university rankings

Resit required: Uzbekistan university rankings declared invalid

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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)

New university league for Eurasia

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The Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) has set up a University League to ‘ensure comprehensive, systematic scientific and methodological support for the development of the international Eurasian community in the spheres of the economy, science and technology, legal fundamentals and the philosophy of human life.’

It’s not aiming to capture all universities in the member countries (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan; Serbia and Afghanistan have observer status) but to focus on the best national universities. 25 founding members set the League up in April 2014.

See http://itar-tass.com/ural-news/1137780 [ru] and http://en.itar-tass.com/world/715038 [en] for further details.

For more on the CSTO, see http://www.eurasianet.org/taxonomy/term/1738http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collective_Security_Treaty_Organization, and its own website, http://www.odkb-csto.org/.