Rectors told to brush up language or lose job

September 8, 2000

Several universities in the central Asian republic of Turkmenistan will find themselves without rectors when the new academic year starts this week, unless academic leaders sharpen their language skills.

Earlier this summer, President Saparmyrat Niyazov gave rectors a 30-day deadline to improve their Turkmen or resign.

He publicly scolded Meret Orazov, rector of Turkmen State University, for managing to master English in the nine years since independence while failing to use Turkmen.

"I know that you are aware of the basic rules of the Turkmen language," the president said, "but you do not want to use them."

President Niyazov said he suspected certain "external forces" wanted to "put us back under a common roof with a common language", a reference to the reconstitution of the Soviet Union.

Turkmenistan is a member of the Confederation of Independent States but aloof from its Collective Security Pact. President Niyazov has become increasingly critical of centralising tendencies within the CIS.

It is not just rectors' linguistic shortcomings that have come under the disapproving presidential gaze. Language teaching is generally poor, he said.

In particular, Turkmenistan's World Language Institute is failing to produce linguists skilled in the tongues of Turkmenistan's regional partners - Farsi and Turkish - for the diplomatic service.

Special self-financing language schools should be set up in every major town in Turkmenistan, the president said.

President Niyazov has also issued decrees ordering university officials to reform university curricula to eliminate subjects unrelated to the job market.

He has called for the abolition of lectures and teaching for groups of five students or fewer and is arguing for the introduction of admissions procedures to screen the family background of applicants, going back three generations, to ensure that the most "worthy" get a place.

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