t realise when I blogged last month about the skills deficit in Tajikistan that this would become the first in a rather sad series of stories about educational deficit. The first post was followed by a story from the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, and today it’s the turn of American funded website Central Asia Online to report on undergraduate education in the country.

Nadin Bahrom’s story goes for a more positive spin but I’m afraid I don’t share the optimism. It’s not something to be proud of, surely, when a university cites its expulsion rate as a sign of increasingly quality? (NB: Tajik Medical University’s hit rate is nothing compared to Liberia, where every single one of the 25,000 University of Liberia candidates failed this year’s entrance examination…)

Also, this is the first I’ve heard of an ‘oversight agency’ to check for cheating in universities: presumably it’s government-run, in which case, who’s monitoring the agency against the bribery and corruption that we know is embedded in public administration??

Anyway, here’s the story, all (c) Central Asia Online:

Tajikistan strives to improve undergraduate education

The country has plenty of jobs but lacks qualified candidates to fill them, officials say.

By Nadin Bahrom

(c) Central Asia Online, http://centralasiaonline.com/en_GB/articles/caii/features/main/2013/09/18/feature-01

Tajik high school seniors take university entrance exams in Dushanbe in July. Tajikistan is determined to improve education at universities. [Nadin Bahrom]
Tajik high school seniors take university entrance exams in Dushanbe in July. Tajikistan is determined to improve education at universities. [Nadin Bahrom]
DUSHANBE – Tajikistan is moving to improve its undergraduates’ preparation for the job market after graduation.Education fell to a very poor standard during the 1992-1997 civil war and has not yet recovered, Education Ministry spokesman Makhmudkhon Shoyev said.

“The unrest … meant that our compatriots did not have the opportunity for a decent education in schools and universities,” he said. “But they still received diplomas.”

Tajik university graduates are repeatedly proving unfit for many jobs despite graduating, he said.

For example, over the past two years, the mayor’s office has struggled to find qualified candidates to fill vacancies, Shafkat Saidov, the mayoral spokesman, said.

“Our unfortunate experience has shown that people with degrees from other countries or from the Soviet days are far more qualified and are much more knowledgeable than those who have received degrees since the country became independent [in 1991],” he said. “We have some good job opportunities but, more often than not, no one to fill them.”

University graduates from other Russian-speaking countries appeal more to Tajik employers because they tend to have more work experience, Russian-Tajik Slavonic University Deputy Rector Rahmon Ulmasov said.

Steps to improve education

Authorities are aware of the problem and are working to fix the system’s flaws, Shoyev said.

“Every university has set up a department to monitor exams [to prevent cheating],” he said, adding that an “oversight agency regularly inspects the universities”. Schools are upgrading their equipment and also are providing more opportunities for students to undertake practical training.

Reports so far are positive and indicate “the level of knowledge and academic performance of [university] students are increasing”, Shoyev said. Schools also are stiffening requirements for admission and retention.

Tajik Medical University raised its standards, Shoyev said, noting that it expelled 116 students in the first six months of this year for various academic shortcomings, 29 more than in the first half of last year.

The country needs to transform its education system, journalist and commentator Jhongir Bobev said, arguing that the government needs to eradicate corruption from higher education.

“Then educated young people will enter our universities instead of going to study abroad,” he said.

Tajiks also need to pay better attention to the labour market, education watcher Azim Baezoyev said.

Students from developed countries learn what skills and knowledge they will need and then obtain them, he said. “We need to do better in addressing this part of the problem” because Tajiks have to be absolutely qualified to prevail in the stiff competition for jobs in Tajikistan, he said.

Encouraging signs

University graduates of the past few years have been an improvement over their predecessors, Shoyev said, adding that authorities were considering enabling those who have been out of school longer to upgrade their skills.

“The current generation is much smarter and more aware,” he added. “International academic competitions prove that the number of talented and praiseworthy Tajik students is increasing. It is encouraging that they come not only from elite academic schools but also from public high schools.”

In 2012, 263 Tajik schoolchildren returned from international contests with 132 medals (21 of them gold), a 15% increase from the previous year, the Education Ministry said.

Parents devote more attention to their children’s education than they did before, Shoyev noted.

“There are many difficulties and problems, but the Ministry of Education is working on solving them,” Shoyev said. “This is not a matter that can be resolved in one or two days.”

First National Student Council in Kazakhstan – A Step Forward for the Student Voice?

Posted on Updated on

Good news for students in Kazakhstan! Here’s the official government line from Murat Abenov, Deputy Kazakh Minister of Education and Science:

As soon as young people get an opportunity to get their message across through their organisations, I think our decisions will have a higher quality and will be more approximate to their problems. Suggestions by young people are taken into account in developing the new bill, for example, to support young professionals. A lot of issues are related to employment, to the first steps at a new position, and to the necessity to gain initial work experience as there are usually a lot of requirements associated with the length of service. All of these issues are already being considered in terms of ideas proposed by the youth.

Article below reposted from http://www.openequalfree.org/kazakhstans-first-national-student-council/18181; (c) Ying Jia Huang

Kazakhstan’s National Student Council has finally been established after months of discussions with top officials in Kazakhstan.  The creation of the council was announced at the first national student convention in Astana, Kazakhstan, where over 1,000 students from public and private universities gathered to celebrate the first steps in educational reform.  The National Student Council will operate under the Ministry of Education and Science of Kazakhstan.

Recognizing the need to expand on its education reforms, Kazakhstan has been preparing to sign the European Commission’s Bologna Process, which is a process that separates university into bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels.  The desire for Kazakhstan to move away from its past is reflected by its diminishing competitive edge against the globalized demands of today’s workforce and academic institutions. In April, a delegation was sent to participate in the Education Ministers’ conference to prepare for the country’s transition into the new system.

Fatima Zhakypova, the head of the Ministry of Education and Science of Kazakhstan, told reporters at a news conference that active participation from students is critical to the realization of education reforms.  The ultimate beneficiaries of these reforms are students, and hence, they should be the most active in deciding how education should be revamped in the country.

The National Student Council will include leaders of Kazakh student organizations and young scientists of the country.  The Council will serve as a forum for students to share concerns over relevant legislation and other topics, such as employment.  Activists believe this is an important first step to give representation and a voice to students, who will be the future leaders of the Kazakh nation.

Tajik students not allowed to attend foreign-run events

Posted on

Having read about this last week, I was all set to think about the implications of the rather bizarre announcement from the Tajik Ministry of Education that they would be banning students from attending events run by foreign organisations. However, the kind people at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting have done this for me, so please find below a reprint of Galim Fastukhdinov’s article. You can also access it at http://iwpr.net/report-news/tajik-students-warned-foreign-events; (c) IWPR.

 

Tajik Students Warned Off “Foreign” Events

Fears that government wants to limit young people’s contact with ideas from abroad.
1 Nov 12
 

New instructions barring students in Tajikistan from attending events funded by foreign donors have alarmed civil society groups, who fear the measure will deny young people opportunities to broaden their horizons.

Commentators struggling to understand the decision have speculated that the authorities are acting out of fears that young people will become politicised by events which focus on democracy-building or leadership skills.

On October 8, the Central Asian state’s education ministry sent out written instructions to the heads of all universities, telling them to stop students participating in conferences, seminars and training courses arranged by international organisations, as such events were against the law.

The move came as a shock, as the Tajik government – which itself receives a lot of donor assistance – does not have a record of clamping down on activities run by international agencies or by local NGOs with funding from abroad.

When the media got hold of the education ministry document, it prompted fierce discussions.

In an attempt to take some of the heat out of the debate, the deputy education minister Farhod Rahimov, who put his name to the instruction, said the sole intention was to ensure that students turned up for classes, and said they were free to go to events in their spare time.

In an interview for IWPR, the head of the ministry’s international relations department, Tamara Nasimova, took a similar line, insisting there was no plan to shut out foreign influence, and pointing out that individual universities as well as the ministry itself had a free hand to set up international ties.

At the same time, Nasimova made it clear the education authorities were concerned about certain unspecified foreign groups which got young people involved in their activities without informing the relevant official bodies.

“No one knows what training methods they use or what they intend to teach young people,” she said, noting that the ministry wanted the organisers of such events to inform it and the university administration about the aim, number of participants and so on.

She said the ministry had refused to grant the London-based group International Alert permission to hold a one-week student camp this autumn, and had suggested postponing it until next summer.

In some cases, university administrators appear to be so keen to be following ministry orders that they have imposed their own, more rigorous rules.

The German Academic Exchange Service, DAAD, for example, found that a planned meeting with students to brief them and test their language skills was cancelled. DAAD has a cooperation agreement in place with the education ministry, and had advance agreement for the October 23 event, in the northern city of Khujand.

DAAD representative Gulchehra Kakharova said the last-minute cancellation by Khujand university came as a blow to students who had been preparing for the test in the hope of winning scholarships to study in Germany.

Shokirjon Hakimov, deputy leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party, said he suspected the government wanted to prevent students becoming more politically aware and developing a better knowledge of events in the outside world.

“Participating in foreign [-funded] programmes and projects gives them an opportunity to develop leadership skills and engage with global trends,” he said.

Hakimov said the authorities might be especially nervous because the 2013 presidential election was coming up, and he also drew parallels with the Russian government’s clampdown on foreign-funded NGOs.

In Tajikistan, he said, there was little chance that civil society groups could source funding locally, so a more restrictive attitude to foreign funding would really squeeze them.

Farrukh Umarov, a researcher at Tajikistan’s Centre for Strategic Studies, said the ministry instruction followed by a public outcry followed a familiar pattern.

The government had a habit of imposing blanket bans on anything it considered a threat, without trying to test the public mood first, he said. The education ministry had previously outlawed both Islamic dress and miniskirts.

“In our country, a radical decision gets made without preparing public opinion for it. Then it’s implemented and leads to an outcry,” Umarov said.

Students at Tajik universities fear they will lose out on opportunities for contact with the outside world.

“Educational programmes run by international organisations have been useful because they offer us a chance to learn more than we’re taught at university,” a student in the capital Dushanbe said.

Asking not to be named, the student said he feared he could be expelled from his university if he continued attending events of this kind.

Another student asked, “What’s so bad about this? Take foreign-language courses, for instance. They haven’t had a negative impact on my studies. Now we’ll lose out on this.”

Galim Faskhutdinov is an IWPR contributor in Tajikistan.

If you would like to comment or ask a question about this story, please contact our Central Asia editorial team at feedback.ca@iwpr.net.