Linguistic and cultural barriers must be overcome if the former Soviet and Asian states in the region known as Eurasia are to fully develop their higher education sectors, a conference heard.
One idea flagged at Times Higher Education’s Research Excellence Summit: Eurasia was for the region to pursue its own version of Europe’s Bologna Process to standardise qualifications and improve academic mobility.
Bhavna Dave, head of the Centre of Contemporary Central Asia at Soas, University of London, told attendees that the Eurasian region was a “very complex ecosystem”. But she highlighted that the US’ move to scale down its global responsibilities under Donald Trump’s “America First” ideology had provided an opportunity for the region to shift its outlook.
Bin Yang, vice-president of Beijing’s Tsinghua University, agreed. He told the summit at Kazan Federal University that China’s Belt and Road initiative, aimed at connecting the country to its neighbours, provided a huge opportunity for the region to develop its higher education profile, but that “mindsets have to be revised” to achieve this.
“We are still following the tradition of an American model and partnering with the US. We want our graduates to be more diverse,” he said. Chinese diplomats still followed the tradition of studying English but “there should be more diversification to reflect the new realities in the region and beyond”, Professor Yang said.
Olga Sudibor, head of the international cooperation office at Turan University in Kazakhstan, added that, while it was important that higher education in Eurasia should “not betray its language and cultural values”, she added that “we need to speak one language”.
“The question is: should that be Chinese or Russian? There are so many countries involved and it’s not just about language but also culture, national identity and even stereotypes that come to the foreground in higher education.”
The Belt and Road initiative “gives us the impetus to create new dialogues” and academia was starting to react to it, Ms Sudibor added.
The 16 Eurasian countries are considered to be Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, the Republic of Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.
But Yıldırım Üçtuğ, the rector of Atilim University in Turkey, suggested that attempts to improve higher education links could be much wider than this.
“Cultural differences are huge within the Belt and Road initiative – just look at the diversity between Ukraine and China,” he said. “Let us form our own version of the Bologna Process so we can unify our education system.”
Loretta O’Donnell, vice-provost for academic affairs at Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan, added that while preserving individual cultures was important, “new culture is important, too – that represents the journey of the new Silk Road”.