Tag Archives: Russia

Can’t pay? Won’t pay? Russian goverment fails to pay salaries and stipends in Tajikistan

Standard
RTSU

Russian-Tajik Slavonic (also called Slavic) University, Dushanbe, Tajikistan

Once known as Tajikistan’s most prestigious higher education institution, the Russian-Tajik Slavonic University (RTSU) in the country’s capital Dushanbe, has certainly fallen from grace in recent years.

Last October, I reported on a sad and disturbing story about a student at RTSU being set upon by fellow coursemates, ostensibly simply for speaking up in class.

The lustre of the joint partnership between former master Russia and its humble (and generally obliging) servant Tajikistan has been decisively dulled in the light of a recent report from Fergana News [ru] claiming that faculty members have not been receiving salaries and students have not been able to obtain stipends for three months now. Some students are now so hard up that that they can’t even afford to take public transport to get to university, according to the article.

This inaction on the part of the Russian state has been put down to the “economic crisis” in Russia. This “crisis” has been brewing for a couple of years, bringing together causes and effects: declining global oil prices, sanctions imposed after the annexation of the Crimea, reduced investment, high inflation and currency devaluation (see this February 2016 article from RFE/RL [en] for more). Its impact is already felt in Tajikistan, where anywhere up to around 1 million of the 8 million population are attempting to make a living as migrant workers in Russia, and from where remittances sent back home plummeted by nearly 50% in 2015 [en].

Thus the students and faculty members are caught up in a bigger struggle, and likely viewed by the Russian government as insignificant in comparison to the other issues Russia faces. The academic profession in Tajikistan has been hit hard over the last 25 years – salaries and working conditions have diminished, with many lecturers needing to seek private employment or multiple jobs to make ends meet. Corruption in the form of payment for admissions and bribes for results is rampant. As a result, the quality and reputation of higher education is frequently questionable.

The disregard being shown to RTSU faculty and students is yet another blow for higher education in Tajikistan. With more than a hint of resignation mixed with frustration, one anonymous lecturer summed this up succinctly in the Fergana News piece:

Мы уже привыкли к таким задержкам в январе-феврале, но обычно в марте нам выплачивали всю задолженность. А в этом году денег до сих пор нет. Каждую неделю обещают. Зарплаты и так невелики, да еще и не получаем вовремя.

We’re used to payment delays in January and February, but we usually get everything we’re owed in March. But this year there’s been nothing. Every week they promise to pay. The salaries aren’t even high and we still don’t get paid on time.

Like many others, I will be keeping my fingers crossed that the Russian government alleviates what must be becoming an increasingly pressured and uncomfortable environment at RTSU as soon as possible.

 

 

The top 10 ranking no university wants to join

Standard

Another week, another university league table? Are you getting bored of Buzzfeed-esque listicles? Are you tired of listening to yet another Vice-Chancellor/Provost tell you how well their university has performed in the latest round of classifications?

Then how about this: here’s a league table that I guarantee no university would want to join. I can promise you that you wouldn’t be on the receiving end of a self-congratulatory memo from the Press Office saying what a fantastic achievement this is for the university (although of course we don’t really believe in rankings)…

The league table of fraud

This set of rankings is the result of more than three years of hard work by Russian networking community Dissernet, through a project they have called “Disserpedia” [ru]. The project examined the content of theses at doctoral and post-doctoral* level at 235 institutions and has come up with the top 10 universities in Russia where degrees are most likely to be falsely awarded.

Entry into this insalubrious elite is based on finding five or more instances of fraud. There are no fewer than three categories of deceit:

  • Plagiarism – unattributed use of other people’s works, or breaching Ministry of Education and Science citation regulations;
  • Falsification – making up articles or fabricating research results;
  • Procedures – violating procedural or administrative regulations for thesis preparation and defence.

Shockingly, the Dissernet researchers found evidence of five or more instances of fraud at nearly 90% of the institutions they investigated (207 out of 235).

The top 10

And without further ado, here is the Disserpedia Top 10 Fraud Factories:

  1. Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation, Moscow
  2. St Petersburg State University of Economics
  3. Plekhanov Russian University of Economics, Moscow
  4. Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration
  5. Razumovsky Moscow State University of Technologies and Management
  6. Moscow State Automobile and Road Construction University
  7. Moscow State Pedagogical University
  8. Prioksky State University, Oryol
  9. Yevdokimov Moscow State University of Medicine and Dentistry
  10. Moscow State Institute of International Relations

Note that ALL TEN are state (i.e. publicly funded) institutions… The mind boggles…

Read on to learn more about the methodology to this madness.

How does it work?

On the Disserpedia website (all in Russian), you can search by institution, by location or even by the number of fraudulent instances found thus far. There is also an A-Z listing if you want to search for an individual by name.

I picked a person at random to see what the data analysis looks like. Enter Yuliya Neudakhina, currently Assistant Professor in the State and Muncipal Management Department at Nalchik’s Kabardino-Balkarian State Agricultural University in the Caucasus of southern Russia. Her entry in the Disserpedia first includes information such as what her thesis was on, when she defended it, who her supervisor was, and the composition of the thesis committee.

Then you get to the heart of the fraud. This is a table (screenshot below) showing exactly which parts of the thesis are copied from where. In the schema, grey represents the title page, index and so on that are not included in the analysis. In Neudakhina’s case, four other colours (bright pink, light purple, bright blue and olive green) represent other doctoral theses that she has plagiarised. You can immediately see that the vast majority of her dissertation is simply a cut-and-paste job.

 

Dissernetexampe

Underneath the schema there are a some additional observations on specific instances of dubious behaviour. For example, one reads: “In copying (in our view) the text of Yelena Zdorova’s dissertation [shown in light purple], Orienburg Region has been replaced by the Kabardino-Balkarian Republic. On page 50 (in our opinion) the region and year has been changed but the rest of the text has been retained. It did read: ‘According to Expert Journal, in 2003 Orienburg Region was ranked 29th based on its innovation potential and 47th place for risk to investors…’. It has become: ‘According to Expert Journal, in 2009 the Kabardino-Balkarian Republic was ranked 29th based on its innovation potential and 47th place for risk to investors…'”.

This is mind-blowing stuff.

 

*Russia offers two forms of doctoral degree (although is shifting towards to the European three stage certification of Bachelor – Master – PhD). These are “Kandidat Nauk”, which is closest to the PhD, and “Doktor Nauk”, a higher degree similar to the “habilitation” degree awarded in some European countries.

Sources

Dissernet – http://www.dissernet.org/

Colta (independent community based Russian news) – http://www.colta.ru/news/10394

Wikipedia (it pains me to cite this other ‘pedia, but on this occasion I found their English language page very helpful…) – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dissernet

Central Asia: what lies ahead? (updated)

Standard

Happy new year! This is my fifth year of blogging on Central Asia, focussing on issues relating to higher education and social change. I open the year with an interesting analytical think piece from global intelligence agency Stratfor that attempts to surmise what the future might hold for the region. It’s available on their website at https://www.stratfor.com/analysis/central-asia-different-kind-threat and copied below, (c) Stratfor 2016.

*UPDATE* 7 January 2016: Hot on the heels of Stratfor’s piece, I read another similar ‘future gazing’ article from Middle Eastern site Al-Monitor. This one is authored by Turkish journalist Zülfikar Doğan. It is written in the same realist vein as the Stratfor article, i.e. using states as the main actors of analysis. Though focussing more on Turkey’s role, I’d argue that the piece comes to somewhat similar conclusions. This article is copied below underneath the Stratfor article, is (c) Al-Monitor/Zülfikar Doğan and is also available at http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/01/turkey-losing-its-standing-in-central-asia-after-middle-east.html.

The Stratfor article generated some interesting discussions (see the Comments section at the end of the piece) and I’d love to know your thoughts on the Al-Monitor story too.

Central Asia: A Different Kind of Threat

JANUARY 1, 2016 | 10:15 GMT

Editor’s Note: This is the last installment of a five-part series that explores the past, present and future of the confrontation between Russia and the West on the Eurasian landmass. Part one explored the origins of the conflict, part two examined Ukraine, part three looked at Eastern Europe, and part four considered the Caucasus

Much like the Caucasus, Central Asia serves as a relatively new but no less important staging ground for the ongoing competition between Russia and the West. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the region has been somewhat of a melange of indecision and opportunism: Kazakhstan has stayed close with Russia, while Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have stayed relatively neutral. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, on the other hand, have had difficulty settling on which foreign patron to support as violent upheavals have swung their foreign policies back and forth.

Over the coming decades, instability and internal conflict will continue to pose the greatest threats to the region as the influence of Russia and the West in Central Asia fades. But in their place, two new powers will rise that will shape the future of the region: Turkey and China.

Analysis

Throughout history, powerful empires, including Persian, Mongol and Turkish empires, have fought to control Central Asia. Russia did not join the fray until the late 18th century. When it did, its expansion into the region was gradual, starting in the area that is now Kazakhstan. From there, it slowly penetrated southward into modern-day Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

The Russian Empire’s initial forays into Central Asia coincided with the British Empire’s expansion into the Indian subcontinent, giving rise to what would be known as the Great Game, a long-running battle for regional control. Imperial Russia wanted an outlet to the sea and a buffer between potentially hostile powers in Asia, be they indigenous peoples or imperial armies. Afghanistan would later become just that, separating the Russian and British empires and eventually playing an important role in subsequent conflicts between Russia and the West in Central Asia.

Though the Russian Empire’s collapse in 1917 led to a brief and unstable period of independence in Central Asia, its Soviet successor would once again pull the region into its orbit in the following decade. Soviet rule dramatically changed the politics of Central Asia. Peoples from other parts of the Soviet bloc were forced to resettle throughout the region, while Russification programs emphasized the adoption of Russian language and customs. Central Asia became closed off to the West and to the Muslim states surrounding it, including Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan.

However, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 accelerated the bloc’s undoing and gave the West the upper hand in the Cold War. Substantial support from the West, especially the United States, enabled the Afghan mujahideen to counter the Soviet military’s efforts to prop up the communist government in Kabul. This exposed the Soviet Union’s military weakness and drained its economic and political resources, reducing Moscow’s ability to continue contending with the West on a global scale.

The Past 25 Years: The Afghan Conflict Creates Volatility

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, each of the five Central Asian states — Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan — gained their independence. With the exception of Tajikistan, which descended into a chaotic civil war almost immediately, all installed their former Communist Party secretaries as their new presidents.

In Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, Central Asia’s two largest states, these presidents have remained in power at the head of highly centralized political systems ever since. Under President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan has maintained a close relationship with Russia by joining the Moscow-led Customs Union (now the Eurasian Union) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization military alliance. Though it has relied on the West to develop its large oil and natural gas resources, Kazakhstan has remained tied to Russia strategically. Uzbekistan, however, has remained neutralunder President Islam Karimov’s rule, eschewing alliances with both Russia and the West. While it did host U.S. and NATO military bases for a time during the West’s war in Afghanistan, it later closed them after the West raised concerns over human rights abuses. Uzbekistan has also retained close economic ties with Russia but has avoided participating in Moscow-led integration projects.

Like Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan has attempted to keep its distance from both Russia and the West. President Gurbanguly Berdimukhammedov has maintained his predecessor’s isolationist policies, keeping power highly centralized under his office. Though Turkmenistan initially sent most of its considerable natural gas output to Russia, in recent years it has rerouted much of its supplies to China amid a steep drop in Russian imports. Meanwhile, Turkmenistan continues to explore other export options, including the Trans-Caspian and TAPI pipelines to Europe and South Asia. In the wake of the crisis in Ukraine, Europe has been particularly interested in courting Turkmenistan as an alternative natural gas supplier to Russia, though the Kremlin has so far been successful in halting projects that would send Turkmen natural gas to the Continent. Now approached by the West, Russia and China, Turkmenistan continues to seek a balance between all three without formally aligning with any of them.

Unlike their other Central Asian neighbors, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have been politically unstable since the fall of the Soviet Union. In Kyrgyzstan, revolutions took place in 2005 and 2010; the first brought to power an administration friendly with the West and the second replaced that government with one that favors Russia. Since then, Kyrgyzstan has strengthened its ties to the Kremlin, joining the Eurasian Union and allowing Russia to expand its military presence in the country while expelling the United States from the Manas air base in 2014. In Tajikistan, civil war raged from 1992 to 1997, when the pro-Russia faction led by President Emomali Rakhmon emerged victorious. Rakhmon has ruled the country ever since, pulling it closer to Russia, particularly in terms of security and military cooperation.

Along with each country’s unique circumstances, the evolution of Russia’s relationship with the West inAfghanistan has shaped the rivalry in Central Asia. At the start of the U.S. invasion and during NATO’s occupation of Afghanistan in the early 2000s, both sides cooperated extensively. In fact, Russia brokered access to strategic military bases and lines of supply in Central Asia on behalf of U.S. and Western forces. But as the war dragged on, Moscow grew fearful of the West’s intention to maintain a long-term military presence in the region, potentially challenging Russia’s role as a regional heavyweight. Central Asian states then evicted Western forces from their bases and severed their supply routes. Now, with the Taliban and the Islamic State gaining strength in Afghanistan, Russia and the United States are lobbying for competing border security initiatives with the countries of Central Asia.

The Next 25 Years: Other Powers Overtake Russia and the West

As in the rest of the former Soviet periphery, the competition between Russia and the West will be heavily influenced by the demographic changes set to take place in Central Asia in the next 25 years. But unlike Eastern Europe and the Orthodox countries in the Caucasus, Central Asia is on the verge of a tremendous population increase. By 2050, Kazakhstan’s population will rise by 27 percent (from 17.6 million people to 22.4 million), Uzbekistan’s by 24 percent (from 29.9 million people to 37.1 million) and Turkmenistan’s by 22 percent (from 5.4 million people to 6.6 million). At the same time, Kyrgyzstan’s population will grow by 39 percent (from 5.9 million people to 8.2 million) while Tajikistan’s will rise by an astonishing 70 percent (from 8.4 million people to 14.3 million).

While such population growth is normally conducive to economic growth and military strength, it will occur in Central Asia at a time when the region’s resources, including water and food, are already strained. The population explosion will hit hardest in the Fergana Valley, which is the region’s demographic core and is shared by Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. There, the Soviets designed convoluted borders to intentionally create divisions between the Central Asian states. The area has already been the site of several ethnic conflicts. With the number of people expected to rise dramatically in the next 25-35 years, the Fergana Valley will likely become a hotbed of tension and conflict in the region.

Meanwhile, Central Asia’s cultural makeup will undoubtedly change. The widespread use of Russian as a lingua franca, which is rooted in the Soviet period, will probably decline as new generations with no memory of their countries’ Soviet past grow up. Russia will see its influence over the region decline as such cultural bonds — as well as its own capabilities to project economic and military power — weaken. The transition from Soviet-era leaders like Nazarbayev and Rakhmon, who have favored Russia over the West, to new rulers from the post-Soviet generation will make Central Asia a more unpredictable place that is open to contestation — a change that is unlikely to favor Russia.

However, the West will also see its ability to influence Central Asia decline as the regionalization of Europe forces the Continent to focus on matters closer to home. Still, countries in Central and Eastern Europe may seek to import Central Asian energy supplies through the Caspian corridor to diversify away from Russia. Meanwhile, the United States will remain an important player in the region. As in the Caucasus, it will be selective in how it engages in Central Asia, preferring to step in from time to time to keep any single external power from gaining too much influence.

While the reach of Russia and the West recedes over the coming decades, two other powers will rise in their place: Turkey and China. Four of the five states in Central Asia are ethnically Turkic, and as Russia’s cultural bonds in the region fade, Turkey’s will strengthen. Because Turkey’s population is predicted to grow by more than 20 percent, reaching 96 million people, it will have greater economic and military power to match its rising soft power. China, for its part, has already made economic inroads into the region over the past decade, and its economic influence will likely continue to grow. Such growth will be aided by the fact that Russia will not continue to be able to financially support many Central Asian states. That said, China will still have to contend with Turkey, which will be more active in the region. But this contest is unlikely to take on a military dimension; China and Turkey will have more immediate security concerns in East Asia and the Middle East.

Afghanistan will continue to have a significant impact in Central Asia, not as a regional power with influence but as a weak state with the potential to destabilize the region. Cross-border ties between ethnic Tajiks, Uzbeks and Turkmens on either side of the boundary between Afghanistan and Central Asia will grow. This could increase the likelihood of Islamist and militant elements spilling over into the region. Although they will continue to compete at a strategic level, Russia, Turkey, China and the United States will cooperate at a tactical level to prevent the rise of powerful radical Islamist groups in Central Asia. For the foreseeable future, instability and conflict within and between Central Asian states will continue to pose the largest threat to the region, one that will be far more difficult to contain.

Lead Analyst: Eugene Chausovsky

First the Middle East, now Central Asia slipping away from Turkey

Author Zülfikar DoğanTranslator Timur Göksel

Posted January 6, 2016

The sanctions Moscow imposed after the Nov. 24 downing of a Russian plane are spreading to Russian spheres of influence in Central Asia and the Caucasus, as Central Asian countries that had established close ties with Ankara after the collapse of the Soviet Union appear to be preparing to distance themselves from Turkey. At the December 2015 Moscow summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) — which includes the Turkic states of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan in addition to Russia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Belarus and Armenia — calls were made for Turkey to apologize to Russia.

Armenia holds the term presidency of the CIS-Collective Security Treaty Organization, a military alliance of former Soviet republics. The military chiefs of member states met before the gathering of heads of state to hear their term chairman, Gen. Yuri Khachaturov, Armenian chief of the General Staff, harshly criticize Turkey. Khachaturov noted, “Chiefs of staff of all member states of the organization supported the Russian actions and denounced Turkey’s attack against the Su-24 plane that was seen as an incendiary, shameless aggression. As Russia said immediately after the attack, we also saw it as a stab in the back.”

Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, term chairman of CIS, also asked the summit to express its support for Russia and denounce Turkey. He said, “As member states, we declared our support for the Russian position and decided to urgently declare unity to combat terror. Turkey’s attitude and its shooting down of the Russian plane have been a setback to the struggle against terror.”

The real shock for Ankara was not Sargsyan’s words, but those of the Kyrgyzstan head of state, President Almazbek Atambayev, who in the past had addressed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as “my older brother.” After the August 2014 presidential elections, Atambayev had appeared with Erdogan, who was delivering his victory speech, andlavishly praised him. At the CIS summit, Atambayev expressed support for Moscow and President Vladimir Putin and suggested Erdogan and Turkey apologize to Russia.

The support for Russia among the Central Asian Turkic republics, which have received billions of dollars of credit and financing support from Turkey, and Atambayev’s call for an apology shocked Turkey, disillusioning Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party government. In 2014, the Cooperation and Coordination Agency of Turkey had provided the republics more than $3.5 billion. When asked about Atambayev’s comment, Erdogan spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin said, “If nothing else, it was an unfortunate statement.”

Russia’s freeze on issuing transit permits to Turkish truckers in October has severely disrupted Turkish exports to the Central Asian republics. Concerned with the prospect of losing the Central Asian market, where Turkey has sizable construction contracts and investments, Ankara began using the Caspian Sea for its exports thanks to Azerbaijan opening its gates.

Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, ordered that Caspian port capacity be increased and transit documents waived for Turkish trucks. Even if Turkish truck traffic through the Caspian reaches 50,000 a year, it would still fall far short of sustaining exports to the Central Asian market.

With the sharp decline in oil and natural gas prices, Azerbaijan had to devalue its currency 47% against the dollar and euro. Given the economic bottlenecks it faces, no one can be sure that the country can indefinitely be a contributor in regard to Turkey’s commercial and energy needs.

Moreover, an Aliyev-Sargsyan meeting in Switzerland Dec. 19 did not yield a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh crisis. Instead, both countries announced that their cease-fire had ended. This development greatly concerns Turkey, because it could negatively affect its use of the Azerbaijani route for its exports. Meanwhile, Russia and Armenia, which have been boosting political and economic links, in late December decided to also expand their military cooperation.

In mid-December, Putin announced that visa requirements for Georgian nationals would be eased and soon thereafter abolished. It has become clear that the Russian-Armenian air defense agreement, normalization of Russian-Georgian relations and resumption of fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia will impede Turkey’s access to the Caucasus. There are also fears that Russia, which has been firing cruise missiles from its navy based in the Caspian, could block passage through that sea, severely restricting Turkey’s access to Central Asia via that route.

Russia also made use of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) to move against Turkey’s relations with the Turkic republics. Turkey-EEU negotiations to establish a free trade zone were suspended, and instead, Putin announced, the EEU would enter into talks with Iran. Thus, Russia is helping advance Iranian economic interests in Central Asia by closing the doors on Turkey advocating a customs union and regional free trade. No doubt, this brought Turkey one step closer to losing Central Asia in the wake of its isolation in the Middle East.

University closures in Russia – will Central Asia follow?

Standard

Although this blog focusses on Central Asia, every now and then something happens in the broader sphere of influence on Central Asia that merits being featured. As part of its drive to enhancing the quality of university education in Russia, University World News this week reports on news that the federal government has recently decided that fully 40% of all universities in the Russian Federation should be closed. Under its 2016-2020 education development plan, the government has planned a series of closures and mergers – which will mainly affect the many private universities that have sprung up since 1991 – with the intention of wiping out some of the poorer quality education that is largely found in these newer institutions.

The Kyrgyz government in particular may well be taking notes on this strategy. As I have previously reported, the President himself has taken an interest in the burgeoning number of institutions in the country and the related reports of deteriorating quality of provision. There are no fewer than 52 universities in this small country – population just under 6 million – of which around a third are private institutions (source: Tempus Kyrgyzstan). Some of these private institutions like the American University of Central Asia are not only legitimate but offer exceptionally good education, but there are certainly many others that, like Russian Minister of Education and Science Dmitry Livanov says, are merely “offices for the sale of certificates”.

The benefits of the ‘near abroad’ – educational exchange in former Soviet states

Standard

The ‘near abroad’ is a Russian conception, describing countries that used to be part of or have close ties to the Soviet Union, as distinguished from the ‘far abroad’ countries that we might otherwise call ‘the rest of the world’. Although Russian language usage is diminishing in Central Asian states, in part owing to state-building government tendencies to enhance the standing of national languages, Russian remains either an official or a widely used language in these countries (source: One World Nations Online).

The continuing importance of the Russian language enables the promotion of cooperation and opportunities in higher education for Central Asian states and nations. Just today I’ve read two reports on educational exchanges within the former Soviet sphere:

  • The development of linkages between Belarus and Tajikistan [en], as reported by Belarusian News. These government-level links began with professional development for Tajik civil servants and the most recent press release focusses on cooperation between the countries’ Academies/Institutes of Public Administration. The cooperation will cover research and conferences, training and staff/student exchanges, thus both sharing and building up expertise on both sides. (Just don’t mention ‘academic freedom’…)
  • A very proud-sounding press release from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, usually known by its rhythmic Russian acronym MGIMO, on its recent attendance at the Education and Careers Fair in Almaty, Kazakhstan [ru]. The report mentions participation by universities and employers from 15 countries, most of which are ‘near abroad’ but with a smattering of other countries thrown in.

Of particular interest about the MGIMO report was its note that attendees were particularly interested in its English language courses. This reflects the growth of a different kind of study abroad option for Central Asian students: one in which students enhance their academic and English language skills but in an environment that is not entirely unfamiliar. For many years the American University of Central Asia in Kyrgyzstan and KIMEP in Kazakhstan have supported students to stay in the region and to study in English; now it seems that trend is expanding with students seeking opportunities in Russia, eastern Europe and Asia (e.g Malaysia and Singapore).

Migration to Russia from the Pamirs/GBAO, Tajikistan

Standard

Thanks to the Central Asia Program at George Washington University in the US for promoting many of its recent briefing notes via Twitter – it has made for some excellent reading!

Two articles in particular caught my eye – one called From Pamirs to the Outside World: Seeking Decent Jobs by Kavikas Kuhistoni which was published in August 2014 (see my next post for the second recommendation).

Kuhistoni draws you into the piece, published in the Program’s Voices from Central Asia series, with a graphic description of how migration from the Pamir region of Tajikistan can have deadly consequences. Far from turning into tabloid fodder, Kuhistoni then gives an interesting overview of the whys and hows of migration from this sparsely populated part of the country. The piece is enhanced by opinions from local people with direct experience of the subject matter, including two well-informed commentators, academic Mamadou Alimshoev and local community leader Asadbek Amonbekov.

The article could have benefited further from a conclusion bringing together the various elements that are touched upon in the story. I would also like to have heard from women – the piece refers to the growing number of Pamiri women also heading north to Russia – but also from leading female voices back in Tajikistan.

The overall feeling in the article is that apart from the monetary benefit, there is little to be gained from migration to Russian from the Pamirs. Yet the national government shows little sign of taking major steps to combat migration of 1/8 of the overall population because the economic impact of the country’s GDP is so reliant on remittances sent from migrants. So, as Lenin (in)famously put it, “what is to be done?”: there are clearly defined problems arising from migration to Russia, but as yet no signs of moves to find alternative solutions.

Higher education in Russia and beyond

Standard

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)

The student experience – Kyrgyz students in Russia (repost)

Standard

This is a repost of a Eurasia Net article; the original article can be found at http://www.eurasianet.org/node/66205

Kyrgyzstan: Central Asian Students in Russia Find Friendship and Bigotry

In mid-2010, when 20-year-old Sultan Temirzhan uulu left Kyrgyzstan to attend university in St. Petersburg, he was unprepared for the big city noise and the White Nights of summer. He was also unprepared for the discrimination.

One day earlier this year, while organizing a student event at his university, Temirzhan uulu, who is from Bishkek, went to collect an auditorium key from a security guard. But the guard initially refused to give it to him.

“You’re not Russian,” the guard snapped. “And you’re completely insolent.”

Temirzhan uulu was confused and hurt. The response was the last thing he expected. But his experience certainly was not unique. Several months ago, Russian skinheads beat up a Kyrgyz acquaintance.

Violent attacks against non-white individuals in Russia have increased in the past decade as hundreds of thousands of migrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus seek work there. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, St. Petersburg gained a reputation for crime, including racially motivated violence. Last month, a controversy erupted when a local NGO promoting tolerance released a tactless and seemingly demeaning educational handbook for Central Asian labor migrants featuring illustrations that depicted them as hammers, paintbrushes, and brooms.

Despite these incidents, Temirzhan uulu and other Kyrgyz students say they are putting the painful experiences behind them and adapting to life in Russia’s second-largest city. Temirzhan uulu himself has come to adore the dynamism of St. Petersburg, the goal-oriented nature of the young people, and, most of all, living in a “museum under the open sky.”

It helps that he isn’t alone. Temirzhan uulu and other Kyrgyz students have formed a small, well-connected community in Russia’s “cultural capital,” coming together to support each other and promote their national traditions. In Kyrgyzstan they may be from different regions and cities, but in St. Petersburg they are united by a common desire to make the best of their time in Russia.

Nursultan Orunbekov, 21, moved to Russia four years ago to study information technology at St. Petersburg State University. Like so many Kyrgyz, he came in search of better educational opportunities and new experiences. “I’m satisfied with my life here. I have developed good relationships with my teachers and my classmates,” he said. “I have good Kyrgyz and Russian friends. I don’t feel that I’m limited. I have the same opportunities as others.”

Still, he admits that discrimination exists. There are some people, he says, who make racist comments on public transportation, and he stresses that it is important to be cautious on the street at night.

But Orunbekov says he has little time to worry about it. He’s busy with other things: after arriving in St. Petersburg, he founded the local chapter of Jash Tolkun (“New Wave” in Kyrgyz), a youth organization that aims to bring together Kyrgyzstanis. By comparison to the Moscow or Novosibirsk chapters, St. Petersburg’s branch is small, with only 200 members, and remains unregistered. But its goal is the same: connecting the Kyrgyz diaspora, participating in activities that show the community in a positive light, helping students adapt to life in the city, and, of course, having a good time.

The club organizes approximately 10 get-togethers a year, ranging from games to mixers and parties. Most recently, Jash Tolkun held a “mustache party” in a small nightclub on St. Petersburg’s central Nevsky Prospekt. The event attracted more than 50 young people, several wearing stick-on mustaches, to dance and socialize. Kyrgyz made up the majority, but Russians and people of other ethnicities also attended.

Though Orunbekov estimates that 80 percent of Jash Tolkun members are university students, not all of them are recent arrivals. Some grew up in St. Petersburg. Suimonkul Tavaldiev, 19, is one of them. He was born to Kyrgyz parents who met while studying in St. Petersburg. Though Tavaldiev, a talented dancer, admits that he is often too busy with rehearsals to attend Jash Tolkun events, he nonetheless supports the club’s efforts to promote Kyrgyz culture and community abroad. He feels the group can help new arrivals adapt to life in Russia.

“If you were born in Kyrgyzstan and move here, life can be difficult because you may have a different mentality, a different upbringing, and different perspectives,” he said. “This can be a problem, but the diaspora can help.”

If there is one group that isn’t well represented in Jash Tolkun, it’s the Kyrgyz labor migrants who come to Russia to work. Members of the club say they would be happy to include migrants, and feel there is no social divide separating them. They believe that, like students, migrants are simply busy with their own lives and work.

“I have relatives who came here to work. My family did the same, and stayed,” said Beknazar Eminzhanov, 20, a Kyrgyz student whose family moved to Russia in 2003. “In a sense, I’m one of the migrants and relate well to them. But the truth is, if you have acquaintances in the migrant community, then you socialize with them. If not, then you don’t.”

Ultimately what makes the Kyrgyz community prosper in St. Petersburg is its optimism. Most students acknowledge that the “nationality question” in Russia remains very controversial, but they prefer not to dwell on it.

Temirzhan uulu, after being insulted by his school’s security guard, eventually came to feel the experience was a good lesson. “With time I realized that this guard is a very limited and uneducated person,” he said. “I understand that I have to rise above this incident, let it go, and be positive.”

Editor’s note:

Matthew Kupfer is a freelance writer specializing in Central Asia.

Post-Soviet education, part 1: Russia

Standard

By happy coincidence, I’ve read a number of articles recently looking at education in a number of the post-Soviet countries. Below is an interesting story about Russia, written just before Putin’s re-“election” as President, and it also touches on higher education.

The story is (c) Ria Novosti.

Putin praises Russia’s educational revolution

An “educational revolution” is transforming Russia’s society and economy, Russian Prime Minister and presidential hopeful Vladimir Putinwrote in an article published on Monday in the Izvestia daily.

“Russia’s main hope is a high level of education, especially for our young people,” Putin wrote.

Fifty-seven percent of Russians between 25 and 35 years old have higher educations, a level matched only by Japan, South Korea and Canada, Putin said in the article.

“Demand for education is skyrocketing” in the 15-25 age group, with 80 percent of young men and women aspiring to or receiving higher education, he wrote.

Even if the Russian economy is at times unable to absorb so many professionals, “there is no way back,” Putin wrote. “It’s not people who should try to adjust themselves to the existing structure of economy and labor market – it’s economy that should change to allow citizens with high level of education and high demands to find a decent job.”

While the Russian constitution guarantees the right to higher education free-of-charge, the lackluster showing of Russian universities in recent global rankings has triggered a spate of national discussion.

Not a single Russian institution is included in the top 200 of the 2011-2012 Times of London Higher Education rankings. Only two Russian institutions have been included in the rating, Moscow State University in the top 300 and Saint Petersburg State University in the top 400.

Foreign rankings have been repeatedly criticized by Russia’s top education officials and university staff as lacking fairness, objectivity and transparency. Education Minister Andrei Fursenko has said he believes a lack of information about programs and graduates from Russian universities provided to rating agencies is partly to blame for their poor showing.

In August, Putin called for the urgent modernization of Russia’s higher education system so that it meets the demands of today. He promised to allocate some 70 billion rubles ($2.4 billion) to create an innovative educational infrastructure in Russian universities in the next five years.

Higher education budget expenditures have more than tripled since 2005, reaching 390 billion rubles (almost $14.5 billion) in 2011.

Students: heads you lose, tails you lose

Standard

Are today’s students in the former Soviet Union too political or not political enough? Two recent stories from Uzbekistan and Russia suggest that either way, students will end up being criticised: you’re damned if you do care and you’re damned if you don’t.

In Uzbekistan, the government has introduced a new moral code – no less than 23 pages long – in an attempt to rectify what it sees as poor behaviour amongst students. Apparently students are getting too wild for the government’s liking, with allegations of inappropriate dressing and listening to music that’s just way too foreign. The government clearly sees this as a threat

On the other hand, a visiting student at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations in Russia has posted a well-written critique of the lack of politics at the Institute. The author sees this as contrary given that graduates of the Institute often go on to high-level positions in government and business. A small murmur of interest has arisen at the Institute since the post-election demonstrations in Russia in December 2011, but whether this is maintained remains to be seen.

I’d love to hear what current students in the region have to say about this.