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“The Blind Men and the Elephant” or How Realistic Is Innovative Development in Tajikistan?

In many aspects, the educational system of Tajikistan is not yet integrated into the global educational system, according to Guldastasho Alibakhshov, the researcher and participant of CABAR.asia School of Analytics. In a number of indicators of science development, the country stays behind even its closest neighbors.

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Ministry of Education and Science of Tajikistan. Photo: News.tj

Along with other strategies, such lines as the improvement of the human capital quality, the creation of a knowledge-based economy and the transition to an innovative economy have been put forward in the state development programs[i] of Tajikistan. As one can observe from the developed countries’ experience, the basis for such development is an effective system for the knowledge and innovation production, the centerpiece of which are education and science. In many countries, this system is built on the basis of a concept that allows for not only integration of education and science with business and industry, but also for systematic coordination of their interaction aimed at obtaining a synergistic effect in innovative development.

In addition, to enhance the knowledge and innovation production, a growing number of countries are pursuing a policy of integration into the international scientific system in order to increase access to new scientific knowledge and attract international talents. When it comes to innovation and the knowledge-based economy in Tajikistan, many questions arise: how realistic are the plans for building a knowledge-based economy and innovation development in Tajikistan? How are science and education integrated into the socio-economic system of Tajikistan? Can the current domestic scientific and educational system become the basis of the country’s innovative development?

Recently, the relevance of an integrated and systematic approach to science, education and business, when it comes to their role in innovation development, has increased in the foreign literature on innovation policy[ii]. However, in the domestic expert discourse the opposite situation is observed: education and science and the reasons for their inefficient functioning are considered separately. Some reduce them to corruption, while others to the problems of equipment and material procurement and financing shortage, and some even go deep into history, breaking all ties with the present and the future.

In the chaos of opinions, which fragmentarily describe such a complex multidimensional and multi-level system, the larger picture of the direction in which education and science should develop in the modern world, when socio-economic development depends mainly on knowledge and innovation, is lost.

This situation recalls the story of the great Persian poet Jaloliddin Rumi, in which he describes a dispute between wisemen who analyze an elephant in a dark room. One, having touched a trunk, says that it is a drainpipe; the other, feeling his ear, insists that it is a fan; and the third, touching his back, says that it is a wall.

Having not seen the elephant as a whole, they narrowed it to a part of its body, which they could feel and interpret as they felt not necessarily as a part of an elephant’s body. The same way, science and education are often considered haphazardly and there is no single concept for their integration with other social institutions for innovative development.

In order not to fall into the trap of “feeling the elephant in a dark room” (unsystematically), we will try to consider education and science as a whole in conjunction with other social institutions and try to determine the degree of this interaction.

Scientific and Educational System Diagnostics in the Socio-Economic Context

The effectiveness diagnostics of the scientific and educational system’s existing model is possible by examining it in the context of the socio-economic structure in which it functions and identifying points of interaction between them.

Since the system itself is multilevel and multicomponent, it has countless points of interaction at different levels. Realizing the impossibility to cover all these levels, we will focus mainly on the macro level. According to modern criteria, at the macro level, the main effectiveness indicators of the scientific and educational system are:

One of the science efficiency indicators, as a factor of the innovative economy in modern society, is the share of high-tech products in the total industrial production and in the export structure of the country.

High-tech products appear as a result of the innovation process, which takes place at the intersection of science, production and business. Therefore, the effectiveness of the interaction of science with business and production is determined through this indicator. According to statistics, Tajikistan practically does not produce high-tech products and exports mainly agricultural products and nonferrous metals.

The efficiency of science, as a factor of the innovation economy in modern society, is determined through the new knowledge production. The method of evaluation for this indicator is a quantitative measurement of the scientists’ publication activity. In order to preserve the combination of quality and quantity, we will use international standards of publication activity by determining the number of articles in scientific journals indexed in the international database of scientific citation “The Web of Science”.

The results of this search platform show that the publication activity of Tajik scientists is rather low compared with other Central Asian countries. In 2014, Tajik scientists published 46 articles, which is multiple times less than the number of publications by Kazakh (600 articles), Uzbek (323 articles) and Kyrgyz (82 articles) scientists during the same year.

In Tajikistan, there are 5 articles per 1 million citizens, although in 2014 the average was 176 articles per 1 million population.

Another indicator of the scientific activity effectiveness is the demand for scientific research in various areas of the socio-economic system. Demand and interest in scientific research can be determined through the financing structure in science and the researchers’ division across different sectors.

According to the analytical collection “Scientific and Technological Potential of the Republic of Tajikistan in 2016”, state budget funds (almost 99%) remain the main source of financing science. The private sector practically does not fund scientific research.

One of the reasons for the private sector’s disinterest in research is the fact that the business environment itself is unfavorable for generating demand for research. A similar pattern is observed in the distribution of researchers by sector. According to statistics, in Tajikistan, researchers work only in the government and higher education sectors.

Comparing with neighboring Central Asian countries, researchers, in addition to the public sector, are also in demand in the commercial and private non-profit sectors[iii].

One of the most important tasks of the scientific and educational system is also providing the labor market with highly qualified workers. According to this indicator, there is a noticeable inconsistency in the quantity and quality of labor supply with real demand in the labor market.

If we consider quantitative indicators, the total number of graduates throughout the country annually exceeds the number of new vacant positions. However, the quality characteristics of the graduates, such as knowledge and skills, do not meet today’s requirements. According to a World Bank research, employers in Tajikistan report that  educational insufficiency of graduates is one of the main barriers to business development[iv].

Another important indicator of the scientific activity effectiveness is comparison of the volume of financing the Research, Development and Engineering (RDE) to the total Gross Domestic Product (GDP). According to statistics, RDE funding compared with GDP increases every year in Tajikistan, but these spending remain ineffective. For example, the “UNESCO Science Report: Towards 2030”, shows that the country’s domestic expenditures on RDE increased by 154% during the period 2007-2013 (up to $20.9 million at purchasing power parity at constant 2005 prices), but this hardly stimulated the intensity of scientific research. In general, governmental spending on RDE fluctuates below 0.1% of GDP[v].

According to experts, the inefficiency of budget spending can be explained by the fact that the volume of RDE funding is insufficient to support and develop science, since according to global experience, there is a threshold amount of this indicator. If the share of RDE expenditures is below 1% of GDP, then a complete collapse of science occurs; if it is 1-2%, there is no intensive progress in science. 2-3% of RDE expenditure fosters science development[vi].

If all these fragments are put into a single puzzle, the bigger picture emerges, vividly illustrating the lack of a framework concept for combining science, education, business and other social institutions to create an innovation system. There is a gap between the scientific and educational system and the socio-economic environment in which it operates. All these indicators reflect the unstructured nature of the innovation system, the ambiguity of the purpose of the activity and the uncertainty of its components’ function: education and science first.

All components of the innovation system are interrelated and it is almost impossible to develop the system as a whole without changing the weakest component. Without improving business environment, where there should be healthy competition and a demand for innovation and knowledge, it is impossible to create a need for research and innovation business. Similarly, without the demand for scientific research, the scientific sector is unlikely to be engaged in the new knowledge and innovation production.

To coordinate the process of innovation development, a concept is needed that sets a certain direction for the development of the scientific and educational system, business and other social institutions and corrects contradictions between them at different stages of this process. Without this systematic and integrated approach, this whole process turns into “feeling the elephant in a dark room”.

Scientific and Educational System in an International Context

For a more detailed picture, let us look at the level of global integration of the scientific and educational system. Without a doubt, the creation of an innovative and a knowledge-based economy is impossible without integration into the global scientific and educational process.

Countries with developed and developing innovative sectors and a growing share of the venture business are increasing the human capital and scientific and technical potential not in isolation, but integrating it into the global dynamics of scientific and technological progress.

According to research, the mobility of scientists and the struggle for highly qualified specialists have recently intensified, and this trend will continue. For example, in Saudi Arabia in 2012, the number of doctoral students who studied at home was less than those studying abroad. Another example is Iran. Despite political discord and economic sanctions imposed on Iran by Western countries, the main partners of Iran in the field of science are the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany[vii].

As for Tajikistan, recently, there has been an improvement in international cooperation in the field of education (especially higher education). There is a noticeable growth in students’ interest in participating in academic exchange programs and continuing education abroad. Every year, the number of students who have graduated from foreign universities increases. It is worth noting that success in this direction has been achieved mainly due to international scholarships that are funded by international organizations.

Nevertheless, the educational system in many aspects is still not integrated into the international educational system. Tajikistan remains apart from participation in international assessment programs, such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS) and Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). Participation in international assessments provides an opportunity for a comparative assessment of the level of education, but Tajikistan is still not in a hurry to become a member of these programs.

Tajikistan also passively cooperates with foreign countries in the field of science. Kazakh, Uzbek and Kyrgyz scientists publish more articles in collaboration with scientists from other countries in international scientific journals than scientists from Tajikistan[viii].

Tajikistan scores low in the ranking of the scientific articles’ citation in journals indexed in the international scientific citation database “Web of Science”. In terms of the number of publications, Tajikistan surpassed Turkmenistan in 2008-2014, but the country is behind all CIS countries in the citation index. This indicator demonstrates the low demand abroad for scientific works by Tajik scientists[ix].


The publication activity of Tajik scientists in international scientific journals is rather low compared with other Central Asian countries;

In Tajikistan, researchers are engaged only in education and in the public sector. There is no demand for research from the private non-profit sector and commercial enterprises;

The private sector does not finance research and state budget funds remain the source of funding for science – almost 99%;

The scientific and educational system of Tajikistan is not sufficiently integrated into the global scientific system;

The lack of an integrated and systematic approach to education, science, business and other social institutions has created the conditions in which they function separately from each other. Without unified concept of the integration of scientific educational system with business, production and other social institutions and coordinating their interactions, it is almost impossible to begin the innovative development.


The state needs to create a framework concept for the integration of education and science with business and production and the coordination of their interaction for innovative development. The concept should set for the components of the innovation system the direction of development and the structure on the basis of which these elements will interact.

To implement this concept, it is necessary to use market mechanisms. For example, by financing a research and education system based on results, while mitigating possible risks. It is necessary to create measurable performance indicators to finance these institutions based on their results in the field of teaching, research activities, or interaction with other components of the innovation system (for example, the number of signed contracts with commercial companies).

At the same time, it is necessary to give scientific and educational centers institutional autonomy and more freedom and independence in terms of setting goals and developing a strategy. Further, eliminate bureaucratic obstacles and stimulate the integration of scientific and educational institutions into the global scientific and educational system.

These measures may encourage them to improve their performance. Entrepreneurship is the lever for coordinating all components of innovation processes and development. The formation of a favorable business climate contributes to the formation of the demand for scientific research and education and to stimulating the scientific sector to engage in innovation activities.

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.

[i] National Development Strategy of the Republic of Tajikistan for the period up to 2030

[ii] Unger M., Polt W. (2017) The Knowledge Triangle between Research, Education and Innovation — A Conceptual Discussion. Foresight and STI Governance, vol. 11, no 2, pp. 10–26.

[iii] UNESCO Science Report: Towards 2030. Published in 2015 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

[iv] Analysis by the World bank experts of the results of the research «Tajikistan Jobs, Skills, and Migration Survey 2013», with financial support of the World Bank/GIZ.

[v] UNESCO Science Report: Towards 2030. Published in 2015 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

[vi] J.J. Jumakhonzoda (2017) Scientific and Technological Potential of the Republic of Tajikistan in 2016 – Analytical Collection, p. 200.

[vii] UNESCO Science Report: Towards 2030. Published in 2015 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

[viii] UNESCO Science Report: Towards 2030. Published in 2015 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

[ix] UNESCO Science Report: Towards 2030. Published in 2015 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

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