Indian medical students who fled Ukraine find haven in Uzbekistan

Central Asia could offer an academic landing ground for stranded learners who fled war 18 months ago, scholar says

November 28, 2023
Samarkand, Uzbekistan
Source: iStock

Around 1,000 Indian medical students evacuated from Ukraine have restarted their education in Uzbekistan in the end of a long saga for these learners, and what could be a possible solution for thousands more.

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year, the majority of the 19,000 or so Indian medical students taking courses in the central Asian country arrived back home. For many, however, their return to safety was only the start of yet more uncertainty.  

In the year and a half since, many have found their lives at a standstill, unable to transfer their credits and resume their studies in India – and their return to Ukraine still not viable.

There have been some efforts by politicians to address the plight of these stranded learners. For instance, this spring, India’s government said it would allow final-year students two attempts to clear medical certification exams. But the majority of them have remained in limbo.

News this month might offer them some hope. Uzbekistan’s Samarkand State Medical University has reportedly agreed to take on more than 1,000 of these students.

The institution’s vice-chancellor, Zafar Aminov, said that his institution was contacted by the Indian embassy to see if some students might get transfers.

“We evaluated the requirements of such students and then decided that enrolling them with a semester back would be a viable option to provide equivalence,” he told local media. “We hired 30 more Indian teachers to ensure there were no accent issues.”

Ikboljon Qoraboyev, an associate professor of international relations at the Higher School of Economics of M. Narikbayev Kazguu University in Kazakhstan, said that the Indian government had been contacting other ministries in the region with this aim, including Kazakhstan’s.

“Before the war, we could already witness many Indian and Pakistani students coming to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan or Uzbekistan for medical education,” he said, though he added that Kyrgyzstan was known for attracting many such students despite lagging infrastructure.

“It is interesting to see that the Uzbek side was more proactive and could accommodate such a request in a short time,” he noted.

Dr Qoraboyev said that the signs were encouraging. Already, Indian-Uzbek higher education links existed, he said, with two Indian universities opening in the central Asian country in recent years: Sharda University in Andijan and Amity University in Tashkent.

On the flip side, Uzbek institutions also appeared be making moves to boost medical education, he said. For instance, the Tashkent Medical Academy was recently reformed as the Tashkent Medical University in an effort to strengthen its standing and capacity, Dr Qoraboyev said he believed.

“I think this trend may continue in the future because right now internationalisation is in the government agenda and there are special decrees to improve medical education,” he said.

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