Mongolian higher education reforms open doors

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Mongolia’s modest population of three million occupies a vast, 1,564 million square kilometres, landlocked between China and Russia, making it the world’s most sparsely populated country. Yet its unique national character and strength are helping it achieve a growing presence on the world stage. Dr Ya. Tumurbaatar, president of the National University of Mongolia tells Tony Martin how reforms in higher education are having an ever greater impact.

What have been the recent changes in Mongolia that have influenced the role and development of the National University of Mongolia?

In recent years, Mongolia has witnessed significant socio-economic transformation. The Mongolian education system has radically changed since the 1990’s transition to democracy from a centrally planned command economy. Funding of schools at all levels has shifted from full coverage to limited financing. Accordingly, the government funding to state-owned universities is now solely allocated to cover fixed expenses. Reforms in the education sector have brought favorable conditions for starting private schools. In the initial stage of the reform of the education sector we faced the major task to radically change the previous education system by introducing an up-to-date education program and curriculum that meet international standards.

Despite difficulties and challenges, the reforms have favorably influenced the advancement of educational and research quality. In recent years the number of faculty members, lecturers and professors who have acquired masters’ and doctoral degrees in more prestigious, internationally recognised foreign universities has been increasing. According to statistics, multiple numbers of research articles by National University of Mongolia (NUM) professors have been published in internationally high ranked research journals with a high impact factor.

Mongolia has fully shifted to a bachelor, master’s and doctoral degree system structure. Shifting to a credit hour system now also allows not only to compare, correlate and identify academic subjects on an international level but also to employ it as a means of measurement for training at all levels.

Nowadays, NUM has been pursuing the concept of a liberal arts based education. In correlation with that, NUM pays strong attention to the quality of curricula and we have been successfully evaluated by national and internationally renowned professional accreditation bodies. Having enhanced research quality by establishing world standard laboratories, having implemented a series of projects and programs, NUM is confidently rising to meet the Asian best university criteria.

A vision for NUM
• Leading teaching staff
• Leading education program
• Leading academic environment
• Best students and alumni
• Best governance and management system

As Mongolian higher education starts to emerge on the international stage, what are the main challenges NUM faces to achieve visibility and recognition and how is it addressing them?

At this point, NUM is seeking to identify its achievements, and to define areas that are approaching QS and other principal rankings criteria thresholds, in order to improve its international visibility and reputation. Today, NUM maintains a constructive cooperation with 287 universities and higher education institutions in 36 countries. We are looking forward with interest to continued cooperative efforts with QS ranked top universities and to encouraging professor and student exchange programs, joint research programs and projects in order to enhance opportunities for learning and of developing into a core academic research center.

In the era of the 4th industrial revolution, the internationalisation of universities is regarded as a cornerstone of progress and development and is recognised in global rankings. NUM has been widening its collaboration with the world’s leading universities in social, humanitarian and natural science fields. The University has been actively engaged in hosting Asian, North East Asian regional and international research conferences, such as the 2017 Asian Universities’ Forum, ‘North East Asia in the 21st Century: Trends and Perspectives’, through which it aims to improve its educational program and curriculum.

What has been the impact on NUM of the Asian Development Bank funded Higher Education Reform Project in Mongolia?

NUM has been successfully implementing the higher education reform project funded by the Asian Development Bank for three years. Considerable progress and achievement were attained comprising establishment of a reliable basis for further implementation of the program concept, simultaneously setting up a performance quality authentication system. In addition, two curricula of natural sciences have been evaluated by the international accreditation agency and 11 major curricula received national accreditation certificates. Bringing the natural science laboratory up to international standards has contributed largely to the increased number of research articles’ published in the Web of Science journal. Initial steps toward rationalisation of university governance and management have been made, which offered great opportunities for laying a foundation for creating an integrated teaching and research architecture and starting a teacher development center.

What steps is NUM taking to increase its research capacity and quality and in what specialist areas is there the hope to achieve internationally recognised research results?

The Asian Development Bank project also provided greater opportunities to commence the implementation of radical changes in our research and academic performance strategy and the approach of our faculty members. NUM is aiming to promote investment in research and studies, deeming it as one principal way to advance our goal of developing into a research university and bring it to a new qualitative level. Through internal financing NUM awarded over MNT 2.4 billion (US$ 0.9 million) over the last three years to research projects, grants and programs. In order to improve research quality, to increase the number of research articles published in impact factor research journals and meet required rankings levels, NUM will attach a significant importance to establishing integrated science centers and institutions, strengthening the human resource and financial capacity of existing institutions and centers, and encouraging entrepreneurship, innovation, technology and knowledge transfer capabilities.

How does the NUM strategy for internationalisation synchronise with its vision of providing pillars for Mongolia’s development?

This is one of the crucial challenges for our university in the near future. NUM has been well recognised in areas comprising environment protection, nomadic history and Mongolian studies worldwide. This will undoubtedly make a significant contribution to training future personnel to drive economic development and exploit the untapped natural resources of Mongolia. Therefore, we would like to both strengthen these directions, while also continuing to develop AI, systems engineering and cell research.

As a forerunner of Mongolian progress and development, NUM pays close attention to all socio-economic sectors of the country. NUM recently opened our Technology Transfer Center, which is designated to facilitate fulfilling one of its main responsibilities of supplying the Mongolian labor market with human resources by identifying its demand. The Center is currently making a contribution to applying education and research achievement to practice, and intensifying industrial development. Conducting research and studies requested by organisations, the Center has been developing its human resource capacity. One of the main directions of NUM is to ensure balanced and sustainable development and to prepare graduates to compete on a global level. Therefore we aim to prepare specialists to meet the changing demands of the labor market.

NUM attempts to maintain a close connection between its academic progress, performance and Mongolian development. To promote this goal, NUM has opened a student career center. Furthermore, we are paying close attention at the latest MINERVA that is being launched in the international academic community. This will facilitate correlating labor market trends and changes with the academic environment.

What message would you like to convey to university leaders around the world to encourage them to engage with NUM and with Mongolian higher education?

The joint effort of universities is vital in the era of the fourth industrial revolution. NUM is a comprehensive university and we invite worldwide universities and other research and educational organisations to cooperate in conducting joint research projects, promoting visiting professor exchange programs, creating think tank links, establishing science laboratory network, hosting joint research conferences, online training, and writing text books and handbooks. Finally, I would like to say to readers that the NUM door is always open to all interested scholars, students and researchers.

Dr Ya. Tumurbaatar has been president of the National University of Mongolia, since 2017. In 2015-2016, he was vice minister for Education, Culture and Science of Mongolia. Dr Ya. Tumurbaatar served as director of Academy Strategy in 2012. He was an adviser to the secretary general of the Mongolian People’s Party in 2010-2011 and was head of the President of Mongolia’s media department in 2008-2009, following his previous experience as head of PR for the Mongolian People’s Party in 2007-2008. Dr Ya. Tumurbaatar started his career in youth organisations and dedicated his skills, acquired through training in India, Japan, Germany, USA and South Korea, to promoting youth leadership skill and education (1986-1999). In 2006, Dr Ya. Tumurbaatar received his PhD in political science, with an emphasis on the study of models and functions of governmental organisations, from the department of Political Science, National University of Mongolia.