I have a dream that one day we can study whatever we want in Turkmenistan

On July 6, 2022 Turkmenportal posted on its Instagram ‘the updated procedure to get foreign academic degrees recognised in Turkmenistan.’ They quoted the Ministry of Education saying ‘the new requirements are related to the overabundance of university graduates in social sciences and humanities and difficulties with their employment in Turkmenistan.’ They also shared few links to unrequired specialties, a list of highly-rated universities and a list of required documents to confirm foreign degrees in Turkmenistan.

The Ministry recommends that citizens of Turkmenistan enrol in universities which are included in international rankings such as Academic Ranking of World Universities, QS World University Rankings and the Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

Based on this post, these are my key takeaways. If you want to study abroad and work in Turkmenistan you will need to get your foreign diploma recognised. For this, you have 2 options. You can:

  1. Pursue a profession that is ‘unwanted.’ But in this case, it is recommended that you attend one of the highly rated universities from the approved list.
  2. Pursue a different profession, not among the ‘unwanted list’ at any foreign university of your choice. In this case your foreign degree is subject to nostrification, which is a process to verify that your university degree from a foreign country has the same value as a degree issued in Turkmenistan.

As I see it, it is an attempt by the Ministry of Education to regulate the supply of specialists in certain professions. If you want to pursue a career that is not in high demand, you can. But in this case, you should obtain your degree from a prestigious university. This makes a lot of sense and I can understand why the government might want to do this. However, I have some concerns with their approach.

The post got 1,042 likes and several comments saying:

  • The shared links do not open
  • Whether it will be it possible to pay for tuition fee through banks in Turkmenistan for ‘unwanted professions’
  • Whether they will be allowed by the immigration office to leave Turkmenistan if their chosen university is not in the list?

These are all valid concerns and it is pity that neither Turkmenportal nor representative of the Ministry of Education addressed them. I remember from the past years, even before Covid-19 pandemic, it became close to impossible to pay for tuition and send money to students studying at universities abroad.

The documents shared by Turkmenportal, which presumably belongs to the Ministry of Education, do not seem legitimate as they lack any official stamp or template which is common for official documents. They also do not have any explanation of what these lists are, how they were compiled and why exactly people should follow them. They also lack information on the issuing authority and contact information in case people have questions and want to connect with the relevant authority.

Continuation of the old

In a country with a market economy and a democratic system, government should not dictate which professions and universities people can pursue. Government could, however, create incentives to encourage young people to pursue certain professions or attend a particular university. For example, in Kazakhstan through Bolashak program the government pays for tuition fee and living expenses of citizens to attend particular universities, most of which are highly ranked universities in Europe and North America.

As Turkmenistan has been transitioning to market economy since its independence such practices in no way contribute to this effort. Given that Turkmenistan is pursuing a membership in the World Trade Organisation, practices such this – centrally planned education choices – do not go well with the values of free economy. If the government wants to change people’s choices it should do so not through restrictions but rather through incentives and encouragement and by providing the necessary resources to people to pursue such choices.

Who will address young people’s legitimate fears?

Can I travel abroad?

Young people are afraid that they will not be able to leave the country and travel to their universities. And there are legitimate reasons for why they are afraid. Even before the pandemic, but especially after it, people are unable to travel freely. Many students studying abroad could not travel back to their universities to continue their education.

In the case of another global epidemic, can I continue my studies online?

Turkmen students studying abroad, who could not travel due to the pandemic, could not switch to online education because of slow, expensive connection and highly censored Internet in Turkmenistan.

Can I pay for my tuition and living expenses?

For several years parents cannot send money for living expenses or pay tuition fee to foreign universities because international card payment, banking and money transfer services are not available, or only to a limited extent.

Can I get a job once I graduate from a foreign university?

While there are no reliable statistics on unemployment in Turkmenistan, according to various sources it ranges anywhere from 8% to 60%. With such a long list of ‘unwanted professions’ how can Turkmen youth find a job once they return back to Turkmenistan?

While there is nothing wrong with trying to influence young people’s choices of what to study and where, I wish it was done in an encouraging and supportive way rather than in a restrictive, top-down manner.

The list of unwanted/undesirable professions

It is helpful that the Ministry compiled and shared the list on undesirable professions as it can inform young people’s career choices. However, it would be beneficial if the Ministry also clarified – how the list of unwanted professions was created? Did someone actually run market research to examine which professions are demanded and which ones are not? I see that certain professions in the list which one would consider very relevant given Turkmenistan’s socio-economic needs and goals. For example,

  • Banking and finance – given that Turkmenistan is still struggling to have a properly functioning banking system.
  • Business and entrepreneurship – for a country where private sector is underdeveloped and government wants to increase their economic contribution.
  • Public administration – is it only me who thinks that public sector employees in Turkmenistan do not know how to administer the state apparatus?
  • Statistics – this one is even more puzzling to me given that Turkmenistan struggles with reliable data. International organisations such as the UN always mention ‘statistics’ as a priority area to develop in Turkmenistan or that they provided a technical assistance in this area. Why not build and empower national statisticians who can collect, analyse and present data so policies are designed based on evidence and they serve the real needs of people.

It would have been easier and more useful to share a list of demanded professions and how government envisions helping young people with employment if they specialize in these areas. What professions are really needed in Turkmenistan? What incentive can the Turkmen government provide to encourage young people pursue these professions, e.g., guaranteeing jobs to young people who pursue these studies?

The list of top ranked universities

These are highly ranked universities which is not easy to get into and which require significant financial investment. Does the Ministry of Education provide any additional information and services how best to prepare, apply and get selected to these universities? It would be helpful if the Ministry of Education, through its regional educational institutions, set up an office that would help young people plan and prepare their academic career.

There are many talented and ambitious young people in Turkmenistan, including in remote areas. Not everyone has access to information and to Internet. Hence, through these ‘education information centres’ they could help high school students and recent graduates learn about educational opportunities both at home and abroad, prepare applications, take entrance exams, and plan their trips including logistics such as how to transfer money to pay for tuition when there is no bank payment or money transfer system and difficulties with leaving the country.

Author: Ogulgerek Palwanova

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the editorial group and other authors who write for the publication. creates a space for the expression of diverse opinions in Turkmenistan. Do you have something constructive to say on development in Turkmenistan? Please contact us.

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