Archive for April 18, 2009

Almaty Street Scene: Sheeps Heads, Horses and Pigeons

p4180218Yesterday I walked down to the Green Bazaar and some of the things I saw looked “normal. ” I’ve lived in Almaty over a year and a half. The horses and pigeons in front of the old Orthodox church in Panfilov park, normalna. Sheeps heads at the Green Bazaar, again every day stuff. Even found the Easter egg sleeves to actually celebrate Orthodox Easter this weekend by boiling up the eggs. Many cultures converge in this busy city of Almaty to make it a fantastic place to live!!! That is, if you are “into” variety!p4180220p4180219p4180224



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“If you want to earn a low salary…”

“…you should study long.” My students from the econ department and I had an enlightening conversation about education and salaries yesterday. This was after we had laughed through the 50 American jokes from an old copy of a Reader’s Digest with the front cover titled “Laugh.” My Kazakh students enjoy laughing and it is fun to encourage it even if the jokes were in English. I asked my students what type of humorous jokes they laugh at in Russian or Kazakh. Seems the difference lies in adapting to the chaotic period in the early 1990s when policies were changing from centrally planned economy to market economy, everyone grimaced ruefully at the shortages. Jokes are understood or thought of as funny only to those people who went through the painful adjustment of changing from the Soviet Union’s past to Kazakhstan’s current independence.

One example was, “I hope you marry an engineer” a joke taken from a famous Russian film. Back in the Soviet days, one was expected to go to 10 years of school and then add five more years of university work. However, for those who went to all the extra work, they were not compensated financially. Everyone got similar salaries no matter what position they filled, manual labor received the same amount of money as those in the white collar professions.

This fits with the old Soviet saying, “If you want to earn a low salary, you should study long.” Not a very welcome thought for those aspiring young students in the Soviet days. This “bad wish” of “I hope you marry an engineer” meant you were hoping for them to have a low income. (a morbid kind of Slavic humor) My students and I talked about this sad fact that farmers and miners made more money than engineers, doctors and lawyers during the Soviet period.

Currently a Doctor of Science degree holder which presumably used to have more prestige than a Ph.D. from the West only earns about 45,000 tenge which is the equivalent of $300 a month. I was told you can’t compare a Doctor of Science to a Ph.D. nowadays, it is impossible to do so. This is true for a number of reasons but after Kazakhstan gained independence, the educational standards from the Soviet period went down drastically. From what I understand from our conversation yesterday, a Doctor of Science was never younger than age 40 because it took many years to achieve this status. You had to prove to the governing board in Moscow that you had, for example, developed an absolutely new field in Math and you would have many students you advised.

Sadly, the disciplines in the Humanities, such as philology or linguistics, were hardest hit with corruption and bribery in order to obtain a Doctor of Science or Candidate of Science degree. This means that Kazakhs don’t have to go through the rigors of what academics in the past did when they answered to the elites in Moscow. These two degrees in graduate school are no longer valuable or trustworthy since 1991 after Kazakhstan gained independence. Yet those older academicians who DID go to Moscow to defend their dissertation in the old Soviet days are making very little money now with their hard fought degrees. I was told that those in the hard sciences still adhere to a higher standard such as in physics, math and chemistry. However, it is easier to obtain a Doctor of Science or Candidate of Science degree because of corruption in Kazakhstan.

Even for a Kazakh physician or doctor of medicine, they get government funding but that is not even enough to survive on so they have to ask their patients to pay an additional amount in order to have a surgery or operation done. It would seem that there is not a high motivation to study hard if, in fact, you do not get the financial rewards to accompany your brain power. With that in mind, it is no wonder that so many Kazakh students are trying to earn their MBA degree at our westernized university where they can enjoy making money in business and hopefully doing so legitimately.

The following is what I found on the Internet about higher education in Kazakhstan.

In Soviet Kazakhstan every graduate was guaranteed a job upon graduation both by the KazSSR and the USSR governments. The new state experienced high levels of unemployment, 12.3 percent in 2001, and it had to abandon the former function as a job provider. Instead, it gave an order and some money to the state-owned universities to prepare a certain amount of specialists for the needs of the state structures. It also provided financial assistance to 58,600 students or 24 percent of all the total contingent, with full compensation of money after graduation.

The teaching faculty makes up 21,834 people, and among them are 1,191 Doctors of Science and 7,529 Candidates of Science. They are prepared in the educational or research institutions in the three-year aspirantura (doctoral programs). The curriculum of these programs requires more independent work under the supervision of an experienced scholar than the course work in the form of lectures and seminars. After the graduates defend a dissertation, they are granted the scholarly degree of the Candidate of Science in specific areas. Up to 10 percent of those who continue to research extensively and publish, may choose to write another dissertation for the degree of the Doctor of Science in specific areas. The difference in salaries of doctors and candidates is substantial.

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The reform of higher education targeted the restructuring of the system in order to bring it closer to the one that exists in many countries of the world. In the past, most institutions of higher learning had a status of an institute with a five-year program. In the 1990s, they were converted into universities and academies with the four-year baccalaureate and one or two-year graduate master’s programs.

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