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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

Practical Information

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Education in Mongolia

By Robert Sedgwick
Editor, WENR

Mongolia's system of education closely followed the Soviet and Eastern European model until the demise of the USSR. Since the early 1990s, it has been undergoing many changes as the country shifts from a centralized economy and one-party state system to a market-oriented economy with a more pluralistic system of government.

Under the current reforms, school curricula have been revised, and the supply of textbooks has increased at the primary and secondary levels. The number of students at all levels of education has also increased.

Vital Facts and Figures

Location: Northern Asia between China and Russia

Land Area: 1,566,000 sq km (610,740 sq mi)

Capital: Ulaan Baatar

Languages: Mongolian, Turkic, Russian, Chinese

Population: 2.6 million

GDP: US$1 billion

Major industries: Copper, livestock, cashmere, wool
Major trading partners: Russia, China, Japan, US,

Literacy: 87 percent

Religions: Tibetan Buddhism, Islam, Shamanism

The Ministry of Science, Technology, Education and Culture (MOSTEC) formulates educational policy and sets the standards for each level of formal education.

Promotion to each educational level is through a system of exams. At the end of primary, lower secondary and upper secondary education, students are required to take state examinations.

Primary education is compulsory and lasts four years. Schools for the primary, lower secondary and upper secondary levels generally do not exist separately. There are only 79 schools offering just primary education in Mongolia (mostly in remote rural areas), and 232 eight-year schools offering both primary and lower secondary education. More than 20 percent of primary school children drop out of school due to high travel or meal costs, lack of interest in study, poor living standards and health problems.

Secondary education is divided into two cycles: lower secondary and upper secondary. Lower secondary education is the final stage of compulsory schooling and lasts four years (ages 12-16), followed by two years of upper secondary education (ages 17-18). Graduates from grades eight through 10 are eligible to enter technical and vocational training schools.

Upper secondary school (not compulsory) is divided into general education and vocational/technical education.

Most of Mongolia's institutions of higher education are based in the capital, Ulaan Baatar. Since the early 1990s, a number of new schools focusing on information technology, business administration and medicine have cropped up there. Many students go abroad to pursue higher-education studies, especially to the countries of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. There has also been a recent shift away from the study of Russian to include more English, Japanese and Chinese.


Duration of program: Four years (grades I through IV)

Curriculum: Mongolian language, mathematics, history and social studies, natural sciences, music, fine arts, physical education


Lower Secondary School

Duration of program: Four years (grades V through VIII)

Upper Secondary School

Duration: Two years (grades IX and X)

Curriculum (for both lower and upper secondary): Mongolian language, Mongolian literature, foreign language (English and Russian), mathematics, natural sciences, geography, biology, physics, chemistry, astronomy, history and social studies, music, physical education, art

Leaving Certificate: Gerchilgee (School Leaving Certificate)


There are a number of technical and vocational schools that enroll lower and upper secondary school graduates. These schools provide secondary vocational education programs to train skilled workers and technicians. In recent years, many of the schools, which are subsidized by the government, have been closed down due to the current economic crisis in Mongolia. In 1990, there were 46 such schools, but by 1996 their number had dropped to only 33. The total number of students enrolled in technical and vocational schools is 11,308.


Higher education in Mongolia is provided by universities, colleges and institutes. Colleges offer mainly undergraduate programs, while universities focus more on research and graduate study. Public institutions of higher education are non-profit organizations, while private institutions may be either non-profit or for-profit.

Under the former communist regime, Mongolia's entire system of education remained under complete state control. This changed in the late 1980s, with the fall of the Soviet Eastern bloc, when colleges and universities were gradually given more academic freedom and institutional autonomy.

Higher education was fully subsidized by the state until 1993, when fees for students were introduced for the first time. However, 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 achievement.

In 1990, private institutions began offering higher education in Mongolia, and a new law, ratified in 1992, officially permitted the establishment of privately funded schools that met specific pre-conditions set by the government. There are currently more than 100 private institutions of higher education offering programs mainly in the fields of economics, management, law, computer science, languages and performing and fine arts. These institutions are approved by the MOSTEC, which also sets standards for private higher education. Students enrolled in accredited private higher-education institutions are eligible for various aid programs granted by the government.

Beginning in 1998, with the establishment of the National Council for Higher Education Accreditation (NCHEA), all higher-education institutions are required to undergo accreditation. Only those institutions that have passed the accreditation process are eligible to receive government financial support. Likewise, only students enrolled in accredited institutions are eligible for government grants and loans.

In addition, higher-education reforms introduced in 1995 and 1998 reorganized coursework at institutions of higher education into credit hours. A credit is defined as an academic content unit that is equal to an average of 15 hours of lecturing or 30 hours of practical training. Programs leading to the B.A. degree cannot be fewer than 120 credits.


Admission to both university and non-university programs requires the Gerchilgee diploma, awarded at the end of secondary school. Students must also take a competitive entrance examination administered by all institutions of higher education. The examination is held once a year, usually at the end of June and early July.


Until 1990, the National University of Mongolia (originally Mongolian State University) was the country's only university. However, following the implementation of education reforms in 1991, the following former polytechnics have been upgraded to university status: the Russian Language Institute, the State Pedagogical Institute, the Pedagogical Institute, the Agricultural Institute, the Medical Institute, the Management Institute and the Military Institute.

Hence, the higher-education sector has been transformed from a single, state-run multipurpose university into a decentralized group of specialized universities all having the freedom to appoint their own instructors, set their admission policies and confer degrees.

The drop out rate for university students continues to rise as increasing numbers of young men return home to rural areas to help their families with herding. According to the Mongolian Statistical Office the number of female students currently significantly exceeds the number of males attending universities. Women currently account for more than 63 percent of university students with 65 percent of them earning master's degrees. In addition, a recent Human Development Report revealed that 80 percent of medical doctors, 70 percent of lawyers, and 73 percent of teachers in Mongolia are women.

Programs and Degrees

New Degree Structure

Formerly, higher-education institutions used to mainly offer undergraduate programs leading to the award of a higher-education diploma with the title of “specialist.”
In 1992, a more Western model, consisting of the B.A., M.A. and Ph.D., was introduced. The Doctor of Science degree (similar to the German habilitation doctorate) is awarded as an advanced degree, requiring two-and-a half to three years of study beyond the Ph.D. Some institutions, such as the Mongolian Technical University, award a “diploma” (associate degree) that is equivalent to the first two years of a bachelor’s degree.

Stage I: The first stage of higher education requires three-to-five years of full-time study leading to a Bachelor's degree. A student must complete a minimum of 120 credit hours to earn this qualification. Professional degrees in dentistry, pharmacy and veterinary medicine require five years, and degrees in medicine are conferred after six years.

Stage II: The Master's degree is awarded after one and a -half to two years of study beyond the bachelor's degree. This degree requires a total of at least 150 credit hours.

Stage III: The Doctor of Philosophy requires several years of advanced study beyond the master's degree in addition to a dissertation and public defense. A total of not less than 210 credit hours is needed for the Ph.D.


Some colleges offer vocational training, which lasts between two and four years and leads to a Higher-Education Diploma.

The majority of colleges offering vocational training programs are run by the state. They are: the College of Commerce and Business, the College of Pedagogy, the Railway College, the Economic College, the College of Agriculture, the College of Art and the College of Light Industry.


Primary School Teachers

Primary school teachers are trained at the teacher training colleges.

Secondary School Teachers

Secondary school teachers are trained at the State Pedagogical University in mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, geography, social science and vocational/technical education. Graduating students are awarded a bachelor's degree in education.


The Distance Education department of the Mongolian Technical University offers online courses.


Refer to the World Education Services Grading Scale for Mongolia http://www.wes.org/gradeconversionguide/mongolia.htm


Asia-Pacific Centre of Educational Innovation for Development: Mongolia Country Report

British Council. International Guide to Qualifications in Education (fourth Edition). Great Britain, 1998.

International Association of Universities: Mongolia's System of Education

International Bureau of Education (UNESCO)


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