All Round View (Peshawar): Turkmenistan is a Central Asian country that has experienced significant reforms in its higher education system since the end of the Soviet Union. Because Turkmenistan’s state archives are not available to researchers, this chapter is based on limited available information such as statistical information of CIS countries, NGO reports, mass media reports and the reports of international agencies.
Turkmenistan is one of the largest holders and exporters of gas in the world. The country is comparable to the size of France in territory, but it is sparsely populated by approximately five million people. The country possesses the world’s fourth largest reserves of natural gas. According to the World Bank (2014), Turkmenistan has become an upper middle-income economy driven by hydrocarbon exports: GDP per capita rose from 970 USD in 2002 to nearly 7,000 USD in 2013. Among Central Asian countries, Kazakhstan has a larger GDP per capita (10,508 USD), with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan the lowest: 1,103 USD and 926 USD, respectively. Living standards of the Turkmenistan population have improved over the past years, supplemented by massive investment in physical capital. Natural gas exports, which consist of 90 percent of overall export, have pushed national economic growth. The extractive sector accounts for nearly half of Turkmenistan’s GDP.
Although the country has made a significant progress in macroeconomic indicators, the quality of Turkmenistan’s human capital—its health and education systems—lags behind most other comparable nations, such as Azerbaijan or Ukraine. Moreover, “the Human Development Index (HDI), a composite statistic of life expectancy; education; and income, shows that despite the enormous increase in income per capita experienced in recent years, improvements of health and education outcomes are not remarkable.” The people of Turkmenistan have lower life expectancy than most neighbors, let alone the populations of more developed resource-rich countries around the world. Current employment rates of 55 percent and a labor force participation rate of 61 percent for the 15–64-year-old population are low by international standards. According to the same study, with the working age population projected to increase by one-third in 2030, investment in human capital is insufficient to allow the next generation of Turkmen citizens to find jobs.
Despite this wealth, affluence has not trickled down enough to the general population. Rural areas remain notably poor and underdeveloped. The state budget provides funds to subsidize citizens’ home heating, gasoline, electricity, water, flour and salt. However, people in rural areas do not have guaranteed access to clean drinking water and electricity outages are not unusual.
Although Turkmenistan does not participate in global assessments such as PISA or TIMSS, the quality of education and its alignment to the present and future needs of the economy are questionable. Education transformation under the first president of Turkmenistan led to decreasing educational provision on all levels. Relatively recently the Turkmen government has made an attempt to reverse this negative trend. The Turkmenistan President’s Decree on the “Improvement of the Education System in Turkmenistan” (2013) and the “Concept of Transition to 12-year General Secondary Education in Turkmenistan” were adopted, which aim at radical reforms in the education sector. These reforms are reaching a great number of the population. They include costly projects, ranging from introduction of internet access to building new campuses for HEIs that are made possible by the government’s access to energy wealth.
The challenge of modernization is significant, particularly in higher education. Turkmenistan’s population is extremely young with 46 percent under age 24 and 20 percent between ages 15 and 24. This demographic situation has implications for all social systems, especially education. Taking in just over 7,000 first year students in the 2014/2015 academic year, HEIs are only able to accommodate around 7 percent of the 100,000 annual graduates. There are approximately 25,600 students currently enrolled in HEIs.
Turkmenistan as other post-Soviet republics attempted to build its education system according to national interests, which were identified by the government. According to the model developed by the first President of Turkmenistan, Niyazov, the country has had to emphasize transformation from the Soviet model to what he called a democratic model, which was declared in the first Constitution of independent Turkmenistan. However, according to this political model, the state should be the main driver and guarantor of this process. Building the education system, which had to respond to the national interests identified by Niyazov, has driven many reforms in this country. In Turkmenistan, the state plays a major role in the transformation of the economic, social and political institutions including secondary and higher education systems.
The purpose of this chapter is to provide an analysis of the changes that took place in higher education and its institutional landscape in Turkmenistan from the late Soviet years to the present day. Most prominent in this examination will be the differences between Soviet and post-Soviet Turkmen higher education institutions (HEIs) as well as the salient characteristics of reform during the first presidency of Saparmurat Niyazow (1990–2006) and that of the second president, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow.
This chapter starts with an overview of the Soviet era education and continues with the analysis of two periods of independence and 2007 to the present day.
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