DUSHANBE - Friday, May 04, 2012 -
Many Tajiks who go abroad to study are staying on to live and work there rather than return to live in the impoverished Central Asian state.
Every year, around 1,000 Tajikistan nationals go off to study in other former Soviet states like Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan, often on scholarships provided by host countries.
Official figures are unavailable, but a Tajik education ministry official told the Institute for War & Peace Reporting (IWPR) on condition of anonymity that around 70 percent of students were choosing to stay abroad after graduation.
Observers worry that Tajikistan, where half the 7.7 million population lives on less than two dollars per day, can ill afford to lose some of its brightest minds.
“These are professionals who could help lift this country out of stagnation,” said Alla Kuvatova, a lecturer at Dushanbe’s Russian-Tajik Slavonic University, which sends many students to Russia.
Tazarf Nasimova, head of the education ministry’s external relations department, said the students ought to return.
“It’s very unfortunate that not all the students come back. Under current rules, they are obliged to return after graduating,” she said. “We are trying various methods of encouraging our citizens [to return]. They are supposed to give something back to the state.”
The Tajik government itself sponsors dozens of young people to study abroad, but they generally do return, as their parents have to repay the scholarship money if they do not.
Those who have studied abroad say a host of factors make life back in Tajikistan look unattractive – lack of jobs and other opportunities, conservative social mores, and an undemocratic political culture.
The biggest factor is perhaps the shortage of jobs.
“Manufacturing is virtually non-existent in our country. We don’t see agriculture or industry being developed,” Ibrahim Usmanov, a journalism lecturer at the Tajik-Russian Slavonic University. “Until the economic situation improves, young people will continue to leave the country.”
Students who opt to remain abroad form part of a much bigger picture of labor migration from Tajikistan. Over a million nationals of the country work abroad, on a seasonal or semi-permanent basis, typically in manual jobs in Russia and Kazakhstan. They money they send home is equivalent to half of gross domestic product, and is a lifeline for many households in Tajikistan.
Mavzuna Arifova, a 22-year-old from Dushanbe, is studying for a master’s degree in Moscow, and says three of her four Tajik fellow-students want to stay on in Russia after graduating.
Arifova plans to return, but hopes to work for the foreign ministry so that she can go abroad again.
The environment in Tajikistan is too conservative and there is not much to do there, she said.
“After ten in the evening ,everything in Tajikistan is closed,” Arifova said, adding that Moscow offered theaters and other leisure activities.
In Russia, she can wear shorts and short-sleeved tops without anyone commenting, whereas this would attract criticism back home.
Dozens more students attend universities in the West. For them, the prospect of returning is particularly off-putting. Kuvatova says about half of them stay on rather than coming back.
“When you come back to Tajikistan... you initially feel like a foreigner in your own country,” said Qobil Shokirov, 25, who recently returned from five years working and studying in Nevada in the United States.
“We’re missing a lot of things. We are so far behind,” he said.
Reverse culture shock also hit Zarina Juraeva when she came back from the U.S., where she studied prevention of HIV/AIDS among street children.
“It’s bad when you realize that the Tajikistan you imagine from abroad is a long way from the reality,” she said.
While in America, Juraeva was struck by how politically open the U.S. political system was.
“When we used to call up congressmen and fix up a meeting – they were so approachable,” she said, adding that members of Tajikistan’s parliament were unreachable.
Standards at her U.S. university were much higher, she said, so that it would be out of the question to bribe a lecturer to get through an exam, as happened in Tajikistan.
“Students [in Tajikistan] don’t study,” Juraeva said. “They download ready-to-use coursework off the internet. It’s a widespread practice.”
Juraeva is in her early thirties and married with a child. She has no immediate plans to emigrate, but would seize the opportunity if it arose.
Sitora Hakimova recently returned from studying sociology at the New York State University in Buffalo. She praised the high educational standards there, and also the fact that students were free to challenge their lecturers.
“I was surprised at how students interacted with professors. You can criticize them if you don’t agree with their views,” she said. “There’s a very liberal atmosphere. It is a real democracy.”
Hakimova hopes to leave Tajikistan again soon. So does Shokirov, who has been offered funding for a doctorate by the Aga Khan Foundation, and plans to leave later this year.
“I’m afraid I won’t have many opportunities in Tajikistan, and to be honest, I have no desire to stay,” he said.
(This article was originally published by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (www.iwpr.net).