Bolashak

Study abroad – what happens next?

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Kazakh newspaper The Astana Times has this week published a story featuring three Bolashak scholarship holders to understand what happens once they return to Kazakhstan.

The Bolashak Scholarships are the Kazakh government’s flagship scholarship programme, and have sent over 10,000 students abroad to study at top universities around the world. Although a condition of the scholarship is that students must return to Kazakhstan to work for at least five years for any private or public sector company or the state, it’s estimated that around half of the scholars have not [yet] made it back home.

The Astana Times article focuses on a small number of students who have returned. They all suggest that the scholarship has been instrumental in improving their career prospects, although they perhaps hadn’t realised the impact it would have when they were applying for jobs.

There’s always a difficult balance to be found when an organisation wishes to support students to continue their studies outside their home country but then requires them to return. I think this is particularly the case if the student is moving from a poorer to a richer country (by which I mean ‘rich’ in a wide sense, in that the education system may be better developed, career prospects may be broader, etc) where the pull factors of remaining in the host country may out-number the push factors encouraging a student to return home. But I’ve also seen students stay in the UK who come from countries where the career prospects are just as good because whilst here they set down roots – such as enjoying living in a particular city or establishing a relationship with someone – that provide more compelling reasons to stay.

Perhaps it’s inevitable that by offering students the opportunity to study abroad, at least some will choose to stay away in the short-term. Governments and other funding bodies should focus their efforts on keeping in touch with their scholarship alumni, encouraging them to continue to develop their skills so that at some point in the future these can be applied for the benefit of their home country.

Studying abroad: no longer just a dream?

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Here’s a transcription (though not a literal translation) of a very informative 8 minute video from Radio Ozodi [ru]. It shows a growing interest in studying abroad, but the programme has a clear moral drive behind its interesting content – see the last paragraph. Makes me wonder if the Kazakh government didn’t inspire the piece: the state provides excellent funding for its young people in the form of Bolashak scholarships but the programme notes that more than half of the 10,000+ scholars haven’t returned to Kazakhstan (which is a condition of the award). Brain drain alert?

Emma’s transcription. Original video can be found at http://rus.ozodi.org/media/video/25299778.html, (c) Radio Ozodi, 12.03.2014

In Kazakhstan, the Bolashak scholarship competition is now open. Thousands of ambitious young people will apply for funding to study in Europe, USA and China. And across Central Asia, study abroad isn’t just a sign of quality and reputation but an investment in their future. The programme discusses the possibilities of studying abroad.

Abu Bakri Saidullo is studying in Dresden, Germany. He wants to graduate with distinction before returning to Tajikistan where he plans to run a business. “We get really up to date knowledge here. I don’t think you can get that kind of knowledge in universities at home,” he says. Abu Bakri is self-funding his studies. The cost per semester is €250 which covers tuition and six months of accommodation in halls of residence.

There are also plenty of opportunities for talented students to obtain funding to study abroad. 30 year old Ilkhom Aslanov from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, has studied in India and Japan and is now in Germany. He comes from a modest background and couldn’t have afforded to self-fund his studies. He says there is a good choice of institutions in Germany and that influenced his decision to apply. The application process was quite cumbersome but in the end he was awarded a grant by DAAD (https://www.daad.de).

Young people in Turkmenistan, however, prefer to study in former Soviet countries and Turkey, mainly for language reasons. Eliza Kenenbaeva is completing her studies at the American University of Central Asia (AUCA) in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Her studies are funded by the Soros Foundation which is why she took up her place, but she says that other Turkmen students are attracted by the low fees and proximity of AUCA to their home country. She also says that it helps that the educational systems are similar, as are Turkmen and Kyrgyz languages.

Although the number of Turkmen students in Kyrgyzstan has fallen in recent years due to travel restrictions on Turkmen citizens, they continue to be attracted by the low cost of study ($2-3,000) and the absence of a language barrier.

The criteria for obtaining a scholarship to study abroad, which the commentator points out is the only way to study abroad without cost, can include:

  •          Academic achievements
  •          Research and academic potential
  •          Leadership qualities
  •          Financial situation

Aynura Chollonkulova, a Bishkek-based careers adviser, says that funding bodies will also consider your personal characteristics. Students initially want to base their choice by the country they want to study in, but she and her experienced consultants advise them instead to focus on their area of specialisation.

In Kazakhstan, the state-funded Bolashak scholarship programme has enabled more than 10,000 Kazakh students to study abroad over the last 20 years. More than 6,000 of them have already completed their studies. The aim of the programme is to train highly qualified specialists who can work at an international level.

Scholars have to return to Kazakhstan and work for at least five years for any public or private sector company or the state as a condition of the funding. However, according to official figures, more than 50% of scholars haven’t returned to Kazakhstan.

Gulzira Amanturlina did her Master’s at LSE, one of the best universities in the world. She then returned to Kazakhstan where she pursued a career in banking. She says she found work in a bank straight away after graduating, and that she was able to put into practice what she learnt in London. She was promoted to Director in 2010. Now she runs Eldani, a non-governmental organisation working with disabled people. Her work on social entrepreneurship and charity developed from what she learnt when studying abroad.

So, studying abroad provides a launching pad for your career – but it isn’t always a guarantee of success. Much depends on what you want to get from it: are you doing this just to live abroad, or do you want to obtain valuable knowledge and experience? It shouldn’t just be the scholar that benefits, but society as a whole.