[Paleopsych] CHE: Mongolia's Reverse Gender Gap
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Mongolia's Reverse Gender Gap
The Chronicle of Higher Education, 5.2.4
By JEN LIN-LIU
[Another article about higher education in Mongolia is appended.]
Ulan Bator, Mongolia
Dondog Natsag, a father of three daughters and three sons, is a
typical countryside parent. When each of his sons graduated from high
school, he put little pressure on them to continue their education.
But when it came to his daughters, he was adamant that they should go
on to college.
"Of course it's better for girls to go on to university," he says.
"Boys can always find work to do. If girls do not study, the only
thing they can do is find a job in a sewing factory."
Mr. Dondog expresses the sentiments of many Mongolian parents. The
preference to send daughters to college has led to what the United
Nations calls a "reverse gender gap" -- women now make up 60 percent
of all students at Mongolian universities. The trend is particularly
distinctive because Asia is typically considered a place where women
are less valued than men.
"It's just the opposite of much of Asia. Arab and Asian students in
other countries often don't believe" that this could happen, says
Solongo Algaa, a demographer at the National University of Mongolia,
who studies the phenomenon.
Women also perform better than men at places like National University
of Mongolia, says Davaa Suren, the university's vice president.
Looking over the scores on a recent entrance exam in the
Mongolia-language department, he notes that 8 of the top 10 students
are women. In economics, women are 7 of the top 10 students; in
science departments, women account for about half of the top 10.
He shrugs when asked why the gap exists: "Perhaps women are more
"Boys are lazy" seems to be the typical explanation among parents and
other observers. But Ms. Solongo says the problem starts before
students enter college. Young men now make up 70 percent of the
dropouts from compulsory education. In this predominantly agricultural
country, parents often pull their sons out of school so that they can
help with herding duty, long considered a male responsibility.
Boys also lack role models in schools, where 75 percent of the
teachers are women, Ms. Solongo says. She believes that the government
should create policies to encourage boys to stay in primary and
Reversal of Fortune
Until the early 1990s, under the Soviet-style economic system, 60
percent of the students in higher education were male. But with the
collapse of Communism, they could resume their traditional role as
herders of the family livestock. What's more, changing times resulted
in the closure of the government's vocational and technical training
schools. So rather than learn a trade in the capital or a smaller
town, young men remained in the countryside, raising horses, sheep,
and yak to feed their families and to sell the milk and meat.
The idea that parents should pass on material possessions like herds
and land to sons is strong in Mongolia, says the national university's
Ms. Solongo. But parents also believe that daughters should have some
resources of their own, rather than be left to their own devices or
married off to another family, which happens in many other Asian
Education often serves as that resource, she says. In her own family,
for example, her sole brother inherited her parents' apartment and now
works in a factory, while she and her three sisters were sent to
college and have become professionals.
In a culture long dependent on herding and manual labor, Mongolians
have the idea that "boys can do rougher things while girls should work
in the office," Ms. Solongo says.
But advanced education for women has yet to translate into real
economic or political power. "At the top decision levels, there are
very few women," says Sanjaasurengin Oyun, a leading feminist in
Mongolia and head of the Zorig Foundation, which mobilizes the rural
population to vote.
Of the 76 parliamentary seats in Mongolia, only 5 are occupied by
women. "Employers would rather hire males than females," says
Altantsetseg Sodnomtseren, an expert on higher education at the
National University of Mongolia. Upon graduation from college, men
have a much easier time finding jobs than women, says Ms.
Nevertheless, many women entering Mongolia's higher-education system
display confidence that it's a woman's world. Tsedendamba Amartavshin,
who lives in a felt tent called a ger in the countryside near Ulan
Bator, enrolled in the Agriculture University last fall.
Of her four siblings, all boys, only one has also chosen to go on to
higher education. "The girls are just dominating the university," she
says. "And by having a good education, we'll have a good living."
Discipline and Devotion at Ghengis Khan U.
The Chronicle of Higher Education, 5.2.4
By JEN LIN-LIU
Ulan Bator, Mongolia
The office of Namsrain Nyam-Osor, president of Ikh Zasag University
Named After Chinggis Khaan, looks like a shrine to the Mongolian
warrior, who is known as Ghengis Khan to the rest of the world.
Several oil paintings of the 13th-century leader, with his pointy
beard, decorate the gold-papered walls. A small bust of Chinggis sits
on Mr. Namsrain's desk. And the university president will lecture
anyone about the great leader, unprompted.
"He unified China, doing in 60 years what China couldn't do in 1,000
years," Mr. Namsrain says. "If the United States adopted the
strategies of Khaan, it would be 10 times more powerful than it is
The Ikh Zasag University Named After Chinggis Khaan may have an
unusual name -- "Ikh Zasag" refers to the code that the conqueror used
to govern his empire -- and an eccentric president. And, yes, its
campus resembles that of an American high school. But in a country of
2.8 million, where the average salary is $1,700 per year, it is
regarded by Mongolia's National Council for Higher Education
Accreditation as one of the best private universities.
Established in 1994, after Mongolia began encouraging private
individuals to open universities, Ikh Zasag enrolls 5,000 students
each year, who major in such disciplines as law, finance, and tourism.
What sets it apart from other Mongolian universities, says Mr.
Namsrain, is that part of its mission is to teach students to take
pride in being Mongolian.
"State-run universities give students a professional education, but
not a personal education," he says. Students here, by contrast, take
compulsory classes in Mongolian history and culture.
If the young people of this country "think they're Mongolian, they
should master the history of Chinggis Khaan," says Nomingerel
Davaavorj, who graduated from Ikh Zasag last summer with a bachelor's
degree in international relations.
While Chinggis's name is associated with pillaging and warfare in the
Western world, to modern-day Mongolians he stands for unity, courage,
and respect. In Ulan Bator, Mongolia's capital, his name shows up on
vodka bottles, hotels, and storefronts.
A Leader Redeemed
It hasn't always been that way. During the Soviet era, when Mongolia
was a satellite country largely dependent on funds from the Soviet
Union, Chinggis's name was virtually banned, not only from history
books but from daily life as well.
Growing up in the rural grasslands of eastern Mongolia, Mr. Namsrain
did not learn of the legendary warrior until the age of 12. He had
been walking along a river, he recalls, and by chance came upon a
statue of Chinggis that had not been destroyed by Soviet troops.
"The image of Khaan was engraved in a flame-shaped rock," the
president recalls, raising his hands above his head. "He was standing,
holding a bow and arrow." That was when his fascination with Chinggis
Mr. Namsrain's own experience with higher education began when he was
27. A former herdsman and Communist Party official, he won admission
to a college in Moscow and spent six years in the Soviet Union
When Chinggis's name was mentioned in history books, it was always in
a negative light, Mr. Namsrain says: "The Russians didn't want
Mongolians to think he was a hero, because Russia was conquered by
When Mr. Namsrain returned to Mongolia he worked for the mayor of his
hometown, Aimak, 250 miles east of the capital. After Communism fell,
in the early 1990s, he moved to Ulan Bator to try his luck as an
"Before the 1990s," he says, "you couldn't even own a car."
Having benefited from higher education himself, and seeing a need for
it in Mongolia, he decided to open a university, starting with 40
students and 3 lecturers. He instituted strict policies
-- administering Ikh Zasag the way Chinggis might have, he says.
Students are expelled if they miss more than 36 hours of class. And
full-time professors are not allowed to teach at other universities, a
common practice in Mongolia.
Mr. Namsrain, who has a tanned, broad face and a strong build, has a
quirky streak. Twins and triplets get a 20-percent tuition discount at
Ikh Zasag, and he has hired several sets of twins to work in his
administration. "It's God's will," he says. "They're special."
The university also places special emphasis on extracurricular
activities like martial arts. "We are the first university in Mongolia
to graduate bodyguards with a higher education," Mr. Namsrain jokes.
But his main focus, he says, is to make sure that Chinggis Khaan's
name is never suppressed again. He has published two books about the
ancient ruler, in Russian and Mongolian, and avidly collects scholarly
materials on him.
"I want Mongolia to be as powerful as it was during Chinggis Khaan's
rule," he says.
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