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.
With 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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)
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.
For more on the CSTO, see http://www.eurasianet.org/taxonomy/term/1738, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collective_Security_Treaty_Organization, and its own website, http://www.odkb-csto.org/.
Reposted from http://en.trend.az/news/society/2106020.html, (c) trend.az
Uzbekistan, Tashkent, Jan. 8 / Trend D.Azizov /
The Uzbek Cabinet of Ministers has adopted a decree ‘On the introduction of a rating system of the republic’s higher education institutions’.
According to the decree, the university rating system will be introduced starting this year.
The ranking of universities will be based on the systematic collection and creation of database characterising the level and quality of universities’ scientific and teaching activities and evaluating the received indicators in accordance with the established criteria.
According to the decree, the structure of the university ranking system includes an index of teaching quality of 35 per cent, student and graduate qualification index – 20 per cent, scientific potential of high school – 35 per cent, and other indicators – 10 per cent.
Developing the ranking of the republic’s universities and its assessment is being vested to the State Testing Centre under the Cabinet of Ministers.
Further improvement of the universities’ ranking methodology are according to the results of expert and employer polls, considering the progressive experience of leading international rating organisations and priorities for development of the country’s higher education system is also entrusted to the centre.
In addition, the State Testing Centre will develop analytical reports on the state of higher education in the country based on the ratings and present it to the government with concrete proposals for further improvement of the organisation and efficiency of universities’ scientific and teaching activities as well as the level and quality of developing highly qualified specialists.
An annual publication provided before March 1 and coverage of results on university ranking in the media is planned on the results of conducted work.
There are 58 universities in Uzbekistan, 28 in Tashkent, six in Samarkand, four in Andijan, three high universities in Bukhara, Namangan, two in Ferghana, Jizzakh, Nukus and Karshi and one in Termez, Urgench, Navoi, and Kokand.
In addition, seven branches of foreign universities are currently functioning in the country admission quotas of which the following are determined separately – Westminster International University, branches of Moscow State University, the Russian State University of Oil and Gas named after Gubkin, Russian Economic Academy named after Plekhanov, Management Development Institute of Singapore, Polytechnic University of Turin and the mission of Nagoya University, which is selecting and organising the education of college and high school graduates in higher education institutions in Japan, as well as students and graduates of Uzbek universities and other Central Asian countries based on grants from the Japanese government.