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Unclear Fate of University of Central Asia in Tajikistan

Students and parents are concerned with the messages that the UCA campus based in Khorog has not been certified for educational activity.

By cabar.asia journalists in Dushanbe and Bishkek

A few dozen students selected from Central Asian states, neighbouring Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries are now staying in the capital city of the eastern Gorno-Badakhshan region of Tajikistan – Khorog – and are waiting for the beginning of the study.

However, an official of the Tajik Ministry of Education and Science has dispelled the rumours about the beginning of the academic year in the UCA by saying that the university has not received a license for educational activity due to the incomplete package of submitted documents and therefore may not educate its students this academic year.

“The situation with the UCA is as follows: the administration of the university turned to us a few months ago to obtain a license and we gave them a list of required documents that they should have submitted,” Alidod Rasulzoda, the head of State Service for Supervision in Education at the Tajik Ministry of Education and Science, said to the news agency Asia Plus.  “However, we haven’t received the whole package yet, so the UCA has failed to get a license for carrying out its activities Tajikistan.”

Campus in Horoq (ucentralasia.org)

A university staff member in a previous telephone conversation said that the university was at the stage of license acquisition then and she hoped for the positive outcome; however, if it fails, “students won’t be left alone.”

“On November 1, online courses will start,” she said during the unofficial telephone conversation. “If we don’t get the license this year, the students would possibly be transferred to Naryn, Kyrgyz Republic, which has been functioning for a year now.”

Earlier the Tajik journalists took a tour around the campus where they were shown the educational unit, libraries, campus, and other necessary facilities. The admission of students has been announced and the faculty staff has been hired, the emphasis has been placed on the instructors from abroad.

As the majority of students are foreign citizens, the Minister of Education, Nuriddin Said, has addressed the Aga Khan Foundation calling on it to admit not only students from Central Asia, Pakistan and Afghanistan, but the young people of Tajikistan, not only from Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region, but also from other regions of the country.

Parents complain about extra expenditures if the messages of the transfer of students from Khorog to Naryn would be confirmed.

“I pay too much for my son’s tuition. I haven’t expected this amount because he should have studied in our country. I will have to borrow money, so I hope my investment into him wouldn’t be in vain,” the father of one of Khorog-based students said on the phone.

The IWPR journalists have attempted repeatedly to get comments from the UCA campus in Khorog and the UCA central office in Bishkek, but failed.

Criticising ineffective management

According to the critics, the administration of the University of Central Asia seems to conceal the situation and doesn’t want to give any explanations regarding the comments.

Despite the agreement signed on the highest level, the construction of Tajikistan-based university has encountered great difficulties. The land plot was allocated to the university in early 2000s, but the Tajik authorities have failed to permit the construction for reasons best known to them only.

Construction works started in 2015 and were completed in September 2017, one year before the specified time. The budget was around 95 million US dollars.

The Tajik Ministry of Education has reported that the UCA applied for a license a few months before. Local commentators have expressed their opinion that the university administration could have taken this process seriously, applied in advance and prepared all required documents.

To commence the academic activity, according to the Tajik laws, the university must submit a list of 17 documents, including both academic processes, technical readiness of premises, and administrative aspects.

Aga Khan Karim IV with Tajik president Emomali Rakhmon (president.tj)

“We do understand that this university functions on the basis of the governmental agreement, but the working committee that has visited the campus in Khorog has reported that not all construction works have been completed,” the representative of Ministry of Education, Rasulzoda, said. “On our part, our agency has claims to documents only. As soon as we receive the whole package of documents, we will review it and make a decision on the license issue.”

According to Vafobek Barombekov, the head of the sociology department of the Tajikistan National University, the administration of the UCA has probably relied on the agreement signed by the president of the country, Emomali Rakhmon, and by Prince Karim Aga Khan IV, yet failed to ensure that all documents comply with the requirements.

“I think that if the ministry is to blame for 40 per cent, the UCA administration is to blame for the remaining 60 per cent,” he said.

One of the former education officials said they should not rely on high agreements only and hope that officials would turn a blind eye to the legislative requirements in projects.

“Of course, the opening of this prestigious university is a matter of time. However, I think that the staff of AKDN should be more attentive in such procedures,” former official said on condition of anonymity. “They should coordinate their actions with relevant ministries and agencies of the country to know all the nuances of decision-making, license issue, etc. And now we see that they are far from the realities of Tajikistan.”

Our interviewee suggested that this situation followed because the main administration of the UCA consists of foreigners who cannot, despite their expertise, establish contacts with the stakeholders and find common ground for efficient cooperation.

Former staff member of the Aga Khan network in Tajikistan, Khushkadam Khosabekov, has the same opinion. He made an example of the purchase of the residential house in the attractive district of the town for the construction of the administrative building, a tennis court on the central stadium, a land plot near the Khorog airport at a big price, but the Tajik officials never allowed the foundation to dispose of this property and offered unequal land plots instead.

“I think these are the mistakes of the administration of the Aga Khan Foundation working in Tajikistan. Failures pursue them,” Khushkadam Khosabekov who worked in the Aga Khan Foundation for 15 years said. “With all the power and funds of the administration of the Foundation, they have failed to establish good diplomatic relations with the leadership of the country. They have failed to do something on time, to submit documents. They have absolutely no contacts at the highest level.”


The campus of the University of Central Asia has been functioning in the mountainous Naryn region of Kyrgyzstan since September 2016 and it has more than 70 students from Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries, a few students from Kyrgyzstan.

Officials and local residents have welcomes the opening of such international project that makes it possible for local residents to be employed, and for young people to get access to present knowledge.

UCA’s Naryn campus (ucentralasia.org)

However, a certain part of local residents, instructors and students have expressed their opinion that the UCA could work more closely with local students and young people, establish cultural and informal bridges.

A fight between a few foreign students and local guys after the exhibition basketball game this summer turned into a bigger campaign of discontent expressed by local young people who did not like the behaviour of foreign students.

(See more:  Conflict in the University of Central Asia: Investigation with no visible results  https://cabar.asia/ru/konflikt-v-universitete-tsentralnoj-azii-razbiratelstvo-bez-vidimyh-rezultatov/ )

Now, according to local residents, the situation is normal, with no conflict or antipathy between the young people of Naryn and students of UCA.

Despite the official statements on mutual contacts, instructors and students based in Naryn said that the town did not provide so many opportunities to students to meet more often and establish informal relations.

“The only thing (I told them already) they should do is to establish more cultural relations with the local population, they should get in closer contact,” Aziz Cholponbaev, the vice-rector of the local Naryn State University, said. “Students [of UCA] should learn better the language and culture of the local population; they should be integrated instead of living in isolation.”

He added that the Naryn residents were proud to have this international project working in their town and told about the mutual cooperation between the two universities.

According to the alumna of Naryn State University and local activist, Nazira Beishenbekova, you can hardly find UCA students walking around the town after the summer incident.

“I have no exact information, but as far as I know, foreign students stopped going to the town, and I have also heard that students may not go out of the campus unattended or without a group, but I cannot tell for sure,” Nazira Beishenbekova said. “Now they come to the market and to commercial bank branches under supervision, and in the past they could go anywhere unattended.”

Ainura Duishok kyzy, the press secretary of the Naryn region administration, assured us that students and instructors may feel safe on the streets and everyone treats foreign guests in a friendly manner and openly.

“[The UCA students] go into town, buy what they need, walk around, they have no obstacles, and the young people don’t exert pressure on them,” the press secretary of the regional administration said. “Everything is fine here in terms of safety, we have many tourists here, they walk freely; there haven’t been any facts of any pressure or oppression by locals.”

UCA students in Naryn campus at the event on presenting national cultures (ucentralasia.org)

Activist Beishenbekova said that this March local students organised the Kulturcafe Project in the Naryn State University focused on the acquaintance, dialogue and communication between students and young people of the two universities.

“Our only problem is the linguistic barrier because they speak mainly Russian or English, while in Naryn everyone speaks only Kyrgyz, and this is a sort of a barrier for conversation. In my opinion, this is the main problem,” a local activist said.

Beishenbekova has wished that UCA would organise more activities of this kind meant to promote acquaintance, mutual interaction, but not competition.

“Anyway, competition means contest, dispute, but the project like Kulturcafe offers more opportunities for the dialogue, creates a friendly environment; one can sit there and listen to music, have tea. Whereas the competition means ‘I’m cooler, I’m cool’, and that’s where the conflict arises,” Nazira Beishenbekova said.

Also, the School of Continuous Education is located in Naryn, unofficially called the Aga Khan Centre, where school and university students may attend English, computer courses and prepare for the all-republican test. But it is located separately from the university, while the UCA is located on the skirts of the town and local students may visit it only when invited to some event.

The University of Central Asia is an international educational project of Prince Karim Aga Khan IV jointly with the governments of Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan for the development of mountainous regions of the three countries, investment into the education of students from modest families, and research of mountain landscape. Campuses are built in Khorog (Tajikistan), Naryn (Kyrgyzstan), and the opening of UCA in Tekeli (Kazakhstan) is scheduled by the 2019 academic year.

Original article has been published in Russian https://cabar.asia/ru/neyasnaya-sudba-universiteta-tsentralnoj-azii-v-tadzhikistane/ 

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