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Kazakhstan 2014 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | REVIEW: EDUCATION

Bringing standards in line with the international academic community has been the target of the higher education sector over recent years, and work is being done to ensure the demands of industry are met.

In that vein, Kazakhstan took a leap forward in 2010 when it joined the Bologna Process, which introduces the Bachelor's, Master's, and Doctoral system. The country's higher education institutions are now working toward implementing the requirements, led by a host of private institutions that now outnumber public universities. According to the latest Statistics Agency data, there are 148 higher education institutions in Kazakhstan, 56 of which are public, down from 69 in 2006. The number of private institutions has also dropped to 92 recently, down from 123, following the introduction of quality standards. Today, higher education institutions are being encouraged to improve the level of English language instruction, as well as focus more on the current and future demands of the economy at large. “This will assist in resolving employment issues for the population," President Nazarbayev concluded in a speech given on education in the framework of the Kazakhstan 2050 development plan.

The Bolashak program, a state-run scholarship program, also celebrated its 20th year in 2013, and has now granted funding to over 10,000 students to gain an education abroad.

TAKE ME HIGHER

Kazakhstan's higher education sector was opened up to the private sector in 1991, when the country became independent. Despite being unconstrained by dated Soviet education structures, many private institutions lacked quality in the early years, leading to a trend toward closures and mergers. That said, private institutions still outnumber public ones with 92 of the former and 56 of the latter, according to the latest figures from the Statistics Agency, bringing the total to 148. This is down from 180 in the 2003/2004 academic year, following which a gradual series of closures brought the figure to 142 in 2008/2009 before a small rise. Almaty is by far and away the country's higher education hub, with 52 of the country's total higher education facilities located in the city. The Karaganda region comes in second, with 13, followed by Astana and the South-Kazakhstan region on 12 each.

Manning those universities is a teaching staff of 39,155, according to the latest Statistics Agency data, a figure that has only fallen slightly since 2003/2004, when it was at 40,972, despite a steep drop in the number of institutions. And they teach just over 610,000 students, a figure that is only marginally down on 658,000 in 2003/2004. Elsewhere, according to the latest Statistics Agency estimates, there are over 650 doctoral candidates in the country, up from 400 in 2003 and a figure the government will be pleased is rising—in the post-Soviet era, Kazakhstan lost its status as a center for Soviet space research, and getting back in the R&D game is seen as crucial if Kazakhstan is to move up the value chain in terms of exports.

STUDY ABROAD

The Bolashak program is a state-run scholarship that is awarded to successful Kazakhstani students to fund their study abroad, with a stipulation that they then return to the country to work for at least five years after graduation. Having begun in 1993, the program celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2013 and has, so far, awarded scholarships to over 10,000 students. Of that figure, according to INTERFAX-KAZAKHSTAN, just over 6,000 are currently working in Kazakhstan, 2,500 are studying at 200 universities in 33 countries, while the remainder are about to begin their studies. Of the just over 6,000 graduates, 60% studied arts programs, 38% studied engineering, while the remainder studied medicine. Approximately 60% of all graduates are also at work in private companies, 20% at state firms, 15% in government agencies and other bodies, and 4% to 5% in international and non-governmental organizations.

With the hope of having Kazakhstani students bring back Western, democratic values, the Bolashak program was pioneered by President Nazarbayev himself, with many graduates now holding top positions across the economy. As Kazakhstan continues on its journey toward international standards, it seems only a matter of time until institutions in the country begin to make themselves more known. And with students graduating from ever increasingly industry-orientated programs, coupled with the fruits of the Bolashak program, it's likely that Kazakhstan's diversification drive will be able to feast on a rich pool of human resources.