Today, a brief overview of the current situation for higher education in Kazakhstan, as part of my monthly series reviewing the Central Asian countries. Click on the links to read earlier posts on Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Of the Central Asian countries, Kazakhstan in particular has embraced the concept of a market-driven higher education system and national policy is aimed at ‘reforming the higher education system to meet the needs of a modern competitive economy based on international experience’ (National Tempus Office Kazakhstan, October 2010: 6). Both in number and proportion, there are more private providers of higher education in Kazakhstan than other Central Asian countries, which partly reflects low government investment in education.
That said, there has been investment in in the high quality end of the market to support President Nazarbayev’s aim of creating a knowledge economy in the country. The best example of this is the 2006 creation of a brand new university in the capital Astana. Originally called simply the New University, it has now been renamed Nazarbayev University after the President. Despite neither name being interesting or original (although New College Oxford has been around since 1379 so perhaps they should have stuck with the original name!), significant state funds have been pumped into prestigious international partnerships with universities of the likes of Harvard, University College London and the National University of Singapore with the aim of creating – at high-speed – an international standard research university with a focus on science and social sciences.
In terms of subject areas, the British Council’s review of the Kazakhstan market confirms that science, engineering and technology are priorities for the country (May 2011). These subjects have been a focus for the state-funded Bolashak Scholarship Programme (which between 1995 and 2010 sent over 7,300 Kazakh students abroad to study), demonstrating a desire to improve capacity in these areas. However, with the rise of Nazarbayev University, it is likely that the Bolashak Programme will be remodelled as a smaller programme focussing exclusively on subjects not available in Kazakhstan.
The Ministry of Education and Science in Kazakhstan has ten stated priorities for the development of higher education that aim to improve quality and enable the achievement of international standards (Omirbaev, December 2009). The priorities are geared around making Kazakhstan’s education system compatible with the Bologna process, for example moving to the three-cycle Bachelor’s-Master’s-Doctorate system and introducing a credit transfer system like the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS). Vocational training is also important, with the government recently announcing that its education development programme will bring standards up to an international level.
In summary, Kazakhstan’s ‘higher education system has come a very long way from its Soviet roots since independence’ (OECD/World Bank, 2007: 24) but it is held back on a global scene because of the slower rates of development (e.g. in institution building and basic infrastructure) in the Central Asian region as a whole. It has not been immune to the global financial crisis, as Lillis noted in 2009, with subsequent effects on the student experience that are demonstrated through student quotes used in the article.
- British Council. (May 2011). Kazakhstan Market Briefing
- CaspioNet. (07.01.2012). Kazakhstan transmits to international standards of vocational training. Accessed on 09.01.2012 from http://caspionet.kz/eng/business/Kazakhstan_transmits_to_international_standards_of_vocational_training_1325916289.html.
- Lillis, Joanna. (07.06.2009) Kazakhstan: Economic Crisis Crimps Astana’s Grand Plans for Higher Education. Accessed on 09.01.2012 from www.eurasianet.org/departments/insightb/articles/eav060809.shtml
- National Tempus Office Kazakhstan. (October 2010). Higher Education in Kazakhstan: European Commission
- OECD/World Bank. (2007). Higher Education in Kazakhstan: Reviews of National Policies for Education
- Omirbaev, S. M. (December 2009). Национальные приоритеты развития высшего и послевузовского образования Республики Казахстан на 2010-2012 г.г (National Priorities for the Development of Higher and Post-Higher Education in the Republic of Kazakhstan, 2010-2012)
See also blogger Kazakh Nomad’s December 2011 posts answering some important questions about Kazakhstan, including on the education system, in a series of farewell posts as she prepares to leave the country.