After recent reports of unsanitary and unsafe living conditions at a Kazakh university in the western city of Atyrau comes a new report of questionable accommodation standards – but this time at the country’s oldest (and one of its most prestigious) universities, Abay Kazakh Pedagogical University [ru].
Complaints have been made about the irregular supply of water, overcrowded dorm rooms and – the scourge of renters everywhere – bedbugs.
One student’s video evidence of the conditions has been rejected by university administrators, who flatly deny any problems in the accommodation. They suggested that instead, perhaps someone wanted to cast aspersions on the university’s reputation.
Despite initially being denied entry to the dorms, a TV film crew were nevertheless later able to access the building. They confirmed that rooms were being packed with double the number of people than should be permitted, and also saw bugs in the kitchen.
Forced onto the back foot, the building manager issued a statement claiming that they weren’t bedbugs, “just ordinary insects”. And if they did turn out to be bedbugs, promises to bring in sanitary inspectors were quickly made.
Students around the world are often subject to less than optimal living conditions, often because of rogue landlords. It’s less common to see issues of the type raised by here in university-run accommodation, which is one of the reasons the story is newsworthy.
It’s also interesting to see a critical piece on higher education in the Kazakh press, which in general is supportive of the state’s efforts towards higher education.
Many of the comments posted on Tengrinews, which pitched this story as “Kazakhstan’s oldest university at the centre of a scandal” [ru], did not hold back in their openness.
One anonymous commentator neatly summed up their frustration at the difference between the image and the reality of Kazakhstan:
Вот Вам и действительность нашей страны. Вот Вам и состояние системы образования в целом. ЭКСПО, Назарбаев Университеты, НИШ, Астана и другие понты.
[And there’s the reality of our country for you. The education system summed up. Your EXPO, Nazarbayev University, Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools and the other show projects.]
Another felt that this was a reflection of all that is wrong with the university:
Отвратительный ВУЗ. Сам лично убедился, что там все прогнило, начиная с ректората. При сдаче экзаменов в магистратуру, к примеру, место предоставили человеку, даже не сдававшему экзаменов. Проректор просто сказал – нам так надо, до свидания. Финпол спит.
[A disgusting university. I’m convinced that the whole university is corrupt, starting with the Rector [Provost/Vice-Chancellor]. For example, during the admissions period for their Master’s programmes, they’ve already given places to candidates who haven’t even taken the admissions exam. The Vice-Rector just said, that’s how it is, goodbye. The financial police are asleep.]
I will leave you with Alan’s comment. In true Soviet-era fashion, Alan has addressed the issue through an anekdot, a wry joke that tends to mock or mask the truth. The joke concerns the new hierarchy of higher education in Kazakhstan, from the new and uber-prestigious Nazarbayev University in the new capital of Astana to formerly flagship institution Kazakh State University and from there to Abay Kazakh Pedagogical University, the subject of the “scandal”:
Анекдот про студентов Каждый учащийся в Назарбаев университет летает на каникулах в разные страны имеет дом шикарную машину, Каждый учащийся в КАЗГУ Имеет квартиру машину, Каждый учащийся в АГУ имеет право на жизнь
[Here’s a joke about students. Every student at Nazarbayev University flies to different countries for the holidays, and they have a house and a fancy car. Every student at Kazakh State University has an apartment and a car. Every student at Abay Kazakh Pedagogical University has the right to live.]
With a plethora of institutional offerings, deciding what, where and how to study are perennial questions for prospective students around the world.
Here’s what Yelena Pak of Kazakhstan’s Delovoi [Business] Kazakhstan news agency [ru] suggests you should look out for if you’re going to apply in Kazakhstan.
University rankings are a hot topic in Kazakhstan, which seeks to ‘modernize’ its economy and society and to that end has joined pretty much every quantifiable measure of progress on offer.
Pak notes that Al-Farabi Kazakh National University takes national pride of (236th) place in the global QS World University Rankings. As she notes, this ranks Al-Farabi higher than the University of East Anglia in the UK, Miami U in the US and St Petersburg State University.
A number of other Kazakh universities have ‘progressed well’ in the rankings, says Pak. These include Gumilov Eurasian National University, Satpayev Kazakh National Research Technical University and Abai National Pedagogical University.
Kazakhstan now has its own national university ranking system produced by the independent Kazakh Quality Assurance Agency. This covers around a third of the country’s universities. Pak suggests that applicants also take a look at these ratings.
Study abroad or at home?
An option taken up by around 10,000 Kazakhs a year is to seek higher education abroad. Most head to neighbouring Russia, which not only shares a border with Kazakhstan but also membership of the Eurasian Economic Union and (for now at least) a common alphabet and language.
Other Kazakh students are scattered around the world, drawn by factors including availability of subjects and specializations that are not offered at home, the chance to study and live in a different culture and so on.
Pak bemoans the lack of information on university websites on the cost of study and living. This would certainly be a helpful addition for applicants who have not yet firmed up their study options.
Whilst tuition fees are now commonplace in Kazakhstan, it is still possible to study for free if you perform well enough on the Unified Entrance Examination. In 2017, the Ministry of Education will be giving out vouchers, the idea being that students can then apply the voucher (effectively a full fee waiver and a guarantee of the student’s high quality) at any institution in the country.
Pak points out that the university rankings Kazakhs are becoming so fond of are not very good at telling you about quality.
By this she infers the quality of the program (course), the depth and breadth of linkages between the university and other partners, and graduate career prospects.
This may be a temporary oversight. With the rush to measure and assess universities, it is surely only a matter of time before university choice in Kazakhstan is spelled out in even more detail.
I wonder, though, whether this will leave prospective students just as confused as they are now, only this time suffering from too much, rather than too little, information!
In an expected but still noteworthy move, the Kazakh-British Technical University (KBTU) in Almaty, Kazakhstan has now officially been merged with Satpayev Kazakh National Research Technical University (known by its Russian acronym as KazNITU). Announced in 2015, the merger is the brainchild of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev [ru] that aims to strengthen the engineering and technical specialties found in both institutions. To smooth the acquisition from the side of the junior partner (KBTU), the President has appointed Iskander Beisembetov – formerly Rector of KBTU – as the Rector of the newly enlarged institution.
Other than a short story covering the merger in Forbes Kazakhstan [ru] in April 2017, there is very little outward evidence of the change. The only mention I could find on the universities’ websites about the merger was a small link to KBTU’s website next to KazNITU’s on the latter’s homepage, and the story noted above from November 2016 about the appointment of the Rector.
Both institutions have interesting histories. KBTU was an early initiative of President Nazarbayev in higher education, being founded in 2000 by agreement with Tony Blair, then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (as an aside, this helps set into perspective the longer-term working relationship maintained by the two leaders, which has been reported on rather incredulously from the West as if it was something more recent). KBTU has always been a specialist science and technology university and leads national rankings in these areas.
In contrast to KBTU’s positioning as being part of a ‘new generation’ of universities, KazNITU in its various iterations is one of the oldest higher education institutions in Kazakhstan, with a history dating back to 1934. Founded as the Kazakh Mining and Metallurgical Institute, it now has a mission much like KBTU’s, namely, to be a leading provider of high quality teaching and research specialising in technological education.
For the two institutions, it looks like – for the moment, at least – very little will change. But for the higher education system in Kazakhstan, this represents an important moment. Mergers reflect a change in the way institutions are governed and the context within which they operate. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, mergers are often symbolic of a shift towards a managerial logic in higher education. Out are the old practices of academic collegiality and the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake (and at whatever cost), ushering in instead governance by tuition fee in a (pseudo-)market environment.
The good governance of universities is critical to their effective running, and there are doubtless cases where the introduction of new forms of governance (that may include mergers and acquisitions, as well as the closure of institutions) has helped universities and the system they operate in. Yet there are also concerns that the imposition of externally driven reorganizations may reduce institutional autonomy and differentiation or damage academic morale. And whether they improve the university’s core ‘business’ of teaching and research is, as well-known British higher education scholar Michael Shattock has argued, unproven.
Shattock, M. (2006). Managing good governance in higher education. Open University Press.
More MOOC madness?
The trend in higher education for MOOCs – massive open online courses – shows no sign of abating.
In 2016, an estimated 58 million students around the world signed up for a MOOC. 23 million of these students (an impressive 40%) enrolled in a MOOC for the first time. Over 700 universities are involved in offering nearly 7,000 MOOCs. Check out ClassCentral’s 2016 report for more MOOC-tastic stats.
As Ben Wildavksy has argued, this is much more than ‘MOOC Ado About Nothing‘ (groan away – it’s his line, not mine!).
Now that the first wave of MOOC enrollment has passed, access begins to open up to a wider audience, following the same pattern as the disbursement of the internet (first to the elites who could afford a computer as an expensive piece of tech, later spreading to society more broadly). The metaphor is apt given that the internet is a crucial reason for the birth and growth of MOOCs.
MOOCs speak your language
One of the most interesting trends in 2016 is the growth in regional providers of MOOCs, which attracted around 25% of all new learners last year. Most of these courses are offered in languages other than English.
The days of the arena being dominated by North American providers and English language medium of instruction may well be numbered, especially with the entry of Chinese language providers to meet the huge education market in China.
Bilim (knowledge) for all
It is on the coat-tails of this regionalization movement that the recent launch of Kazakhstan’s own Open University, Қазақстанның ашық университеті [kz], can be located. OpenU, as it is billing itself, has set itself the lofty aim [kz] of increasing the intellectual level of the country by delivering high-quality online courses.
Courses will be developed by leading Kazakhstani academics and are aimed at high school students (an interesting target audience often overlooked by other MOOCs), university students and those who for some reason are unable to access face-to-face higher education.
All ‘interested citizens’ are also invited to join in too, so the mission is highly inclusive. As with other MOOCs, all OpenU courses are free.
The founders of OpenU
Although pitched as a university, OpenU is in fact a joint project, created by the public fund WikiBilim [bilim = knowledge in Kazakh] with KCell, a leading Kazakhstani mobile phone provider, as the main sponsor.
The initial university partners are:
Four more courses are due to go live in April and a further three this May. Most courses are around five weeks long with one session a week.
In a country where (multi-)language policy is a major issue, it is interesting that 80% of the course content is being offered in Kazakh. That said, English and Russian language subtitles are planned for all video content, which will enhance accessibility.
What can you study?
The initial courses, like the global pattern for MOOCs, focus on computer science and business/management.
Students can sign up for courses in Matrices and Determinants, Public-Private Partnerships, Web Programming Fundamentals, Fourier Analysis [Maths], Robotics and Introduction to Computer Science Using Java [all kz or ru].
The course creators have outstanding academic credentials. Professor Askar Zhumadildayev, for example, holds a Doctor of Science degree (equivalent to the ‘habilitation’ in some other contexts, i.e. a more advanced degree than the PhD) in Mathematical Physics and is an academician of the Kazakh National Academy of Sciences.
Zhumadildayev is committed to this new style of learning: “Если эти лекции посмотрят даже 20 человек, я буду счастлив. Все должно развиваться постепенно. Это настоящая академичная наука и настоящие знания, это полезно” (“Even if only 20 people watch these lectures, I will be happy. Things should develop gradually. This is genuine science and genuine knowledge – it’s useful.”)
The project’s founders hope that the OpenU courses will provide a means for students in regions of Kazakhstan to learn from the country’s great academics [ru], who tend to cluster in the two main cities of Astana and Almaty.
Surfing a new wave of MOOC innovation
There are three reasons why I believe that OpenU offers a new way of thinking about MOOCs that may help to refresh the format and generate a third wave of MOOC development.
I would argue that the first wave lasted until 2012, with the massive rise and popularization of the MOOC. The second wave of 2013-2016 was characterized by the personalization of MOOCs, where provision became more oriented around individual needs in terms of scheduling, credentials being made available and so on.
So what makes OpenU a breath of fresh air in the increasingly jaded world of MOOCs?
- The pedigree of the course creators is stunning. Whilst you can certainly find other MOOCs offered by ‘star’ academics, the concern of many universities when they rushed to joined the MOOC bandwagon was to generate course content. Less attention was paid, at least in the early days, to quality and delivery. OpenU’s collaboration with a range of universities and its focus on working with leading academics means that quality is being put first.
- The partnership between a non-profit public organization, WikiBilim, and a corporate, KCell, is an extremely interesting model. Rather than a single university trying to create its own MOOC platform, or the wholesale adoption of an outside model (Coursera, EdX etc), the OpenU model creates a different type of structure through which partner institutions can offer selected courses. This is advantageous for the universities in terms of resource sharing and also for the prospects for publicity (and thus potential future student recruitment) it offers.
- OpenU has not been set up to offer degrees [ru], as is now possible through the combination of some MOOCs. Rather, it is an ‘educational upgrading’ experience to support growth in educational quality not just for individual learners but also for universities in Kazakhstan. The idea is that they may adopt some of the course content as part of their own curriculum in order to draw on expertise available within the country but not within their own institution.
New article published: The policy challenges of creating a world-class university outside the global ‘core’
I’m pleased to share the publication of my latest journal article. Out online in the European Journal of Higher Education now (and in print in June), my article is called The policy challenges of creating a world-class university outside the global ‘core’ and takes a fresh look at the now commonplace idea of the world-class university.
I used a case study of recently founded Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan to highlight some of the challenges and opportunities for policymakers and people working/studying at the university arising from this new and in many ways experimental project.
You can download the article in full at: http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/BugJKtrEFRnhfJpkeDya/full, and the abstract is below.
Although the idea of the world-class university is not a new one, it has become increasingly commonplace in public policies around the globe, also gaining traction in states outside the global ‘core’. Kazakhstan, the only Central Asian member of the European Higher Education Area, is no exception as it too aspires to have a world-class university. This paper examines the policies of the Kazakhstani government towards a recently founded institution, Nazarbayev University, as it seeks to position Kazakhstan as a credible global knowledge economy, but also use the university as a means of fulfilling domestic nation-building objectives. Addressing the policy challenges of creating a world-class university in this particular Central Asian context, the paper contributes to a reshaping of our understanding of how certain states currently outside the global ‘core’ are using higher education as a neoliberal development strategy. This paper offers the prospect that there might not just be multiple paths to the creation of a world-class university, but also multiple interpretations of what it means to be a world-class university.
I thought so.
You need to subscribe to a great blog run by students at Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev University, which has published posts on all these themes and much more. Stories are short, evidence-based and offer some great insights into two areas.
Firstly, there are articles that enhance empirical understanding of education at all levels, with a particular focus on the Kazakh situation. Secondly, the blog offers some interesting insights into the contemporary Central Asian student experience by allowing students to choose (within a framework) what they are writing about, how they express themselves, and how their articles are received and discussed by others.
Every now and again, I treat you (well, really this is as much for my own benefit) to a visual offering on this blog. In previous years, we’ve had early Soviet era Central Asia posters, a tour of Bishkek’s universities and a selection of Christmas trees for the Tajik school and university students who were banned from putting up Christmas trees for the festive season in 2015.
For the winter holidays this year, I offer you another sojourn into the recent history of Central Asia with a series of images of Kazakhstan’s universities from the Almaty City State Archives. This photo story is from Kazakh news agency BNews by journalist Aigul Mukhambetova. The story is in Russian and I’ve given an informal English translation below.
On the subject of university history and the importance of place (but not on Central Asia), you might also be interested in a recent article I’ve had published in the Canadian journal Comparative & International Education on the connections between universities’ foundations and their current levels of engagement with their local communities.
So – happy viewing and happy reading, but most of all happy holidays. May peace, reason and expertise reign in 2017 for everyone in the world.
Какими были крупнейшие вузы страны в годы их становления (ФОТО)
Which were the country’s best universities during its founding years?
В современном Казахстане огромную роль играют высшие учебные заведения, которые за годы независимости выпустили сотни тысяч высококвалифицированных специалистов. Однако их история началась еще в довоенный период. Редакция BNews.kz предлагает провести небольшой экскурс в первые годы становления нескольких алматинских вузов.
In contemporary Kazakhstan, higher education institutions play an important role, and since independence in 1991, hundreds of thousands of highly qualified specialists have graduated. Yet the institutions’ histories started even before the Second World War. The BNews.kz team invite you on a small excursion into the first years of some of Almaty’s universities.
КазНУ им. аль-Фараби // Al-Farabi Kazakh National University
Казахский национальный университет им. аль-Фараби был основан в 1934 году. Тогда университету было присвоено имя С.М. Кирова. В становлении университета оказали помощь вузы Москвы, Ленинграда, Казани, Украины.
Al-Farabi Kazakh National University was founded in 1934. At that time, it was named after Sergei Kirov [Russian Communist leader assassinated also in 1934, possibly at Stalin’s (indirect) order]. Universities in Moscow, Leningrad [St Petersburg], Kazan and Ukraine provided support to the foundation of the Kazakh National University.
Во время становления университета в КазГУ работали известные ученые и общественные деятели. В первый год существования вуза работали два факультета, когда сейчас студентов обучают по 80 с лишним специальностям на 14 факультетах.
At the time it was founded, well-known scholars and public figures worked at Kazakh State University. In its first year, there were two faculties. Today, students can study for one of around 80 degrees in 14 faculties.
Сегодня КазНУ успешно сотрудничает более чем с 400 крупнейшими университетами из 25 стран мира. В 2015 году вуз вошел в топ-300, заняв 275 место среди 800 лучших мировых университетов.
Today, Kazakh National University successfully cooperates with more than 400 excellent universities in 25 countries. In 2015 it joined the top 300 universities, taking 275th place amongst the world’s best 800 universities.
КазНАИ им. Т.К. Жургенова // T. K. Zhurgenov Kazakh National Academy of Arts
История КазНАИ им. Т.К. Жургенова начинается с 1955 года. В институте искусств им. Курмангазы (ныне Консерватории) был открыт театральный факультет.
The history of the T. K. Zhurgenov Kazakh National Academy of Arts started in 1955 when a theatre faculty was opened at the Kurmangazy Institute (now Conservatory) of Arts.
В 1977 году на его базе был создан алматинский государственный театрально-художественный институт. Сегодня в академии функционируют 6 факультетов: театральное искусство, кино и ТВ, хореография, живопись, скульптура и дизайн, искусствоведение и музыкальное искусство.
Сегодня в вузе подготовку специалистов осуществляют 23 кафедры, из которых 17 являются выпускающими и 6 общеакадемическими.
In 1977, the Almaty State Theatre Institute was founded on the Academy’s site. Today, there are six faculties: theatre, cinema and TV, choreography, drawing, sculpture and design, art history, and music. Today the Academy prepares students in 23 departments.
КазНПУ им. Абая // Abai Kazakh National Pedagogical University
Казахский национальный педагогический университет имени Абая основан в 1928 году.
Сегодня это крупнейший и ведущий университет Казахстана, один из центров отечественной педагогической науки и культуры. Университет сейчас занимает достойное место среди 10 лучших университетов республики и первое – в рейтинге педагогических.
Abai Kazakh National Pedagogical University was founded in 1928.
Today it is one of Kazakhstan’s leading universities and a centre for national pedagogical science and culture. The university is ranked amongst the top 10 in the country and the first for pedagogical studies.
КазНПУ им. Абая включает 11 факультетов, институт магистратуры и докторантуры PhD, 10 научно-исследовательских институтов и центров, лаборатории и более 64 кафедры. В университете обучается свыше 11 тысяч будущих специалистов по 55 специальностям бакалавриата, 46 специальностям магистратуры и 16 специальностям докторантуры PhD.
Abai Kazakh National Pedagogical University has 11 faculties, an institute for Master’s and PhD students, 10 research institutes and centres, laboratories and more than 64 departments. More than 11,000 future specialists study at the university for over 55 undergraduate degrees, 46 Master’s degrees and 16 PhD degree subjects.
КазНМУ им. С. Д. Асфендиярова // S. D. Asfendiyarov Kazakh National Medical University
Решение об открытии медицинского института в Алма-Ате было принято в 1930 году. Штат института в 1931 году включал 5 профессоров, 4 доцента, 13 ассистентов и 2 преподавателя.
The decision to open a medical institute in Alma-Ata (Almaty’s previous name) was taken in 1930. the institute opened in 1931 with five professors, four assistant professors, 13 assistants and two teachers.
За годы войны институт окончили около 2000 врачей, 75% выпускников были направлены на фронт. Бессмертный подвиг во имя свободы Родины совершили на фронте воспитанники медицинского института – Маншук Маметова и Владимир Иванилов, которым посмертно были присвоены звания Героя Советского Союза. Они навечно зачислены студентами медицинского университета.
Сегодня в КазНМУ им. С.Д. Асфендиярова работают известные ученые-педагоги Казахстана, академики Национальной академии наук РК, Российской академии медицинских наук, Академии профилактической медицины РК, Международных академий, заслуженные деятели науки и образования, заслуженные врачи и фармацевты.
During World War Two, around 2,000 doctors graduated, of whom 75% were sent to the front. Two Medical Institute graduates, Manshuk Mametov and Vladimir Ivanilov, were recognized posthumously with Hero of the Soviet Union status for their heroic efforts in the name of freedom for the Motherland. They have been marked for eternity a students of the medical university.
These days, well-known Kazakh science teachers, members of the Kazakhstan National Academy of Science, the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences, the Kazkhstan Academy of Preventative Medicine, International academies, recipients of national science/education awards and honoured doctors and pharmacists all work at the S. D. Asfendiyarov Kazakh National Medical University,
КазНТУ им. К.И. Сатпаева // K. I. Satpaev Kazakh National Technical University
История казахского национального технического университета им. К.И.Сатпаева — флагмана инженерного образования республики берет начало в 1934 году. Тогда вуз назывался Казахский горно-металлургический институт.
K. I. Satpaev Kazakh National Technical University is a leading provider of engineering education and was founded in 1934. At that time it was called the Kazakh Mining and Metallurgy Institute.
В 1999 г. за особые заслуги в подготовке инженерно-технических кадров страны постановлением Правительства Республики Казахстан КазНТУ присвоено имя выдающегося ученого, академика Каныша Имантаевича Сатпаева. КазНТУ сегодня – это 11 профильных институтов и 54 кафедры, где преподают и ведут научные исследования около 200 докторов и более 500 кандидатов наук.