university rankings

Fighting fake news in Kazakhstan: The case of the university rankings

Posted on Updated on

FactCheck.kz is on a mission to prove it

In an age of rumours, fake news, and downright lies, the actions of organizations like Kazakhstan’s FactCheck.kz (on Twitter) are a welcome addition to our daily struggle for the truth. With a mission for ‘the right to the truth’ (which works beautifully in Russian as pravo na pravdu – право на правду), they are the first Central Asian based fact-checking resource.

Run by professional and experienced journalists, FactCheck.kz aims to provide the public with reliable independent information from trustworthy sources and, as they say oh so politely, ‘provide an incentive to those who make big claims to be more attentive to the information they provide’.

I came across their work after they ran a fact check on a claim made by the country’s leading university, Al-Farabi Kazakh National University (KNU), that they had been listed as ‘one of Europe’s leading universities’ after receiving a high ‘AA+’ score on a ranking exercise by the Academic Ranking of World Universities – European Standard (ARES).

FactCheck.kz’s verdict?

Manipulation

Firstly, FactCheck.kz points out that this particular university ranking does not compare Kazakh universities with their European counterparts. The ranking uses a ‘European system of assessment’, although as FactCheck.kz notes, their methodology isn’t entirely transparent to begin with, and is geographically incomplete.

Secondly, FactCheck.kz records that the ranking lists each country’s results separately – it covers Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia. While KNU comes out top in the Kazakhstan ranking, there is no comparison either with the other countries, or with leading European universities.

There you have it: clear, simple and to the point. It’s exactly this kind of evidence informed reporting that can help inform and engage a sceptical public to find truth among the headlines.

However, the misleading text is still on the KNU website as of June 10, some two weeks after the FactCheck.kz story was published.

KNU is unarguably an excellent university – indeed, a news release on their site published on June 10 loudly proclaims that they are now among the 200 top universities in the world. Let us see what FactCheck.kz has to say about that.

Why are there no foreign universities in Tajikistan?

Posted on Updated on

Fat cat Victor Aeroflot
Viktor the Fat Cat, prepare for take-off to Dushanbe! (If you missed the story of the overweight cat’s stowaway flight, Aeroflot’s response and the internet’s memetastic follow up, read this first)

This is the excellent question posed by Khaidar Shodiev writing for Asia-Plus, the nearest thing Tajikistan has to an independent newspaper. Strictly speaking, the country’s higher education system is not entirely devoid of international universities, with the regional University of Central Asia’s campus in Khorog and three Russian branch campuses all in the capital Dushanbe.

But the bigger question Shodiev is asking in the article links to the broader systemic disincentives for foreign institutions to set up shop in Tajikistan on the one hand, and the lack of discernable will to fundamentally reform the education system from the Tajik government’s side. Yes, it’s accepted a heck of a lot of cash from the World Bank to implement the Bologna Process, but scratch the surface and most people will tell you that the so-called ‘transition’ to this series of European-inspired educational transformations is nowhere near getting off the ground.

The article can be found at https://asiaplustj.info/ru/news/tajikistan/society/20191204/pochemu-v-tadzhikistane-ne-otkrivayutsya-zarubezhnie-vuzi but in case the website gets blocked again, and for non-Russian readers, here it is below after an English translation by me.

Why are there no foreign universities in Tajikistan?

By Khaidar Shodiev

Tajikistan’s higher education institutions (HEIs) don’t fall into any of the university rankings, whether global or among the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Only one well-known foreign university has opened a branch in the country – Moscow State University.

Asia-Plus reports on why this is this case, and why the country is not rushing to increase the number of prestigious foreign universities.

Past the rankings

The well-known British newspaper Times Higher Education (THE) recently released its annual World University Rankings for 2019.

The top three universities in the world haven’t changed. For the third year in a row, the first place is held by Oxford University, which has the top indicators in research (quantity of research, research income and reputation). As before, second and third places are occupied by Cambridge University and the US’ Stanford University.

Of all the countries in the CIS, Russia has the most HEIs in the ranking with 35 contenders. Kazakhstan is the Central Asian leader with 10 HEIs in the QS international education ranking. No HEIs in Tajikistan were listed in these international rankings.

What are the reasons for this state of affairs?

“If you are talking about the criteria that are used to compile international rankings, then this is first of all about scientific (research) output and the quality of teaching,” says Ilhom Kamolzoda, head of the department of international affairs at the Ministry of Education and Science.

“The level of research is measured by the quality and quantity of articles that are published in top international journals that are included in the Scopus citation database. Following that, the rankings measure the ratio of teaching staff to students, the number of international students and faculty, and so on.”

Kamolzoda noted that Tajikistan is currently in transition to the Bologna system of education.

“Furthermore, for HEIs in the country to be recognized in international rankings, degree programs need to undergo international accreditation. And of course, as I’ve already noted, more high-quality research and training of highly qualified professionals to an international standard are necessary. Work on this is ongoing,” he says.

“The old school has fallen but a new one hasn’t yet been formed”

Education expert Bakhtiyor Asliddinov believes we need to dig deeper to find the reason for the current state of affairs in the country’s higher education.

“After the fall of the USSR, the single education system collapsed, and links between HEIs in the former Soviet republics were lost,” he says.

“The situation was exacerbated by the events of the 90s [ES note: the civil war from 1992-97] as a result of which thousands of academics, researchers and lecturers fled Tajikistan. Universities like Tajik Technical University, the Polytechnic and the Medical Institute – which had been well known in the Soviet Union – lost many of their best people. The old school fell and a new one hasn’t yet formed.”

Bakhtiyor Asliddinov also explains that in its drive to increase quantity, the Ministry of Education and Science has been unable to assure the quality of education in many HEIs. This has also led to declining education quality in his opinion.

“Previously in Tajikistan there were around 10 HEIs. Now there are over 30. Previously, each course had three cohorts (per year) and now there are up to 10 and sometimes more. How do you find qualified candidates for all these HEIs with such large numbers of students? How much are these degree programs in demand? Is work available for all graduates? I don’t think these questions will find answers for some time,” the expert says.

According to Asliddinov, beyond these factors, the quality of secondary [high] school education also needs to be taken into account: how can you get a high quality higher education if the secondary level leaves much to be desired?

“For our universities to be part of the global higher education landscape and for graduates to be desirable to employers, this education issue needs to be dealt with holistically,” he noted.

Foreign universities: To be or not to be?

The establishment of branches of well-known international HEIs in a country is a common practice around the world.

In recent years, our neighbours have been actively working on this. The number of foreign branch campuses has begun to grow in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and in Uzbekistan their number has grown three times in the last two years, and now there are 21 of them!

The situation changed at the end of 2017 when the government of Uzbekistan decided to fundamentally reform the education system in the country. It announced a five-year moratorium on all forms of taxes as well as exemption from mandatory contributions to state funds for foreign branch campuses. Furthermore, branch campuses do not have to pay the single social payment and income tax on foreign individuals working at the HEI. After this, the number of foreign branch campuses grew dramatically.

In Tajikistan today there are just three Russian branch campuses: Moscow State University, the National University of Science and Technology MISIS (Moscow Institute of Steel and Alloys), and the National Research University MEU (Moscow Power Engineering).

The Ministry of Education and Science has not indicated whether there are plans to open additional branch campuses of Western or Asian universities. The government did agree that a campus of the Malaysian Limkokwing University of Creative Technology could open in Bokhtar in 2013, but that project has yet to come to fruition.

“There are particular difficulties,” explains Ilhom Kamolzoda, “largely due to the fact that Western branch campuses teach in English. Applicants are required to confirm their language proficiency by passing an IELTS exam. This would require a lot of preparation of facilities, teachers, completion of the transition of the education system to meet international standards, and much more.”

“For these reasons, I believe that it’s too early to open Western branch campuses here. But we are moving in that direction. At the moment, high school graduates have the opportunity to study abroad and over 35,000 of our citizens are studying in 40 countries.”

Competition shouldn’t be alarming

“The opening of well-known Western and Asian branch campuses will help increase the level of education and the image of Tajikistan, which at the same time will turn into an international education centre for the region. This could attract international students and researchers and overall, enhance the opportunities for international investment in Tajikistan,” believes Makhmadsalim Abdukarimov, Acting Deputy Director of Moscow State University in Dushanbe.

“As is known, we already have experience of opening such branch campuses,” said Abdukarimov. “For example, our campus in Dushanbe has been operating successfully for nearly 10 years, and it attracts experienced global authorities in research and teaching. Our students have the opportunity to do placements at the main university in Moscow.”

“Moscow State University graduates have a good education toolkit and are able to continue their studies or find work even in developed countries. For example, our graduate Farangis Umedzoda was accepted to study for a Master’s degree at Oxford University.”

According to Abdukarimov, there are many educational establishments in the country that teach in English. Graduates of these schools can be potential students of Western branch campuses in Tajikistan.

“Moreover, there will be competition between our HEIs and the foreign branch campuses, and this shouldn’t alarm local teachers. On the contrary, it’s all for the good of our education system. Another advantage of opening foreign branch campuses is that they are more affordable. For example, at the Moscow State branch in Dushanbe, the annual fees are $1,400.”

“Now try to imagine how much money a Tajik student would need if he or she studies in Moscow – for fees, living costs, food and much more. Using the educational experience of leading world universities and their potential is a sign of the times. And the sooner we start this process, the faster we will make progress in our education system.”


Почему в Таджикистане не открываются зарубежные вузы?

Автор: Хайдар Шодиев

Таджикские высшие учебные заведения не входят в рейтинг лучших университетов не только мира, но и стран СНГ. А филиалов известных зарубежных вузов в стране, по сути, только один – МГУ.

С чем это связано и почему в республике не спешат увеличить количество престижных иностранных вузов – в материале «АП».

Мимо рейтинга

Недавно известный британский журнал Times Higher Education (THE) опубликовал очередной ежегодный рейтинг университетов мира THE World University Rankings-2019.

Первая тройка университетов-лидеров в мире не изменилась. Первое место в рейтинге уже третий год подряд занимает Оксфордский университет, имеющий также самые лучшие показатели исследовательской деятельности (объем исследований, поступления от исследовательской деятельности и репутация). На втором и третьем местах по-прежнему остаются Кембриджский университет и Стэнфордский университет США соответственно.

Среди стран СНГ больше всего представлены вузы России – 35. В Центральной Азии лидирует Казахстан – 10 вузов страны входят в международный образовательный рейтинг QS. Вузы Таджикистана в международные рейтинги не попали.

В чём же причины подобного положения дел?

– Если говорить о критериях, которые учитываются при составлении мировых рейтингов, то это в первую очередь, научные труды и качество преподавания, – говорит начальник управления международных связей Министерства образования и науки Таджикистана Илхом Камолзода.

– Уровень научных исследований, в свою очередь, измеряется количеством и качеством научных статей, которые были опубликованы в ведущих научных журналах мира, включенных в международную реферативную базу данных Scopus.

Следующие параметры – это соотношение количества преподавателей по отношению к студентам, число иностранных студентов и преподавателей и т.д.

Камолзода отметил, что Таджикистан в настоящее время находится в периоде перехода на Болонскую систему образования.

– Кроме того, для признания вузов страны в мировом рейтинге, нужно провести международную аккредитацию специальностей наших вузов. Ну и, конечно же, как я уже указал, нужно проводить больше качественных научных исследований, готовить высококвалифицированные кадры мирового уровня. Работа в этом направлении ведётся, – говорит он.

«Старая школа распалась, новая ещё не сформировалась»

Эксперт в области образования Бахтиёр Аслиддинов считает, что причину нынешнего положения дел с отечественным высшим образованием нужно искать глубже.

– После распада СССР разрушилась единая система образования, были утрачены связи между вузами бывших советских республик, – говорит он.

– Усугубили ситуацию события 90-х, из-за которых Таджикистан покинули тысячи научных работников, ученых, преподавателей вузов. Такие известные в Союзе и за её пределами вузы республики как ТГУ им. Ленина, Политехнический и Медицинский институты лишились многих своих лучших кадров. Старая школа распалась, а новая еще не сформировалась.

Падение качества образования Бахтиёр Аслиддинов объясняет еще и тем, что в погоне за количеством руководство Минобрнауки не смогло обеспечить качественное образование во многих вузах.

– Раньше в республике было около десяти высших учебных заведений. Сейчас их более тридцати. На каждом курсе раньше было по три группы, сейчас их до десяти и более. Где найти квалифицированные кадры для всех этих вузов с огромным количеством студентов? Насколько востребованы все эти специальности, смогут ли обеспечить работой всех выпускников? Эти вопросы ещё долго не найдут ответа, – говорит специалист.

По его словам, помимо всего вышесказанного, невозможно получить качественное высшее образование, если среднее оставляет желать лучшего.

– Чтобы наши университеты котировались в мире, а выпускники были желанными работниками, нужно решать образовательную проблему в комплексе, – отметил он.

Зарубежные вузы: быть или не быть?

Открытие филиалов известных зарубежных вузов в стране – часто применяемая практика в сфере образования в мире.

В последние годы в этом направлении активно работают и наши соседи. Так, число филиалов зарубежных вузов начало расти в Казахстане, Кыргызстане, а в Узбекистане их число увеличилось за последние два года в три раза, и сейчас их там – 21!

Ситуация изменилась в конце 2017 года, когда правительство Узбекистана решило коренным образом улучшить систему образования в стране, и объявило о пятилетнем освобождении иностранных вузов от уплаты всех видов налогов и обязательных отчислений в государственные фонды. Им также разрешили не платить единый социальный платеж, и налог на доходы физлиц, в части оплаты труда иностранных работников. После этого число зарубежных филиалов резко возросло.

В Таджикистане на сегодня действуют филиалы лишь трех российских вузов – филиалы Московского государственного университета имени М.В. Ломоносова и Национального исследовательского технологического университета «МИСиС» (Московский институт стали и сплавов), а также Национального исследовательского университета «МЭИ» (Московский энергетический институт).

Об открытии в Таджикистане престижных вузов западных или азиатских стран, пока сообщений со стороны Минобрнауки не было, если не считать решения правительства страны об открытии Малайзиского университета креативных технологий Лимкоквинг в Бохтаре в 2013 году. Но этот проект так и остался невыполненным.

– Есть определенные трудности, – поясняет Илхом Камолзода. – Во многом это связано с тем, что обучение в филиалах вузов западных стран ведется на английском языке. Абитуриенты обязаны подтвердить уровень владения языком, сдав международный экзамен IELTS. Нужно подготовить базу, кадры, завершить переход системы образования на международные стандарты и многое другое.

По этим причинам, на мой взгляд, сейчас рано открывать вузы западных стран у нас. Но мы идем к этому. Пока же у выпускников школ республики есть возможность обучения в зарубежных вузах, выезжая из страны. Так, на сегодня свыше 35 тысяч наших граждан учатся за рубежом в 40 странах.

Конкуренция не должна тревожить

– Открытие филиалов известных вузов Запада и Азии будет способствовать повышению уровня образования и имиджа Таджикистана, который таким образом превратится в образовательный международный центр региона, сможет привлечь зарубежных студентов, иностранных специалистов, и в целом, будет способствовать привлечению иностранных инвестиций в РТ, – считает заместитель исполнительного директора Филиала МГУ им.Ломоносова в Душанбе Махмадсалим Абдукаримов.

– У нас, как известно, уже есть опыт открытия подобных филиалов, – говорит специалист. – Например, наш вуз вот уже 10 лет успешно ведет свою деятельность в Душанбе, к нам приезжают опытные, авторитетные в мире науки и образования преподаватели, наши студенты имеют возможность практиковаться в головном вузе в Москве.

Выпускники филиала МГУ имеют достаточный багаж образования, чтобы продолжить учебу или работать даже в развитых странах мира. Так, например, выпускница нашего вуза Фарангис Умедзода поступила в магистратуру Оксфордского университета.

По словам Абдукаримова, в республике много образовательных учреждений, где обучение проводится на английском языке. Выпускники этих школ могут стать потенциальными студентами западных вузов в республике.

– Кроме того, будет конкуренция между нашими вузами и филиалами зарубежных вузов, и она не должна тревожить местных преподавателей. Наоборот, это только на пользу нашей образовательной системе. Другое преимущество открытия филиалов зарубежных вузов – более доступная цена. Например, в филиале МГУ в Душанбе годовая оплата за обучение – $1400.

А теперь представьте, сколько денег нужно таджикскому студенту, чтобы он прошел обучение в Москве – за учебу, общежитие, питание и многое другое. Использование образовательного опыта ведущих университетов мира, их потенциал – требование времени. И чем раньше мы наладим этот процесс, тем быстрее достигнем прогресса в образовательной системе.

New university ranking for Uzbekistan

Posted on Updated on

Cat_ranking
If UniRank did cat rankings…

It was only a matter of time.

Since Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s accession to the Presidency of Uzbekistan, reforms in all spheres of life have been rapidly underway. I’ve written before about the wave of changes hitting higher education, which includes the publication of the country’s first domestic university ranking.

In the spirit of these reforms, the country has thrown itself eagerly into the worlds of ranking and competition in higher education. It is therefore unsurprising to see the publication of a new university ranking by Australian based company UniRank.

The ranking, which incorporates 65 of the country’s universities, gave points for licensing and accreditation, citations, and website visits [ru]. That’s an odd combination of indicators, not least the website hits metric for a country where internet access and use has historically been restricted and highly controlled.

Tashkent based institutions did best in the ranking, with Westminster International University (a long-running branch campus of British Westminster University) coming out on top.

The full ranking can be found on UniRank’s website.

Kyrgyz-Russian educational relations

Posted on Updated on

Kyrgyzstan cat show
The recent Bishkek Cat Exhibition brought together cats (and their owners) from Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and beyond

Ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forthcoming state visit to Kyrgyzstan [en], a flurry of announcements and events are celebrating and seeking to extend Kyrgyz-Russian educational relations.

The two countries maintain relatively good ties compared to other Russian-former Soviet bilateral relations.

In terms of language, Russian is still fairly widely spoken in Kyrgyzstan, especially in the capital Bishkek. Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov has confirmed that Russian will retain its official status [en] in Kyrgyzstan. This helps as Kyrgyzstan sends 16,000 students to study in Russian universities every year. However, students flows between the two countries are not even [en]: only 1,500 Russians come to Kyrgyzstan to study.

The Kyrgyz-Russian Slavic University [en/kg/ru] (named after Yeltsin [en], no less) is, I believe, the oldest of the six such bi-national universities, having been established in 1993 following decrees signed as early as 1992. Despite various scandals over the years, it continues to be considered one of the most prestigious universities in the country.

One of the areas for discussion when Putin and Jeenbekov meet will be the countries’ mutual involvement in regional associations such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) [en/ru] (Kyrgyzstan currently holds the presidency) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) [ru].

This may explain why Jeenbekov, addressing the first Kyrgyzstan-Russia Rectors’ Forum, on March 27, prounounced the need to reinvigorate the common educational space [ru] that had been envisaged by some of the ex-Soviet countries back in the 1990s.

The Forum was attended by 31 Kyrgyz university leaders and 40 of their Russian counterparts. As well as listening to various speeches (see the excitement on the delegates’ faces here [ru]), a raft of bilateral institutional agreements are being prepared for signature during Putin’s visit.

This includes an agreement with Russia’s top higher education institution, Lomonosov Moscow State University. I don’t have the detail of the agreement and whether it goes beyond the usual diplomatic pleasantries, but LMSU’s Rector has suggested that a branch campus [en] be opened in Kyrgyzstan*.

This would point towards much deeper cooperation between the countries more akin to that seen in neighbouring Tajikistan, where there is not only a bi-national Slavic University (opened 1996, not named after Yeltsin) but a branch of LMSU [ru] (founded 2009) as well as several other leading Russian higher education institutions.

Another interesting outcome of the Forum was the suggestion that Kyrgyzstan might join a Moscow-led international university ranking ‘The three university missions‘ [en/ru]. According to the Kyrgyz Minister of Education Gulmira Kudaibergenova, this would allow for a deeper and more objective analysis of the situation of Kyrgyzstan’s higher education institutions and connect them to their global counterparts.

Kyrgyzstan has thus far not dabbled too deeply in the murky world of university rankings. It recently employed a Kazakhstan based organization to set up a national ranking but as yet has not made the same kind of pronouncements that Kazakhstan, Russia and the like have about wanting to push one or more of its universities into the global top 100/200/etc. (I’ve written more about the trials and tribulations of university rankings in Central Asia as part of a comparison with Central & Eastern Europe and Latin America – watch out sometime later this year for that publication.)

Finally, along with the raft of bilateral agreements, expect to hear more about Kyrgyzstan’s involvement with Russian-led regional university associations such as the  Eurasian Association of Universities, Shanghai Cooperation Organization Network University and CIS Network University.

These are all attempts to create a regional space where, for example, qualifications are mutually recognized and there are greater opportunities for student and faculty mobility (just like other regional groupings such as the European Union’s Bologna Process). It’s a growing area of interest for the ex-Soviet countries, and very soon I’ll have an exciting announcement to make about higher education regionalism in this space, so watch out for that too.

 

*Added on March 28: Apparently, LMSU has attempted to open a branch campus in Kyrgyzstan multiple times [ru] since 2004 but has been thawrted each time – not through any fault of Moscow’s, LMSU Rector Sadovnichiy was quick to point out… Maybe the latest attempt will be seventh time lucky.

Resit required: Uzbekistan university rankings declared invalid

Posted on Updated on

No - grumpy cat
Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Justice says no to the first national university rankings

Just weeks after the release of Uzbekistan’s first national university rankings, it has emerged that the country’s Ministry of Justice has demanded the rankings be annulled.

This is almost unheard of: one state department publicly admonishing another. The Ministry of Justice must have serious concerns to go public with its beef against the Ministry of Higher and Vocational Education and the State Inspection agency that together compiled the rankings.

From the limited information [ru] I have been able to find, the Ministry of Justice has voided the rankings on three main grounds: legal-technical reasons, incorrect use and application of data, and lack of communication.

On the first factor, the Ministry claims that the rankings were not registered with them, nor were they subject to legal review, thus violating the requirements for the adoption of regulations. As such, the rankings cannot have any legal force or be legally binding.

On the second factor, there are claims that data presented in the rankings was either incorrect or misleading:

  • The number of international faculty in the rankings are alleged to be incorrect: some universities included what the Australians call FIFO professors (fly-in fly-out i.e. there to teach a particular subject or class rather than based at the institution longer-term) – the implication being that this massaged their rating upwards;
  • The rankings are not proportional and value quantity over quality. The use of quantitative indicators favours larger universities, who appear to be doing ‘better’ when measured against e.g. number of faculty members or degree programmes;
  • The focus of the rankings was apparently ‘one-sided’, focussing only on research activities (this does not seem to correspond with the indicators I am aware of, which also include items such as ICT resources).

On the point about lack of communication, the Ministry complains that the rankings were not shared with universities before they were published, nor were universities informed that the rankings were going ahead. This is apparently out of line with ‘international standards’ as developed by the Berlin principles on rankings of higher education institutions and the International Ranking Expert Group.

What happens next is unclear. I don’t see any response from the Ministry of Higher & Vocational Education, though that may be forthcoming. It is not evident that the rankings have been officially withdrawn, or whether there is any prospect of resolving the issues flagged by the Ministry of Justice and coming up with a revised version.

This bizarre case raises a larger issue about inter-governmental policy coordination, which in this case appears non-existent. Are departments talking with each other; are there forums for them to do so? This is not an Uzbekistan-specific issue, as some of my other research has shown.

The story also demonstrates that rankings are being taken seriously as a policy solution in Uzbekistan. This is shown by the Ministry of Justice taking such interest in the detail of the ranking and in the fact that it is connected to the work of international bodies dealing with rankings.

It would be fascinating to be behind the scenes at the Ministry of Higher & Vocational Education right now to see how (if) they are going to take this forward, but unless any reader has inside information to share, we will be limited to what our imaginations might suggest about the current machinations of Uzbek policymaking.

New publication: Emerging global players: Building institutional legitimacy in universities in Estonia and Kazakhstan

Posted on Updated on

Summer 2018 is turning out to be a productive time for book publishing: in July, a chapter I wrote with Professor Creso Sá on scientific nationalism and scientific globalism was published; late August saw the publication of my new chapter with Dr Merli Tamtik called:

Comparing post-socialist transformations book cover
Book cover of ‘Comparing Post-Socialist Transformations’

Emerging global players: Building institutional legitimacy in universities in Estonia and Kazakhstan

 

It’s out as part of an exciting new collection, Comparing Post-Socialist Transformations: Purposes, policies, and practices in education, edited by Maia Chankseliani and Iveta Silova.

Our chapter compares how Estonia and Kazakhstan are using their two flagship universities – the University of Tartu and Nazarbayev University – as tools in their broader quest to find a place towards the top of the global hierarchy of nations with high quality (and top ranking) universities.

Why compare Estonia and Kazakhstan?

Apart from the obvious sharing of 20th century educational and political history as republics of the USSR, both states have in recent decades been investing heavily in higher education reforms. They do this in their effort to transform into the much desired ‘knowledge economy’, which is basically a global panacea for all countries’ educational and labour market problems.

Adding a really interesting dimension to the comparison is the historical differences between the two countries and universities we examined. Estonia was a nation-state well before being annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940, and the the University of Tartu is one of the oldest universities in the European model, having been founded in 1632. That makes it older than any university in the United States which has a plethora of institutions in the global rankings.

At the other geographical end of the former Soviet space, Kazakhstan became an independent state only after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. It does have a deep and rich history, just not in the geographic and political formation it inherited last century. Our case study Nazarbayev University is an archetypal creation of contemporary Kazakhstan, teaching in English, recruiting academics from around the world and rapidly expanding after admitting its first students in 2010.

Building international legitimacy

To make our comparison, we used the theoretical idea of international legitimacy building. This is a dynamic process in which actors – in our case, the governments of Estonia and Kazakhstan and the two universities – discover, shape, adopt and diffuse ideas or sets of norms with the aim of enhancing their global standing.

Having a top university is one symbol of being a highly ranked nation, which is why we focused in on the flagship university in each state.

Going through the four phases of international legitimacy building, we found both patterns and divergences between the two countries. For example, strong leadership from the top in steering higher education was found in both settings, as were a series of rapid reforms to higher education made as soon as economically possible after 1991.

The clearest distinction between the two states was the much greater agency of higher education institutions in Estonia than their counterparts in Kazakhstan, where persistent centralization has only very recently started to shift towards offering universities greater autonomy.

Why is this important?

It’s never enough to say that your study is important because it is the first of its kind (although it is true that this is the first comparison of national/higher education developments in Estonia and Kazakhstan and we are pretty excited about having done this!).

We believe the chapter makes a contribution in the understanding and analysis of processes of state formation in the post-socialist space – states that are (re-)forming under intense global pressures not experienced by other countries that came into existence in the mid-20th century or earlier.

We have also used our study to raise the important question of ‘what happens next’ for states like Estonia and Kazakhstan that choose to adopt dominant global discourses. Can they get their heads above the parapets and get the universities into a global top 100 ranking? Will they have to change their systems completely to achieve what they see as ‘global best practice’? Or is there a way in which Estonia and Kazakhstan can use this global discourse to enable their universities to flourish as global players on their own terms?


Reference

Tamtik, Merli, and Emma Sabzalieva. 2018. “Emerging Global Players? Building International Legitimacy in Universities in Estonia and Kazakhstan.” In Comparing Post-Socialist Transformations: Education in Eastern Europe and Former Soviet Union, edited by Maia Chankseliani and Iveta Silova, 127–45. Oxford: Symposium Books.


More details about the book including a useful summary and chapter listing can be found at: http://www.symposium-books.co.uk/bookdetails/104/

Under copyright rules, I am not allowed to freely distribute our chapter. Sorry. But if you are based at a university or college, would you encourage your library to stock a copy? Thank you to Max Antony-Newman for requesting a copy for the University of Toronto library already!

Alternatively, if you would like to buy a copy, I can help you get one with an extremely respectable 50% author discount. Please drop me a note to follow up.

Uzbekistan releases first university ranking

Posted on Updated on

Five years after the government resolved to introduce a national university ranking, Uzbekistan’s first domestic higher education league table was announced in July 2018 [ru].

23 indicators were used to assess state-funded universities and institutes. These covered students’ learning outcomes, curriculum quality, faculty composition, research activity and classroom and ICT resources.

All 57 public higher education institutions (HEIs) were covered by the league table. Foreign branch campuses were not included in the ranking.

Nine of the top ten universities are located in the capital Tashkent with the National University of Uzbekistan unsurprisingly taking the top spot. In the former Soviet system, the ‘National’ university would previously have been the ‘State’ university and was the flagship university in each republic. In parts of the Soviet Union like Uzbekistan which did not have a history of formal higher education, the State universities were often the first to be founded in the republic.

The National University of Uzbekistan, which was upgraded from State to National in 2000, claims 1918 as its founding year, making it the oldest university in the Central Asia region. It has a fantastically interesting history, being born in the glow of revolutionary fervour as the Turkestan People’s University. I won’t get into that now, but check out my 2017 post on Central Asia’s first universities if, like me, university history floats your boat.

My point in mentioning the year of foundation is that – as in many national higher education systems – age is equated with prestige. When you think of a prestigious university in England, you tend to think of Oxford or Cambridge (whether you like them or not). Of course, universities don’t always get better with age, and sometimes a new institution comes along that competes for the top spot. In Kazakhstan, for example, just look at Nazarbayev University, one of my favourite case studies: see posts here, here and here.

Another interesting observation on the top ten is that it is dominated by specialist institutes, with eight out of the ten specializing in a particular area. Four specialize in engineering or technology, two in medicine/allied subjects and two in the humanities. The narrow specialization typical of the Soviet period appears to persist – just take a look at number three on the list.

2380738-1462597759167-congrats_cat
Super cute kittens all round for Uzbekistan’s top HEIs

Without further ado, here are the top ten HEIs in Uzbekistan:

  1. National University of Uzbekistan
  2. Tashkent State Institute of Oriental Studies
  3. Tashkent Institute of Agricultural Irrigation and Mechanization Engineering
  4. Tashkent Institute of Textiles and Light Industry
  5. Samarkand State University
  6. Tashkent Medical Academy
  7. Tashkent State Dentistry Institute
  8. Uzbek State University of World Languages
  9. Tashkent Institute of Railway Engineering
  10. Tashkent University of Information Technology

Before signing off (or getting into a discussion about the relative worth of rankings), I should point out that Uznews has also published the HEIs that performed least well in the rankings.

In a reverse of the top 10, almost all of the bottom 10 are located outside Tashkent. There is clearly a centre/periphery divide at play here.

There are also three teaching training (pedagogical) institutes in the bottom ranked group and none in the top 10. During interviews for my PhD thesis, a number of respondents talked about a decline in quality at these institutes in neighbouring settings, and it’s a worrying tendency given that these institutes are producing the teachers who will prepare the university students of the future.

And so, to end, here is that ‘name and shame’ bottom 10:

48. Namagan Engineering and Technology Institute
49. Navoi State Pedagogical Institute
50. Qarshi Engineering and Economics Institute
51. Qarshi State University
52. Jizzakh Polytechnic Institute
53. Samarkand State Architecture and Building Institute
54. Uzbekistan State Institute of Art and Culture
55. National Institute of Arts and Design
56. Jizzakh State Pedagogical Institute
57. Kokand State Pedagogical Institute

Ranking corruption in Kazakh universities

Posted on Updated on

I-am-hiding---cat-meme
No corruption in this department to report…

A recurring theme for higher education in Central Asia is corruption. A quick search of my blog turns up story after story that I’ve written on this topic and that would only be scratching the surface.

I know this is not only a problem for Central Asia, or even the broader former Soviet space. Just this week I was talking to a friend who’s doing amazing fieldwork in Iraq on the possible future for higher education there, but she too has found that corruption is a significant hindrance to positive change.

It’s not a new problem for Central Asia/former Soviet space either. Despite the ostensible equality of the Soviet period, the hierarchy of universities was well known (Moscow State at the narrow top of a pyramid) and well-connected / politically regime-friendly parents had a much greater chance of getting their child into a ‘top’ university than your everyday farmer or labourer.

This deeply embedded legacy hasn’t stopped Kazakhstan from attempting to claw away at some of the corrupt practices still found in its higher education system. Presumably the policy rationale here is part of the government’s push to ‘modernize’ the country to the point that it becomes a top 30 world economy.

Earlier this year, the State Service and Anti-Corruption Agency in Kazakhstan opened an office embedded in the country’s leading university, Al Farabi Kazakh National University. The office is leading a project called Sanaly Urpaq, which amongst other things is developing a corruption index [ru] for the country’s higher education institutions.

A trial at the National University surveyed students and academics on topics like the extent to which profs embody professional values and the transparency of the educational process.

After analysing all the data, Sanaly Urpaq produced an anti-corruption rating of the departments at the National University which was ‘widely discussed’ at the university’s Academic Board, according to Liter News Agency [ru].

This format of surveys followed by a departmental ranking (the Kazakhs do love their rankings) will now be rolled out across the country. The idea is that this ‘name and shame’ exercise will nudge the country’s higher education institutions into taking concrete measures to combat corruption.

I think this latest ranking exercise is significant because it’s a sign that not only does the government recognize that corruption exists, but that it understands that this is a persistent problem in higher education. The idea of embedding the project office in the country’s leading university is also novel and hopefully will encourage a shared sense of ownership of the need to combat corruption.

I would love to hear from colleagues working in Kazakh universities and institutes to know whether this project is being taken seriously by professors and university management. Both groups absolutely have to be on board for any real change to take place.

I’ve been blogging about higher education in Central Asia for nearly seven years, and it would be great not to have to write about corruption so much! So on this flimsy basis alone, I hope that this project paves the way for reform in Kazakhstan.

How to choose a university in Kazakhstan

Posted on Updated on

7f0377161781ef9e82187187f78b14a69060f5fcfdca46ec0a932b4ec4eafefeWith a plethora of institutional offerings, deciding what, where and how to study are perennial questions for prospective students around the world.

Here’s what Yelena Pak of Kazakhstan’s Delovoi [Business] Kazakhstan news agency [ru] suggests you should look out for if you’re going to apply in Kazakhstan.

Rankings

University rankings are a hot topic in Kazakhstan, which seeks to ‘modernize’ its economy and society and to that end has joined pretty much every quantifiable measure of progress on offer.

Pak notes that Al-Farabi Kazakh National University takes national pride of (236th) place in the global QS World University Rankings. As she notes, this ranks Al-Farabi higher than the University of East Anglia in the UK, Miami U in the US and St Petersburg State University.

A number of other Kazakh universities have ‘progressed well’ in the rankings, says Pak. These include Gumilov Eurasian National University, Satpayev Kazakh National Research Technical University and Abai National Pedagogical University.

Kazakhstan now has its own national university ranking system produced by the independent Kazakh Quality Assurance Agency. This covers around a third of the country’s universities. Pak suggests that applicants also take a look at these ratings.

Study abroad or at home?

An option taken up by around 10,000 Kazakhs a year is to seek higher education abroad. Most head to neighbouring Russia, which not only shares a border with Kazakhstan but also membership of the Eurasian Economic Union and (for now at least) a common alphabet and language.

Other Kazakh students are scattered around the world, drawn by factors including availability of subjects and specializations that are not offered at home, the chance to study and live in a different culture and so on.

Cost

Pak bemoans the lack of information on university websites on the cost of study and living. This would certainly be a helpful addition for applicants who have not yet firmed up their study options.

Whilst tuition fees are now commonplace in Kazakhstan, it is still possible to study for free if you perform well enough on the Unified Entrance Examination. In 2017, the Ministry of Education will be giving out vouchers, the idea being that students can then apply the voucher (effectively a full fee waiver and a guarantee of the student’s high quality) at any institution in the country.

Quality

Pak points out that the university rankings Kazakhs are becoming so fond of are not very good at telling you about quality.

By this she infers the quality of the program (course), the depth and breadth of linkages between the university and other partners, and graduate career prospects.

This may be a temporary oversight. With the rush to measure and assess universities, it is surely only a matter of time before university choice in Kazakhstan is spelled out in even more detail.

I wonder, though, whether this will leave prospective students just as confused as they are now, only this time suffering from too much, rather than too little, information!

Higher education in Russia and beyond

Posted on

I welcome the launch of a new bulletin, Higher Education in Russia and Beyond (HERB). Published in English by Moscow-based Higher School of Economics as a supplement to International Higher Education [ru], the bulletin aims

to present current Russian, Central Asian and Eastern European educational trends to the international higher education research community.

Aside from boasting the best acronym I’ve come across for a long time, HERB represents an important new regional perspective on higher education, a field that has long been dominated by North American and European-centric views. Further, the Soviet period has left a strong imprint on higher education in the post-Soviet sphere that can sometimes make comparisons with other higher education systems challenging. I hope that this new bulletin will genuinely represent regional views (not just Russian analysis, although I accept that it’s a Russian-led publication and that in terms of quantity, most universities in the region are in Russia).

Of particular interest to my research in the first issue is a short article by Dmitry Semyonov of the Higher School of Economics, which looks at the Russian excellence initiative in the post-Soviet context. The Russian excellence initiative, like similar programmes in Germany and China, represents significant government investment in enhancing quality in a selective number of universities by investing in their research, buying in international faculty and otherwise driving towards recognition in global university rankings.,

Semyonov places post-Soviet government policies on a scale that ranges from ‘environmental’ to ‘selective’. ‘Environmental’ policies broadly support and invest in higher education with a view to encouraging the university system to become more in line with the Bologna Process, i.e. more European in feel and outlook. At the other end are the ‘selective’ state policies that, like Russia, look to develop a small group of universities to compete internationally. Semyonov calls Kazakhstan the most distinctive case in this group with the government’s emphasis on developing a single institution (Nazarbayev University).

In concluding, however, Semyonov notes that a number of countries in the post-Soviet sphere – notably Central Asia and the Caucasus,

have very limited opportunities and are unlikely to launch a program similar to the Russian one. Quality of teaching, equal access to high-quality education, lack of competent staff, and [an] unstable economic basis of higher education are considered to be more pressing issues…

There’s a whiff of the Russian post-colonialist in this concluding statement, but also more than a grain of truth. However, Semyonov might look to a higher education system like Singapore’s or Malaysia’s where the government has (mostly successfully) tackled a number of serious problems in higher education simultaneously, such is their impatience to improve the country’s standing. That said, where those countries prosper, many of the Central Asian and Caucasian states do not, and the ‘unstable economic basis’ seems to me the most compelling barrier to progress in those countries.

 

Reference

Semyonov, D. Russian excellence initiative in the post-Soviet context, Higher Education in Russia and Beyond, 1, spring 2014,  http://herb.hse.ru/data/2014/05/30/1325398755/1HERB_01_Spring.pdf (accessed 08.07.14)