Mongolia is a landlocked Northern Asian country sandwiched between China and Russia. It is slightly smaller than Alaska with a population of 2.8 million nearly a third of which resides in Ulaanbaatar, the national capital. Mongolia’s history tends to revolve around the 13th century and Genghis and Kublai Khan. However, from the time that Genghis Khan’s empire broke apart in the 14th century, little is known in the world of modern Mongolia.
The history of Mongolia in the 20th century is accurately reflected by its geography. Sandwiched between China and the Soviet Union, this landlocked country faced influence from one or the other. With influence came financial support. As a distant province, Mongolia remained under Chinese rule until 1921 when it gained independence with Soviet support. A Communist regime came to power in 1924, and the two countries remained closely aligned until the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 90’s.
Though it was never annexed by the Soviet Union, Mongolia exchanged rule by China for dependence upon the Soviets. Mongolia received significant subsidies from the Soviets—at times as much as a third of its GDP of the country. Despite its sovereignty, the country remains heavily dependent upon its neighbors.
Ninety-five percent of the population is Mongol with the remainder being mostly Kazakh. The predominant language is Khalka Mongol. The country’s economy is traditionally founded in herding and agriculture, but there is a large and growing service industry with a significant portion in the “gray” or “shadow” economy (elements of the economy which are not tracked through governmental mechanisms). After an initial recession following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the country’s economy is beginning to rebound as they manage their way from a command economy to a free market.
Like many of the post-Soviet countries, Mongolia owes its educational system to the Soviets. Prior to its independence, formal education did not exist for the majority of the population. What education occurred took place in Tibetan monasteries. In the early twentieth century, Russia began to establish secondary schools in the country, but it was not until the Soviets that modern education at all levels was established. A strong professional/technical system was supported by a robust primary/secondary system. Excellent students were sent to other portions of the Soviet Union for higher education until the first university was established in 1942 with the National University of Mongolia.
Currently, the country sees an escalation in demand for higher education. Interest in technical and vocational education has dramatically declined while, like Kyrgyzstan, demand for higher education has skyrocketed. The result has been a reduction in governmental control of higher education, privatization, and an increasingly educated population that may outgrow the labor market.
Education at all levels is administered by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Science, and Sport (MOECSS). MOECSS is responsible for establishing educational standards, textbooks, state examination procedures, licensing of higher educational institutions, and credential recognition agreements with other countries. Educational law has its foundation in Article 8 of the country’s constitutions which declares that Mongolian is the official language of the state and that the population has a right to education and basic general education is to be free. Also, the parliament of the country adopted the Law on Vocational Education and Training in 2002.
In addition to MOECSS, an accreditation body for higher education institutions was established in 1998. The Mongolian National Council for Education Accreditation functions alongside MOSTEC to accredit higher education in Mongolia. Although originally established as a governmental agency, NCHEA was transformed into an independent organization in 2000. Accreditation allows these institutions to receive governmental support and for their students to receive governmental funds.
The Mongolian system of primary/secondary education is a 4+4+2 system; however, the country has recently decided to transition to a 5+4+2 system. Under the older system, students entered primary education at the age of 8, while under the new system, students will begin primary education a year earlier, at the age of 7.
The curriculum at the primary level includes Mongolian language, mathematics, history, social and natural studies, music, fine arts, and physical education. In addition to these subjects, students at the lower and upper secondary levels study Mongolian literature, Russian, English, geography, biology, physics, chemistry and astronomy.
After four years of primary education, students enter lower secondary education for four years. The completion of lower secondary education ends compulsory education. Upon completion of lower secondary education, students can enter upper secondary education or technical and vocational education. Students entering upper secondary education study for an additional 2 years and are eligible for entrance to universities. The credential awarded at the end of upper secondary education is called the Gerchilgee.
Enrollments in vocational educational institutions have declined since independence. Government spending cuts as well as the growth of the higher education sector has contributed to the decline of technical and vocational education in Mongolia. As a result, the number of vocational schools has dropped from 46 in 1990 to 33 in 1996. The government has begun to respond to this decline and support vocational education, but the results of this effort remain to be seen.
Of all the sectors of education in Mongolia, higher education has seen the most growth. There are now some 200 colleges and universities operating in Mongolia—over a 25-fold increase in the number of higher educational institutes since the early 90’s. Fueling this growth is a demand on the part of students for higher education. In 2003 there were nearly 125,000 students enrolled in the country’s higher educational institutions, representing a post-secondary Gross Enrollment Ratio of nearly 36% -- just slightly lower than that of Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan and double that of China. This translates into more the 80% of secondary school graduates going on to higher education by some estimates.
The growth of higher education has been accompanied by its privatization. Nearly three quarters of all higher educational institutions in Mongolia are private, but they enroll only a third of all students enrolled in higher education. Quality is not determined by private/public status as there are many high-quality private institutions that rival or surpass their public counterparts in quality. Both public and private institutions undergo accreditation by the NCHEA and must following the regulations set forth by MOECSS.
In addition to the establishment of private higher educational institutions, state support of public institutions is diminishing. In some cases, less than 10% of a public institution’s budget is provided by the state. The free education popular under Soviet times has given way to a tuition-based model. Most national funding is tied to the student in the form of scholarships, grants, and increasingly loans.
Prior to 1993, the system of education followed that of the Soviet Union—a single diploma of “specialist” followed by more advanced degrees. In 1993, the government adopted regulations that significantly reorganized higher education into a system of diplomas, bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate (Ph.D.) degrees. In addition, the system has integrated the concept of Western-style “credit hours” with 30 credit hours typically being awarded per academic year. The table below outlines the length of study as well as the number of credit hours required to complete each of these degrees. In addition, the Mongolian Academy of Sciences can confer the degree of Doctor of Sciences. Only those academics with significant accomplishments in their fields of study are awarded this degree. The Doctor of Sciences is therefore not so much a credential of educational achievement as it is recognition of an individual’s contribution to their field of study.
Credentials Awarded by Mongolian Higher Educational Institutions
||Type of Higher Educational Institution Offering Credential
||In Credit Hours
||Institute of Higher Education
||At Least 3
||At Least 90
||At least 4
||At least 120
||At least 5.5
||At least 150
||At least 8.5
||At least 210
In 1995, the right to confer academic degrees was transferred to the institution awarding the degree. Prior to this time, MOSTEC conferred all undergraduate degrees while graduate degrees were conferred by the Supreme Council for Academic Degrees and Titles.
The credential awarded for each degree is called a Diploma. Before 1995, the format for these credentials was standardized across institutions. Since 1995, the formats can vary from one institution to another; however, MOECSS requires that each credential contain the following information: student’s full name, programs offered and completed, degree title, name of institution as well as the names credits and grades for each course, final examination, and dissertation/thesis completed as part of the program.