War forces post-Soviet scholars to choose between Russia and West

East-West schism widened by Russian academia being cut off from world, says scholar

March 19, 2022
Kazakhstan
Source: iStock

Caught between Russia and the West, already divided research sectors in former Soviet republics are set to feel the effects of a growing schism as the war in Ukraine continues.

Existing friction between “two parallel cultures” in academic publishing that have emerged in Kazakhstan since it declared independence from the Soviet Union 30 years ago “will only be exacerbated” by the conflict, said Ikboljon Qoraboev, an associate professor of international relations at the Higher School of Economics of M. Narikbayev Kazguu University.

For decades, scholars in the post-Soviet country have been divided into two groups: those who publish and collaborate with the West, and those who do not. Now, as Western institutions sever ties with Russia, the incentives to look towards the West have shrunk.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, numerous European institutions have frozen their collaborations with Russian universities, and the European Commission has said it will not sign any new contracts or agreements with Russian organisations for European Union programmes.

Such moves will only reinforce some scholars’ disinclination towards the West, according to Dr Qoraboev.

“After Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, the voice and influence of those who rejected ‘Western’ publishing culture will be emboldened,” he said.

“With new developments where global ranking systems are excluding Russia out of their rankings, there will be a pushback from those who cherish so-called ‘local/national’ scientific publishing cultures against Western scientific publishing culture.”

These political developments come amid what Dr Qoraboev described as a situation that has changed little in three decades despite long-standing predictions that an older generation of academics – who tend to be more Russia-oriented – would retire and be replaced by younger scholars eager to make connections in the West.

While people tend to think that “in five to 10 years we’ll have our new generation of scholars and then the problem will automatically be solved, [this] generational approach doesn’t explain everything”, he said.

Many Kazakh scholars still lack the language skills to publish in Western journals.

“Let’s say you’re a professor of history, how can you publish if you don’t know English? They’re quite comfortable working in the national system. But then they have to necessarily publish in Scopus, and what do they do – they have to turn to predatory journals,” Dr Qoraboev said.

Even when academics know the lingua franca of international academic journals, they still need the cultural awareness and the resources to navigate the anglophone publishing sector and familiarity with a very different style of writing.

“Local journals are more about describing, Soviet style, a collection of facts,” Dr Qoraboev said. Their articles are “very dry” and often structured as a “long body of text”.

Another obstacle is that scholars struggle to muster the money to publish in Western journals – fees for top publications are often inaccessible to researchers on a Kazakh salary. As a result, many turn to predatory journals or just abandon the dream of seeing their articles published in the West.

Still, pessimism has not stopped Dr Qoraboev from encouraging his students to aim for top international journals. He tells them to take note of the acknowledgements in journal articles so they can see that having work accepted for publication requires years of research and building up academic links.

Despite the barriers, he said, mentors must continue to do their utmost to encourage young academics to look outwards. “For things to improve, we have to…raise awareness and increase connectivity with our global colleagues.”

pola.lem@timeshighereducation.com

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