university funding

Financing higher education in Kyrgyzstan

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For a small country with a population of a little over 6 million, Kyrgyzstan has an awful lot of universities – 68 at last count. For comparison, Singapore (population 5.8m) has exactly half as many and El Salvador (identical population to Kyrgyzstan) has 26 universities.

As with many countries in the former Soviet space, the number of universities and institutes (collectively, higher education institutions, or HEIs) rocketed in Kyrgyzstan with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Even so, growth in the higher education system in Kyrgyzstan was phenomenally high, increasing by 325% in the first 15 years of independence. In neighbouring Kazakhstan, the increase over the same period was a more modest 197% (!).

Higher education growth in Kyrgyzstan came in both the pre-existing public sector as well as the nascent private higher education scene, and these days, the split between public and private HEIs is more or less 50-50.

With so many universities competing for students and limited state resources, Sputnik Kyrgyzstan recently published a fascinating interview with a senior administrator at one of the country’s leading institutions, Kyrgyz National University (KNU) on how the university gets and spends its money. This level of detail is often very difficult to glean from universities or Ministries of Education, so it adds quite significantly to our understanding of how higher education in a major state university in the former Soviet space is funded.

If cats did university budgets…


KNU is a public university according to its history and current legal status, but in fact only gets 7% of its funding from the state.

As one of the biggest universities in the countries, they have over 17,500 students on their books and it’s these students who basically keep the university propped up. 92% of students are fee-paying, meaning that only a small minority are funded by the state (through various scholarships for e.g. high academic performance in secondary/high school or family/social status).

The biggest source of income by far is the 485 million som a year the university generates from tuition fees – equivalent to US$7m. Not bad considering that tuition fees didn’t exist as recently as 30 years ago.

From the state, KNU receives 40 million som a year (US$600,000) in the form of funding for students in receipt of government scholarships. The university allocates 60-70% of this on salaries and employment taxes.

Other income is minimal in comparison: 12 million som a year (US$170,000) in rent from its four dormitories, and 6 million som (US$85,000) from its residence in Issyk Kul (a popular lakeside holiday destination) and from eight dissertation councils.

In total, KNU is generating 543m som or US$7.85m in income a year.

Tuition fees and student numbers

Fees at KNU range from 31,000 som per year (about US$450) on ‘cheap’ courses such as physics, chemistry and Kyrgyz philology up to 46,000 som (around US$650) for economics courses in the Kyrgyz-European Faculty.

Each faculty has some wriggle room in setting its fees – some are planning to increase theirs by up to 10%, whereas others are actually decreasing them. This has been the case in physics and meteorology, where KNU has struggled to fill both fee paying places as well as state funded spots.

Total student numbers at KNU are considerably higher than at many universities, but have nevertheless dropped quite dramatically. Whereas around 28,000 students were fee paying 3-4 years ago, that number has almost halved to today’s figure of 16,330.

State sponsored places have also been reduced from 2,100 to 1,346. However, the university does not believe that the government will totally withdraw scholarship funding.


As a state university, KNU has some limits on how it can spend the tuition fee income. They are required to allocate 80% to salaries and the remaining 20% for local taxes, staff/faculty travel, physical resources (furniture etc) and infrastructure maintenance.

A senior lecturer can expect to receive around 6,000 som a month from the state funding (a paltry US$85), which KNU then supplements depending on the lecturer’s teaching load and level of qualification (PhD/Candidate and Doctor of Science qualifications would entitle to you a higher pay grade).

The university doesn’t say what the total monthly pay packet looks like for senior lecturers, but the average monthly salary in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s capital (where KNU is located), is US$285. Let’s hope that senior lecturers are not too far off that figure.

KNU pays 144 million som (US$2m) to the state in various taxes each year, as well as a whopping 564 million som (US$8m) for electricity, water, and communal and other services.

I can’t calculate the total expenses per year as it’s not clear from the article whether the 20% of fee income in taxes is included in the 144m figure noted in the previous paragraph. And either I’ve misunderstood someting or there’s a typo in the services figure: if it really is 564m som a year, that’s more than the total income and presumably would mean the university would run very quickly into bankruptcy.

Those queries aside, the availability of data like this sheds important new light on higher education financing in Kyrgyzstan. For me, the big takeaway is how little of the university’s funding actually comes from the state despite its appellation as a public university and, as a result, just how dependent KNU is on tuition fee income and therefore students’ continued desire to study at the university.

DIY budgeting: The self-financing experiment in Uzbekistan’s universities begins

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Further to my December 2019 post, An Uzbek experiment, the new do-it-yourself funding model for 10 of the country’s higher education institutions (HEIs) has now come into force. All 10 will be under the watchful eye of the Ministry of Higher and Secondary Specialized Education to ensure that prices don’t jump too high, too fast and that standards don’t slip – and most importantly, as one news agency points out, to prevent corruption slipping in.

If cats could account for themselves…

So, as of January 1, 2020, the HEIs, a mix of universities and specialized institutes, are now able to:

  • Set their own tuition fees
  • Introduce new Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees
  • Continue to receive state funding for some students
  • Decide how their institutional budget will be split

This last point is one of the most important, although not getting as much press attention as the excitement generated by the possibility of new courses / fear that fees will be hiked.

Why? Because until now, all HEIs in Uzbekistan had to conform to the rigid model imposed by the government: 46.8% on salaries, 33.1% on scholarships, 11.5% on budget deductions (i.e. retained by the government) and 8.6% on other expenses. So now, if one of the 10 DIY-HEIs wants to increase faculty salaries, buy more computers or offer more student funding, it can do so.

Next door in Tajikistan, where I have been doing interviews with university-based researchers, this self-financing model and the flexibility it provides to set your own budget is seen as a very positive move for the woefully underpaid academics still committed to the academic cause. In Tajikistan (as in some other former Soviet countries), self-financing is offered to universities that obtain ‘national’ status. So far only one university of 35 in Tajikistan has this, but there are others that are keen to upgrade both for reputational purposes and financial flexibility.

In Their Own Words: Scholarship Stories from Tajikistan (repost)

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Below is a very nice story posted on the Central Asia Institute website offering motivation and inspiration from a number of scholarship students from Tajikistan. Thanks to Michelle O’Brien for alerting me to this story.

In Their Own Words: Scholarship Stories from Tajikistan

(c) Central Asia Institute: https://centralasiainstitute.org/in-their-own-words-scholarship-stories-from-tajikistan

February 20th, 2018

In Tajikistan, poverty is one of the largest barriers to higher education. All too often promising students must end their academic dreams early, or their families take out loans they can never pay back.

With help from donors, CAI’s partner in Tajikistan (CAIT) gives scholarships to students based on need and merit, ensuring poverty does not derail the dreams and careers of some of the country’s best and brightest students. Each applicant must submit their school grades and their family’s income information, complete an interview, and submit recommendations from village elders and teachers.

Most of the students receive scholarships to Khorog State University, where they study a variety of subjects from foreign languages, education, to history and economics. The students are grateful to receive scholarships that will not only help them achieve their dreams but also help care for their families.

We received several messages from students who wanted to tell their stories and send messages of thanks to CAI donors and supporters. We decided to let them tell those stories to you, in their own voices, for you. Keep reading to hear their incredible spirits as they tell you how they have conquered poverty, illness, and hardships to earn their scholarships and make it to university.

Jumakhonov Shasufbek – Studying Economics at Khorog State University

Life is so difficult and has its wave, sometimes you can see the wave and sometimes it disappears. Life has its paths and one has to find the right one. And you can find the right way only through learning and education. Knowledge can show you the right way to choose.

Since my childhood, I have been enjoying reading and writing. I always learned new things from my grandfather who brought us up. As far as I remember I was thirsty of knowledge and always sought for new things. We (I and my two brothers) were living with our grandparents as our parents had to leave to Russia [to earn money]. We had everything besides parents’ love and care.

I am the eldest child in my family. When I was on grade 11 my parents came back from Russia because the condition of life in Russia became difficult for the migrants, and it was hard for my parents to work there. After graduation from secondary school I was succeeded to enter Khorog  State University, Economy faculty (department). I was proud of becoming a student of this university, but from the other side, the tuition fee made me sad. As my family could not afford the tuition fee, they decided that I should not study this year because the only income of our family was my grandparents’ pension. But as the saying says, “Hope never dies.”

Once I was reading the local newspaper and by chance saw an advertisement of CAIT regarding scholarship for the needy students from remote areas. Something inside told me that “this is your chance.” So according to the advertisement, I have started to gather the necessary documents and in a short period submitted them all to the office of CAIT in Khorog town.  When after a month I had a call from CAIT regarding my acceptance to the scholarship, I was on the top of happiness. And that time I felt myself the luckiest person in the world. And also my grandparents and parents were so happy for me I saw the happiness in their eyes.

Taking the chance I would like to thank CAIT and its staff on behalf of myself and my family for giving me such a great chance to continue my study. In my turn, I promise to be the best student of the university and seek for knowledge.

support scholarships

Nekbakht Khujanazarova – Studying History at Khorog State University

I am Nekbakht Khujanazarova. I am from Roshorv village of Bartang Valley. Roshorv is one of the beautiful places of Bartang Valley. It has many historical places that attract the tourist to our valley. I was living in this beautiful village with my parents, my three sisters, my little brother, and my grandparents.

During our childhood, my grandfather told us different stories from his life and the difficulties they had to go through. We listened to him carefully. After his death, I told my siblings stories and helped my mother. My mother is a housekeeper, and my father is unemployed. He usually is busy with the small piece of land that we have. Usually in our village men are working in the fields, because there is no other kind of work. Although, this kind of work is not regular and one cannot earn enough money for life with this kind of work.

The stories of my grandfather inspired me for applying to the Khorog State University faculty (department) of History. When I entered to the university I was happy and proud, but I knew that my parent can never afford my tuition fee. I even did not know what to do. Fortunately, on TV my neighbor heard about CAIT scholarship for the students from low-income families and told me about it. She told me to apply, I have gathered my documents and submitted them to their office but I was not sure to be accepted by this organization. But I succeeded and now I know that the world is full of kind people who would like to help others. Thank you for your support.

Nazrishoev Aslisho – Studying Economics at Khorog State University

My name is Aslisho. I am from Porshinev village of Shugnan District. I got my early education at school #14 named after Khusravsho Musrifshoev. In 2015 I entered Khorog State University, Economy faculty (department). Currently, I am a third-year student at Khorog State University. There are five people in my family, my parents, my two brothers, and me.

My father is a builder. He is a part-time employee. He is the only worker in our family, whose salary is not enough to support us. My little brother is six years old. My elder brother is a third-year student of medical college of Khorog town. It is really very difficult for one person to support five family members and pay the tuition fees of the students. We have taken loan and my father is still paying it back. I was trying to find any job and support my father but unfortunately, without diploma no one gave me a job. Thanks to the support of CAIT I can continue my study and inshallah (god willing) after graduation of the university will help my brothers to get education too.

Tajikistan learning

Sarqulieva Amriya – Studying Foreign Language at Khorog State University

My name is Sarqulieva Amriya. I was born in 1998 in Razuj village of Bartang Valley. I come from a poor family. I grew up in a small house with my dad, mom, two sisters, and my two brothers. I am the eldest child in my family and my parents expect me to be more responsible and set a good example for my younger siblings. My parents expect me to study hard so that I could have a good job and provide income so that my younger siblings can go to a better university in the near future.

My father is a shepherd. My mother is a housewife. So it is difficult for them to support us. From my childhood I am trying to help my parents somehow. I learned how to knit scarf, jumpers, and gloves from my mother and sent them to the market for selling. With the money, which I earned, my mother bought food for us. After finishing school I decided to enter the Khorog State University faculty (department) of foreign languages, but my father and mother were against because of our financial problems.

There were several reasons of learning foreign language for me. First is that I always enjoyed studying books in Russian language. It gave me pleasure to learn something new, to get information in any field, and I believed that education broadens the mind. Secondly, I decided to be a Russian teacher from my childhood. I was insisting on passing the exams for the university, but I was worried about tuition fee. Also, the university is in Khorog town and I knew that I will need a place to live in.  I convinced my parents and was succeed to become a student of Khorog State University. My father borrowed money from our neighbors and relatives and paid for my first-year tuition fee. The first year at the university was the horrible year in my life. Also it was too difficult for me to live in Khorog with 6 strange girls in the dormitory. Moreover, my father could not give back the money borrowed for my first-year tuition fee and asked me to leave my university and help him to pay back the money.

I had to leave my university and went back home. Although I knew that it was the end and impossible I was dreaming of going back to Khorog and continue my study. In addition to all these problems my sister fell ill. I did not know what to do, we had no money even for medical checkup. That was the time in my life when I felt like a victim of circumstances. This was a horrible feeling when I felt powerless. With the help of some kind people we bought medicine for my sister. When I was taking care of my sister at home my teacher visited us and said that I should continue my study. But I just said, “how?” With a smile on his face he took a newspaper from his armpit and gave it to me. When I saw the advertisement about scholarship I was so excited but then I gave it back to the teacher and said: “it does not mean that they will give me scholarship, there are a lot of poor people in the world”. But my teacher wanted me to try. “Just try,” he said. With diffidence I have gathered my documents and send them to CAIT office.

When I had a call from CAIT office I kissed and hugged everyone in my family like a drunken person. Thanks to CAIT I can fulfill my dream and also will help my other siblings to get higher education. This amazing organization gave me hope again, and now I know that after every night there will be day.

These are just a few of the stories of students who would not be able to study without a scholarship. Thanks to thousands of CAI donors all over the world, their stories are not finished. If you want to learn more about supporting CAI scholarships, visit our page.

More independence for Kazakh universities?

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A detailed and interesting story from Kazakh news agency Tengri News today, reporting on a recent conference for higher education leaders in the country. There is reportedly a strong move towards offering greater independence to universities in the country on everything from curriculum to revenue streams.

I couldn’t quite work out from the story why the Education Ministry is promoting this push. In the UK it’s labelled as ‘autonomy’ for universities but generally what that means is that the government can no longer afford (or no longer wishes) to provide as much public funding.

My immediate reactions on reading the story were two-fold:

1: Quality, quality, quality. Who is going to make sure that the programmes being offered by universities are good enough to be worthy of Kazakhstan’s young people? Who is going to make sure that universities are all delivering at the right level? Who is going to make sure that funding freedoms don’t allow dodgy deals to take place at the front door (and not the back door)? And so on…

2. This will undoubtedly work in the favour of the more elite institutions in the country but may not be as advantageous for lower ranked state universities and polytechnics.

Here is the original story, (c) Tengri News and also available at http://en.tengrinews.kz/opinion/382/.

Kazakhstan universities to have policy-setting freedom by 2016, conference participants told

Hal Foster ex-Los Angeles Times journalist, journalism professor

Within three years Kazakhstan’s universities will have the authority to decide what academic programs and courses they’ll offer, speakers at a recent educational leaders conference said.

This autonomy will help the universities respond better to changing student, employer and society demands for skills, according to speakers at the Second Annual Eurasian Higher Education Leaders Forum at Nazarbayev University.

But autonomy will not be restricted to academic-program and course selection. Universities will also have the freedom to choose their vice presidents and provosts, to allocate funds the way they want and to own their land, which will help them raise funds.

This decentralization of university decision-making will mark a major shift away from the Soviet-rooted system of the Ministry of Education and Science dictating much of what universities do.

Since Kazakhstan’s independence in 1991, the ministry has decided what programs and courses a university can offer, who its vice presidents and provosts are and how its funds are spent. And the government, not the universities, owned the land on which the universities sat.

It’s almost ironic, then, that the driving force behind university autonomy is Minister of Education Bakytzhan Zhumagulov, who gave the keynote speech at the June 12 and 13 conference.

But university autonomy is just part of the sweeping changes that Zhumagulov’s team has been making at all levels of education – from preschool to graduate school.

Because the pace of the change has been so frenetic, Nazarbayev University leaders started the forum in 2012 to help university presidents, vice presidents, provosts, deans and other educational leaders cope. Participants learn from both the speakers – many of whom are from the West – and also by exchanging ideas at forum panel sessions.

Nazarbayev University President Shigeo Katsu moderated the conference’s general sessions, with experts on various topics leading the more specific panel sessions.

In addition to autonomy, the conference dealt with the need for universities to have an independent board of trustees to oversee the management team, to develop programs to assure quality of teaching, research and other services, and to develop non-government sources of funding.

Other issues raised at the forum included the need for an independent, non-government body to accredit universities, and for the government to award more research money to universities rather than to independent research institutes – the current system. Kazakhstan is making progress on both issues, moving toward an independent accrediting body and awarding more research money to universities.

The two most discussed issues at the conference were university autonomy and quality control.

At the moment, three-year-old Nazarbayev University is the only Kazakhstan higher educational institution with autonomy. That’s because its founders thought one of its key roles should be spurring higher-educational innovation in Kazakhstan. To ensure that it could carry out that role, the founders believed, the university needed to be independent of the Ministry of Education or other government authority.

Parliament listened to that argument by granting Nazarbayev University autonomy. It came in the form of a law giving the university “special status” to set its own course.

Deputy Prime Minister Yerbol Orynbayev underscored Nazarbayev University’s role in educational innovation by saying in his welcoming address that it was “the experimental platform that is allowing the state to reform existing universities” and create new ones.

Key elements of the autonomy that Nazarbayev University enjoys are already being phased in at other universities, said Fatima Zhakypova, head of the Education Ministry’s Higher-Education Department. For example, universities are deciding what courses to offer and choosing their vice presidents and provosts.

The bottom line is that universities with autonomy do a better job than those under the government’s thumb, asserted Mary Canning, a member of Ireland’s Higher Education Authority.

“I believe that when our universities are fully financially autonomous,” they will have a shot at becoming world-class, Zhakypova enthused.

Kazakhstan hopes to have two universities among the world’s top 100 in coming years.

Vanderbilt University Professor Stephen Heyneman said a common denominator among world-class universities is diversified sources of revenue. In fact, top universities get more of their funding from non-government sources than from government, he said.

Kazakhstan universities need to obtain more of their revenue from sources other than the Education Ministry, which provides the bulk of funding at the moment, Heyneman maintained.

Aslan Sarinzhipov, who led the team that founded Nazarbayev University and is now one of its trustees, said that for diversified funding to occur, Kazakhstan needs to develop an educational-philanthropy culture, which will take time.

Nazarbayev University is leading the way by starting the kind of endowment that many Western universities have long used to make their programs world-class.

Full financial autonomy includes a university – and not the government — owning the land on which a university sits, according to Heyneman, who specializes in university management.

Owning land is an important fund-raising tool for a university, he said. That’s because the institution can use the land as collateral to borrow money to improve programs and facilities.

Part of a university setting its own course is being able to establish its own quality control system, rather than having the government impose a system on it, according to Tom Boland, head of Ireland’s Higher Education Authority.

The primary responsibility for quality control should lie with universities, while the government’s role should be to ensure that universities take the responsibility seriously, he said.

Boland said students should be part of the quality-control-setting process, since they are the major consumers of a university’s services.

He also said that the main thrust of a quality control system should be improving quality, not finding fault. The process “needs to avoid the trap of bureaucracy” – that is, forcing a university to comply with reams of rules and regulations, he said.

Richard Miller, president of Olin College near Boston, said the best universities these days have shared governance – an independent board of trustees that oversees the university management team. One advantage of shared governance is helping ensure that management has the right priorities. Another is helping preventing management conflict of interest – for example, a university president awarding a contract to a company he owns, or to a family member or friend.

Quality control is particularly important in today’s higher-education landscape because competition for faculty and students is now international rather than confined to within a country’s borders, said Michael Worton a vice provost of University College London. His point was that these days Kazakhstan’s universities must compete not only with each other, but with universities in Europe, the United States, China and elsewhere, for professors and students.

Boland said a country should not focus too hard on getting universities on the lists of the world’s top educational institutions, however.

When a country pours a lot of resources into a few universities that it hopes to make world-class, it may be “impoverishing other universities,” he said.

“Countries should focus their institutions on what the country needs and not on international rankings,” he said.