As part of a major constitutional reform, the Turkmen authorities plan to make private education a viable alternative to the state system. There are concerns among analyst that the plan will be undermined by the chronic problems affecting education in the country, not the least of which is corruption.
At a July 21 meeting of the committee charged with drafting a new constitution, President Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov said the document’s wording should be changed to explicitly allow fee-paying education, as a way of expanding the opportunities open to people.
The state will continue to set standards that are compulsory for all, whether public or private sector.
Under reforms launched after Berdymuhammedov became president last year, the length of a full school education was restored to ten years. His predecessor Saparmyrat Niazov had cut the period to nine years. Another positive policy change under Berdymuhammedov was shifting university courses back to five or six years from the previous four.
Current legislation stipulates that every citizen is entitled to free schooling, and to have a chance to go on to further education funded by the state.
Although there is a handful of private, fee-paying ventures, the overwhelming majority of schools, colleges and universities provide free tuition.
Despite this, the practice of demanding bribes in return for granting admission means that “free” education is beyond the means of many people, NBCentralAsia observers say.
“Corruption pervades the whole system of higher education and specialised colleges,” said one observer. “The bribe to enter teacher-training and medical college stands at about 3,000 to 6,000 [US] dollars, depending on whether you deal with the institution’s head direct or go through an intermediary.”
University staff demand even larger bribes. A local newspaper journalist said he recently paid 10,500 dollars to get his son into an institute of economics.
Sources in the country say the most expensive in terms of bribes – charging up to 30,0000 dollars – are the law faculty at the Turkmen State University, the oil and gas department at the Polytechnical Institute, and the Medical Institute.
Analysts are concerned that introducing fees will not do away with corruption, and people may instead find themselves handing over two lump sums – the official one and the unofficial levy.
One NBCentralAsia observer in Ashgabat said the size of bribes being demanded had gone up significantly recently in anticipation of the forthcoming re-denomination of Turkmenistan’s currency, the manat. But the authorities have shown little sign of taking action to stop corrupt practices in education.
He said that before fee-paying education was made widely available, the government needed to take steps to curb corruption, monitor the income flows of universities, look at the quality of the courses they offered, and train qualified teaching staff, who are currently in short supply.
Tajigul Begmedova, who chairs the Bulgaria-based Turkmen Helsinki Foundation group, says that fulfilling all these preconditions could take five to ten years.
After that, it would require strict supervision to ensure that the commercial colleges and universities that emerge are up to international standards.
(NBCentralAsia is an IWPR-funded project to create a multilingual news analysis and comment service for Central Asia, drawing on the expertise of a broad range of political observers across the region. The project ran from August 2006 to September 2007, covering all five regional states. With new funding, the service is resuming, covering only Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan for the moment.) http://www.iwpr.net/?p=btm&s=b&o=345953&apc_state=henb