In many ways, the International University of Central Asia’s (IUCA) history is about two people, John Clark and Camilla Sharshbekeeva. After arriving in Kyrgyzstan in 1994 on a Fulbright Fellowship, Dr. Clark quickly met Dr. Camilla Sharshbekeeva, a professor at the Kyrgyz National University. The two immediately started working together and a strong partnership began to take root. After Clark took a job with the United States Agency for International Development, the pair sought to found the American University of Central Asia (today one of Kyrgyzstan’s most prestigious universities), succeeding in late 1997. Then the University moved into a building that used to belong to the state and housed the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic and the Supreme Council of the Republic.
This building, however, was expensive and to secure the property, Clark and Sharshekeeva partnered with George Soros and his Open Society Foundations. As often happens with organizational restructuring, however, Clark and Sharshekeeva were not retained and their relationship with AUCA ended. Following this setback, Dr. Sharshekeeva, with Clark by her side, had a successful stint as Minister of Education where they implemented a national testing system to award scholarships to worthy students, giving low-income communities greater access to higher education.
A second opportunity to found a university arose when Sharshekeeva was introduced to retired businessman and Merchant Marine Captain Chia Shan Yang. After retiring in 1992, Captain Yang, a devout Christian, devoted his life to mission work and opened orphanages and schools in Kyrgyzstan, receiving the first Christian school license in the country in 2000. These schools quickly found success and by 2007, these young students began graduating but had few legitimate opportunities for higher education. With Captain Yang’s network and funding, and the knowledge of Drs. Clark and Sharshkeeva, the trio cooperated to create what is now known as the International University of Central Asia, opening its doors in 2008. The university continues to grow and recently opened a second campus in Tokmok.
The school has already gained a strong reputation as a rigorous and ethical university in a region where educational corruption is rampant (professors are often paid low wages, only worsening the issue). Mostly coming from Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, the students have also found great success. According to Dr. Clark, all of the school’s graduates are employed, in graduate school, or on maternity leave. The school, however, remains small with 250 students but hopes to expand not only in Tokmok, but at a second satellite location in Southern Kyrgyzstan.
If you want to learn more, check out the video below. Sorry, you’ll have to read subtitles if you do not speak Russian.