Unpacking the state of higher education in Central Asia with Emma Sabzalieva
**420% growth in the number of higher education institutions in 3 decades. Which country are we talking about?** We bet Kyrgyzstan is not the one that comes to your mind first. Yet, like some other post-soviet Central Asian states, Kyrgyz Republic saw a dramatic spike in the number of HE institutions opening across the country as its government was faced with the challenges of establishing not only its Education system – but the very country itself. *But does more institutions mean better education opportunities?* *And what does it actually mean to be a good university and to produce a qualified graduate?*
*Our talk is also available on YouTube*: [*https://youtu.be/oNEwTwKc0X0*](http://https://youtu.be/oNEwTwKc0X0)
Shedding light on and unpacking these & some other dilemmas for us is **Emma Sabzalieva, an International Higher Education researcher based in Canada**, where she is pursuing a PhD at the University of Toronto.
Emma has a rich professional & academic background on the topic: she has worked in consulting and administrative positions with the governments and universities both in Central Asia and the West, and authored multiple academic pieces. One of my favourite ones is [on the challenges of creating a world-class univeristy beyond the West](http://https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/21568235.2017.1292856), the established global core of higher education.
She also has **an amazing blog** where she's been gathering information – news pieces, academic research and her own notes and survey results on education & societal issues in Central Asia. Before visiting it, for instance, I had no idea [just how many Indian students there are in Kyrgyzstan](http://https://emmasabzalieva.com/2019/07/01/international-students-in-kyrgyzstan/); that Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region in Tajikistan has [noticeably higher female participation rates in HE](http://https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20160707140807406) than anywhere else in the country; and how rankings are playing such a growingly important role for universities in Kazakhstan that we see [manipulation of information for image-boosting](http://https://emmasabzalieva.com/2020/06/11/fighting-fake-news-in-kazakhstan/).
In our talk, we've managed to cover a range ot topics, so expect to hear about
• the challenges of privatisation in HE during the transition from the command to market economies;
• the prospects for intra-regional student and faculty exchange;
• the likelihood of any shared qualification standards;
and more – all topped with insights into just how different status quo is in each of the 5 Central Asian Stans.
*Key takeaway?* Higher education landscape in Central Asia is a complex one, with deep historic roots. Only once you start digging under the many layers of history, you will just how much human knowledge was generated here: many forget that it gave the world many great scientists and people of knowledge, including Ibn Sina (Avicenna), the key person behind the Medical Encyclopaedia that was used in Europe centuries after his death, and Timur's grandson Ulugh Beg, great patron of astronomy and a mathematician himself. Nowadays, it is also a region where countries will probably be having growingly more diverging characteristics, which will require case-by-case investigations and careful use of overarching terms – like "Central Asia" itself.
![Ibn Sina / Avicenna](https://today.salamweb.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Avicenna_portrait.jpg)
![Statue of Ulugh Beg and his students, Registan square, Samarqand, Uzbekistan ](https://muslimheritage.com/sites/default/files/ulughbeg03.jpg)
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