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universities

New publication: Emerging global players: Building institutional legitimacy in universities in Estonia and Kazakhstan

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Summer 2018 is turning out to be a productive time for book publishing: in July, a chapter I wrote with Professor Creso Sá on scientific nationalism and scientific globalism was published; late August saw the publication of my new chapter with Dr Merli Tamtik called:

Comparing post-socialist transformations book cover
Book cover of ‘Comparing Post-Socialist Transformations’

Emerging global players: Building institutional legitimacy in universities in Estonia and Kazakhstan

 

It’s out as part of an exciting new collection, Comparing Post-Socialist Transformations: Purposes, policies, and practices in education, edited by Maia Chankseliani and Iveta Silova.

Our chapter compares how Estonia and Kazakhstan are using their two flagship universities – the University of Tartu and Nazarbayev University – as tools in their broader quest to find a place towards the top of the global hierarchy of nations with high quality (and top ranking) universities.

Why compare Estonia and Kazakhstan?

Apart from the obvious sharing of 20th century educational and political history as republics of the USSR, both states have in recent decades been investing heavily in higher education reforms. They do this in their effort to transform into the much desired ‘knowledge economy’, which is basically a global panacea for all countries’ educational and labour market problems.

Adding a really interesting dimension to the comparison is the historical differences between the two countries and universities we examined. Estonia was a nation-state well before being annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940, and the the University of Tartu is one of the oldest universities in the European model, having been founded in 1632. That makes it older than any university in the United States which has a plethora of institutions in the global rankings.

At the other geographical end of the former Soviet space, Kazakhstan became an independent state only after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. It does have a deep and rich history, just not in the geographic and political formation it inherited last century. Our case study Nazarbayev University is an archetypal creation of contemporary Kazakhstan, teaching in English, recruiting academics from around the world and rapidly expanding after admitting its first students in 2010.

Building international legitimacy

To make our comparison, we used the theoretical idea of international legitimacy building. This is a dynamic process in which actors – in our case, the governments of Estonia and Kazakhstan and the two universities – discover, shape, adopt and diffuse ideas or sets of norms with the aim of enhancing their global standing.

Having a top university is one symbol of being a highly ranked nation, which is why we focused in on the flagship university in each state.

Going through the four phases of international legitimacy building, we found both patterns and divergences between the two countries. For example, strong leadership from the top in steering higher education was found in both settings, as were a series of rapid reforms to higher education made as soon as economically possible after 1991.

The clearest distinction between the two states was the much greater agency of higher education institutions in Estonia than their counterparts in Kazakhstan, where persistent centralization has only very recently started to shift towards offering universities greater autonomy.

Why is this important?

It’s never enough to say that your study is important because it is the first of its kind (although it is true that this is the first comparison of national/higher education developments in Estonia and Kazakhstan and we are pretty excited about having done this!).

We believe the chapter makes a contribution in the understanding and analysis of processes of state formation in the post-socialist space – states that are (re-)forming under intense global pressures not experienced by other countries that came into existence in the mid-20th century or earlier.

We have also used our study to raise the important question of ‘what happens next’ for states like Estonia and Kazakhstan that choose to adopt dominant global discourses. Can they get their heads above the parapets and get the universities into a global top 100 ranking? Will they have to change their systems completely to achieve what they see as ‘global best practice’? Or is there a way in which Estonia and Kazakhstan can use this global discourse to enable their universities to flourish as global players on their own terms?


Reference

Tamtik, Merli, and Emma Sabzalieva. 2018. “Emerging Global Players? Building International Legitimacy in Universities in Estonia and Kazakhstan.” In Comparing Post-Socialist Transformations: Education in Eastern Europe and Former Soviet Union, edited by Maia Chankseliani and Iveta Silova, 127–45. Oxford: Symposium Books.


More details about the book including a useful summary and chapter listing can be found at: http://www.symposium-books.co.uk/bookdetails/104/

Under copyright rules, I am not allowed to freely distribute our chapter. Sorry. But if you are based at a university or college, would you encourage your library to stock a copy? Thank you to Max Antony-Newman for requesting a copy for the University of Toronto library already!

Alternatively, if you would like to buy a copy, I can help you get one with an extremely respectable 50% author discount. Please drop me a note to follow up.

A Multinational University in Central Asia

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I’m sharing a post I wrote for the Centre for Canadian & International Higher Education‘s blog about the University of Central Asia. The post was published today at https://ciheblog.wordpress.com/2018/03/05/a-multinational-university-in-central-asia/ and is also copied below:

A Multinational University in Central Asia

It’s the early 1990s and 15 new countries have emerged from the colossal historical moment that was the fall of the Soviet Union. Some of these new countries have never experienced statehood with their current set of borders before – including the five Central Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

With the collapse of a huge unified political and economic system, questions of nationhood and national culture exist alongside a great number of urgent problems for these new countries. Unemployment is growing – as much as 30% in some countries –  and as many as 40-70% of the population are falling below the poverty line. How can the new national governments create economic opportunities when jobs have vanished overnight?

And yet at the same time, the new nation states inherited a legacy of well-developed social infrastructure that was particularly strong in healthcare and education. In Central Asia, for example, the first universities and Academies of Science (research institutes) were created during the Soviet era. Whilst the region has an incredibly rich heritage of learning and discovery stretching back more than a millennium, the 20th century saw the founding of the first formal institutions of higher education here.

It is into this context of economic crisis but highly developed education and social institutions that the University of Central Asia (UCA), a new institution equally based in the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in Central Asia, came into being. And it was UCA’s story that the university’s Chancellor Dr Shamsh Kassim-Lakha came to share with a large audience a joint CIHE/Munk School seminar held at OISE on March 2, 2018.

The story of the University of Central Asia

From 1995, agencies of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), a major international secular private foundation with a presence in 30 countries worldwide, began working with the Central Asian governments. At their request, agencies of the AKDN began to provide food assistance, education, and financial services. As the 1990s progressed and the economic situation stabilized across the region, education rose up the agenda as a priority area. A successful Humanities Project, initiated in Tajikistan in 1997 under the auspices of AKDN funding (and still running today), showed that innovation in higher education could work.

In 2000, the UCA was created. It is believed to be the only regional university in the world to be founded by international charter signed by the three host countries; the charter has since been lodged with the United Nations. It joins a tiny number of other regional universities such as the University of West Indies and the University of the South Pacific.

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A key aim of the UCA is to “create job creators, not job seekers”, according to Dr Kassim-Lakha. UCA is striving to fulfil this mission in a number of ways:

  • Providing very low cost continuing education across a widely disbursed area, including in neighbouring Afghanistan. Courses are vocationally oriented, covering subjects such as Business English, Accounting, and Car Mechanics;
  • Undergraduate education with two majors at each of the three UCA campuses. Two campuses – in Naryn, Kyrgyzstan and Khorog, Tajikistan – are operational; the Kazakh campus in Tekeli is expected to open within the next five years. Right now, there are just under 200 students and at capacity, UCA hopes to host 1,200 students on each campus. Graduate education will follow in the future;
  • Research in areas of relevance to the mountain societies that host UCA. The Mountain Societies Research Institute and Institute for Public Policy and Administration are already producing some interesting outputs;

Across all its activities, UCA is striving to engage the communities and countries around it. This ranges from a new Mountain University Partnershiplinking up UCA to existing higher education institutions in the towns it is operating in to substantial financial support for the majority of its undergraduate students.

The cost of creating a new university

Even though tuition fees are minimal compared to other higher education systems – US$5,000 plus $3,000 for accommodation and living costs – this is well beyond the means of most prospective students. Huge financial subsidies mean that most students are only paying a fraction of the true cost of their education, which Dr Kassim-Lakha put at $28,000.

Screen Shot 2018-03-03 at 10.23.24 AMA huge amount of money has been put into the UCA initiative. There’s the financial subsidies for students, the cost of construction – the campuses have each cost nearly $100m to build – before you start to account for ongoing running costs.

Some of that cost has been met by generosity from Canada. To date, around C$20m of funding has been channeled from Canadian government agencies and non-governmental organizations into the creation of UCA, and Dr Kassim-Lakha expressed the university’s deep gratitude towards the Canadian people for this support. As well as direct funding, there are already concrete partnerships in place with the University of Toronto, Seneca College, University of British Columbia and the University of Victoria, each supporting UCA to develop a specific area of its curriculum.

Nevertheless, and perhaps understandably, working out how the university will be financially sustainable in the future is the issue Dr Kassim-Lakha said that keeps him up at night.

In the very specific former Soviet context it is based in, there are also potential challenges arising from an autonomous university attempting to set its own future direction within national higher education frameworks that remain heavily state-centric and bureaucratized.

And actively choosing to build a tri-campus university in small and remote mountain towns, as UCA has done, adds another dimension to the challenge. The guiding rationale for doing so – to reduce political, social and economic isolation – means that the university and other AKDN agencies are not just building a university, but a whole framework around it: from providing continuing education courses to qualify local people to work on the building sites to creating physical infrastructure such as building roads and pipelines.

UCA is an incredibly ambitious and exciting new endeavour. If the quality of its graduating students – the first of whom will reach the workplace in 2021 – come anywhere near matching the quality of financial investment and effort placed into creating UCA, then the results could be transformative for the mountain societies and the countries they are located in.

In Their Own Words: Scholarship Stories from Tajikistan (repost)

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Below is a very nice story posted on the Central Asia Institute website offering motivation and inspiration from a number of scholarship students from Tajikistan. Thanks to Michelle O’Brien for alerting me to this story.

In Their Own Words: Scholarship Stories from Tajikistan

(c) Central Asia Institute: https://centralasiainstitute.org/in-their-own-words-scholarship-stories-from-tajikistan

February 20th, 2018

In Tajikistan, poverty is one of the largest barriers to higher education. All too often promising students must end their academic dreams early, or their families take out loans they can never pay back.

With help from donors, CAI’s partner in Tajikistan (CAIT) gives scholarships to students based on need and merit, ensuring poverty does not derail the dreams and careers of some of the country’s best and brightest students. Each applicant must submit their school grades and their family’s income information, complete an interview, and submit recommendations from village elders and teachers.

Most of the students receive scholarships to Khorog State University, where they study a variety of subjects from foreign languages, education, to history and economics. The students are grateful to receive scholarships that will not only help them achieve their dreams but also help care for their families.

We received several messages from students who wanted to tell their stories and send messages of thanks to CAI donors and supporters. We decided to let them tell those stories to you, in their own voices, for you. Keep reading to hear their incredible spirits as they tell you how they have conquered poverty, illness, and hardships to earn their scholarships and make it to university.

Jumakhonov Shasufbek – Studying Economics at Khorog State University

Life is so difficult and has its wave, sometimes you can see the wave and sometimes it disappears. Life has its paths and one has to find the right one. And you can find the right way only through learning and education. Knowledge can show you the right way to choose.

Since my childhood, I have been enjoying reading and writing. I always learned new things from my grandfather who brought us up. As far as I remember I was thirsty of knowledge and always sought for new things. We (I and my two brothers) were living with our grandparents as our parents had to leave to Russia [to earn money]. We had everything besides parents’ love and care.

I am the eldest child in my family. When I was on grade 11 my parents came back from Russia because the condition of life in Russia became difficult for the migrants, and it was hard for my parents to work there. After graduation from secondary school I was succeeded to enter Khorog  State University, Economy faculty (department). I was proud of becoming a student of this university, but from the other side, the tuition fee made me sad. As my family could not afford the tuition fee, they decided that I should not study this year because the only income of our family was my grandparents’ pension. But as the saying says, “Hope never dies.”

Once I was reading the local newspaper and by chance saw an advertisement of CAIT regarding scholarship for the needy students from remote areas. Something inside told me that “this is your chance.” So according to the advertisement, I have started to gather the necessary documents and in a short period submitted them all to the office of CAIT in Khorog town.  When after a month I had a call from CAIT regarding my acceptance to the scholarship, I was on the top of happiness. And that time I felt myself the luckiest person in the world. And also my grandparents and parents were so happy for me I saw the happiness in their eyes.

Taking the chance I would like to thank CAIT and its staff on behalf of myself and my family for giving me such a great chance to continue my study. In my turn, I promise to be the best student of the university and seek for knowledge.

support scholarships

Nekbakht Khujanazarova – Studying History at Khorog State University

I am Nekbakht Khujanazarova. I am from Roshorv village of Bartang Valley. Roshorv is one of the beautiful places of Bartang Valley. It has many historical places that attract the tourist to our valley. I was living in this beautiful village with my parents, my three sisters, my little brother, and my grandparents.

During our childhood, my grandfather told us different stories from his life and the difficulties they had to go through. We listened to him carefully. After his death, I told my siblings stories and helped my mother. My mother is a housekeeper, and my father is unemployed. He usually is busy with the small piece of land that we have. Usually in our village men are working in the fields, because there is no other kind of work. Although, this kind of work is not regular and one cannot earn enough money for life with this kind of work.

The stories of my grandfather inspired me for applying to the Khorog State University faculty (department) of History. When I entered to the university I was happy and proud, but I knew that my parent can never afford my tuition fee. I even did not know what to do. Fortunately, on TV my neighbor heard about CAIT scholarship for the students from low-income families and told me about it. She told me to apply, I have gathered my documents and submitted them to their office but I was not sure to be accepted by this organization. But I succeeded and now I know that the world is full of kind people who would like to help others. Thank you for your support.

Nazrishoev Aslisho – Studying Economics at Khorog State University

My name is Aslisho. I am from Porshinev village of Shugnan District. I got my early education at school #14 named after Khusravsho Musrifshoev. In 2015 I entered Khorog State University, Economy faculty (department). Currently, I am a third-year student at Khorog State University. There are five people in my family, my parents, my two brothers, and me.

My father is a builder. He is a part-time employee. He is the only worker in our family, whose salary is not enough to support us. My little brother is six years old. My elder brother is a third-year student of medical college of Khorog town. It is really very difficult for one person to support five family members and pay the tuition fees of the students. We have taken loan and my father is still paying it back. I was trying to find any job and support my father but unfortunately, without diploma no one gave me a job. Thanks to the support of CAIT I can continue my study and inshallah (god willing) after graduation of the university will help my brothers to get education too.

Tajikistan learning

Sarqulieva Amriya – Studying Foreign Language at Khorog State University

My name is Sarqulieva Amriya. I was born in 1998 in Razuj village of Bartang Valley. I come from a poor family. I grew up in a small house with my dad, mom, two sisters, and my two brothers. I am the eldest child in my family and my parents expect me to be more responsible and set a good example for my younger siblings. My parents expect me to study hard so that I could have a good job and provide income so that my younger siblings can go to a better university in the near future.

My father is a shepherd. My mother is a housewife. So it is difficult for them to support us. From my childhood I am trying to help my parents somehow. I learned how to knit scarf, jumpers, and gloves from my mother and sent them to the market for selling. With the money, which I earned, my mother bought food for us. After finishing school I decided to enter the Khorog State University faculty (department) of foreign languages, but my father and mother were against because of our financial problems.

There were several reasons of learning foreign language for me. First is that I always enjoyed studying books in Russian language. It gave me pleasure to learn something new, to get information in any field, and I believed that education broadens the mind. Secondly, I decided to be a Russian teacher from my childhood. I was insisting on passing the exams for the university, but I was worried about tuition fee. Also, the university is in Khorog town and I knew that I will need a place to live in.  I convinced my parents and was succeed to become a student of Khorog State University. My father borrowed money from our neighbors and relatives and paid for my first-year tuition fee. The first year at the university was the horrible year in my life. Also it was too difficult for me to live in Khorog with 6 strange girls in the dormitory. Moreover, my father could not give back the money borrowed for my first-year tuition fee and asked me to leave my university and help him to pay back the money.

I had to leave my university and went back home. Although I knew that it was the end and impossible I was dreaming of going back to Khorog and continue my study. In addition to all these problems my sister fell ill. I did not know what to do, we had no money even for medical checkup. That was the time in my life when I felt like a victim of circumstances. This was a horrible feeling when I felt powerless. With the help of some kind people we bought medicine for my sister. When I was taking care of my sister at home my teacher visited us and said that I should continue my study. But I just said, “how?” With a smile on his face he took a newspaper from his armpit and gave it to me. When I saw the advertisement about scholarship I was so excited but then I gave it back to the teacher and said: “it does not mean that they will give me scholarship, there are a lot of poor people in the world”. But my teacher wanted me to try. “Just try,” he said. With diffidence I have gathered my documents and send them to CAIT office.

When I had a call from CAIT office I kissed and hugged everyone in my family like a drunken person. Thanks to CAIT I can fulfill my dream and also will help my other siblings to get higher education. This amazing organization gave me hope again, and now I know that after every night there will be day.

These are just a few of the stories of students who would not be able to study without a scholarship. Thanks to thousands of CAI donors all over the world, their stories are not finished. If you want to learn more about supporting CAI scholarships, visit our page.

New post on Europe of Knowledge blog on world-class universities

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No problem, cat meme! Just visit the Ideas on Europe blog!

We live in an era of intense and growing international connections, but also in a world of significant positional differences between localities, states and regions.

In this context, how can the idea of the world-class university be used by states to survive and succeed? What does this idea look like in states that are outside of the European and North American “core”?

These are the questions I explore in a post published today, 5 February 2018, on the Europe of Knowledge blog. Please head over to http://era.ideasoneurope.eu/2018/02/05/shaping-idea-world-class-university-outside-global-core/ to read the full article.

The Europe of Knowledge blog is the official blog for ECPR Standing Group on the Politics of Higher Education, Research, and Innovation. As the website explain, this Standing Group brings together scholars whose work relates to the deeply interconnected fields of higher education, research, and innovation to encourage debates and research on the politics and policies in these areas. The aim of the blog is to communicate scholars’ research findings to the wider international, academic and policy communities.

Many thanks to Dr Inga Ulnicane-Ozolina for the invitation to write for this blog, and to Jane Wolfson for stellar editorial support.

 

A visual tour of Central Asia’s universities

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I’ve had a small gallery of my pictures of Central Asia’s universities up on this site for a while, and have been meaning to update it after taking lots more photos this summer.

So here we are, for your viewing pleasure (well, mainly for mine), here is a new and updated gallery showcasing just a few of the many and varied universities and colleges in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan:

Protests? What protests? The continuing lack of plurality in Tajikistan

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“Spray bottle” could be a metaphor

News has emerged of a number of connected protests in / relating to Tajikistan. However, if at first glance this appears to be a tiny step towards practicing the freedoms (of speech, to gather in public etc) nominally guaranteed to citizens under Tajik law, don’t get your hopes up.

Leading the story on 23 September, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty made its views clear through the quote marks employed in its headline: “‘Volunteers’ burned a portrait of Muhiddin Kabiri” [ru]. For context: Muhiddin Kabiri is the leader of the now-banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), once the only opposition party (and the only legal Islamic party in Central Asia) and now the subject of multiple extremely worrying attempts to suppress its members. The IRPT is not by any means a fundamentalist Islamic party, Kabiri is now in exile, but his family members back in Tajikistan have not been left unaffected by the authorities.

The ‘volunteers’ in question are students at the National University of Tajikistan and the Medical University of Tajikistan, both based in the capital city Dushanbe. This followed a 300-strong protest at Dushanbe’s Pedagogical Institute which claimed that the IRPT could bring Tajikistan back to war, as well as smaller groups of young activists who protested at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Dushanbe offices. One of the university protest organisers, Asliddin Khusvaktov, claims that hundreds of students took part, which were in response to another set of protests also relating to Tajikistan. Asia-Plus reports the same story [en] with slightly different numbers.

So now let’s move to Poland, the stage for the protests our students have taken issue with. Capital Warsaw is hosting the OSCE annual human rights conference, the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting.  A handful of people – presumably Tajik nationals – disrupted sessions on 19 September with silent protests, wearing T-shirts showing the faces of opposition figures (politicians and lawyers) who who have been arrested by the state.

Apparently this has led to repercussions for the families of those protestors [en], in a depressingly familiar cycle from the Tajik state. You choose to protest? We choose to pressure you: either you directly, or your family members, or similar.

The student groups who led the protests in Dushanbe are mainly part of an organisation called “Avant Garde” [ru], set up by the government in 2015 to to prevent the spread of extremist ideas amongst young people. This is how Tajikistan does youth policy.

You can only wonder how long the government can maintain this level of oppression in a world where internet access is increasing (and those who are caught behind frequent government bans on websites are able to find alternative ways to access sites that are targeted such as Facebook and YouTube) and where it is easier than ever – albeit with some cash and resources – to travel out of the country. And yet there are no immediate signs that change is on the horizon, protests or no protests.

Metal detectors and security cameras: Beware exam cheats, the Kazakhstani government’s watching

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How do you catch the attention of a global audience increasingly used to high participation in higher education? In the case of Kazakhstan, one journalist thinks he’s found the answer, and that is to showcase the high stakes risks some people will take just to have the chance to compete for a place at one of the country’s universities. The language might be a little overblown, but Naubet Bisenov’s article is otherwise an excellent entry point into the world of Kazakhstan’s wannabe student population. The startling fact that is hidden amidst the moral panics created is the very fact that so many young people are so keen to continue their education. Without unpacking the many reasons that this might be the case, I think that makes for quite a different yet nonetheless extremely compelling story in itself!

His article from Intellinews is  reproduced below in full.

Kazakhstan cracks down on exam cheats

Kazakhstan cracks down on exam cheats
The al-Farabi Kazakh National University in Almaty is the country’s only entrant in the QS World University Rankings’ world’s top 300 universities.
By Naubet Bisenov in Almaty May 19, 2016

Kazakh authorities are resorting to desperate measures to stem the endemic cheating at school final examinations.

The tests will be conducted in 166 specially-equipped testing centres between June 2 and 16 to which would-be students will be escorted by police. In order to “ensure necessary security measures” the centres will be equipped with 1,399 jammers of mobile communications, 438 metal detectors and over 2,500 security cameras.

Under pressure to pass the multiple choice test, in addition to memorising answers to test problems and questions, school leavers often resort to all kinds of cheating – from smuggling mobile phones and cribs into testing centres, to sending imposters to sit the test.

Tens of thousands of banned items are seized every year. Last year items such as mobile phones, portable radio sets, calculators and cribs were seized from 20,000 test sitters before the test and 32,000 during the test. In order to smuggle mobile phones into the testing centre through metal detectors pupils were reported to have wrapped them in aluminium foil and put in condoms or have worn a special skirt with secret compartments for hiding mobiles and cribs.

The most controversial case of cheating last year was a third-year male student from Almaty who disguised himself as a girl to allegedly sit the test for his “girlfriend” in South Kazakhstan Region. However, later the police established that the 20-year-old man had not even known the girl but was asked by his friends to do the trick. If found guilty, the trickster was expected to face a fine worth about KZT400,000 (about €2,000 at the time), but prosecutors said they hadn’t brought charges against the man.

The case, which the Education and Science Minister dubbed the “zest” of last year’s university admission season, is symptomatic of the corrupt university admission system: in 2015, the National Security Service uncovered 18 imposters in Almaty Region alone who reportedly offered to sit the test to desperate hopefuls for rewards ranging between $2,500 and $3,000.

Examinations in Kazakhstan are so fiercely competitive because of the shortage of university places paid for by the government, especially at the more prestigious, and often more expensive, colleges such as Nazarbayev University and Eurasian National University in Astana, and Kazakh-British Technical University, Kazakh National University and Kimep university in Almaty. Moreover, the Soviet-era practice of requiring specific diplomas for specific jobs, means that in order to qualify for better positions Kazakh citizens must go to a university to receive the appropriate diplomas.

But at the same time, the performance of Kazakhstan’s schools and universities are still well below that of Western Europe or even Russia. According to the OECD’s Pisa (Programme for International Assessment) tests of schoolchildren in 2012, Kazakhstan ranked 49th against the UK at 26th, the US at 36th and Russia at 34th, with the score for maths at 432 (the UK at 494, the US at 481 and Russia at 482), for reading at 393 (the UK 499, the US 498 and Russia at 475) and science at 435 (the UK at 514, the US at 497 and Russia at 486).

In university education not a single Kazakh university was ranked among the world’s 800 top universities by the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2015-2016. In QS World University Rankings 2015-2016, there are only two Kazakh universities in the top 400: the Almaty-based Kazakh National University at 275th place and Astana-based Eurasian National University at 371st.

Next year the exam season could be even more competitive because the Kazakh government has cut the number of student grants that will be given to those enrolling in universities. The government set the number of student grants to be offered to university hopefuls at 31,700 grants in the next academic year against 32,788 grants this academic year.

The decrease in the number of student grants to cover tuition averaging KZT346,000 (€927) is explained by the lower number of school leavers this year – 121,091, with 86,991 taking part in the test, compared to 124,346 and 87,783 in the previous academic year.

The number of school leavers reflects a decrease in the birth rate in the country in the 1990s as a result of the economic crisis caused by the breakup of the USSR: it gradually decreased from 22.2 per 100,000 people in 1990 to 14.80 in 1998 and 14.47 in 1999 but started increasing from 14.90 in 2000 to 22.73 per 100,000 people in 2015. This will eventually translate into an increase in the number of school leavers in the near future.

The government also plans to change the current system that combines school leaving exams with university entrance ones in a single test, in order to reduce stress Kazakh university hopefuls endure in the summer after finishing school. School leavers will now sit two exams – one to leave school and another to enter university.

Critics says the current system puts too much pressure on pupils who need to score at least 50 out of 125 in the five-subject 3.5-hour-long test to enrol to university as tuition paying students, 55 to medical universities and 70 to prestigious national universities.

Whether qualified students receive grants or not depends on the number of grants allocated for particular specialisations and the number of hopefuls who apply for them. This year for the first time, the government will allow those who fail to score the minimum to resit the test for a fee of KZT2,242 (€6).

The average score was 79.4 in 2015, 2.5 points higher than in the previous year, with 14,420 scoring over 100 (17.4% of all test sitters) and five girls scoring 125 out of 125. The share of those failing the test was 18.6% in 2015 against 23.1% in 2014.