Turkmen Students in Belarus: Good at Dancing, Not Studying

With the start of the new semester Belarusian universities and colleges have held the customary meetings for students from foreign countries, including Turkmenistan. There was one such meeting on February 25 in the Belarusian State Economics University (BSEU), attended by young Turkmen. Though turkmen.news has already reported on the students at BSEU, we’ve decided to revisit the subject.

Laziness and Absenteeism Leave Turkmen Students Lagging Behind Chinese

Foreign students had a lower success rate in the midyear exams, judging from the results read out at the meeting, than did the university as a whole – 70% against 87%. The Turkmen students slightly improved their figures in comparison with previous exam sessions to reach 69%. This means that 69 out of 100 students did not flunk the exams, while the other 31 were considered “poor” and will have to retake. For comparison, the figure was 71% for Russian students and 75% for Georgians. Below the Turkmen students in the table were the Azerbaijanis of whom only 55% passed their exams.

The Turkmen diaspora in BSEU is the largest, with the Chinese group just slightly smaller. The Chinese success rate in the midyear exams was 79%. Moreover, unlike our compatriots the Chinese students arrive for preparatory programs without any grounding in Russian. The tutors who spoke at the meeting put the 10% difference between the Turkmen and Chinese students down to the laziness and absenteeism from lessons of the former and the sense of responsibility and greater capabilities of the latter.

Ten foreign students were expelled from the university during the first semester, of whom eight were from Turkmenistan. This is in addition to the two lads sent home after the New Year incident. The expelled students missed between 60 and 300 hours of tuition in one semester.

The second years had the larger number of truants. The university dean for work with foreign students, Natalya Skriba, thinks this is the result of excessively lenient treatment of the Turkmen students in the first year, when their teachers put their absences down to difficulties adapting, the desire to sleep in the morning and so on. As a result, the Turkmen expect the same treatment to continue, and when it doesn’t, they think they are being picked on, given low marks and being kicked out for academic failure.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. The Turkmen earned praise and diplomas from the university leadership for their involvement in student arts. Two fourth-year students of the university – Jennet Bayramgeldiyeva and Aysoltan Atayeva – organized a dance troupe and musical group Kaspiy (Caspian), which became very popular with the students. The dancers did very well representing BSEU at a student festival at Gomel State Technical University. The students are known in their home university as “twinkle toes” and “golden voices.”

Pay First, Then Study

Though payment for courses was the second question on the meeting agenda after the exam results, it is almost more relevant than the question of studying itself. It looks as though receiving funds from Turkmenistan isn’t a headache only for BSEU, but for all the other higher education institutions in Belarus and other states where young Turkmen are studying. The university leadership understands that making payment on time is out of the students’ hands; all they can do is ask their parents to send a photo of the bank’s confirmation of payment.

It all hinges on the restrictions introduced in the bank transfer system in Turkmenistan and in hard currency operations as a whole because of the crisis. Nevertheless, the university has shortened the deadlines for payment: by September 15 for the first semester (the last day used to be 30 September) and by March 1 for the second. If a transfer cannot be confirmed, this is grounds to expel a student for non-payment from April 1.

In addition, the BSEU leadership has decided to conclude a contractual agreement with every student. Once a student has signed the agreement, they have to accept expulsion with no recourse to contest it.

One more Turkmenistan-related financial problem for higher education institutions is payment for dormitory accommodation for Turkmen students. Parents complain that it is impossible to transfer money for this purpose, as the Turkmen banks have a directive to convert manats only to pay for courses. As a result, the students have to pay cash for their dorm, but it’s not always possible to obtain cash with Turkmen bank cards.

Many students are willing and able to work in their free time, even for four to five Belarusian roubles an hour (around $2), but no one will hire them, as their student visas don’t allow it. The students themselves told turkmen.news of many instances of employers receiving heavy fines for hiring Turkmen. As a result, once they see a Turkmen passport employers don’t want to know. The students are sure that the Turkmen authorities could reach agreement with the Belarusian side to allow the students to work officially, if only for ten hours a week.

“After all, we bring this country millions of dollars every year,”

one of the students in Minsk said.

Some 8,000 students from Turkmenistan are studying in Belarus. A year’s education in BSEU costs 2,800-3,000 dollars, depending on the faculty.

If the students bring their compatriots to study too, they will be guaranteed a reduction in the cost of their own education, but with a major caveat – they will get their discount only after the new student has paid and only in the following semester. So that’s a further incentive to save money on their education.

Behavior Leaves Something to Be Desired

The New Year brawl in dormitory No. 5, which saw the expulsion and deportation of two Turkmen students, won’t be forgotten in a hurry at BSEU.

The office for work with foreign students and numerous tutors are trying to prevent any future incidents involving law-enforcement officers. The events in dorm No. 5 were covered in the press too. Two months later and the issue of Turkmen students smoking cigarettes and hookahs in their dorm rooms was being tackled again at the meeting. Around a dozen students were named for breaking dorm rules and some of them may soon find themselves kicked out of Belarus too.

The university leadership prefers not to leave any foreign students in Minsk over the summer, and especially not the Turkmen students. It is strongly recommended that they buy a ticket home from May 27 and stay at home until the start of the new academic year. If a student does want to stay all summer in the dorm, the university will consider their personal application, but penalties incurred while living in the dorm will lead to an outright refusal.

Specialists with Foreign Degrees

Despite Turkmen students’ low level of academic achievement and the problems they create for the university leadership by their behavior, Belarusian universities and colleges are more interested in the money paid by the students, than in giving them knowledge, turkmen.news observers said.

The aim of Belarusian higher education institutions is to get the Turkmen students to the minimum standard so they at least move up to the next year of their course and continue to pay good money. In the meeting at BSEU, despite the Turkmen students’ low level of academic achievement, the university leadership encouraged them to continue studying for a master’s degree once they had completed their bachelor’s.

“None of them seem the least bit concerned that these ‘specialists’ will go on to manage the economy and finance in Turkmenistan, to treat people and teach children, design and build factories and utilities, and as judges, prosecutors or investigators decide people’s fates,” a source said. “None of that matters. What’s important is that they pay the university and go home.”

Turkmen young people have gone abroad to study in droves in the past 10 to 15 years. There are far fewer university places in Turkmenistan than school leavers, and bribes are often required in order to get a place. Initially, students went to Central Asian states to study – Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and fewer to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Then there was a shift in direction and now Turkmen students head for Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia.

Image on front page: Belarus State Medical University