Tajik students not allowed to attend foreign-run events

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Having read about this last week, I was all set to think about the implications of the rather bizarre announcement from the Tajik Ministry of Education that they would be banning students from attending events run by foreign organisations. However, the kind people at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting have done this for me, so please find below a reprint of Galim Fastukhdinov’s article. You can also access it at http://iwpr.net/report-news/tajik-students-warned-foreign-events; (c) IWPR.

 

Tajik Students Warned Off “Foreign” Events

Fears that government wants to limit young people’s contact with ideas from abroad.
1 Nov 12
 

New instructions barring students in Tajikistan from attending events funded by foreign donors have alarmed civil society groups, who fear the measure will deny young people opportunities to broaden their horizons.

Commentators struggling to understand the decision have speculated that the authorities are acting out of fears that young people will become politicised by events which focus on democracy-building or leadership skills.

On October 8, the Central Asian state’s education ministry sent out written instructions to the heads of all universities, telling them to stop students participating in conferences, seminars and training courses arranged by international organisations, as such events were against the law.

The move came as a shock, as the Tajik government – which itself receives a lot of donor assistance – does not have a record of clamping down on activities run by international agencies or by local NGOs with funding from abroad.

When the media got hold of the education ministry document, it prompted fierce discussions.

In an attempt to take some of the heat out of the debate, the deputy education minister Farhod Rahimov, who put his name to the instruction, said the sole intention was to ensure that students turned up for classes, and said they were free to go to events in their spare time.

In an interview for IWPR, the head of the ministry’s international relations department, Tamara Nasimova, took a similar line, insisting there was no plan to shut out foreign influence, and pointing out that individual universities as well as the ministry itself had a free hand to set up international ties.

At the same time, Nasimova made it clear the education authorities were concerned about certain unspecified foreign groups which got young people involved in their activities without informing the relevant official bodies.

“No one knows what training methods they use or what they intend to teach young people,” she said, noting that the ministry wanted the organisers of such events to inform it and the university administration about the aim, number of participants and so on.

She said the ministry had refused to grant the London-based group International Alert permission to hold a one-week student camp this autumn, and had suggested postponing it until next summer.

In some cases, university administrators appear to be so keen to be following ministry orders that they have imposed their own, more rigorous rules.

The German Academic Exchange Service, DAAD, for example, found that a planned meeting with students to brief them and test their language skills was cancelled. DAAD has a cooperation agreement in place with the education ministry, and had advance agreement for the October 23 event, in the northern city of Khujand.

DAAD representative Gulchehra Kakharova said the last-minute cancellation by Khujand university came as a blow to students who had been preparing for the test in the hope of winning scholarships to study in Germany.

Shokirjon Hakimov, deputy leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party, said he suspected the government wanted to prevent students becoming more politically aware and developing a better knowledge of events in the outside world.

“Participating in foreign [-funded] programmes and projects gives them an opportunity to develop leadership skills and engage with global trends,” he said.

Hakimov said the authorities might be especially nervous because the 2013 presidential election was coming up, and he also drew parallels with the Russian government’s clampdown on foreign-funded NGOs.

In Tajikistan, he said, there was little chance that civil society groups could source funding locally, so a more restrictive attitude to foreign funding would really squeeze them.

Farrukh Umarov, a researcher at Tajikistan’s Centre for Strategic Studies, said the ministry instruction followed by a public outcry followed a familiar pattern.

The government had a habit of imposing blanket bans on anything it considered a threat, without trying to test the public mood first, he said. The education ministry had previously outlawed both Islamic dress and miniskirts.

“In our country, a radical decision gets made without preparing public opinion for it. Then it’s implemented and leads to an outcry,” Umarov said.

Students at Tajik universities fear they will lose out on opportunities for contact with the outside world.

“Educational programmes run by international organisations have been useful because they offer us a chance to learn more than we’re taught at university,” a student in the capital Dushanbe said.

Asking not to be named, the student said he feared he could be expelled from his university if he continued attending events of this kind.

Another student asked, “What’s so bad about this? Take foreign-language courses, for instance. They haven’t had a negative impact on my studies. Now we’ll lose out on this.”

Galim Faskhutdinov is an IWPR contributor in Tajikistan.

If you would like to comment or ask a question about this story, please contact our Central Asia editorial team at feedback.ca@iwpr.net.

 

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3 responses »

  1. Ok, I really wanted to share my thought on this. Now I think it is the right time to do so.

    First, the Education Ministry’s ban on students’ participation in the activities of foreign- (read Western) funded NGOs is nothing new. As far back as in 2003, universities in Tajikistan were restricting their students’ partaking in events organized by certain NGOs. I was closed to being kicked out of the Russian-Tajik Slavonic University for attending a seminar run by Freedom House (despite being told by the dean not to do so). Other ‘blacklisted’ organizations included OSI, NDI, and Internews. The Ministry might have now simply formalized what has long been an informal rule that many universities simply didn’t care to uphold.

    Second, I am inclined to support the Ministry’s position that students should not be allowed to take time off their studies to attend NGO-organized events. I taught for two years at a Tajik university and I was always frustrated when the most talented students were frequently absent to partake in seminars and other similar activities. There are rules at universities about student attendance, and students have to follow these rules.

    International organizations and local NGOs organizing events for students understand that not many people would be willing to attend such events during summer breaks. Therefore, they are trying to schedule their events some time during the academic year. In other words, in an attempt to ensure as wider participation in their events as possible, IOs and NGOs are frequently willing to disregard local universities’ rules and procedures on student attendance.

    Third, of course, I do understand that in imposing this ban the ministry wasn’t concerned only about student attendance. Yes, the ban seems to have political underpinnings. And yes, students at Tajik universities rarely miss that much by taking several days off and attending seminars. Still, there are certain rules of the game, codified in official university statuses and regulations. And these rules should be respected by students as well as by NGOs and IOs.

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    • Hi Alexander,

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments. I totally agree with you about the need for any organisations (foreign or local) to be more considerate of students’ timetables. There must be nothing more frustrating for a lecturer to see a poorly-attended class. Why do you think that foreign organisations in particular are so insensitive to this? Is it that they don’t know (ignorance) or they don’t care (imperialistic)?

      I am not convinced that the MoE was mainly motivated by student attendance. If that is a problem (which, let’s face it, we know it is: as well as attending NGO etc events, many students have paid jobs or family duties), I think the MoE could have dealt with it through the universities, rather than making a direct proclamation focussing on this one aspect of non-attendance.

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      • I think the main reason why foreign organizations – and their local partners – are insensitive about local university rules is because they don’t care that much. They are keen on bringing as many students as possible to their events, with little regard for what universities of the MoE has to say about it.

        Of course, attendance wasn’t the main motivation for MoE. But, whatever the motivation, the Ministry has all the rights to demand that students abide by the existing rules and regulations.

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