TBY talks to Shigeo Katsu, President of Nazarbayev University, on Kazakhstan’s contributions to the field of science and the university’s mission to educate a new generation of leaders.
TBY In which research areas can Kazakhstan contribute to the advancement of science?
SHIGEO KATSU The first area that I can highlight is the energy sector. Kazakhstan has vast reserves of oil and gas and has become an energy giant. At the same time, the country decided early on to work on climate change issues to ensure that its effort to reduce the country’s carbon footprint was a part of the international endeavor to mitigate against climate change. Renewable and alternative energy sources, including wind and solar, are increasingly popular in Kazakhstan. This is a country that will hopefully champion modern urban development in a manner that will keep its environmental footprint to a minimum. Indeed, a member of Nazarbayev University’s research team is on the 20-member expert council under the UN Climate Change Conference. Furthermore, Kazakhstan, like Japan, is aware of the benefits as well as dangers of nuclear energy. Kazakhstan has denounced the military use of nuclear weapons, but supports research into the resource as a means to generate energy. The country is also a part of the collective effort on research into nuclear medicine and life sciences. This university, alongside other universities and institutions, is doing its best to improve the quality of human resources in all of these fields. We firmly believe that Kazakhstan can contribute greatly to scientific research. On the instrumentation side, such as in robotics and mechatronics, the country has already launched many activities. Robotics is a quintessential part of energy and other extractive industry activities and requires continuous research.
How are you looking into improving Kazakhstan’s workforce?
Nazarbayev University has started corporate executive education programs for the private sector, and also initiated an industrial council, which is an advisory body representing the major firms in Kazakhstan, with whom we will enter into a sustained dialogue. We will discuss and negotiate with enterprises to offer internships to our students; we will also provide career-planning advice. This will be another important facet of NU’s approach. Naturally our students will participate in research at an early stage. In order to allow this to happen, during our one-year foundation program students will be exposed to critical thinking. This is very important not only to nurture good scientists, but also to the development of our students as good citizens. Our students’ progress in learning to develop critical judgment will be a part of the overall mentality change we are eager to install. The mission of this university is demanding: develop tomorrow’s leaders in business, government, and science; develop first-class scientific research that benefits the workplace; and contribute to Astana being recognized as an international educational, science, R&D, and healthcare hub.
How do you make sure that your collaboration with international institutions is tailored to the Kazakhstani context?
We have to ensure that our international faculty is mindful of Kazakhstan’s needs and the country’s context. Substantive parts of studies and research are Kazakhstan-based. We also run public policy courses for senior government officials in collaboration with the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy of the National University of Singapore. These executive courses address priority needs in Kazakhstan’s public management, such as public policy design, performance management, budgeting, and analyzing the external environment. Toward the end of 2012, we will launch our graduate schools of business and public policy, followed in 2013 by our graduate school of education, all of them with internationally renowned partners such as Duke University, National University of Singapore, University of Pennsylvania, and Cambridge University. In October 2011, we started a one-year professional development program for close to 100 secondary school teachers, who upon completion will be assigned to Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools, a new type of secondary school. A priority task for Nazarbayev University this year is to bring the university’s scientific and research system into compliance with international standards. We are developing our internal regulations on peer reviews, including through the engagement of international experts. Moreover, the university will keep strict watch for observance of ethical and other norms in research affecting human subjects or animals. The Research Advisory Council of the university is overseeing the development and observance of these rules. In parallel, the intellectual property rights regime that will have a decisive influence on future research, will be clarified. We will try to find the best balance between the interests of researchers and the university.
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