TBY talks to Bakytzhan T. Zhumagulov, Minister of Education and Science, on reforming the education system, encouraging research-oriented universities, and improving Kazakhstan’s position on the international intellectual stage.
TBY Kazakhstan is rapidly becoming the decision-making hub for many businesses in Central Asia. What is Kazakhstan’s potential as a regional hub when it comes to science, education, and innovation?
BAKYTZHAN T. ZHUMAGULOV Kazakhstan is leading Central Asia in these areas due to the pace of reform. Kazakhstan actively develops students’ academic mobility by annually allocating educational grants for students from the CIS region and elsewhere to study here—15,000 foreign students are enrolled at Kazakhstani educational institutions. The potential of scientific research in Kazakhstan is also contributing to our leading position in the region. Many Kazakhstani schools are recognized abroad in mathematics, physics, chemistry, and earth sciences. Currently, there are more than 400 scientific organizations, which have created six innovative educational groups, two of which are international. Together with the World Bank we have implemented a regional project that aims at commercializing scientific research through the introduction of scientific ideas into real sector production. Furthermore, our geography institute works not only as a regional but also as a global glaciological center under the auspices of UNESCO. All this contributes to the recognition of Kazakhstan’s regional leadership in education, science, and innovation by the international community.
What is the level of your cooperation with local and/or foreign actors from the private sector? How can such cooperation prove mutually beneficial?
Consolidating the efforts of business and government should be one of the main levers in the technological modernization of the country and in developing its human capital. In pre-school education we are implementing the “Balapan” program in partnership with the private sector. This has led to an annual increase in the number of private kindergartens of 30%. Secondly, the National Council for the Development of Technical and Vocational Education (TIPO) is starting to work with sectoral and regional councils. Their task is to identify the needs of the labor market and to develop modern professional standards. We have also created the JSC Holding Kasipkor. Its main task is to develop a new model of corporate governance for TIPO with active business participation. We have gone to a new level of mutually advantageous cooperation between businesses and government, with a view to improving the quality of education in a competitive environment by increasing the social responsibility of businesses.
Which research programs have received Ministry support and gone on to contribute to the development of the economy?
The Supreme Science and Technology Commission determines priority areas of government support for research. Currently, the five priority areas are: energy, deep processing of raw materials and products, information and telecommunications technologies, life sciences, and the country’s intellectual potential. Successful development in these areas will ensure that local science will attain world-class quality. In recent years, Kazakhstan has achieved significant international accomplishments in biotechnology, phyotochemistry, and nanotechnology. We have developed domestic mobile computers and information and communication systems for military technology. We also founded the breakthrough vaccine against swine flu A/H1N1, new drugs against tuberculosis and HIV based on nanotechnology, herbal treatment for diseases, and high-performance catalysts for oil refining. The Ministry has shown support for all of these projects, which have led to innovative projects such as the development of new technologies for aluminum ore production, plasma ignition technology for solid fuels at thermal power plants, the production of rhenium and osmium from uranium mining and copper production tailings, as well as the creation of new flame retardants.
The Bolashak scholarship program constitutes an integral part of developing the country’s brightest minds through education at the best schools worldwide. What is the significance of the program for the development of Kazakhstan’s education system and economy?
The Bolashak Presidential Scholarship program was established by President Nursultan Nazarbayev in 1993 with the aim of providing talented Kazakhstani citizens with educational opportunities in the best universities abroad. After returning to Kazakhstan, the intellectual elite hold key positions in the economic and social spheres to have a maximum impact on reform. More than 3,000 Bolashak alumni work in central and local government agencies, as well as national and private companies, and they are making a significant contribution to the country‘s economy. Their successful career has a multiplier and catalytic effect. At present the Bolashak program is shifting its emphasis from Bachelor’s to Master’s and PhD programs. This shift marks a passage to scientific training in the technical, medical, and humanities fields at the top 200 universities worldwide. The program also has a separate quota for teachers and state employees. Since 2011, we have moved to a pragmatic, goal-oriented method, which encompasses specific training for civil servants, researchers and teachers, as well as the training of engineers and medical professionals. In the near future, teachers in schools, colleges, and universities will be able to upgrade their qualifications overseas through Bolashak. All these measures will enhance the intellectual potential of our country, accelerating the development of the national economy, and making a significant contribution to the development and updating of the education system in line with the best international standards.
What steps are you taking to improve education for the country’s progress?
The 20th year of independence constitutes a milestone for the education system, as this year sees the most fundamental change. We have embarked on a significant increase in the status, pay, and training of teachers as well as reviewing the curriculum. We have also launched a pilot project to introduce e-learning, which in the future will be extended to all regions and schools in the country. In higher education, we are working on having research universities oriented toward innovative development. The Law on Science marks a transition to funding research, and expanding grants to individual researchers and creative scientists. Furthermore, together with the World Bank, we will work toward the commercialization of research results. All these measures will allow Kazakhstani education and science to become more competitive and more effective for economic growth and social development.
© The Business Year