Why fund students to study abroad?

So asks a report by the British Council and the Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst (DAAD, or German Academic Exchange Service) that I have been meaning to post for some time:


‘The rationale for sponsoring students to undertake international study: an assessment of national student mobility scholarship programmes’ was published at this year’s British Council-sponsored Going Global conference. Kazakhstan features as a case study (pp 27-30); the text is copied below:

Outward mobility scholarships have played an important role in the Republic of Kazakhstan’s development since shortly after its founding in 1991. Bolashak, its first and best-known programme, was founded in 1993, a time when the nation’s HEIs were outmoded, under-resourced and lacked many specialised programmes. Still operational, Bolashak today has more than 10,000 alumni and has played an important role in helping the country establish connections abroad and develop skills and expertise in key areas. A newer tertiary student scholarship was established in 2011 to help Kazakhstan comply with tertiary mobility and quality standards associated with the Bologna accord. Together, these programmes provide an important boost to the country as it works to improve its educational, industrial, civic and health infrastructure. Their design and scope also serve to illustrate the country’s shifting national needs and priorities.

Bolashak Scholarships
Established via by executive order, Bolashak’s original goal was to ‘train specialists in key areas to help the country build international relations and transform to a market economy.’ At its start, the programme funded up to 100 awards each year, supported master’s-level study in the social sciences, humanities, medicine and engineering, and sent recipients to universities in France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States. As the programme matured, its focus evolved with the country’s shifting socio-economic needs. In 1997, responding to a new national plan for economic development, greater emphasis was placed on science and technology training and the pool of host countries was expanded. In 2000, doctoral scholarships were added and the foreign language requirement was reduced to encourage additional applications in the engineering, science and technology fields. In 2005, undergraduate scholarships were added, additional technical fields were selected as priorities and the number of scholarships was significantly expanded, a change made possible due to burgeoning natural resource exports. Six years later, the undergraduate awards were eliminated to direct more funding to graduate-level grants in government administration,
industrial development, education, healthcare, engineering and management. The programme also added funding for professionals to go abroad for non-degree training in the same fields. The administration of the Bolashak programme has likewise evolved over time. Prior to 2005, Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Education and Science (MES) managed the programme, but contracted organisations from other countries to help identify host institutions and prepare scholarship recipients for their study experience.In 2005, following an audit that revealed inefficiencies in this approach, MES founded the Centre for International Programmes (CIP), a Kazakh joint stock company, to oversee principal operations. CIP assumed full administrative responsibility for the programme in 2007, and today operates satellite offices in China, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Partnering with the CIP to manage Bolashak are the MES and the Republican Commission. The Republican Commission is responsible for approving priority majors, overseeing programme regulations and making final award decisions. The ministry oversees scholarship funding and the Independent Expert Committee, a body that reviews applicant documents, interviews candidates and recommends award recipients to the Republican Commission. CIP oversees all other programme logistics, including marketing and promotion, the receipt and review of applications, tracking scholars’ academic progress, and the programme’s post-study home work requirement.

Bolashak selection is highly competitive. Following submission of an application, individuals meeting initial merit thresholds are tested for Kazakh and foreign-language proficiency and undergo a psychological exam. Candidates passing these exams are then interviewed by the Independent Expert Committee. In making final award decisions, the Republican Commission considers an applicant’s overall portfolio vis-a-vis others applying for scholarships in the same field, then selects the top candidates in those fields deemed to be of greatest national need.The Republican Commission manages a list of approved host institutions. In 2013, this list included 200 universities in 20 countries, mostly Western, selected on the basis of international university rankings. Applicants are expected to receive an offer of admission from one of them prior to applying for Bolashak. Scholarship winners may attend universities not on the approved list, but only if granted a special waiver. Scholarship recipients have a year to secure admission to an approved university. If they do not, the Republican Commission may extend or cancel their scholarship. Bolashak scholarships cover all costs associated with degree completion (university applications, visa and travel expenses, university tuition and fees, accommodation and a living allowance). Individual awards are based on host country costs, so vary from person to person. In 2013, the average award was approximately US$37,000. After completing their studies, Bolashak recipients are required to return to Kazakhstan to work for a minimum of five years in a related field. To guarantee this obligation, award winners pledge collateral equalling the total cost of their award before beginning their studies. Families unable to afford the collateral payment may instead secure one or more financial guarantors. Any Kazakh citizen may apply for a Bolashak award. Historically, generating qualified applicants from non-urban areas has been challenging: from 2008 to 2011, an average of only six per cent of award recipients came from rural regions. In an effort to reverse this trend, the CIP now sends staff to rural areas to promote the programme and has created quotas for rural applicants. An online application, launched in 2013, streamlined the process for all applicants, but has been especially beneficial to individuals living in Kazakhstan’s rural areas.
Academic Mobility Scholarships
Kazakhstan became a Bologna Process signatory in 2010. In an effort to comply with Bologna standards, a number of new
tertiary initiatives followed, among them a plan to significantly increase tertiary-level student and faculty mobility. In 2011,
an Academic Mobility scholarship was created with the goal of sending 300 students abroad each year to earn credit towards their master’s degrees.Academic Mobility scholarships support study in all fields, but are open only to students enrolled at Kazakhstan’s state and national universities. Unlike Bolashak, award winners are limited to studying at institutions with which their university has a standing mobility agreement. To date, this has resulted in most scholarship recipients going to universities in former Soviet Union countries, a result that decision makers understand must change in the future in order to comply with Bologna requirements
related to mobility within the European Higher Education Area.The MES funds the programme and determines the number of scholarships to award to each university. Some US$200 million was earmarked for scholarships in the programme’s first year. Scholarship funds cover travel, living and insurance costs. Partner universities agree to waive tuition costs and provide accommodation. Currently, universities are responsible for administering the programme. Because several institutions have not been effective in this role, however, administration of the programme will shift to the CIP in 2015, at which time applicants from private universities will also be accepted. In advance of this change, planning is also underway to identify ways to further
improve the programme’s effectiveness.

Having funded more than 10,000 scholarships over the past 20 years, Kazakhstan’s outward mobility programmes have clearly
increased the country’s intellectual capital. Apart from tracking the number and types of degrees earned abroad, however, there
have been no formal attempts to measure the qualitative impact these awards have and continue to make.Asked to comment on Bolashak’s impact, officials familiar with the programme responded that it had generated key workforce training and skills, enhanced recipients’ worldview and prosperity, and promoted a positive image of the country and sense of national pride. They also noted that many scholarship alumni now hold leadership positions in government and business, and are thus contributing to
political and economic reform. A report on Bolashak by representatives of Nazarbayev University and the University of Pennsylvania echoed these comments and concluded that the programme’s contributions to human capital development and nation building validate the government’s investment. The report also applauded a number of operational changes over the programme’s history that have reduced brain drain, focused skills development in critical areas and broadened participation beyond the country’s wealthy and political elite.

Future prospects
In adopting the Bologna standards, Kazakhstan is obliged to place greater focus on tertiary quality, mobility and outcome assessment. An MES policy report, Academic Mobility Strategy in Kazakhstan for 2012–2020, includes a number of specific
goals and benchmarks, among them that 20 per cent of all university students will be mobile by 2020. Additional goals outlined
in the plan include improving conditions for hosting international scholars and students at Kazakhstan’s universities; improving language education programmes, especially those in English; and expanding relationships with overseas universities and
organisations. Given the scope of these goals, and the country’s growing economic prowess, the prospect of Kazakhstan continuing its tradition of funding outward mobility scholarships remains strong. Indeed, while the Academic Mobility scholarship
programme has an anticipated end date of 2020, no official end date for Bolashak has been scheduled.

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