Central Asian University to operate in English

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Mon Aug 26 17:54:30 UTC 2002

>>From the New York Times, August 26, 2002

Central Asian University Aims to Train Next Leaders


  In Central Asia, where authoritarian leaders thwart democracy and
Islamic militancy is a threat, a group of international scholars are
creating a regional university to bring secular education to people in
some of the remotest, most forbidding and poverty-stricken regions. "We
want to give them the opportunity to be modern and remain where their
forefathers have lived," said S. Frederick Starr, the chairman of the
Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced
International Studies in Washington and a member of the team devising the
new institution, the University of Central Asia.

The university will offer degree programs based on a liberal arts and
sciences curriculum, unlike the specialist programs of the Soviet era. The
programs are being created to serve a new elite in the hope that they will
provide leadership in the region. Fees will be charged. But each of the
three campuses will also offer continuing and vocational education for
ordinary civil servants, farmers and merchants. Mr. Starr, who speaks
several regional languages, is acting as rector of the
university-in-the-making until a local administration is in place.

The university was established by a treaty that has been ratified, so far,
by the Parliaments of Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. The main
campus at Khorog, in the Badakhshan region of the Pamir Mountains in
Tajikistan, is already beginning to function as a continuing and
vocational education center. Within the next four years, it is expected to
become a fully equipped undergraduate and graduate university
"coeducational, private, nonsectarian and with a local faculty," Mr. Starr
said in an interview.

Two other campuses will be built, at Tekeli, Kazakhstan, and Naryn,
Kyrgyzstan. The first phase of operations in Kazakhstan also continuing
education is being directed by a woman, Dr. Raikhan Sissekenova, a public
health specialist. The poverty in those regions has deepened in the past
20 years, he said, and people there have enough communication with the
outside world to know that they are losing out. "Everywhere, that creates
tremendous volatility and calls forth the deepest frustrations," he said.
The university is expected to cost about $200 million to build. The Aga
Khan Foundation pledged $15 million and has helped with start-up services
through its development network. Governments in several countries
including Canada, Germany, Japan and Switzerland as well as corporations
and other foundations are expected to contribute.

The Aga Khan, leader of moderate Ismaili Muslims, who are a majority in
the Khorog region, is the university's first chancellor. Students will
study English and computers before beginning course work, and
undergraduate degree courses will be taught in English, the language that
people in the region believe will best connect them to the outside world.
"We want enlightened and principled generalists who can provide a moderate
kind of leadership for the entire region," Mr. Starr said. Adult education
programs are intended to retrain civil service employees and assist
would-be entrepreneurs.

Payam Foroughi, an international consultant who worked in development
projects for three years in rural Tajikistan, questioned whether an
emphasis on English was wise. Mr. Foroughi said that Russian was already a
common language in the region and that local languages, including the form
of Tajik spoken in the Pamir Mountains around the main campus, needed to
be preserved and strengthened. But Mr. Foroughi, who wrote the chapter on
Tajikistan for a recent Freedom House report on the uncertain state of
democracy in Central Asia and other post-Communist societies, agreed that
an early emphasis on practical skills was important.

"Tajik youth need education applicable to their lives," he said. "They
should not lose touch with the land, because many families are in
agriculture." Poor young people are too easily seduced by Islamic
militancy, he added. Mr. Starr said that continuing education programs
would always be taught in regional dialects and that languages and courses
would respond to local needs.

When a researcher recently toured the Badakhshan region, on the border
with Afghanistan, to ask what people wanted to learn, women were among the
first to answer, Mr. Starr said. They wanted courses in women's legal

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