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UCA-NUS partnership to develop a cadre of Central Asian scholars
Nisar Keshvani
25 November 2008
  • After seven years of working with government and non-governmental organizations in her native Tajikistan, Sitora Shokamolova sees an opportunity to assist her nation's institutions underwrite a greater future for the country.

    “I want to bring to public organisations a more informed, long-term outlook and help make changes that will ensure the country's positive future,” says Shokamolova. She realises that in order to do so, she needs to further her education. This is what led her to Singapore.

    Sitora Shokamolova and Murdobek Laldjebaev are two of the first scholars to study at Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy under a partnership between the University of Central Asia and the National University of Singapore. Photo: Courtesy of Murdobek Laldjebaev
    Sitora Shokamolova and Murdobek Laldjebaev are two of the first scholars to study at Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy under a partnership between the University of Central Asia and the National University of Singapore. Courtesy of Murdobek Laldjebaev

    Shokamolova joins Murdobek Laldjebaev, also from Tajikistan, and Azamat Ababakirov of the Kyrgyz Republic, as the first Central Asian public policy scholars to take advantage of a new partnership between the University of Central Asia (UCA) and the National University of Singapore (NUS) that was announced in January of this year. Selected from a pool of 42 applicants, they will pursue Master's and Doctoral studies at the University's Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP).

    UCA's Central Asian Faculty Development Programme, which is designed to ensure scholars from Central Asia with top international academic credentials are strongly represented in its faculty, provides full scholarships for qualifying Central Asian students to study at LKYSPP. Sponsored graduates, who must be selected by LKYSPP on the merit of their applications, are considered for academic appointments in UCA's Graduate School of Development or at their School of Undergraduate Studies.

    While Laldjebaev used to be a monitoring and evaluation specialist with the Institute of Professional Development, he now focuses on education policy. Studying at LKYSPP will enable him to conduct a policy analysis exercise (an applied version of a Master's thesis), where he can gain valuable experience working in Tajikistan's education sector.

    “I feel privileged to interact with students who come from more than 40 countries,” says Laldjebaev. “Every moment has been a new learning experience of diverse cultures, traditions, worldviews and perspectives.”

    Shokamolova echoes this sentiment: “Studying in Singapore is not easy, but well worth the effort… You learn something new about culture, religion and new ways of thinking every single day.”

    NUS is ranked amongst the world's top 20 universities, and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy was developed in partnership with Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. With a diverse faculty drawn from all over the world, LKYSPP offers rigorous multi-disciplinary programmes at both the Master's and Doctoral levels. The two-year programme provides a strong foundation in conceptual and analytical skills for those with an interest in understanding and influencing how public policy choices are made.

    UCA was founded in 2000 through an international treaty between the governments of Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan, and the Ismaili Imamat. The treaty and the University's Charter were ratified by each country's parliament, and registered with the United Nations. UCA has a campus in each of the three participating countries.

    Public policy is part of the core curriculum of the Master's of Science in Economic Development offered by the Graduate School of Development. It is also a focus of research at the School's Institute of Public Administration, and a cross-cutting component of several undergraduate specializations.

    Shokamolova and Laldjebaev participate with new friends in a cultural exchange event at the National University of Singapore. Photo: Courtesy of Nazlin Karim
    Shokamolova and Laldjebaev participate with new friends in a cultural exchange event at the National University of Singapore. Courtesy of Nazlin Karim

    Laldjebaev aspires to use his newly-acquired education and experience to give back to his country, and emphasises the importance of generating new knowledge and finding solutions. He looks forward to teaching at UCA, where he hopes to “contribute towards developing educated young minds, who would in their turn contribute to more knowledge generation and help develop a brighter future for our country.”

    Shokamolova also plans to teach at UCA upon graduation: “It is my hope that as an educator I will provide tomorrow's leaders with a good understanding of some of the key ideas and concepts that may promote development in the country, including good governance, volunteerism and innovation. From a cultural perspective, I hope I will help my students to gain an appreciation of the values such as tolerance, pluralism, and appreciation of culture and knowledge which will also help in reducing cultural misunderstandings in the region.”

    Earlier this year, UCA and the Asian Institute of Technology in Thailand (AIT) announced a partnership to develop scholars and specialists in the fields of technology, administration, entrepreneurship, and vocational training. The partnership envisages AIT's assistance in the development of UCA's curriculum and learning resources in its graduate and undergraduate programmes, as well as collaborative research between the institutions.

    At UCA's official launch, Mawlana Hazar Imam said: “We are celebrating the foundation of a unique institution, by creating intellectual space and resources, the University will bring the power of education and human ingenuity to the economic and social challenges of mountain societies in Central Asia and elsewhere.”