Tag Archives: Nazarbayev University

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.

Is President Nazarbayev legacy building?

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Better than a cat meme… A recently unveiled bronze monument of Nursultan Nazarbayev in Taldykorgan, south-eastern Kazakhstan

There have been a spate of stories recently about Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev that suggest a new stage in his quarter century long leadership of the nation. This stage consists of the development of a legacy that seeks to frame Nazarbayev as if being written for future history textbooks.

He has already taken on the mantle of Leader of the Nation (2010) after apparently relenting to pressure from parliament, has had the country’s vastly funded and international prestige-seeking university named after him (2010), and more recently has sought to quash rumours that he seeks to have the capital city named after him. Take a look at the US Washington Post’s story “What do you give the autocrat who has everything?” from November 2016 for a tongue in cheek retelling of the latter story.

Although such tendencies are often associated with the notion of the autocratic or authoritarian regime, as the American article noted above demonstrates, recent comments by Nazarbayev suggest that he is seeking to mould an image of himself that turns the tables on these well-worn and Western-centric tropes.

In a recent televised documentary about the past 25 years, Nazarbayev said:

We get called a “dictatorial” country, or moreover “autocratic.” This is nonsense. This is told by those who know nothing of our way of lives… the way we rule today is normal for our country

(Source: http://akipress.com/news:586373/, 12 December 2016)

Further, in an interview with Bloomberg Press last month [ru], Nazarbayev reminded readers that:

The desire of western countries to make Kazakhstan into an American-style democracy is completely unsustainable

This is not to say that Nazarbayev is against political change: in both sources I mention, he talks about the long-term nature of a shift in ideology. He mentions steps taken by Kazakhstan on this path, such as freedom of religion and language.

Despite these proclamations, US-based scholar Mariya Omelicheva suggests that this is more a quest for legitimacy building than for creating a legacy based on genuine change. Her recent study compares Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, noting that presidential speeches by Nazarbayev and his recently deceased Uzbek counterpart Islam Karimov share similarities in that

The leadership of these states have been determined to maintain power under the guise of democracy without exposing themselves to the political risks of competition… They have every single formal democratic institution, but they strip them of their democratic essence.

In relation to what the leaders have promised to the people on the terms they define, progress is considerable. But as we are seeing around the world, not just in Central Asia, “rhetoric is manipulative” (Omelicheva).

To answer the question this blog poses – is Nazarbayev legacy building? – I think there is evidence that, at least through the official discourse, there is a trend in this direction. Yet what Omelicheva’s piece reminds us is that discourse and rhetoric are one thing, whereas genuine change in a political system is quite another. In this, legitimacy trumps legacy.

Reflections on Association for the Study of Nationalities World Convention, New York, April 2016

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Me standing next to some impressive stats at the ASN conference!

During the past week I’ve been attending and presenting at the World Convention of the Association for the Study of Nationalities (ASN) in magnificent New York, and wanted to use this blog post to follow up and share some reflections from an excellent conference.

ASN is a large conference with two overarching sets of themes. Firstly, topic-based, covering nationalities, nationalism, ethnicity and migration. The second area is regional, with almost all events focussed on the Balkans, Eurasia, Central Europe, Russia, Ukraine, Greece and Turkey. The three day conference has over 600 panellists organized into around 150 panels/events, and there is also a film festival although I didn’t manage to get to any showings this time.

As you might appreciate, I focussed on panels with a Central Asia remit. I managed to get to nine panel sessions (plus my own!) and fit in some one-on-one meetings as well over a jam packed few days. The presentations were wide ranging, covering everything from an historical comparison of 19th century imperial education strategies used in the US on the Sioux and the Russians on the Kazakhs to being gay and religious in contemporary Kazakhstan.

What follows are some personal reflections on three individual presentations and two panels, as well as my top ten conference tips for presenters – all based on my observations from ASN (though naming no names where I’m suggesting improvements!).

Three notable presentations

Hélène Thibault: Impact of labour migration on matrimonial arrangements in Tajikistan

In an interesting and somewhat controversial presentation, Hélène Thibault of the Université de Montréal in Canada suggested that second marriages can be “emancipating” for Tajik women, particularly if their first experience of matrimony was unsuccessful. Marrying for a second time can be seen as a way to ensure economic security and ensure moral respectability. However, Thibault also argued that the growth in polygyny (her preferred term for Tajikistan as it refers to a man with multiple wives rather than polygamy in which either the man or the woman could have multiple spouses) could be described as “adultery reframed” – legitimising men undertaking multiple relationships rather than carrying out affairs in private.

Adrienne Edgar: Names and Naming in Ethnically Mixed Families in Soviet Central Asia

Well-known Soviet historian Adrienne Edgar spoke with great expression as part of a packed out panel on language, cultural production and national identity. To begin with, I thought her topic was going to be quite simplistic: how did families of mixed Russian and Central Asian heritage (the most common ethnic mixing) choose their babies’ names? But as she explained the results of this oral history project it became apparent that there was much more to a name: in Edgar’s words, naming was a “low cost but clear way to express identity and preferences”. How you named your child spoke volumes about how you imagined them fitting into the society around them (and indeed, how you as parents imagined that society to be).

Rico Isaacs: Exit, Voice, Loyalty…and Sanctions: Options and Strategies for Opposition Movements in Kazakhstan

In this presentation, Rico Isaacs outlined how he has applied Hirschman’s 1970 frame of Exit/Voice/Loyalty to understand the situation for the opposition in Kazakhstan. Here, exit means leaving the regime, system or country; voice means making your complaints known publicly or privately, and loyalty (to which Isaacs added sanctions) was noted as being a particularly valued concept in Central Asia. These stages aren’t linear and none, some or all may happen in varying degrees at different times. But the bottom line is that in 2016 Kazakhstan, the opposition is “moribund”, according to Isaacs, so the focus needs to shift to understanding where the spaces for dissent (if not outright opposition) can be found.

 Two fascinating panels

Panel: Normative Orders and Kazakhstani Practices: Outcomes of Contestation in a Post-Soviet Field

Zhaniya Turlubekova: Political Institutions in the Fight against Drug-Trafficking: How Kazakhstani Law Enforcement Fights Transnational Crime

Aslan Sataibekov: Gay and Religious: The Contexts of Post-Soviet Kazakhstan

Raikhan Satymbekova: Female Political Representation and Barriers that Women Face in Politics

Ainur Jyekyei: Why Kazakhstan Increased Its Greenhouse Gas Emissions, While Poland Decreased under the Kyoto Protocol from 2005-2012

This was one of the best panels I attended, made up of Master’s students from Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan. Each of the presenters discussed the findings from their Master’s thesis and you can see from the titles above that they did not shy away from hard-hitting and important topics. All four presenters were incredibly well prepared, had good slides, kept to time, and gave thoughtful answers to the audience questions. Stand-out findings were from Zhaniya Turlubekova, who argued that modern Central Asian states are “too weak” to prosecute relatively new types of transnational crime such as drug trafficking, and from Aslan Sataibekov who managed to secure interviews with gay and religious Kazakhstanis even though the gay community aspires to remain secretive in order to minimise attention paid to them by government and society at large.

Panel: Teaching, Branding, Remembering

Leah Haus: Ideas, Institutions, and School Curricula: A Comparative Perspective

Hannah Moscovitz: Nation-Branding Through International Education: Exploring the Sub-National Context

Anna Kyriazi: The Education of National Minorities:  A Thematic Analysis of Claims, Arguments, and Justifications

Sabrina Sotiriu: Online/Offline Scottishness: Strategies, Values, Norms and Procedures

My other contender for favourite panel, this session used education as a way of exploring identities in comparative settings. None of the presenters were using the former Soviet states as case studies and this made it even more fascinating for me, a chance to rest my Central Asia hat and put on my comparative and education hats instead! I enjoyed the range of approaches to comparison, which covered historical approaches, discourse analysis, interviews and quantitative data. I also found the way each presenter interacted with the others – even though they didn’t know each other – and the quality of discussion after the talks to add a great deal of value to the session.

 Top ten conference tips for presenters

  1. Do be clear about what’s new and/or important in your study. You care a lot about your topic so you need to tell your audience why they should care too.
  2. At the beginning of your presentation, do outline what you’re going to talk about.
  3. Do be up front about any limitations in your study… otherwise someone will ask you about it and you will look defensive!
  4. If using slides, do limit how many you use so you don’t have to skip any because you ran out of time.
  5. Similarly, do limit how much information goes onto each slide and try to break up text with visuals or at the very least bullet points – you don’t want your audience trying desperately to read a large chunk of text and not listening to you.
  6. If presenting data, do cite your source(s).
  7. Do be honest if you can’t answer an audience member’s question – ideally, tell them what you do know about something similar instead.
  8. Do stick to the topic that got you accepted to the conference – if it’s really not possible then communicate with the conference organizers and fellow panel members about the alternative options. [Don’t announce a change of topic as you begin your presentation!]
  9. Do submit your paper by the deadline to give your panel discussant (assuming you have one) and co-presenters as much time as possible to read and think about what you have written.
  10. If the conference has a Twitter feed (ours was #nationalities2016) and you are OK with using Twitter, then upload a few tweets as the conference progresses. It’s a nice way to show your engagement and support fellow presenters.

University autonomy and academic freedom beckon in Kazakhstan

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Nazarbayeva gets down to business Apr16

Dariga Nazarbayeva (in blue jacket and glasses), Deputy Prime Minister of Kazakhstan, gets serious with university representatives, April 2016

Before the dust had even settled on the Minister for Education’s recent announcement that Kazakhstani universities will issue their own degree certificates from 2021, the next reform agenda for higher education in the country has been laid out. Speaking at a 2 April meeting with university rectors and faculty members, Deputy Prime Minister Dariga Nazarbayeva raised the hot topics of university autonomy and academic freedom.

(Before I move on, let me remind you again that Nazarbayeva is the President’s daughter – her family name is a bit of a giveaway – just in case anyone else out there is wondering who might be in line to take Nazarbayev’s place when the eventual succession happens…)

Apparently achieving autonomy is not just the government’s task but its “dream”, according to Nazarbayeva, making what I can only see as an extremely tenuous connection between academic independence and the prospect of reduced funding from the state. Perhaps it was the eliding of autonomy with talk of greater commercialization that explains the link; but either way, it was an odd pairing.

Autonomy in a university setting would imply more robust internal governance mechanisms and greater authority to manage budgets and recruit people – including university leaders, who are currently appointed by the state. It tends not to be associated with financial cutbacks, although in the grander scheme of transforming universities into the mould of recent Western educational reforms, this drive for “Kazakhstani modernization” would not be out of step with the shifts seen in contexts such as the UK and USA.

These shifts can been neatly encapsulated by the phrase “academic capitalism” (Slaughter and Rhoades, 2009), implying knowledge becoming a commodity to be capitalized on rather than knowledge as a public good or even (heaven forbid) knowledge for its own sake.

The detail of how Kazakhstan’s universities are to be given greater autonomy and academic freedom have not yet been spelled out. To get some indication of how this might work, we need to look at what’s happening at Nazarbayev University, which I have written about several times over the last five years on this blog. One of the university’s missions is to be a model for higher education system reform in Kazakhstan, and to that end, the principles of autonomy and academic freedom are actually enshrined in legislation from 2011.

My assessment of the situation at Nazarbayev University (named after the President; his daughter’s not been around in a senior position long enough to have anything named after her yet) is that these principles are holding up, though it’s still very early days. You can find evidence of research on areas that in other Central Asian countries would most definitely not be permitted (e.g. on political opposition in post-Soviet countries) and people I’ve talked to with experience inside the university suggest that faculty recruitment is generally open and merit-based.

There are a lot of challenges for autonomous governance at Nazarbayev University though, not least stemming from Kazakhstan’s heritage of the top-heavy, bureaucratic and intrusive Soviet higher education system. And whilst the Kazakhstan government might be endeavouring to present itself both domestically and internationally as on a single-minded drive towards change, elements of that heritage still linger. Despite pronouncing the importance of autonomy and academic freedom, Nazarbayeva in her speech (read it in Russian here or in awkward and incomplete translation into English here) explicitly said that the government will “talk sternly” with those in the academy who resist changes. So much for plurality of voices and opinions!

The Kazakhstani government must be careful to bring universities on board with plans for reforms, and not get swept away in their fervour for fast results. Without genuine consensus at both policy development and implementation stages, the level of change is likely to be superficial at best.

 

Reference

Slaughter, S. & Rhoades, G. (2009). Academic capitalism and the new economy. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.

Student recruitment in Central Asia

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When you think of university outreach/access projects in Central Asia, you tend to think of initiatives by universities in richer countries in Europe or East/South East Asia to recruit students to study in those richer countries. More successful and popular efforts tend to be underwritten by the offer to fund the study through a scholarship. I would contend that universities in Germany, Malaysia and Singapore have been particularly effective in raising awareness of provision in their countries; see e.g. my June 2014 post on Malaysian Limkokwing University.

This post is also a good example of the growth of a different trend, namely transnational education. This is where a university establishes a branch campus in another country so that students can study for a degree from that university without leaving their home country. The UK’s Times Higher Education had a good story on the expansion of transnational education from a UK perspective a year ago.

Within Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan has been the biggest importer of international students, educating nearly half (40%) of all international students coming to the region. As well as other Central Asians, countries in South Asia such as India and Pakistan are also providers of students coming to Kyrgyz universities, where they can get a reasonable quality degree, often in English, at a much more reasonable cost than countries further afield. Bishkek-based American University of Central Asia, which teaches in English, has official recruiting agents as far afield as South Korea and Ukraine in addition to Central and South Asian countries.

But now, is Kazakhstan now looking to compete? A recent article in the Tajik media suggests that universities in this regional economic powerhouse are stepping up their activities within Central Asia, with the forthcoming visit of representatives from Astana-based Nazarbayev University to Tajikistan later this month. Apparently there are just two Tajik students studying at Nazarbayev University at the moment, an institution that in 2013 the US State Department called ‘a model in the region for educating global citizens in an increasingly interconnected world economy.’ Nazarbayev University has a clear model for bringing the best of the world to Kazakhstan through, for example, its recruitment of internationally faculty and partnerships with top ranking global universities. Alongside this strategy, the university – and others in Kazakhstan – would be strongly advised to develop and maintain a strong regional strategy to recruit high quality Central Asian students and equip them with the knowledge and skills that will enable them to build better regional cooperation.

More on Nazarbayev University

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I try not to blindly copy and paste articles about Central Asian higher education so I’m passing on today’s link with a little bit of hesitation. The reason for this is that the article takes an uncritical approach to the subject. Whilst the article is factual and informative, it’s not controversial (in its true meaning that it may give rise to disagreement): there’s simply nothing much to discuss. The title sounds promising but it doesn’t deliver. Nonetheless, I’m including it and think you should read it because:

a) I like to keep tabs on developments at Nazarbayev U

b) there is a little bit of insight into how India approaches higher education in neighbouring Central Asia and that comparative perspective is valuable

Oh and also to make sure the blog doesn’t become obsolete (there isn’t much happening in Central Asian higher education at the moment)!

(c) Ashok Dixit, http://www.newstrackindia.com/newsdetails/2013/07/05/195-No-evidence-of-education-linked-brain-drain-in-Kazakhstan-says-Nazarbayev-Varsity-Provost.html.

No evidence of education-linked brain drain in Kazakhstan, says Nazarbayev Varsity Provost

Astana, July 5 (ANI): Tertiary or higher education in Kazakhstan is being given the utmost importance by the Government of Kazakhstan as I understood from my interaction with Professor Simon Jones, the Provost of Nazarbayev University, one of the country’s better known institutions of higher education.

Hailing from Wales in the United Kingdom, Professor Jones, a specialist in micro-engineering and a passionate follower of the game of cricket, told me that Nazarbayev University is an autonomous research university located in Astana, and just two years old, and aiming to be the best research-oriented university in Central Asia in collaboration with 30 universities, including the National University of Singapore, the Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Cambridge.

Having already been informed by Kazakhstan’s Minister of Culture that about 9000 Kazakh students were studying abroad on scholarships, I asked Professor Jones whether there is a possibility of Kazakhstan experiencing a brain drain of sorts similar to what India had experienced between the 1960s and 1990s.

Emphatically stating that there is no evidence of Kazakhstan experiencing or suffering from brain drain now or in the future, Professor Jones said: “The Government of Kazakhstan is following an education policy that is progressive, that believes in encouraging the younger generation to strive for higher educational qualifications, whether here or from abroad, as it believes that it is important to develop the country, and ensure a better future for Kazakhstan. The Kazakhstan Government is the single biggest employer of students who have acquired higher education degrees from abroad.

Making a specific reference to the “Bolashak Scholarship”, Professor Jones said this scholarship was created by decree by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev in 1993 as part of Kazakhstan’s transition towards a market economy and its desire to expand international contacts through its workforce.

He said that in the early 1990s, there was an acute need for a workforce with advanced western education, and therefore, it was deemed necessary to send the most qualified youth to study in leading educational institutions in foreign countries.

Kazakhstan’s “Bolashak Scholarship” is merit-based and the selection process includes not only academic credentials, but also competence in the language of study, psychological testing and an interview process.

A student has to also profess commitment to the development of Kazakhstan and have a spirit of patriotism to be eligible for the scholarship.

Jones said that the final decision on which student or students are eligible is made by the Republican Commission, chaired by the State Secretary and composed of the Ministers, members of Parliament, and members of the Office of the President.

The Republican Commission also approves the country of study and program of study.

The scholarship requires that all recipients return to Kazakhstan after graduating and work for five years in Kazakhstan. The scholarship pays for all costs related to education, including tuition and fees, costs of travel, and a living stipend. Scholars are expected to maintain academic excellence.

The most popular countries are the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, Australia and Malaysia.

Other interesting information made by Professor Jones were that the university is determined to attract the best of faculty from around the world, including from India, to teach its students, who are currently from Kazakhstan. He said that probably from next year, students from other countries maybe admitted.

He said that Nazarbayev University has on its faculty academicians from the IITs, Non-Resident Indian researchers who teach a wide variety of subjects.

He said Nazarbayev University is legally linked to both the Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools and the Nazarbayev Endowment Fund, all of which are dedicated to promoting educational reform in Kazakhstan.

The Supreme Board of Trustees is the managing authority of the University, Intellectual Schools and the Fund, and is headed by the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev. The Board of Trustees is in charge of general management of the university’s activities.

The university currently consists of six schools: the School of Engineering, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, the School of Science and Technology, the Graduate School of Business, the Graduate School of Education, and the Graduate School of Public Policy. The School of Medicine is expected to open in 2015, and a School of Mining is currently being considered.

Nazarbayev University offers a variety of undergraduate and graduate degrees, ranging from bachelor’s degrees to the Ph.D.

As of 2012, undergraduate majors available to students included anthropology, biology/biomedicine, chemical engineering, chemistry, civil engineering, computational science, economics, electrical and electronic engineering, mathematics, mechanical engineering, physics, political science/international relations, robotics and mechatronics, sociology, world history/philosophy/religion, and world languages, literature and culture.

Most students at Nazarbayev University are initially admitted to the Centre for Preparatory Studies, a one-year programme operated by University College, London. At the end of this programme, they then apply to undergraduate programmes in the University itself. In addition, some students are admitted directly to the undergraduate programmes at the University, while others transfer to the University from other universities.

Nazarbayev University has established six internationally respected partnerships. Each school in the university has one or more partner institution, with which it works on issues of curriculum and programme design, student admissions, faculty recruitment, and quality assurance.

For example, the partner institution of the School of Engineering is the University College London, which also operates the Center for Preparatory Studies at Nazarbayev University. The partner institution of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences is the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Carnegie Mellon University is the partner institution of the School of Science and Technology.

The university is also home to the Centre for Life Sciences (CLS) and the Nazarbayev University Research and Innovation System (NURIS).By Ashok Dixit (ANI)

Promoting research in Kazakhstan

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I made my interest in Nazarbayev University clear in an earlier post, asking (only semi-jokingly) if it could become the Oxford of Kazakhstan. Largely at the eponymous President’s initiative, Nazarbayev University is being pumped with millions of petro-dollars to become, at great speed, a world-leading centre of academic excellence.

Following on from this, a recent article has now highlighted the government’s keenness to promote research in Kazakhstan. I should note for the record that the author of the largely factual piece is currently an Associate Professor at – guess where – Nazarbayev University, so bear that in mind when reading.

The article explains that the government is throwing large amounts of money at research with several aims:

  • to shift the existing focus away from pure science, towards research that creates products, thus benefiting the economy more directly (let’s not have a debate about whether indeed research should only aim towards outcomes – save that for another day!)
  • to create a more meritocratic award system for awarding research grants. This is a big ask in a country where the higher education system – with some notable exceptions – tends not to be viewed as entirely uncorrupt
  • to help scholars internationalise their research by increasing publication rates in internationally recognised academic journals

I find the last point the most interesting, and also the most achievable. It follows the 2011 establishment of five National Research Councils, a model used by the UK and Canada, to give just two examples. Where the Kazakh model differs is in its deliberate use of international peer reviewers – I use the word ‘deliberate’ because much research undertaken in the UK is international almost without trying, given the huge number of global research collaborations.

There are a number of challenges to the success of this new, ideally more transparent system. The first is the score of Soviet-educated academics with a particularly Soviet way of doing research (generally quite factual) and working. However, this challenge is not unique to Kazakhstan and this provides opportunities for the country to look at good practice, where it exists, in the other former Soviet countries.

A second challenge is going to be retaining the interest of international reviewers in working with Kazakh colleagues. To my mind, a common perception amongst foreigners is still one of ‘helping out’ in the country, rather than working as equal colleagues. I think it will take time to shift out of this developmental mindset.

And a third challenge is how to recruit and retain the younger generation into academia. Right now, there are few incentives for young people to pursue a career in higher education when serious money can be made and more jobs are available in the private sector.

So once again, let’s watch this space and see what has changed in Kazakh research over the next five and then ten years.

Postscript to What’s your brand?

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Just a few days after my post about universities’ brands, I enjoyed reading an article in the Times Higher Education, the UK’s specialist higher education publication, about Nazarbayev University.

The article “No shame in the name” explains how a Cambridge University college has (at least temporarily) withdrawn a fellowship named after Nazarbayev. As in Nazarbayev University, not the President – but that lack of clarity was enough to embarrass Cambridge, which, it should be pointed out, has a growing partnership with Nazarbayev (Uni). Along with Pennsylvania State University (USA), Cambridge will help Nazarbayev Uni launch graduate degrees in education in 2013 and is already working on English language programmes with the Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools.

As such, it’s not entirely clear why the fellowship was withdrawn. But it does highlight the critical importance of a university’s brand.

It’s also worth noting that it’s a little odd that the Times Higher has chosen now to publish this article. As far as I can see, the Fellowship was advertised some months ago with one Kazakh website suggesting it closed in January. Ah well. News doesn’t always travel fast from Central Asia to the rest of the world.

Nazarbayev University: the Oxford of Kazakhstan?

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Sorry for the silence since the last post (I try to post once a week) – I have been using all my spare time to complete a full draft of my Tajik study abroad paper. Given the wealth of information I received, you can imagine that it has taken some time to analyse all the data and then translate that into findings for the paper. I will post some of my initial findings soon, and welcome comments and feedback (preferably by the end of March when I have to submit my final paper!).

Today’s post is about a university with grand ambitions to become the Oxford (or Harvard, or Cambridge – post in your own analogy here) of Kazakhstan.

I’ve been following the rise of Nazarbayev University (NU) for a while now, and my fascination for its radical mission is ever growing. Why is the mission radical? Well, have you ever come across any other university with so much state support (not just funding but also other forms of support, such as a commitment to academic freedom) that has declared that it will be world-leading in such a short space of time? For a first-hand account of NU’s ambition, it’s well worth reading an article by the University’s President Shigeo Katsu published in the UK’s Times Higher Education magazine in April 2011.

Last summer, I had the privilege of meeting Dr Kadisha Dairova, Vice-President for Academic, Student and International Affairs at NU. She reinforced the importance of quality and research excellence to the success of the university, and outlined some of the partnerships that have already been established with the likes of Harvard, Cambridge, University College London, National University of Singapore and others to assist with the design and implementation of the first degree-bearing courses.

Dr Dairova also stressed the importance of high admissions requirements and similarly high levels of financial support to ensure access is needs-blind. NU has clear vision for their graduates, and will expect the following from them:

  • high quality professional knowledge;
  • both theoretical and practical skills;
  • an understanding of the needs of the country;
  • an ability to contribute to their profession and their community;
  • a well-rounded personality: as Dr Dairova said, “just a good engineer will not make a good leader”.

The diagram below highlights the most commonly used words in NU’s vision and mission: the larger words are the ones that appear most often.

Nazarbayev University's vision and mission

Nazarbayev University's vision and mission

If you want to see what NU actually looks like, check out this report on President Nazarbayev’s recent visit to the main campus in Astana, capital of Kazakhstan. The report also features a video of Nazarbayev touring his eponymous university – including visiting a student room as further evidence of the university’s “all-mod-cons” attitude.

In trying to emulate a university of Oxford or Harvard’s standing, NU is making significant financial investment (which also extends to a series of Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools which are designed to be feeders to the university in future) as well as devising high-level partnerships with international universities. But will this be enough to create the academic excellence that is demanded?

In the case of Oxford, academic excellence is partly borne of its long history. Nazarbayev University doesn’t yet have 900 years of teaching and research (in their many forms) to draw on, but what it does share is a determined commitment to attract the very best students and staff. Whilst it might take NU more years than it would prefer to establish itself internationally, I would argue that it is going about its business in the right way. Aim high and invest, and watch this space…