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Official Country Name: Mongolia
Region: East & South Asia
Population: 2,650,952
Language(s): Khalkha Mongol, Turkic, Russian
Literacy Rate: 82.9%

Mongolia is a landlocked country of 2.65 million inhabitants living in an area of 1.565 million square kilometers. The country is sandwiched between Russia and China, each of which also has a Mongolian population (.5 and 3.5 million, respectively). Thirty-four percent of the population is under the age of 14. About 25 percent of the population resides in the capital city, Ulaanbaatar, 25 percent resides in other urban areas, and most of the remainder is nomadic. Estimated 1999 per capita gross domestic product (GDP: purchasing power parity) was $2,320 distributed as follows: 33 percent agriculture, 24 percent industry, and 43 percent services. Real GDP growth was about 3.5 percent in 1999. Forty percent of the population was living below the official poverty level (CIA World Factbook 2000).

The People's Government of Mongolia was declared in 1921 under a single-party government that held power until 1990. The Mongolian People's Republic was established in 1924 as the world's second communist country. Mongolia maintained close political and economic ties with the USSR but was never one of its constituent republics. At the peak of this relationship, almost a third of Mongolia's GDP was provided by the Soviet Union; this included significant support (e.g., books, equipment, training of academics and researchers) for Mongolian education. Following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, the external financial support coming from the Council for Mutual Economic Cooperation (CMEC) evaporated. A new, political structure was established with the passage of a constitution in 1992 to guide the country's transition to a democratic government and a market rather than a command economy (Weidman and Bat-Erdene 2002).

The Mongolian education system has several components:

  1. preschool and kindergarten;
  2. 4 years of primary education, beginning at age 8;
  3. 4 years of lower secondary education, with compulsory education ending after Grade 8;
  4. 2 years of upper secondary education;
  5. postsecondary and higher education; and
  6. technical education and vocational training (TEVT).

The TEVT component comprises specialized upper secondary schools as well as postsecondary diploma programs housed in higher education institutions. The vestiges of its Soviet heritage remain in a separate science and technology component under the Mongolian Academy of Sciences, though there continue to be efforts to bring the research institutes and advanced degree granting authority of the Academy under the universities. Most Ph.D. programs have been moved into the universities, but the Academy retains control over the advanced research degree, the doctor of science. Nonformal and distance education activities cut across the entire system (Mongolia Education Sector Strategy 2000-2005).

The gross enrollment rates in 2000 were: 96.6 percent for the 4-year primary education cycle, with a total of 253,441 students; 80.2 percent for the 4-year lower secondary cycle, with 195,511 students; 46.9 percent for the 2-year upper secondary cycle, with 49,083 students; and 11.6 percent in technical and vocational education, with 12,177 students. For higher education, the gross enrollment rate was 35 percent, with 84,970 students. At each succeeding level of education, females outnumber males, resulting in higher education enrollments in which there are twice as many females as males (Statistics from the Ministry of Science, Education, Technology and Culture of Mongolia).

Enrollments in primary and secondary education have leveled off and are, in fact, dropping due to reduced population growth and entrance rates. Higher education has been expanding rapidly, with public sector enrollments more than doubling since 1992. In addition, the government has allowed the development of a private higher education sector that is approaching half of the total students in Mongolian higher education. Commerce and business administration degree programs enroll the largest numbers of students in private institutions, and more students are studying law in private than public sector higher education institutions (Mongolia Education Sector Strategy 2000-2005).

Ongoing reforms in Mongolian education have been designed to change from a highly specialized and compartmentalized system of education based on the Russian model to a more flexible system, including improving efficiency and effectiveness of education at all levels through rationalization and decentralization. Since 1990, there has been a relaxation of state control over curriculum in Mongolia with efforts at diversification based on local community needs. This includes eliminating the ideological content that had been prevalent, especially in social science and humanities disciplines, and shifting from a teacher-centered to a more student-centered curriculum.

Administration of schools at all levels has been decentralized and less reliance placed on national planning approaches to the allocation of spaces for students in various types of curricula. The government has introduced measures aimed at cost sharing with parents and students so that education funding can be supplemented by sources other than the central government. Legislation has also been passed allowing private sector provision of education at all levels.

A student fee structure was introduced for public higher education institutions in 1993, but unlike most other countries, student fees in Mongolia are expected to cover the full cost of faculty salaries, instructional costs, and other expenses. Initially, the government provided funds for utilities as well as building maintenance and upkeep, but since 1997 only heat, water, and electricity costs are covered. Despite these shifts, the 1997 annual tuition cost has remained at the same inflation-adjusted level as when the fee structure was first introduced, about four months' salary of a university senior lecturer or senior government employee (Weidman and Bat-Erdene 2002).


The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The World Fact-book 2000. Directorate of Intelligence, 1 January 2000. Available from http://www.cia.gov/.

Government of Mongolia, Ministry of Science, Technology, Education and Culture. Mongolia Education Sector Strategy 2000-2005. Ulaanbaatar, 2000.

Weidman, John C., and Regsurengiin Bat-Erdene. "Higher Education and the State in Mongolia: Dilemmas of Democratic Transition." In Higher Education in the Developing World: Changing Contexts and Institutional Responses, eds. David W. Chapman and Ann E. Austin. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002.

—John C. Weidman and
Regsurengiin Bat-Erdene

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