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Cablegate: Turkmenistan's University Admissions an Exercise In

VZCZCXRO1324
RR RUEHAST RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHLA RUEHLN RUEHMA RUEHMRE RUEHROV RUEHSR
RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHAH #1220/01 3331306
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 291306Z NOV 06
FM AMEMBASSY ASHGABAT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8040
INFO RUCNOSC/OSCE POST COLLECTIVE
RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHAK/AMEMBASSY ANKARA 2585
RUEHKL/AMEMBASSY KUALA LUMPUR 0018

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 ASHGABAT 001220

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE; SIPDIS

STATE FOR EUR/PPD, EUR/ACE, SCA/CEN (TPERRY), IIP/G

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM KPAO SCUL SOCI TU TX
SUBJECT: TURKMENISTAN'S UNIVERSITY ADMISSIONS AN EXERCISE IN
NATIONALISM, CORRUPTION

SUMMARY
-------

1. (U) Since 1991 the number of students studying at higher
educational institutions of Turkmenistan has decreased dramatically.
In line with a 2006 presidential decree, only 3,175 students were
accepted to Turkmenistan's universities for the session beginning
September 2006, in comparison with an annual admittance quota of
40,000 students prior to Turkmenistan's independence in 1991. (Note:
The 2006 figure was reported in the state-controlled press. End
Note.) In concert with policies that systematically erode the
quality and years of education at every level of schooling, the
gutting of higher education in Turkmenistan ensures the host
country's loss of specialization in every sector. The Government of
Turkmenistan has thus poised this nation for a dramatic regression
in quality of life as well as depleted prospects for democratic and
economic development in the long term. End Summary.

ENROLLMENT AT ALL INSTITUTES IS SLASHED
----------------------------------------

2. (U) Though MOE representatives claim their annual quotas for
student admission have not changed, a check against figures reported
in state media reveal a drop of 3.5 percent, from 3,290 in 2005.
Below is a breakdown of admissions for all higher educational
institutions in Turkmenistan (Note: These numbers were announced by
the president at his April 8, 2002 meeting with education officials
and teachers at Turkmen State University. End Note.):

Magtymguly Turkmen State University - 500
Azady Institute of World Languages - 170
International Turkmen-Turkish University- 350
Seidi State Pedagogical Institute (in Turkmenabat) - 150
Agriculture University - 350
Polytechnic Institute - 500
Institute of National Economy - 250
Institute of Transport and Communication - 230
Institute of Sports and Tourism - 80
Medical University - 280
Institute of Culture - 60
National Conservatory- 75
Arts Academy - 45
Institute of Energy - 180
Military Institute - 550
Police Academy - 150

3. (U) Starting in 2002, fewer than 4,000 students have been
admitted annually to local universities. Currently, there are more
than 17,000 students studying at all 16 instutionals of higher
education. This year, 11,727 individuals applied for university
admission; the majority of applicants were from Ashgabat. Given
that about 105,000 students graduate from Turkmenistan's high
schools every year, the number of applicants suggests that only 10%
will even attempt to get a higher degree in Turkmenistan. (Note:
The 2006 figures were reported in the state-controlled press and on
the pro-government Turkmenistan.ru website. End Note.)

4. (U) For comparison, Turkmen Medical Institute used to accept
20,000 students annually; only 280 new students were admitted to the
Institute's five departments, joining a depleted student body of
1,500. In the dental department alone, enrollment has declined from
100 to 15 students in the past 5 years. Five nursing vocational
schools or colleges, which also supply many of the Medical
Institute's new students, operate throughout Turkmenistan. But
enrollment to these schools has also been restricted.
Turkmenistan's President Niyazov specifically ordered most art and
music schools -- vocational as well as secondary -- closed in late
2005, but contraction has occurred in all sectors.

SELECTION: A MIX OF NATIONALISM, EUGENICS, AND MONEY
--------------------------------------------- -------

5. (U) According to a presidential decree issued in 2002, all
stages of the admissions process for Turkmenistan's universities are
regulated by a central admission committee headed by Deputy Chairman
for Education, Health, and Science of the Cabinet of Ministers
Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov and including representatives of the
Supreme Council for Science and Technology, the Minister of
Education, and the rectors of all universities. Each university
selects its own admission committee, approved by the MOE, which
collects applications and conducts tests and interviews. Selection
committees tend to travel to the regions to conduct interviews,
though this year several interviewed only in Ashgabat.

6. (U) The Institute of Culture, National Conservatory and State
Art Academy were the first to begin the admissions process this
year. These and the Polytechnic Institute, Medical Institute,

ASHGABAT 00001220 002 OF 003


Turkmen-Turkish University and Institute for Sports and Tourism
conducted admissions interviews in Ashgabat only. The extensive
exam system that determined the Soviet-era admissions process was
abolished in 2000; the current system places emphasis on the
interview.

7. (U) General requirements for all applicants to any university,
in order of priority, consist of:

A. Oral examination on the Ruhnama and history of Turkmenistan, as
well as the subject the applicant hopes to study. (Note: This
requirement was introduced in 2002. End Note.)
B. Labor record book, which is used to prove that an applicant has
at least two years' work experience, preferably in the field to
which the student is applying.
C. Recommendation from a current or former employer.
D. Diploma of graduation from a secondary school.
E. Results of Ruhnama exam.
F. Any certificates, diplomas from competitions, Olympiads, records
of achievement.
G. Certificate from the residence address.
H. Medical certificate.
I. (If an orphan) Death certificate of parents.
J. A minimum height of 67 inches for males and 65 inches for females
(required by the Institute of Culture).

The maximum age at which one can apply to university is 31, although
preference is given to those who have not attended studies after
high school (i.e. younger candidates).

8. (U) Post has received anecdotal reports of admissions committee
members at other institutes making comments about applicants'
physical attributes. These rumors correspond with the fact that
every higher education institute -- including technical institutes
such as the Institute for Oil and Gas -- have their own dance
troupes who perform during national holiday celebrations. (Note:
Post knows of at least three students admitted to Azadi World
Languages Institute with the express understanding that they would
fulfill representational roles as dancers, singers or models for
national cultural events. End Note.)

9. (U) Each University's admission committee administers an oral
exam in Turkmen, the results of which are confidential. According
to rumor, this is the point of the process where the most fraud
occurs -- when bribes can be offered or other deals cut with the
members of the committee. The admission committee consists of
teachers and department heads, a vice-rector of each university, as
well as representatives of the MOE Higher Education Department and
Supreme Council for Science and Technology. Interviews are
conducted in the following subjects for all applicants applying to
universities:

A. Ruhnama (in Turkmen).
B. History of Turkmenistan (in Turkmen).
C. Subject of the field to which applicant is applying (in Turkmen);
foreign languages are tested in that other language.

The university admission committee forwards the finalists list to
the MOE, which forwards it to Deputy Chairman Berdimuhammedov, who
clears on the lists.

MINISTRY OF EDUCATION POSITIONS BECOMING MORE LUCRATIVE
--------------------------------------------- ----------

10. (U) The reduction in places available has increased competition
among applicants to the point that only the wealthiest or
best-connected applicants can gain access. The Institute
experiencing the greatest competition among applicants this year was
the Institute of Culture, to which 360 applicants vied for 60 slots.
(Comment: Prospective students may believe a job in the official
cultural sphere is relatively secure, given heavy and growing state
expenditure on the promotion of the country's culture and other
"cultural" events that praise the regime. End Comment.) The
pedagogical department of Turkmen State University and the
Turkmenabat Pedagogical Institutes experienced the second tightest
competition, with five applicants per slot. Other institutes
fielded three to four applicants per slot on average.

11. (U) The bribe system that has sprung from these conditions
carries no security for those involved, and doubtless has
discouraged many students from attempting to study after high
school. Students can easily be out-bribed by a higher bidder,
causing them a loss of hundreds to thousands of dollars that will
not be repaid, and again leaves them without a place at university.


12. (U) The size of bribes differs from one institution to another,

ASHGABAT 00001220 003 OF 003


depending on the department and the major. The most prestigious
(and thus, the most expensive) departments requiring a bribe of
$8,000 to $15,000 are the English language department, the law and
international relations department of TSU, the English language
department of the Azadi Institute, the oil and gas department of the
Polytechnic Institute, and international business management and
finance at the Institute of National Economy. Other departments at
various institutes require a bribe of at least $4,000, depending on
how many people parents need to go through to get to the "decision
maker." Professional vocational schools (12 medical, pedagogical
and art schools) require a bribe of at least $2,000 on average. The
competition to these schools is tough as well, because graduates of
these schools are qualified to apply to a relevant university after
completion of their studies without the two-year work requirement,
and therefore have an advantage over other "ordinary" applicants.


13. (SBU) At Turkmenistan's cornerstone higher education
institution, Turkmen State University, this jockeying has become
visible at the highest levels. In October 2005 the former rector,
Rejep Kalayev, was fired by Niyazov for corruption in admissions and
management. From October 2005 to July 2006, the position lay
vacant, leaving the vice-rector in charge of all matters, including
nominating all 16 members of the university's admission committee.
Post confirmed with a reliable source at the university that the
vice-rector's suggested committee was sent three times to the MOE
for approval -- an unusually difficult round of this process. Just
before the admission committee started its trips to the provinces,
President Niyazov appointed the new rector, Ashyrgeldi Gulgarayev,
who was and remains the Minister of Justice. Teachers say that
Minister of Education Shemshat Annagylyjova had been vying for a
different candidate, someone notoriously corrupt, at the university.
Annagylyjova had reportedly been so sure that her favored candidate
would be chosen that the candidate had already begun to appoint
assistants and prepare to move into his new office. When Niyazov
announced the new rector, Annagylyjova looked visibly shaken by the
surprise. (Note: Not only does this anecdote suggest that
Annagylyjova has little influence over President Niyazov, but that
Annagylyjova will be powerless when dealing with the new rector
because of his superior position as Minister of Justice. End Note.)


14. (U) The new vice rector immediately appointed a new admissions
committee, in a closed-door process that ensured even the teachers
at the university were unaware of the members. On July 25-26, the
university's teachers were told to take a two-day vacation, while
members of the admission committee conducted interviews at the
university for applicants from Ashgabat. (Note: This is especially
unusual as Turkmenistan's teachers are never considered to be
off-duty, even during summer vacation, and are often called in for
extra work in their off hours. End Note.)

15. (U) Following these changes at Turkmen State University,
similar processes took place at the Azadi Institute and Agricultural
Institute. However, the president did not take this opportunity to
hail a clean-up of the system, and according to teachers at those
institutions, traditionally corrupt actors continued to hold sway.


COMMENT
-------

16. (U) Post suspects that this reshuffling was an effort to
centralize the bribing mechanism and strengthen the chain of
command, and to funnel the "revenue" thus collected to Deputy
Chairman Berdimuhammedov. It appears to be another example in which
Niyazov's "Golden Age" is being built at the expense of
Turkmenistan's educational system and social services. End
Comment.

BRUSH

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