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July/August 2003
Volume 16, Issue 4
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Education in Mongolia

Middle East
Russia & CIS

The Changing Structure of Higher Education in Mongolia

International Grade ConversionsWorld Education DatabankWorkshops


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The Changing Structure of Higher Education in Mongolia

By Mijid Baasanjav, Begzjav Munkhbaatar
and Udval Lkhamsuren

1. Country Profile

Mongolia is situated in the heart of Central Asia bordering with the Russian Federation to the north and the People’s Republic of China to the south, east and west. About a third of the country is dominated by the Gobi Desert. Mongols make up the vast majority of the largely homogeneous population, which reached 2.3 million in 2000, with an annual growth rate of about 1.5 percent. Ethnic minorities include Kazaks, Chinese and Russians who together represent approximately six percent of the population. Mongolian, the official language, is a member of the Ural-Altaic family of languages, which includes Finnish, Turkish, Kazak, Uzbek and Korean. In the 1940s, the Cyrillic alphabet was adopted, replacing the traditional Mongolian script. Since 1991, Mongolia has been in a transitional phase moving away from a communist system with a centralized, planned economy towards a more market-based economy.

Human settlements have been discovered in the Gobi Desert and other parts of Mongolia dating back half a millennium. However, the Mongols remained but a loose confederation of rival clans until Genghis Khan (Chinggis Khaan) succeeded in uniting many of the disparate tribes in the late 12th century. Shortly thereafter, the Mongols burst onto the world stage, subjugating much of Asia and establishing the largest empire in history. The Mongolian Empire reached its zenith under Genghis' grandson, Kublai Khan (1216-94), who completed the conquest of China and founded the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). After the death of Kublai Khan, the empire lost its cohesiveness, succumbing to internecine conflicts, and went into slow decline. Mongolia eventually came under Chinese dominance again.

In 1911, the Qing dynasty collapsed, allowing the Mongols to declare their independence from China and establish a theocracy under the leadership of the 8th Living Buddha. Following the upheavals of the Russian Revolution (1917), Mongolian nationalists toppled the government in Ulaan Baatar with the help of Russian Bolsheviks in July 1921. Mongolia became the world's second communist country and maintained close ties with the Soviet Union.

A single party, the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party, was established in 1921 and held power until 1990, when the Soviet communist bloc came unraveled. In 1992, a new multi-party constitution was adopted, and reforms were implemented aimed at embracing political pluralism and a market economy.

2. Overview of the Education System

The national education system is divided into several stages, which include both formal schooling and a broad range of non-formal educational training.

The following are education levels and corresponding formal schooling institutions in Mongolia:

Pre-school or kindergarten.

K-12 general education breaks down as follows: four years of primary school, four years of secondary school and two years of upper secondary school for a total of 10 years. Basic education (4+4) is compulsory and provided by the state free of charge. According to the Law on Primary and Secondary Education, adopted in 2002, Mongolia will soon shift to a 5+4+2 structure for a total of 11 years of basic education.

Technical and vocational education is provided by professional training and production centers. In addition, some branches of colleges and universities provide technical and vocational education.

Higher education: (diploma, bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate) are awarded by colleges, higher-education institutions and universities.

3. Higher Education

It took relatively little time to develop the Mongolian higher-education system, which was modeled on the education systems of the former Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries. Before the communist revolution in the early 1920s, Mongolia had no universities or other institutions of higher education.

The National University of Mongolia (established in 1942), situated in Ulaan Baatar, was the country's first modern institution of higher education. Today, there are 178 colleges, universities and teacher training colleges, of which 42 are public.

The Education Law of 2002 classifies the types of higher-education institutions as follows: universities, higher-education institutions and colleges. Universities provide doctoral study, whereas higher-education institutions offer master's degree programs. Colleges offer undergraduate higher education, including diploma programs.

Currently, 98,031 students are enrolled at Mongolian institutions of higher education. Of these, 31,197 students study at private institutions of higher education.

During the 2002-2003 academic year 66,834 students earned their diplomas and degrees from public institutions of higher education while 31,173 students earned qualifications from private institutions.

Student Body
Public Institutions
Private Institutions
Associate’s degree (3yrs)
Ph D

Academic degrees (bachelor's, master's and doctorate) are awarded by colleges and universities. The academic content of higher education is measured by credit hours.

Education Degree
Duration of study (year)
Content (credit hour)
Not less than 3 years
Not less than 90
Not less than 4 years
Not less than 120 hours
Not less than 5.5 years
Not less than 150 hours
Not less than 8.5 years
Not less than 210 hours

* Hours = credit hours

The Ministry of Science, Technology, Education and Culture (MSTEC) is the central administrating body that formulates nationwide education policy and sets the standard for each level of formal education. The ministry is also responsible for scheduling the school year, preparing and publishing textbooks for general secondary education and administering state examination procedures. In addition, the ministry is grants licenses to all new higher-education institutions, and is responsible for setting general provisions for teaching and research.

In recent years, Mongolian institutions of higher education have been expanding their relations with other institutions abroad. During the 2002-03 academic year, 363 foreign students from 18 countries enrolled at Mongolian universities and colleges, 21 of whom were re-trainees.

Moreover, each year the government sends approximately 300 Mongolian students, including 116 re-trainees, abroad for higher education studies.

3.1 MSTEC Priorities for Higher Education

To create an environment suitable for implementing flexible and multi-dimensional curricula

To bring quality control and auditing standards up to international levels

To take into special consideration the issues regarding credit transfer between Mongolian and foreign schools, and the mutual recognition of higher-education programs, diplomas and degrees

Raising efficiency levels in higher education through restructuring of university management

3.2 National Policies on Recognition of Educational Documents, Bilateral and Multilateral Agreements and Issues Concerning the Recognition of Studies, Diplomas and Degrees in Higher Education

The Mongolian government is currently devoting much time and energy to establishing a policy for the recognition of foreign higher-education programs, diplomas and degrees. Currently, there is no law in existence to regulate the policy coordination of this issue.

The MSTEC has been making special efforts over the past two years to establish an agreement for the recognition of foreign higher-education documents. For example, bilateral agreements have been signed with Cuba and China. This year, preliminary measures have been made to establish a similar agreement with the Russian Federation. Likewise, provisions for establishing agreements with Ukraine, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia are currently under way.

In the face of rapidly escalating globalization, the creation of mechanisms for recognizing internationally earned diplomas and degrees, and the implementation of strategic measures to fight against fraudulent education documents, are among the most critical issues facing the education sector in Mongolia.

3.3 Recent Reforms in Higher Education

Until recently, higher education in Mongolia remained under strict state supervision. Since the late 1980s, however, the country's educational system has gradually been adopting more democratic structures. Presidents of higher-education institutions, for instance, are now elected by academic staff. In addition, academic freedom and institutional autonomy have increased significantly over the past decade and are now protected by law. The ministry maintains authority to appoint its representatives to the governing boards of the state-owned institutions and to implement its policies through board decisions.

Prior to 1993, education at all levels was fully subsidized by the government and offered free of charge. Beginning that year, higher education fees for students were introduced. However, while most students are now required to pay tuition fees, the government continues to provide financial assistance in the form of grants and loans to students from low-income families and to those who demonstrate outstanding academic ability.

In addition, public institutions receive state funding for facility maintenance costs. The institution must be accredited to be eligible for government financial support.

3.4 Conference of Degrees and Titles

Before 1995, undergraduate degrees were conferred by the MSTEC while graduate degrees were conferred by the Supreme Council for Academic Degrees and Titles, which was chaired by the minister of education and comprised of academics from different fields. In 1995, however, the promulgation of a higher-education law allowed diplomas and degrees (both undergraduate and graduate) to be conferred directly by the institutions that offer the programs.

4. Accredited Higher-Education Institutions

Public Higher-Education Institutions

1. Medical University

2. Mongolian Special Pedagogical University

3. Mongolian Technical University

4. National University of Mongolia

5. Institute of the Humanities

6. Mongolian University of Arts and Culture

7. Mongolian University of Agriculture

8. National University of Mongolia (Hovd province branch)

9. Medical College in Gobi-Altai province

10. Medical College in Dornogobi province

11. Institute of Commerce and Business

12. Institute of Finance and Economics

13. Cultural College

14. Technical College in Darkhan Uul province

15. Plant Science, Agricultural Research and Training Institute of Mongolian State University of Agriculture, Darkhan Uul province

16. Medical College in Darkhan Uul province , Medical University

17. Ulaan Baatar Medical College

18. Institute of Economics in Zabkhan province, branch of the National University of Mongolia

19. Ulaanbaatar University

20. National University of Mongolia (Orkhon province branch)

21. Institute of Fine Arts

22. Construction College

23. School of Technology in Darkhan Uul province

24. Teacher Training College of the Mongolian Special Pedagogical University, Arkhangai province

25. Food Technology College

26. School of Technology under the Erdenet Concern, branch of the Mongolian University of Science and Technology

Private Higher-Education Institutions

1. Otgontenger University

2. Mongol Business Institute

3. Ulaanbaatar College

4. Orkhon School

5. Mandah Burtgel Institute of Accounting

6. Otoch Manramba Institute

7. Ikh Zasag University

8. Mongolian National Institute of Physical Education

9. Railway College

10. Seruulge Institute

11. Institute of International Economics and Business

12. Institute of Tourism Management

13. Shihihutug Law Institute

14. Tenger College

15. Ider Institute

16. Darkhan College

17. Euro-Asia Institute

18. Soyol-Erdem Institute

19. College of Social Studies

20. Ikh Mongol Institute

21. Ulaan Baatar-Erdem-Oyu College

For further information please visit the Web site of Mongolia's National Council for Higher Education Accreditation

5. Characteristics of Degrees and Diploma

Types of Degrees and Diplomas

Until quite recently, Mongolian institutions of higher education offered mainly undergraduate programs leading to the award of a higher-education diploma with the title of “specialist.” Since 1993, under both the Education Law and the Higher-Education Law, the structure of higher education has been reorganized into a two-tiered (undergraduate--gradate) system consisting of bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral (Ph.D.) studies.

In addition, the Mongolian Academy of Sciences, a special education organization, which promotes research in science and technology, was recently authorized to confer the degree of Doctor of Science for outstanding contribution to the scientific fields. In this sense, the Doctor of Science is not so much a degree as it is a title indicating distinguished achievement.

Information Contained in the Degree Document

The document certifying an academic degree is called the diploma. Before the enactment of the current law, diplomas were issued by government authorities using a standardized format, which was approved by the education ministry. As of 1995, however, there has been no official format for diplomas, which are now issued individually by the higher-education institutions themselves.

However, the ministry does require that all diplomas include the following information: full name of the diploma holder, name of the program completed, title of the degree conferred, and name of the institution.

Additional information that may or may not appear on a diploma includes: names of courses taken by the holder, related credits and grades, and title and grades on final examinations or dissertation/thesis defense.

6. Practical Training

Practical training is an important part of the higher-education curriculum. Mongolian institutions of higher education offer several types of practical training. On-campus practical training includes seminars, supervised study projects, laboratory projects and learning practice. Off-campus practical training (under supervision in a workplace environment) includes technological training, observatory survey and pre-diploma independent practice.

Extensive practical training is required for medical, engineering, veterinary and performing arts programs. Up to 10 weeks of pre-diploma practical training is required for all undergraduate programs.

At the graduate level, practical training has a more research-oriented character. Both thesis and dissertation work require students to conduct independent research both on and off campus.

7. Grading and Evaluations

Assessment and grading of student performance and academic achievement are regulated by the relevant institutions of higher education. However, the ministry has directed universities and colleges to introduce an equalization formula, in order to standardize the grading system within Mongolia while at the same time making it compatible to that used internationally (i.e., A, B, C, D and F, with a figure equivalent of 4, 3, 2, 1 and 0).

Until 1998, a five-figure grading system was used in Mongolia, although in reality only four of them — specifically 5, 4, 3 and 2 (5 being highest and 2 corresponding to fail) — were used. In effect, grades previously used can easily be transferred to the new international system. It should be noted, parenthetically, that students who do not pass at least one course requirement are not awarded a degree.

Mr. Mijid Baasanjav is Director of Science, Technology and Higher Education Department

Ministry of Science, Technology, Education and Culture of Mongolia
Government Building III
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Tel: 976-11-328646
Fax: 976-11-323158
[email protected]

Mr. Begzjav Munkhbaatar is Head of External Relations Department
Ministry of Science, Technology, Education and Culture of Mongolia
Government Building III
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Tel: 976-11-327445
Fax: 976-11-323158
[email protected]

Ms. Udval Lkhamsuren is Director and Educational Adviser
Educational Advising and Resource Center
Children and Youth Library at the Cultural Palace
Ulaanbaatar- 46, Mongolia
Tel: 976-11-319016
Fax: 976-11-326941
[email protected]


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