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Does the Large Number of Universities in Kyrgyzstan Reflect the Quality of Higher Education?

«Dynamics that are observed in Kyrgyzstan – the transformation of universities into lucrative diploma-issuing businesses; the decline of teachers’ salaries; the growing demand for a university diploma as a pass to get a job are the main factors challenging the quality of higher education», – notes Aigul Kantoro kyzy, an economic policy specialist, a participant of the CABAR.asia School of Analytics from Bishkek.


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Brief overview of the article:

  • Kyrgyzstan’s government’s higher education policy followed upon the first President’s belief by greatly expanding university access during the past 20 years;
  • There are 64 universities in the country. For comparison, in Denmark and Finland — the countries known for the achievements in education and the same population size as Kyrgyzstan — there are 8 and 14 universities respectively;
  • However, higher education in Kyrgyzstan is characterized by the non-systematic and inconsistent policy;
  • There is no complex policy providing systematic modernization of structure and the maintenance of higher education;
  • This situation causes an imbalance (shortage or surplus) in the market of demand and offers in education.

Over the years of independence in Kyrgyzstan, the quantity of higher educational institutions has grown – from 12 in 1991 to 64 in 2018. The number of students has increased too and amounted 223.2 thousand people in the 2018-2019 academic year. The unfortunate tendency has been to assume that developing an economy simply requires more education, resulting in a misguided belief that all school graduates should attend university. There is an inertia in public perception that a person needs to have ‘diploma’ not the knowledge in a chosen ‘famous’ department. Kyrgyz parents consider as a better option to protect young people from the vagaries of adult life by entering them in a university. Giving children a protected educational space in the university is considered a moral duty.[1]

Approximately half of the school graduates now go on to the university. Few years of student lives provide young people with a relatively prestigious status as well as a protected space.[2] However, state or public universities have themselves succumbed to market forces. Their quality has declined sharply. The bulk of students participating in the formal university academic culture can get a diploma in absentia; able to negotiate assignments and diplomas independently with teachers and administrators.

Dynamics that are observed in Kyrgyzstan – the transformation of universities into lucrative diploma-issuing businesses; the decline of teachers’ salaries; the growing demand for a university diploma as a pass to get a job are the main factors challenging the quality of higher education. 

Higher education in Kyrgyzstan

Government’s higher education policy followed upon the first Kyrgyz President’s belief by greatly expanding university access during the past 20 years. It is likely that this expansion also kept large numbers of unemployed and under-employed youth of the country from flooding the streets or joining any oppositional political movements. Kyrgyz youth; approximately 40% to 55% of secondary school graduates enter the university.[3]

There are 64 universities in the country.[4] For comparison, in Denmark and Finland — the countries known for the achievements in education and the same population size as Kyrgyzstan — there are 8 and 14 universities respectively. The number of students is about 629 thousand people[5] (37.3% of the total number of youths – 1.94 million people) including students in secondary schools 321 thousand people as well as students in higher educational institutions about 199 thousand people.

The World Declaration, on Higher Education for the XXI Century, defines quality in higher education as a multidimensional concept, covering all functions and activities: teaching and academic programs, research and scholarship, personnel, material and technical base, buildings, equipment, and work for the good of society within the academic environment.[6] The approach of the Kyrgyz Republic to ensuring the quality of higher education is set out in several conceptual, strategic and regulatory documents.

State higher education standards as a quality assessment tool for higher education

The basic structural element of the higher education system is the university (institute). Any system needs management. Ability to control and manage the institution is the main tool. The Ministry of Education and Science of the Kyrgyz Republic[7] is the public authority of executive power pursuing state policy and exercising control in the fields of education and sciences and the state control for availability and quality of education, ensuring constitutional right of citizens of the Kyrgyz Republic on education.[8] The ministry is also responsible for the distribution of financial resources, monitoring of quality by means of the department of licensing and certification, keeps the statistical account and cooperates with Academy of Sciences on the identification of priorities for research. The government resolution[9] established a two-tier structure for higher education, in line with international practice, which was established in the 2012-13 academic year. The resolution also approved the layouts for State Education Standards in Higher Vocation Education (SES-HE) that apply to bachelors, masters and specialist degree levels.

Higher education in Kyrgyzstan is characterized by the non-systematic and inconsistent policy.[10] There is no complex policy providing systematic modernization of structure and the maintenance of higher education. Bachelors and master’s degrees are not known in the labor market as well as the existing skepticism concerning the equivalence of these degrees to the expert degree. This situation causes an imbalance (shortage or surplus) in the market of demand and offers in education.

Two existing quality assurance mechanisms – licensing and certification of universities – have no considerable effect as they are not used as instruments of monitoring for improvement of quality. There are no corresponding criteria or standards according to higher educational institutions.
Also, there is no independent certified establishment for implementation of systematic control regarding compliance with these standards. The level of education is suffering steady degradation, its features include an inadequately integrated system of supervisory institutions, no systematic quality monitoring of educational services and poor teacher preparation.

All educational institutions must be accredited by an agency that is registered in accordance with legislated procedures.[11] Followed with the amendments to the Law[12] the accreditation of educational institutions, irrespective of the form of ownership or departmental affiliation, is carried out based on a written application, and is valid for 5 years. Educational institutions that have successfully been accredited have the right to choose whether to issue a state diploma or their own certificate/diploma.

In 2014 the National Accreditation Board[13] was established to coordinate and promote independent accreditation to promote the collegial and transparent consideration of the issues of recognition. The National Accreditation Board has a purely advisory function. It consists of 15 people: these include 3 deputies of the Jogorku Kenesh[14], 3 heads of state bodies that have jurisdiction over educational establishments, 2 representatives of the public and professional associations, 2 representatives of employers and professional associations, 3 heads of educational establishments, the head of a state educational agency and the board chair.

Management of the institutions in accordance with civil law is carried out by the owner of the property. There are 32 state and 32 non-state universities in Kyrgyzstan.[15] Appointment of the non-state higher education institutions’ management is carried out by its founders. Ministry of Education and Science of the Kyrgyz Republic is authorized to manage state universities. Ministry has no power to influence the management of non-state universities except mechanisms of licensing and certification.

There is jobs and skills mismatch in the labor market of Kyrgyzstan. There are two prevailing types of mismatch: educational and skills mismatches. The educational mismatch refers to a congruity between the level of education possessed and the level of education required for a certain job, and; it does exist when an obtained level of education falls below the level required for a job.[16] Educational mismatch leads to a skill mismatch. Skills mismatch “a situation in which workers’ skills exceed or lag behind those employers seek”.[17] The educational and skills mismatches are closely interrelated. The low quality of education undermines school-to-work transition of youth and challenges their employment. Most university graduates in Kyrgyzstan are economists, lawyers, doctors and from the sphere of education. The educational mismatch leads to numerous serious issues that undermine the demographics of the country at large.

Assessment of students in universities

Assessment of students is conducted by teaching staff at the institutional level by universities. Forms of ongoing assessment of educational progress and interim assessment (end of a semester) are developed by each higher education institution. Final exams (the oral defense of written papers) are taken at the meeting of a Higher Attestation Commission (HAC). Higher Attestation Commission should include at least three external experts, including representatives of the labor market, which can assure objectivity. Indeed, Hihger Attestation Commission members are invited by the heads of the departments (Programs, Faculties) whose main criterion is loyalty. It is well-known that exams are the main revenue generators for the faculty of the state and some non-state universities. Students submit payment to receive a certain grade, pass the course and defend their thesis.

In Kyrgyzstan is not uncommon, when people graduated from university majoring in international relations at the end sell appliances.
Only very few manage to find a job that would be directly related to the profession. It is a piece of great luck if from one graduated group at least two students manage to receive the place by profession. National Statistical Committee of Kyrgyzstan reports that out of 60% of unemployed youth only about 14% find a job relevant to their specialization or continue their education.[18]

Conclusions 

Future teachers, lawyers, economists work in various fields such as markets, call centers, restaurants, and other service industries. Educational mismatch depreciates the value of education and undermines school-to-work transition. Students representing the production factor of a country do not possess the required level of education. Due to corruption and tribalism during university studies, they lose incentives to be educated. Low education level has main negative externalities including job and skills mismatch, low productivity of workers, low income, increased poverty, limited civic participation, youth unemployment, and labor migration.  

Recommendations

  1. To review and assess the current higher education scenario in the country: Further study/ data collection (qualitative or quantitative)

Determine policy constraints and challenges and identify opportunities for long-term goals. As the data limitations do not provide the whole picture of the higher education, there is a need of conducting further study/ data collection (qualitative or quantitative) at the national level. The first, study will detect individual characteristics of higher education that determine the field’s disadvantage. This is instrumental to the development of policy response to prevent the emergence of risk factors as well as measures to remedy those factors that negatively affect the quality higher education. Second, the study will determine features of higher education that help identify mismatches that can be addressed by policy interventions. Third, in Kyrgyzstan where the higher education information system is not developed, the study will serve as a tool to generate reliable data for evidence-based-policy-making and for monitoring progress.

Further study/ data collection will help to raise awareness of the fact that higher education encounters difficulties in providing quality education. Data collection will serve as a vital input in the preparation of national action plans for youth. As well as increasing understood that failure to receive quality higher education after leaving school tends to have lasting effects on occupational patterns and incomes over the life course of an individual.[19]

  1. Functional review and assignment of separate government authority

One of the options could be a functional review of the Ministry of Education and assigning separate independent government authority to take an intermediary role and oversee higher education with the special focus on educational mismatch elimination. Most of the universities inherited teaching methodology and some majors from the Soviet periods. Even though there is an educational mismatch, universities keep utilizing obsolete programmes and methodology. Since the independence of the country, there was no responsible government authority on assessing higher education. Intermediary government authority will take the role of facilitator and main responsible organ for implementing policies in higher education.

Advantages of this option are that everything will be projected after Further study/ data collection (qualitative or quantitative) recommendation outlined above. Additionally, it is not time-consuming and requires a modest amount of costs.

Potential opposition that might result from choosing this option could be an argument that government increases the number of already quite high quantity of government employees. However, by reviewing functional structure and removing certain positions to separate government agency does not increase neither decrease the number of government employees. Thus, this option proposes a very optimal way of solving the issue by keeping the status quo and assigning separate organ to focus on a specific question.


This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project implemented with the financial support of the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial or donor.


Thumbnail photo: akipress.kg

[1] DeYoung, Alan J. (2010). Embracing globalization: university experiences among youth in contemporary Kyrgyzstan. Central Asian Survey. Volume 29, (4), p. 421-434.

[2] See in the same place

[3] National Statistical Committee of the Kyrgyz Republic. (2019). Education and Culture: Dynamic tables. Retrieved from http://www.stat.kg/ru/statistics/obrazovanie/ 

[4] National Erasmus + Office in Kyrgyzstan. https://erasmusplus.kg/higher-education-in-kyrgyz-republic/list-of-kyrgyz-heis/

[5]

[6] World Declaration on Higher Education for the Twenty-First Century: Vision and Action (1998). Retrieved from http://www.unesco.org/education/educprog/wche/declaration_eng.htm

[7] Paragraph 1 of the Regulation on the Ministry of Education and Science of the Kyrgyz Republic

[8] Centralized Legal Information Databank. (2012). Regulation on the Ministry of Education and Science of the Kyrgyz Republic. Retrieved from http://cbd.minjust.gov.kg/act/view/ru-ru/93804

[9] № 496 “On establishing a two-tier system of higher education in the Kyrgyz Republic”

[10] Report prepared by the Executive Agency on Training, Audio of Visualization and Culture (IAOAK). The higher education in Kyrgyzstan: Report prepared by the Executive Agency on Training, Audio of Visualization and Culture (IAOAK). (2015). Retrieved from https://wwwerasmusplus.kg/tempus/ru/kg_review_he.doc

[11] In accordance with Law on Education Article 40

[12] Law on Education No 182 as of 2015

[13] Government regulation № 438 of 4.08.2014 “Regulations on the National Accreditation Board of the authorized body in the field of education”

[14] Parliament of the Kyrgyz Republic

[15] Ministry of Justice of the Kyrgyz Republic. (1996). Civil Code of the Kyrgyz Republic. Retrieved from http://minjust.gov.kg/ru/content/313  

[16] Allen, J. and De Weert, E. (2007). What do educational mismatches tell us about skills mismatches? European Journal of Education. V. 42, 59–73.

[17] Handel, M. (2003). Skills mismatch in the labor market. Annual Review of Sociology, 29, 135-165. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/30036964

[18] National Statistical Committee of the Kyrgyz Republic. (2019). Education and Culture: Dynamic tables. Retrieved from http://www.stat.kg/ru/statistics/obrazovanie/

[19] International Labor Organization School-to-work Transition Survey: A Methodological Guide. Module 1 Basic concepts, roles and implementation process. (2009). Retrieved from https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—ed_emp/documents/instructionalmaterial/wcms_140857.pdf

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