TBY talks to Aslan Sarinzhipov, Chairman of the Executive Council of Nazarbayev University, on the institution's establishment and development program.

Aslan Sarinzhipov
Aslan Sarinzhipov was appointed Chairman of the Executive Council of Nazarbayev University on September 4, 2009. He began work on the Executive Committee of the Intergovernmental Council of Central Asia, and then, as a member of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan, was appointed a diplomatic attaché on economic issues to the Kazakhstan Embassy in Washington DC. He later became a project coordinator in the Department of Infrastructure and the Development of Finance and Private Markets with the World Bank. Before coming to Nazarbayev University he was Deputy Chair of the “National Analytical Center under the Government and National Bank.”

What factors led to the establishment of a university dedicated to research and academic excellence in Astana?

The goal of this international university is first to turn Astana into a regional education center, and second to bring our national education system up to international standards. The President of Kazakhstan is widely known for his commitment to higher education; for example, he launched the Bolashak program, which provides opportunities to thousands of young Kazakhstanis to obtain government scholarships and to study abroad at the world's most prestigious universities. This program does not have analogues in other CIS member states. For Nazarbayev University the model was selected in partnership and after consultations with other leading worldwide universities. I would not say that at Nazarbayev University we are creating an elite, stand-alone university; it is rather a model for higher education in Kazakhstan. We have 10 partners, and each of them is strategic for a particular academic program or for a particular research center. The partners are responsible for developing a school strategy, developing a curriculum, training local faculty members, and ensuring quality control. We had the first intake in fall 2010. For the first year Baccalaureate we adopted the UK-type foundation program in partnership with University College London (UCL). For us it is important to bring the graduates of secondary education up to international standards, with English proficiency, knowledge of science and research, and critical thinking skills. In 2012 we will open two graduate schools: a Graduate School of Business with Duke University and a Graduate School of Public Policy with the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. So far we have three research centers: a Center for Energy Research, run jointly with Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and Argonne National Lab, a Center for Life Sciences, run jointly with the University of Pittsburgh, and the International Interdisciplinary Instrumental Center. All the centers are linked to real industry. At Nazarbayev University we have an industrial council on which leading industrial companies in Kazakhstan are represented, and this council advises on the curriculum and offers internship programs, as well as participates in our research projects. The university also has governance up to international standards. One of the peculiarities at Nazarbayev University is academic independence. The Nazarbayev University Board of Trustees runs the university totally independently from the Ministry of Education and Science. This is a new approach for the CIS region.

What are you doing to develop a competitive school of medicine?

It is important that the university has an integrated healthcare program. The university is in touch with six big clinics in Astana, and we have a medical school that will operate with a triangular model: a medical school, a clinic, and a research center. There will be teaching, treatment, and research, and the students will be involved in all three entities. We have international partners helping us set up this system.

What sort of financial arrangements have you offered students?

Currently we have about 500 students from all the regions of Kazakhstan on full scholarship. The admission procedures were administered by UCL according to their admission standards. It means that our students could be admitted to UCL in London. So far all our students are on full scholarship, and the issue of tuition and fees is in the hands of the Nazarbayev University Board of Directors.