university governance

DIY budgeting: The self-financing experiment in Uzbekistan’s universities begins

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Further to my December 2019 post, An Uzbek experiment, the new do-it-yourself funding model for 10 of the country’s higher education institutions (HEIs) has now come into force. All 10 will be under the watchful eye of the Ministry of Higher and Secondary Specialized Education to ensure that prices don’t jump too high, too fast and that standards don’t slip – and most importantly, as one news agency points out, to prevent corruption slipping in.

If cats could account for themselves…

So, as of January 1, 2020, the HEIs, a mix of universities and specialized institutes, are now able to:

  • Set their own tuition fees
  • Introduce new Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees
  • Continue to receive state funding for some students
  • Decide how their institutional budget will be split

This last point is one of the most important, although not getting as much press attention as the excitement generated by the possibility of new courses / fear that fees will be hiked.

Why? Because until now, all HEIs in Uzbekistan had to conform to the rigid model imposed by the government: 46.8% on salaries, 33.1% on scholarships, 11.5% on budget deductions (i.e. retained by the government) and 8.6% on other expenses. So now, if one of the 10 DIY-HEIs wants to increase faculty salaries, buy more computers or offer more student funding, it can do so.

Next door in Tajikistan, where I have been doing interviews with university-based researchers, this self-financing model and the flexibility it provides to set your own budget is seen as a very positive move for the woefully underpaid academics still committed to the academic cause. In Tajikistan (as in some other former Soviet countries), self-financing is offered to universities that obtain ‘national’ status. So far only one university of 35 in Tajikistan has this, but there are others that are keen to upgrade both for reputational purposes and financial flexibility.

An Uzbek experiment: Self-financing for universities

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Hot on the heels of being awarded The Economist’s ‘Most Improved Nation‘ in 2019 and just ahead of parliamentary elections that may pave the way for future steps towards political openness, the government of Uzbekistan is not resting on its laurels.

Uzbek HEIs demand to be given all the bills

In early December it was announced that ten higher education institutions (HEIs) in Uzbekistan (of a total of 74) will be part of an experimental reform that will see them become self-financing. This is a huge shift from the top-down state-centric way that public HEIs have been funded and governed until now.

The HEIs, listed below, were chosen because of their “high research and teaching potential, financial stability, adequate resource base and high demand for their courses”, according to a post by the Ministry of Justice.

As of January 1, 2020, the HEIs will be allocated “additional tasks” that will enable them to earn income from non-state sources. These include expanding course options, offering professional development courses and introducing other paid services.

This experimental reform is part of a Presidential Decree signed on 11 July 2019 that is called ‘Measures to Introduce New Principles of Governance in the Higher and Technical and Vocational Education System’.

Many new principles, and still no sign of the Uzbek energy for reform flagging…

List of HEIs to shift to self-financing on an experimental basis from 2020:

  1. Samarqand State University of Foreign Languages
  2. Samarqand Institute of Economics and Service
  3. Tashkent State University of Law
  4. Tashkent State University of Economics
  5. Tashkent Institute of Finance
  6. Tashkent State Institute of Oriental Studies
  7. Tashkent Institute of Pharmacy
  8. Uzbek State University of World Languages
  9. Urgench State University
  10. Tashkent Institute of Railway Engineering

Mergers and acquisitions in Kazakhstan’s universities

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mergersIn 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.


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.

Times are changing for university governance in Kazakhstan

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Hopefully the Kazakh reforms to university governance will not lead to maverick leaders and boring Council meetings!
Every governing body member’s worst nightmare: the maverick leader and the dull as dishwater meeting… hopefully the Kazakh reforms will not lead to this!

The Kazakh government has decided to take a big step towards greater independence for Kazakh universities by reforming the top layer of institutional governance. ‘Oversight councils’, also commonly known as Councils or Senates, will be responsible for hiring and firing Rectors (Vice Chancellors/CEOs) and have monitoring oversight for university finance  and strategy. (How those councils are selected is not yet clear but could have important implications for the success of this plan)

The government is quick to point out that this shouldn’t be interpreted as a mass privatisation movement. I don’t have details but it appears that the state will still continue providing a significant proportion of funding for the country’s universities (unless they are already operating as private institutions). What also won’t change is that the national government will still issue degrees: universities do not (yet?) have autonomy to accredit their own degrees and there is no parallel accreditation and quality assurance process.

However, the government hopes that this will encourage greater competitiveness between institutions and make them more responsible for their own organisation. I believe that the move to place university governance more directly into the hands of universities is a positive step towards allowing and even encouraging diversity in higher education. This diversity may become evident through, for example, differential strategic plans or choosing to raise income from non-state sources. There is a definite drive towards improving the quality and reputation of Kazakh higher education, but it will only be successful if the government really commits to allowing universities to take control of their own management and strategy, and underpins this with a robust and fair system of quality assurance for all institutional types.

This article was inspired by a piece in Central Asia Online called Collegiate management coming to Kazakhstani universities, source

More independence for Kazakh universities?

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A detailed and interesting story from Kazakh news agency Tengri News today, reporting on a recent conference for higher education leaders in the country. There is reportedly a strong move towards offering greater independence to universities in the country on everything from curriculum to revenue streams.

I couldn’t quite work out from the story why the Education Ministry is promoting this push. In the UK it’s labelled as ‘autonomy’ for universities but generally what that means is that the government can no longer afford (or no longer wishes) to provide as much public funding.

My immediate reactions on reading the story were two-fold:

1: Quality, quality, quality. Who is going to make sure that the programmes being offered by universities are good enough to be worthy of Kazakhstan’s young people? Who is going to make sure that universities are all delivering at the right level? Who is going to make sure that funding freedoms don’t allow dodgy deals to take place at the front door (and not the back door)? And so on…

2. This will undoubtedly work in the favour of the more elite institutions in the country but may not be as advantageous for lower ranked state universities and polytechnics.

Here is the original story, (c) Tengri News and also available at

Kazakhstan universities to have policy-setting freedom by 2016, conference participants told

Hal Foster ex-Los Angeles Times journalist, journalism professor

Within three years Kazakhstan’s universities will have the authority to decide what academic programs and courses they’ll offer, speakers at a recent educational leaders conference said.

This autonomy will help the universities respond better to changing student, employer and society demands for skills, according to speakers at the Second Annual Eurasian Higher Education Leaders Forum at Nazarbayev University.

But autonomy will not be restricted to academic-program and course selection. Universities will also have the freedom to choose their vice presidents and provosts, to allocate funds the way they want and to own their land, which will help them raise funds.

This decentralization of university decision-making will mark a major shift away from the Soviet-rooted system of the Ministry of Education and Science dictating much of what universities do.

Since Kazakhstan’s independence in 1991, the ministry has decided what programs and courses a university can offer, who its vice presidents and provosts are and how its funds are spent. And the government, not the universities, owned the land on which the universities sat.

It’s almost ironic, then, that the driving force behind university autonomy is Minister of Education Bakytzhan Zhumagulov, who gave the keynote speech at the June 12 and 13 conference.

But university autonomy is just part of the sweeping changes that Zhumagulov’s team has been making at all levels of education – from preschool to graduate school.

Because the pace of the change has been so frenetic, Nazarbayev University leaders started the forum in 2012 to help university presidents, vice presidents, provosts, deans and other educational leaders cope. Participants learn from both the speakers – many of whom are from the West – and also by exchanging ideas at forum panel sessions.

Nazarbayev University President Shigeo Katsu moderated the conference’s general sessions, with experts on various topics leading the more specific panel sessions.

In addition to autonomy, the conference dealt with the need for universities to have an independent board of trustees to oversee the management team, to develop programs to assure quality of teaching, research and other services, and to develop non-government sources of funding.

Other issues raised at the forum included the need for an independent, non-government body to accredit universities, and for the government to award more research money to universities rather than to independent research institutes – the current system. Kazakhstan is making progress on both issues, moving toward an independent accrediting body and awarding more research money to universities.

The two most discussed issues at the conference were university autonomy and quality control.

At the moment, three-year-old Nazarbayev University is the only Kazakhstan higher educational institution with autonomy. That’s because its founders thought one of its key roles should be spurring higher-educational innovation in Kazakhstan. To ensure that it could carry out that role, the founders believed, the university needed to be independent of the Ministry of Education or other government authority.

Parliament listened to that argument by granting Nazarbayev University autonomy. It came in the form of a law giving the university “special status” to set its own course.

Deputy Prime Minister Yerbol Orynbayev underscored Nazarbayev University’s role in educational innovation by saying in his welcoming address that it was “the experimental platform that is allowing the state to reform existing universities” and create new ones.

Key elements of the autonomy that Nazarbayev University enjoys are already being phased in at other universities, said Fatima Zhakypova, head of the Education Ministry’s Higher-Education Department. For example, universities are deciding what courses to offer and choosing their vice presidents and provosts.

The bottom line is that universities with autonomy do a better job than those under the government’s thumb, asserted Mary Canning, a member of Ireland’s Higher Education Authority.

“I believe that when our universities are fully financially autonomous,” they will have a shot at becoming world-class, Zhakypova enthused.

Kazakhstan hopes to have two universities among the world’s top 100 in coming years.

Vanderbilt University Professor Stephen Heyneman said a common denominator among world-class universities is diversified sources of revenue. In fact, top universities get more of their funding from non-government sources than from government, he said.

Kazakhstan universities need to obtain more of their revenue from sources other than the Education Ministry, which provides the bulk of funding at the moment, Heyneman maintained.

Aslan Sarinzhipov, who led the team that founded Nazarbayev University and is now one of its trustees, said that for diversified funding to occur, Kazakhstan needs to develop an educational-philanthropy culture, which will take time.

Nazarbayev University is leading the way by starting the kind of endowment that many Western universities have long used to make their programs world-class.

Full financial autonomy includes a university – and not the government — owning the land on which a university sits, according to Heyneman, who specializes in university management.

Owning land is an important fund-raising tool for a university, he said. That’s because the institution can use the land as collateral to borrow money to improve programs and facilities.

Part of a university setting its own course is being able to establish its own quality control system, rather than having the government impose a system on it, according to Tom Boland, head of Ireland’s Higher Education Authority.

The primary responsibility for quality control should lie with universities, while the government’s role should be to ensure that universities take the responsibility seriously, he said.

Boland said students should be part of the quality-control-setting process, since they are the major consumers of a university’s services.

He also said that the main thrust of a quality control system should be improving quality, not finding fault. The process “needs to avoid the trap of bureaucracy” – that is, forcing a university to comply with reams of rules and regulations, he said.

Richard Miller, president of Olin College near Boston, said the best universities these days have shared governance – an independent board of trustees that oversees the university management team. One advantage of shared governance is helping ensure that management has the right priorities. Another is helping preventing management conflict of interest – for example, a university president awarding a contract to a company he owns, or to a family member or friend.

Quality control is particularly important in today’s higher-education landscape because competition for faculty and students is now international rather than confined to within a country’s borders, said Michael Worton a vice provost of University College London. His point was that these days Kazakhstan’s universities must compete not only with each other, but with universities in Europe, the United States, China and elsewhere, for professors and students.

Boland said a country should not focus too hard on getting universities on the lists of the world’s top educational institutions, however.

When a country pours a lot of resources into a few universities that it hopes to make world-class, it may be “impoverishing other universities,” he said.

“Countries should focus their institutions on what the country needs and not on international rankings,” he said.