Tag Archives: Uzbekistan

Is President Nazarbayev legacy building?

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Better than a cat meme… A recently unveiled bronze monument of Nursultan Nazarbayev in Taldykorgan, south-eastern Kazakhstan

There have been a spate of stories recently about Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev that suggest a new stage in his quarter century long leadership of the nation. This stage consists of the development of a legacy that seeks to frame Nazarbayev as if being written for future history textbooks.

He has already taken on the mantle of Leader of the Nation (2010) after apparently relenting to pressure from parliament, has had the country’s vastly funded and international prestige-seeking university named after him (2010), and more recently has sought to quash rumours that he seeks to have the capital city named after him. Take a look at the US Washington Post’s story “What do you give the autocrat who has everything?” from November 2016 for a tongue in cheek retelling of the latter story.

Although such tendencies are often associated with the notion of the autocratic or authoritarian regime, as the American article noted above demonstrates, recent comments by Nazarbayev suggest that he is seeking to mould an image of himself that turns the tables on these well-worn and Western-centric tropes.

In a recent televised documentary about the past 25 years, Nazarbayev said:

We get called a “dictatorial” country, or moreover “autocratic.” This is nonsense. This is told by those who know nothing of our way of lives… the way we rule today is normal for our country

(Source: http://akipress.com/news:586373/, 12 December 2016)

Further, in an interview with Bloomberg Press last month [ru], Nazarbayev reminded readers that:

The desire of western countries to make Kazakhstan into an American-style democracy is completely unsustainable

This is not to say that Nazarbayev is against political change: in both sources I mention, he talks about the long-term nature of a shift in ideology. He mentions steps taken by Kazakhstan on this path, such as freedom of religion and language.

Despite these proclamations, US-based scholar Mariya Omelicheva suggests that this is more a quest for legitimacy building than for creating a legacy based on genuine change. Her recent study compares Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, noting that presidential speeches by Nazarbayev and his recently deceased Uzbek counterpart Islam Karimov share similarities in that

The leadership of these states have been determined to maintain power under the guise of democracy without exposing themselves to the political risks of competition… They have every single formal democratic institution, but they strip them of their democratic essence.

In relation to what the leaders have promised to the people on the terms they define, progress is considerable. But as we are seeing around the world, not just in Central Asia, “rhetoric is manipulative” (Omelicheva).

To answer the question this blog poses – is Nazarbayev legacy building? – I think there is evidence that, at least through the official discourse, there is a trend in this direction. Yet what Omelicheva’s piece reminds us is that discourse and rhetoric are one thing, whereas genuine change in a political system is quite another. In this, legitimacy trumps legacy.

Academic diplomacy aims to bolster Kyrgyz-Uzbek relations

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Grumpy Cat has mastered the art of diplomacy

Rifts between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan are well documented, particularly in the border areas around the Ferghana Valley. The two most recent disputes that reached the international press came in March 2016 and August 2016. The geographical complexity of this area of Central Asia is visible in the second map below, which places the Ferghana Valley at the heart of these three countries. Here you can begin to see some of the intersections – including nine exclaves, little pockets of land belonging to Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan or Uzbekistan that sit like little islands within another of the three states.

It is rare for politicians in the region to extend overtures aimed at appeasing these tensions. Somehow each spate of conflicts is overcome, but it leaves behind distrust and uncertainty. Yet in a break to what you could call a “new tradition” of non-diplomacy, it has been heartening to see Uzbekistan ostensibly opening up to Tajikistan in recent weeks since the death of Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov. A relaxation of visa arrangements and better inter-country travel opportunities have been mooted, both of which would represent a significant (and positive) shift in the countries’ relations.

Nonetheless, relations between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan appear to remain fraught, particularly when it comes to matters pertaining to the Ferghana Valley area. If leaders cannot use politics to overcome these disputes, it seems there might be an opening for other state actors such as universities to make important moves towards engendering better neighbourly relations between the two countries. Academic diplomacy, as this is known, can create a safer space for governments to find ways to work together through what has been called “international meetings of minds“.

This week in Osh, southern Kyrgyzstan, a delegation from Uzbekistan was welcomed in an initiative led by Osh State University [ru]. This was a return visit after a Kyrgyz delegation went to the Andijan region of Uzbekistan at the start of October, culminating in the signing of a memorandum of cooperation.

The Uzbek delegation, which included Deputy Prime Minister of Uzbekistan Adham Ikramov, met with Osh SU students, visited the university’s medical faculty and enjoyed cultural events. Speaking at the university, Ikramov noted that good relations between the two countries should inform the long-term development of their mutual cooperation. In particular, Ikramov noted that Uzbek universities could learn from the way Osh SU has been developing e-learning. Accompanying the Deputy Prime Minister, Rector of (Uzbek) Andijan State University Akram Yuldashev expressed his hopes that the visit would reinforce relations between the countries and bring young people together. This might lead to future cooperation, such as holding conferences or undertaking joint publicity activities.

The clear success of these two visits, at least on paper, gives hope that the strategy of “international meetings of the minds” could prove to be an effective way to start to rebuild trust and common bonds between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

 

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Map of the Ferghana Valley (c) http://www.exploretheworldmaps.com/fergana.html. Created by Eric Olason

 

 

The ironic fate of Soviet nostalgia

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Poster for the Soviet classic, “The irony of fate”, where the big joke is that all cities share the same street names

If you’re feeling nostalgic for the Soviet Union, for the days of free education, jobs for life, and street names that were the same in every city, then it seems you’re not alone.

Sputnik News today reports the results of a poll of over 12,000 people across 11 countries of the former Soviet Union who were asked whether life was better in the USSR than after it collapsed in 1991. On average, over 50% of those aged 35-64 agree that life was better before. This compares to an average of just under 30% of those aged 18-24 who felt the same – though how they might know this without having been born during the Soviet Union escapes me.

The breakdown of the results by country is interesting, particularly looking at unlikely outliers Uzbekistan and Moldova. In Uzbekistan, apparently almost no one misses the good old days, in stark contrast to its extremely economically successful neighbour Kazakhstan. Kyrgyzstan purports to have similar levels of nostalgia as Kazakhstan, despite enjoying a reputation as “Central Asia’s most stable state”. I’m not saying that political and economic success/stability as an independent country necessarily affects results, but I do feel surprised by the lukewarm response from older Tajiks based on my own extensive research and contacts in the country.

Comments on the Sputnik News website express a similar range of confusion and scepticism. Indeed, Sputnik News – a Russian government spin-off – is regularly accused of spouting Russian-friendly propaganda. Certainly, the way the statement is worded is highly subjective: why not flip the question and ask whether life is better now than it was during the Soviet Union? And why are the voices of those who weren’t even born when the Soviet Union collapsed given equal weight to those who lived a good part of their life with a different passport – and where are the over 65s?

Revitalizing the idea that times were better in the old days is not new – just look at the ongoing “ostalgie” stories about East Germany. If you have the time to explore this further, I strongly recommend Alexei Yurchak’s absolutely beautifully named 2005 book, Everything Was Forever Until It Was No More. It focusses on the 1960s-1980s, the many paradoxes of Soviet life and telling the story of the last Soviet generation – the very same people who now seem to be so nostalgic…

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(c) Sputnik News, August 17 2016

 

“We are losing our future”: Corruption in Uzbek higher education

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I’m excited to share the results of new original research on corruption in Uzbek higher education, written by Albina Yun. Yun is a graduate of the OSCE Academy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan and the Uzbek State World Languages University. She is a higher education professional currently working at Westminster University in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

Yun’s research, written up as a policy brief for the OSCE Academy, is a hard-hitting account of the crippling effect of corruption on the quality and accessibility of higher education in Uzbekistan. It is one of very few works in this area: not only in its focus on corruption in the Uzbek context, but also generated by a locally based researcher.

Whilst the Uzbek government took an important step forward by implementing its first anti-corruption action plan in 2015, Yun is quick to point out that corruption in higher education remains systemic, “a massive issue with prejudicial effects” (p. 15). The results of corruption lead to graduates entering the employment market with inadequate academic and professional skills, and hugely undermine the transformative role that higher education can play at individual and societal level. The normalization of corruption both by students and faculty members/administrative staff is a major concern.

Ultimately, as Yun observes, unless measures are taken from the top down to address corruption, the very future of Uzbekistan may be at risk.

Gender gaps in higher education across Central Asia

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After a recent blog post I published on Women in higher education in Central Asia, I was approached by University World News to write more about why it is that some women in Central Asia – particularly those in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan – are doing so much better (better even than the world average) in getting to university than their counterparts in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

This led to some fascinating further research trying to understand more about this conundrum.

I am hugely grateful to Aksana Ismailbekova, Albina Yun and another researcher who chose to remain anonymous for their expert insights and support for this article, which I am delighted to say has now been published:

http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=20160707140807406

I would love to get your comments on this important issue, and ideas / practices from elsewhere in the world that might support greater gender equality in the parts of Central Asia where opportunities to enter higher education are not (yet) as accessible for women.

Kyrgyz students 2015 – who, what, where

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This is a wonderful infographic from Sputnik, a Russia media agency that set up shop in Kyrgyzstan last year. Produced recently for International Day of Students, the original article is here.

For me, the most interesting stories are:

  1. The mismatch between the funding that the state is making available to students, and the courses they want to study
  2. The continuing popularity of computing-related and social sciences subjects
  3. The huge growth in the number of international students from India and Kazakhstan, and the parallel crash in the Uzbek student body

For non-Russian readers, a translation is below.

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Emma’s English translation…

Title: Student-2015

Which courses did students choose this year, what do the brightest want to be come and which professions does the state need?

Image 1 (light background)

Left: courses for which the government provided the most scholarship places – physics/maths, philology (a combination of literary criticism, history and linguistics), medicine

Right: most popular courses (by enrolment statistics) – economics, law, medicine

38,275 students enrolled in 2015, compared to 38,259 in 2014.

Image 2 (dark blue background)

4,868 students received state funding in 2015; 3,415 students received state funding on the basis of their results in the nationwide admissions exams (ORT in Russian acronym) in 2015. The median score in the ORT was 150,8 to get a state scholarship.

33,407 students are self-funding in 2015. Their median ORT score was 133,2.

Which courses were most popular amongst those scoring highest on the ORT?

  Average score Highest score
State funded places
Software engineering 201,8 229
IT 190,3 214
Medicine and related 185 230
Self-funded places
Software and programming 202,4 234
International and comparative politics 170 197
International and business law 168,8 223

How many state funded places were offered in 2015?

5,441 divided between 24 universities. The highest number of places (615) went to the Kyrgyz State Technical University; the lowest (62) to the Kyrgyz Republic National Academy of Arts. The average tuition fee is 33,000 som (USD$430) compared to 30,000 last year.

Number of foreign students studying in Kyrgyzstan in 2014/15

The yellow to green indicator at the top is for countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States; the pink to red indicator at the bottom is for other countries. The graphs below show an increase from around 3,000 to 4,800 from Kazakhstan during the period 2009/10 to 2014/15 and a huge drop – from 6,000 to 600 from Uzbekistan. The biggest increase from outside the former Soviet region is from India, where student numbers have grown from around 500 to nearly 2,500.

New article out: The Dominance of Social Sciences in English-Medium Instruction Universities in Central Asia

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The latest issue of Higher Education in Russia and Beyond, 3(5) Fall 2015, is just out today and I’m delighted to say it has an essay I wrote in it. The informational newsletter comes from the prestigious Higher School of Economics in Moscow as part of a cooperation agreement with Boston College’s Center of International Higher Education.

The theme for this issue is the disciplinary divide and my short article focusses on the dominance of social sciences in English-medium instruction universities in Central Asia. Using three universities in the region – Westminster International University Tashkent (WIUT) in Uzbekistan, the American University of Central Asia (AUCA) in Kyrgyzstan and KIMEP University in Kazakhstan – I show a strong trend towards offering social sciences subjects and explain why I think that might be the case.

It’s a short article written for non-specialists so please do have a look! This is an area of research that I find very interesting so any feedback or comments you have about the essay and about the field of investigation would be very welcome.

The full issue of HERB can also be downloaded as a pdf here: HERB_05_Emma article on social science in EMI universities_Sep2015.

Studying abroad: no longer just a dream?

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Here’s a transcription (though not a literal translation) of a very informative 8 minute video from Radio Ozodi [ru]. It shows a growing interest in studying abroad, but the programme has a clear moral drive behind its interesting content – see the last paragraph. Makes me wonder if the Kazakh government didn’t inspire the piece: the state provides excellent funding for its young people in the form of Bolashak scholarships but the programme notes that more than half of the 10,000+ scholars haven’t returned to Kazakhstan (which is a condition of the award). Brain drain alert?

Emma’s transcription. Original video can be found at http://rus.ozodi.org/media/video/25299778.html, (c) Radio Ozodi, 12.03.2014

In Kazakhstan, the Bolashak scholarship competition is now open. Thousands of ambitious young people will apply for funding to study in Europe, USA and China. And across Central Asia, study abroad isn’t just a sign of quality and reputation but an investment in their future. The programme discusses the possibilities of studying abroad.

Abu Bakri Saidullo is studying in Dresden, Germany. He wants to graduate with distinction before returning to Tajikistan where he plans to run a business. “We get really up to date knowledge here. I don’t think you can get that kind of knowledge in universities at home,” he says. Abu Bakri is self-funding his studies. The cost per semester is €250 which covers tuition and six months of accommodation in halls of residence.

There are also plenty of opportunities for talented students to obtain funding to study abroad. 30 year old Ilkhom Aslanov from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, has studied in India and Japan and is now in Germany. He comes from a modest background and couldn’t have afforded to self-fund his studies. He says there is a good choice of institutions in Germany and that influenced his decision to apply. The application process was quite cumbersome but in the end he was awarded a grant by DAAD (https://www.daad.de).

Young people in Turkmenistan, however, prefer to study in former Soviet countries and Turkey, mainly for language reasons. Eliza Kenenbaeva is completing her studies at the American University of Central Asia (AUCA) in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Her studies are funded by the Soros Foundation which is why she took up her place, but she says that other Turkmen students are attracted by the low fees and proximity of AUCA to their home country. She also says that it helps that the educational systems are similar, as are Turkmen and Kyrgyz languages.

Although the number of Turkmen students in Kyrgyzstan has fallen in recent years due to travel restrictions on Turkmen citizens, they continue to be attracted by the low cost of study ($2-3,000) and the absence of a language barrier.

The criteria for obtaining a scholarship to study abroad, which the commentator points out is the only way to study abroad without cost, can include:

  •          Academic achievements
  •          Research and academic potential
  •          Leadership qualities
  •          Financial situation

Aynura Chollonkulova, a Bishkek-based careers adviser, says that funding bodies will also consider your personal characteristics. Students initially want to base their choice by the country they want to study in, but she and her experienced consultants advise them instead to focus on their area of specialisation.

In Kazakhstan, the state-funded Bolashak scholarship programme has enabled more than 10,000 Kazakh students to study abroad over the last 20 years. More than 6,000 of them have already completed their studies. The aim of the programme is to train highly qualified specialists who can work at an international level.

Scholars have to return to Kazakhstan and work for at least five years for any public or private sector company or the state as a condition of the funding. However, according to official figures, more than 50% of scholars haven’t returned to Kazakhstan.

Gulzira Amanturlina did her Master’s at LSE, one of the best universities in the world. She then returned to Kazakhstan where she pursued a career in banking. She says she found work in a bank straight away after graduating, and that she was able to put into practice what she learnt in London. She was promoted to Director in 2010. Now she runs Eldani, a non-governmental organisation working with disabled people. Her work on social entrepreneurship and charity developed from what she learnt when studying abroad.

So, studying abroad provides a launching pad for your career – but it isn’t always a guarantee of success. Much depends on what you want to get from it: are you doing this just to live abroad, or do you want to obtain valuable knowledge and experience? It shouldn’t just be the scholar that benefits, but society as a whole.

 

East is east: university partnerships work all ways

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The Korea Times this week reported on an initiative by the country’s new Uzbek Ambassador to encourage Korean universities to open branch campuses in Uzbekistan. This is an interesting initiative, both in that it’s being initiated by Uzbekistan – not known for its openness to the world – and as a demonstration that university partnerships don’t always go from west to east or north to south. Article below is (c) Korea Times, 10.01.14.

New Uzbek envoy invites Korean universities

Uzbek Ambassador Alisher Kurmanov, left, talks with Park Moo-jong, president of The Korea Times, during his courtesy visit at the latter’s office in Seoul, Friday. / Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

By Kang Hyun-kyung 

A new Uzbekistan ambassador to Korea said Friday that he is talking with several Korean universities heads to encourage them to open up a branch campus in his country.

“My government is now placing a special focus on the information technology sector,” Ambassador Alisher Kurmanov said during a courtesy visit to Park Moo-jong, president and publisher of The Korea Times.

“One of my first tasks will be opening up a branch of one of the Korean universities in Uzbekistan. For us, knowledge is important. Currently, six foreign universities are operating in Uzbekistan and one of them is from Singapore, of which I moved the campus project forward when I served as ambassador to that country.”

Korea is Kurmanov’s second foreign posting as ambassador. He opened up the Embassy of Uzbekistan in Singapore in 2007.

The new ambassador is optimistic about Korea-Uzbekistan relations under the Park Geun-hye government, predicting they will continue to grow deeper and closer.

Kurmanov expressed hope that President Park will visit his country this year.

“Our Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Azimov, who visited Korea in December, passed the invitation on to President Park on behalf of our leader. And President Park promised to try to visit Uzbekistan,” he said.

He said lots of activities are going on between the two countries.

“Now we have deputy minister of the IT industry who is a Korean. He is overseeing the whole government initiative. We also have a vice rector of our IT university in Uzbekistan. He is from Korea and was sent to our country,” he said.

Kurmanov replaced Vitaliy Fen, who had worked in Seoul for 18 years.

President Park encouraged the new envoy to play a significant role in promoting Uzbek culture in Korea to help Koreans have a better understanding of the country.

 

Poor prospects for Uzbeks studying in Kyrgyzstan

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I’m reporting today on a EurasiaNet story about missed opportunities for Uzbeks studying and wishing to make a living in Kyrgyzstan. The full story is below, (c) EurasiaNet with the original available at http://www.eurasianet.org/node/67908.

This is a problem created in the Soviet era when boundaries between republics were less relevant and the overarching ‘unity of the people’ propaganda message veiled some of the ethnic and national differences that have sprung as if from nowhere since independence 20 something years ago. Yet it remains a problem, exacerbated by recent conflict in the south of Kyrgyzstan and poverty.

 

Kyrgyzstan: Uzbeks Dropping Out of School at Alarming Rate

The educational aspirations of ethnic Uzbeks in and around Osh appears to be declining. (Photo: Dean C.K. Cox)