A World Bank-funded project in Tajikistan that I first wrote about last year has now seen the implementation of a Unified Entrance Examination for university admissions under the remit of the National Testing Centre, a recent report notes. The purpose of the exam is two-fold: it aims both to widen participation in higher education and also remove some of the scope for corruption that has previously been widespread.
The first cohort of applicants to start university having taken this exam began their studies in September 2014. The good news is that 41% of those enrolling are female, compared to 30% the previous year. There’s some way to go before Tajikistan can compare to OECD countries, where the majority of university graduates are now female, but it’s certainly an encouraging move for greater gender equality.
A further angle that the National Testing Centre has focussed on is awareness raising in rural communities, of which not only are there many in Tajikistan, but many of which are hard to access owing to poor infrastructure and the mountains that cover 93% of the country’s landmass.
The 30% increase in the number of candidates applying to university can be seen as a sign that the first aim has in part been met (though I couldn’t find data on whether there had been an increase in traditionally under-represented groups in Tajik universities other than the gender point made above).
The second objective of making the admissions process more transparent is reported positively in the World Bank article using first person testimony from students who took the exam. The concept that admission to university is based on what you know, not who you know, sets students up for a more positive experience of higher education where their talents, not their means, are recognised. It will take many more years to remove other elements of corruption from higher education, but this is a positive step if the country wishes to train skilled graduates and retain them in Tajikistan to develop its longer term potential.
Here’s the critical quote from this World Bank press release reporting on the end of a five year Russian government funded project:
…improved education is fundamental to alleviating poverty and improving economic competitiveness
So says their Tajikistan country project manager Patricia Veevers-Carter. The purpose of the project was to introduce a standard university admissions test in Tajikistan, along the lines used by other countries and introduced in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan in 2002.
The admissions test is part of the remit of the National Testing Centre (NTC) established by the Tajik government in 2008. The NTC intends to undertake other assessments to inform educational policy and contribute towards the improved education that the World Bank underlines as being of such critical importance to the country’s development.
The early results are impressive: a 30% increase in the number taking the admissions test between 2013 and 2014. That figure masks a poor female participation rate at only 33% of the total number, which, sadly, is in keeping with the current enrolment breakdown by gender.
In the Kyrgyz case, it has been said that the university admissions test is a ‘a success story in the struggle to
eliminate corruption and nepotism from post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan’s education system’ (Smith, 2012), moving away from the informal practice of either paying under the table for admission or getting in because someone you know is able to negotiate a place for you.
So there may be lessons for Tajikistan to learn from the Kyrgyz experience, but there is still a long way to go before improvements to higher education in Tajikistan become fundamentally embedded. Starting with admissions, reforms are needed throughout the student journey, from funding to corruption to post-study employment.
Smith, M, Kyrgyzstan Trying to Systematize University Admissions, Curbing Corruption, EurasiaNet, 29.05.2012