reform in Kazakhstan

Today at CESS 2018: Roundtable on Central Asian Encounters with the European Higher Education Area

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2018-10-26 07.24.39
The wonderfully named Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh

If you should find yourself in Pittsburgh, PA, today – October 27, 2018 – please join us at the Central Eurasian Studies Society’s 2018 Annual Conference for our roundable on Global Bolognaization: Central Asian Encounters with the European Higher Education Area.

Followers of my blog may remember the call for proposals that co-convenor Aliya Akatayeva and I put out at the end of last year when we first started planning the roundtable. We had an excellent response and our original line-up of panellists included colleagues from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan (and me!) all ready to share experiences and analyses of the impact of the European Union inspired Bologna Process reforms on higher education in Central Asia.

Fast forward several months and here we are at an excellent CESS conference in Pittsburgh (check out conference activity on Twitter: #CESS2018atPitt).

At our roundtable today, we will be taking three directions of travel to reflect the research and experiences of the three panellists who will be present:

Professor Gulnara Mendikulova, a distinguished scholar of Kazakh and world history, will set the general scene for the roundtable, considering questions such as: what is the history of the Bologna Process across Central Asia? What were the drivers for Kazakhstan to adopt the Bologna Process? What have been the challenges and opportunities presented by the reforms?

Aliya Akatayeva, Head of the Social Studies Department at Satbayev University (Kazakhstan), will focus on the knotty issue of academic freedom. Whilst academic freedom – including autonomy for universities – is a core value of the European Union higher education ‘package’, there are a number of tensions and challenges in embedding this broad principle in Kazakhstan. As one of the universities in the country that has been given some degree of autonomy under a 2017 law, she will offer a case study of the journey of Satbayev University towards academic freedom.

I will discuss Tajikistan, not (yet) a signatory to the Bologna Process but aspiring to follow in the footsteps of Kazakhstan and become one. By highlighting findings from in-depth interviews in two cities in the country, I will draw out the experiences of some of the faculty members who are on the front line in living with the new higher education reforms. Whilst many are positive about the potential of related changes to the curriculum on the quality of the learning experience, others expressed resistance and resentment towards a series of changes they felt they were not consulted on or given time to adapt to.

We’d love to see you at the roundtable – 11am today in Posvar 4217!

New research from Central Asian university students

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relevant-to-my-interestsIntrigued by reforms to education in Kazakhstan, from the new trilingual education policy to greater steps towards decentralization of governance?

Want to know what students at a new Kazakh university think about life on campus or the effectiveness of their institution’s strategic plan?

Curious to learn more about students’ views on learning methods, from videoessays to critical thinking skills?

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.

The Kazakh National Plan: 100 steps to success

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The Kazakh Minister of Education and Science Dr Aslan Sarinzhipov has this week laid out the steps identified by the national government to improving human capital and therefore economic prosperity in 21st century Kazakhstan.

In May 2015, the government identified five areas of institutional reform, which collectively have 100 steps that must be achieved before completion of the National Plan. The five areas are:

  1. forming a professional state apparatus;
  2. strengthening the rule of law;
  3. supporting industrialisation and economic growth;
  4. bolstering identity and unity; and
  5. building an accountable government

(source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

The language of reform is typical of the neoliberalism that has been sweeping the world since the latter years of the 20th century: words such as ‘modernisation’, ‘economic prosperity’, ‘highly qualified’ offer clear markers as to the aims of the government. Dr Sarinzhipov’s statement abounds with ideas drawn from and enabled by processes of globalisation – Kazakhstan seeks to draw on expertise from Japan, Korea and Finland where global measures have demonstrated success in areas such as school achievement, and a review of major national government scholarship schemes has been drawn on to drive forward changes in Kazakhstan’s own national scheme, the Bolashak Scholarship Programme.

Sarinzhipov outlines a number of specific measures in education and science that will enable his domain to work towards the National Plan. These include:

  • Moving from an 11 to a 12 year education system
  • Greater use of other languages (including English) throughout the school and postcompulsory levels
  • Provision of new facilities and science clusters
  • Training for professional staff either abroad or provided by brought-in international experts
  • Streamlining of the Bolashak Scholarships: the range of universities where Kazakh students can study will be further restricted to institutions classified as world-class in global rankings systems

Whilst the language and the desire to emulate can be seen in national government reform packages around the world, and where many of the reforms are common across postsocialist systems (e.g. the increase in compulsory schooling to 12 years), I would argue that Kazakhstan’s plan for education and science has a number of factors that differentiate it.

The primary differential, in my view, is that the driving force for change appears to be the national government, where in many other nations reform is driven by international agencies, in particular those that offer financing such as the World Bank group. That is not to say that international organisations have not influenced the government’s strategy, either through their continuing involvement in the country or indirectly by senior level officials (Sarinzhipov is an example) having worked for these organisations and therefore having been exposed to their ways of working.

This view can be substantiated by the importance being placed on embedding the Mangilik El  [ru] (Eternal Nation) values system throughout the education system. Rather than simply taking on the (perceived) best features of other countries, Kazakhstan’s plan sets these into a firmly identified national context. Nation building for this and other postsocialist countries may seem overtly ideological to those from countries with a longer independent history, but in the context of contemporary Kazakhstan this strategy is seen as a way to unify the concept of a nation – one that generate economic prosperity and social and cultural capital through the implementation of the National Plan.