Building Global Competitiveness of Higher Education and Science of the Republic of Uzbekistan: The Current Status and Perspectives David Reggio, Global Head of Consulting, QS Quacquarelli Symonds

Building Global Competitiveness of Higher Education and Science of the Republic of Uzbekistan: The Current Status and Perspectives

David Reggio, Global Head of Consulting, QS Quacquarelli Symonds

 

The Foundation for Reforms

The Republic of Uzbekistan Presidential Decree of Shavkat Mirziyoyev dated 8 October 2019 # UP-5847 “On the Adoption of the Conceptual Document on the Development of the System of Higher Education in the Republic of Uzbekistan until 2030” identified the necessary actions to progressively reform the Higher Education sector, and more importantly, to cultivate a national environment of social, academic and scientific innovation. Confident, decisive steps have therefore been taken to establish the structural conditions for scientific and educational development: policies and their implementation have created the very strong potential for global engagement through science, education and innovation.

The Decree of 2019 was a logical consequence and operational extension of two previous Presidential Resolutions dated 20 April 2017 # PP-2909 “On Measures for Further Development of the System of Higher Education” and dated 27 July 2017 # PP-3151 “On Measures for Further Extension of Participation of Sectors and Spheres of the Economy in the Improvement of Quality of Training Programmes for Specialists with Higher Education.” These, to summarise, set out the necessary strategic, economic, and infrastructural steps required to further cultivate, harness, and leverage Uzbekistan’s scientific potential through the Higher Education sector with universities positioned as the regional and international drivers to build partnerships that can equally add value nationally and globally.

As written in the 2019 Decree, the “modernisation of higher education, development of the social sector and industries of the economy based on advanced education technologies” are the motivations paving the way for development over the next decade. No doubt it is expected that by 2030 the Republic of Uzbekistan will be able to look back over a series of scaled, successful, globally integrated achievements that will have established the country as a vibrant, international hub of scientific development, innovation and academic opportunities.

Presently looking ahead to 2030 we are at the early stages of a decade of scaled growth. Given this, the way in which universities strategically plan for the near-term, and medium-term, will be a critical factor to ensuring that educational and research modernisation is achieved to fulfil the aims of policy.

The use of the word “modernisation” can be understood as internationalisation of Uzbekistan Higher Education and the increased participation in, and contribution to, global scenarios through science. More precisely, we can see this modernisation as providing the necessary support and mechanisms to enable the international participation of Uzbekistan universities in new global scientific economies (for example, deep learning, space, nano-biotech etc.,), skills development, industry research and academic programmes that serve the needs of industry and society. An equal observation is that Uzbek universities already have necessary scientific and academic talent to achieve this level of participation, sooner than expected, and that Uzbekistan can become a vibrant, referenced centre of international interest for innovation, science and education from 2025 onwards.

 

On the Road to 2030

The next decade will be decisive for many reasons and the world is looking towards 2030 as a global milestone sooner than a destination. The Republic of Kazakhstan has a 2030 Development Strategy; The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has Vision 2030; there is the UN SDG 2030 strategy; and in the case of Uzbekistan we have the Development Strategy Framework of the Republic of Uzbekistan looking towards 2035.

Page 353 of the Uzbek 2035 framework document details one of the many comprehensive targets for 2025: namely, to adapt educational programs at all levels of education to the needs of the economy (increase the number of subjects related to engineering, economics, and business, but preserving education in the field of natural sciences). To note further, five years later by 2030, Uzbekistan should be in the position to be actively promoting international cooperation between universities and to be recruiting foreign teachers in order to improve the quality of education in colleges and universities.

On the basis of these aims I also will limit focus to the next decade, as I believe these are more than achievable within ten years. I will also add a possibility (sooner than a target to be met) that is not identified in the strategic framework: that by 2025 Uzbekistan can become an internationally vibrant hub for research and innovation in key areas on account of (1) the policies being implemented (2) the scientific and academic talent that is within Uzbek universities, and, (3) an increased international awareness of the social, scientific and academic innovation spearheaded by Uzbek universities.

 

Let us consider the next decade, then, according to three dependent stages of structural, strategic development:

  • The first, I call the near-term foundation stage (2020-2022): this is where best practices in are adopted by universities, where the international awareness of what Uzbek universities do increases; where Uzbek Universities may enter rankings indices, and where gaps in International knowledge are overcome through strategically promoting science and culture. This foundation stage to the next decade, is also possible by virtue of the previous modernization policies of the nation. This is where you maximize your scientific and educational capabilities;
  • The second stage (2022-2025) is the medium-term transitional stage: This is where Uzbek higher education moves to more intermediate practices and results: best practices are already established and the institution’s people and governance are collectively working with international partners on a cooperative, strategic basis; International partnerships developed prior to and during this stage have followed science and trade in a new, post-Brexit world; International faculty has increased with the awareness of Uzbekistan. Scientific global hubs are established in key universities with international partners focusing on high-impact areas. This is where, Uzbekistan becomes an innovation hub within central Asia, to lead and inspire by example on account of the way it has participated and collaborated with international partners. This is where you diversify through scientific and educational capabilities;
  • The third stage (2025-2030) is the mature point of evolution and relates to leadership and significant results. Here, by this stage, Uzbek universities will have fluid global networks for research and innovation as well as international post-doc communities. Publications have continued to grow as well as citations but more importantly it is the progressive global interest in Uzbekistan that has brokered much of the international alliances. University reputation has continued to grow year-on-year and there is an active international circulation of researchers and young scholars. Universities have contributed to the enhanced international knowledge of Uzbekistan, its science, its culture and its role in the region and the world. Uzbek universities are now fully part of new scientific economies and have established high-impact scientific networks in its immediate region, as well as USA, U.K. and Middle East. This is where you lead through scientific and educational capabilities.

 

These three stages are possible based on current observations of what I call university “assets.” I am using the term “assets” to refer to: the scientific and educational achievements, actions or activities that hold value for the international scientific and academic communities. These assets are present across the Uzbek landscape of higher education and they create the higher education “virtues” or “international market proposition” of the Uzbek higher education. In other words, these assets serve as regional and global bridges. From what I have seen so far, these “assets” or “virtues” are the following across a group of ten universities:

  • Research and Academic Programmes in: Renewable Energy; Sustainable Water Management; Irrigation Technologies; Hydrology; Hydrotech;
  • Research and Academic Programmes in: Aerospace Engineering; Civil Engineering; IT & ACS; Aerospace; Metrology Centre;
  • Research and Academic Programmes in: Pharmacy; Pharmaceutical Biotech;
  • Research and academic programmes in: Nuclear Physics (accelerator); Mathematical Physics; Photonics;
  • Research and academic programmes in: Nuclear Physics (accelerator); Mathematical Physics; Photonics;
  • Research and Academic Programmes in: Immunology; Pharmacology; Molecular Cell Technology;
  • Research and Academic Programmes in: Aeronautics; Engineering Tech; Materials Science;
  • Academic Programmes offered in several European languages;
  • A UNESCO chair;
  • Rangeland Ecosystem Research with the university of Nevada and UNDP;
  • An Innovation Centre with Japan;
  • Work with leading industries in the field of telecommunications, cyber security and software engineering;
  • A World Bank sponsored fintech lab;
  • Centre for Traditional Medicine (South Korea);
  • Numerous technoparks and business incubation units.

 

These “assets” should not be merely considered scientific and academic actions, but strong components to showcasing to the international community what is being done at Uzbek universities, the achievements in programmes and centres, and precisely the scientific potential the Republic of Uzbekistan presents for the future. That is to say, the potential to build international bridges through scientific and educational value.

 

Scientific and Cultural Assets: Educating Audiences

It may be somewhat surprising to say that the international academic community of leaders, thinkers, scientists and scholars also needs to be educated about what particular countries offer in terms of science, society and industry. Having worked for over 20 years in different parts of the world I have observed that there is a “double task” or a “double challenge”. Namely, that we have to educate the international community about our scientific and our cultural offering. An increased citation index score alone is not enough to inform market perceptions and to cultivate both market curiosity and awareness.

Science, here, can equally be considered a vehicle for communicating our cultural “assets” to the world. In other words, science is a diplomatic conduit to enabling the increased awareness of Uzbekistan’s culture and its people. There is, in fact, a real-world need for this scientific-cultural communication, and it is interesting why ministries of tourism and ministries of education are not increasingly working together in recognition of this mutual dependency or this “double task”. There is an important relation between education and tourism, just as strong as the relation between trade and tourism. Dubai is the leading example of this.

Is it possible then, that by 2022 someone who has just recently finished their PhD, and who wants to continue their research, could find their next step to be in central Asia? This, of course, is what the Presidential Decree is aiming for and precisely what universities should be considering as a near-term or medium-term possibility.

Maybe when hearing or reading on professional social media the story of an institution that had a world bank sponsored fintech lab (or a particle accelerator or a centre for traditional Chinese medicine etc) and then hearing and seeing of Samarkand, Khiva, Tashkent, and Bukhara (the silk road sites, the cultural uniqueness of central Asia, the natural world landscapes) that a post-doc could be motivated to fulfil their needs for scientific, professional and cultural experience. Again, this is about the “double task” and how we harness science as that diplomatic conduit.

It is precisely here that I mention the words “hearing” and “seeing” because these relate to visibility: how visible our science is and how visible our culture is will determine the strength of overseas curiosity and interest. It is why science must be considered a d conduit. The more visible and known our science is, the more visible and known our culture is, and science and education can drive international relations very effectively.

  

What needs to be done in the near-term?

From my perspective, and this is my personal opinion, having worked in and with different nations over 20 years in the fields of research, policy and strategy: Uzbekistan can become a hub for academic, social and scientific innovation from 2025 onwards. It already has the science and the diversity of academic programs. Yes, Uzbekistan can become a global participant in new scientific economies and is in the position to be a unique centre of scientific, international activity – policy has enabled this and the confidence of Presidential Decree can be taken as a proxy for institutional confidence.

When speaking of the near-term need for visibility does this refer to advertising? Not at all. It is about where and how we tell our story: advertising is not a substitute for good storytelling or research narratives. More precisely, it is about adopting the necessary strategies and actions required to enable international communities to hear, know and see. Therefore, the near-term is about cultivating international interest and making visible these tremendous assets of Uzbek universities: strategic actions with international impact.

Here, we can go a little further:  namely, that building the scientific brand of Uzbekistan is a near-term priority. As I have said, the science is already there, but we need to show what is being done and to communicate the very strong potential our universities carry for the future.

These examples to say that we do have to build up this international awareness through the conduit of our science in order to bridge the gaps in international awareness. How we build international partnerships with our scientific and academic assets is another key factor in the near-term that will guarantee long-term competitive advantages and to achieving the goals of policy.

 

The Decade Ahead

A further factor to remember here: Samarkand and Tashkent played a key role in the history of the Silk Road.  Today, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is creating new economic corridors and deepened industrial and trade alliances across Eurasia. Uzbekistan, as with Kazakhstan, will be strategic locations which can ensure the human, skills and knowledge capital for the BRI. The $1.7 billion international business and financial hub in Tashkent will no doubt leverage opportunities in this respect.

Beyond the industry and trade opportunities that define one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, there is the scientific (knowledge) economy and cultural economy of Uzbekistan that will also drive the next decade of the nation’s global participation within and beyond Eurasia. The $3.6 billion synthetic production facility in Kashkadarya region, which is pitched to be the one of the world’s most advanced energy plants, is a case in hand.

This is how we should understand competitiveness, namely, as increased participation in global scientific economies.  Uzbek universities will contribute to knowledge sharing and enrich reflections on key scientific and industrial issues, considered as essential to the economic and social development of the central Asian region, and the world.

The idea of Uzbekistan becoming a regional hub for science and innovation that attracts international attention and participation, and that by 2025 the country is home to a vibrant network of skilled human and knowledge resource, is to be considered a viable milestone and not merely a hypothesis. And it is universities that provide the foundation for making this a reality, enabled by government policy.

Thinking ahead in terms of science for the next ten years: medicine, automation, energy technologies, water sanitation, space as a fast-growing global economy, materials, automation and convolutional neural networks all have a place within the university, the home and industry, and they all have a place within the universities of Uzbekistan.  Transferable skills and commercialised knowledge, new programmes that address the needs of industries directly (micro-programmes), continued high rates of graduate employability, and integrated university-industry campuses will all feature as the medium-term outcomes defining the next decade.

These are exciting, promising times for the higher education landscape of Uzbekistan and for the scientific and cultural opportunities it presented to the world.

 

David Reggio, September 2020