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Looking at Kazakhstan’s Higher Education Landscape: From Transition to Transformation Between 1920 and 2015

Abstract and Figures

Since independence in 1991, the Kazakhstani government has been aggressively pursuing higher education reform. This has led to the passing of a number of education-related laws and the adaptation of different policies and practices in order to facilitate the government’s initial priority of transitioning to a market economy and more recently, to achieve its goal of becoming one of the world’s top 30 economies by the year 2050. This chapter provides an overview of Kazakhstan’s Soviet higher education legacy and the subsequent changes that the higher education sector has both undergone and continues to undergo after joining the EU’s Bologna Process in 2010. In addition to providing a historical perspective of higher education reform in the Kazakhstani context, several typologies have been provided in order to visualise the way the regulatory reforms have resulted in some institutional diversity. The chapter concludes with the challenges that the higher education sector at different levels (e.g., the national (Kazakhstani Ministry of Education and Sciences) and regional and local/institutional levels) continues to face.
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© The Author(s) 2018
J. Huisman et al. (eds.), 25 Years of Transformations of Higher
Education Systems in Post-Soviet Countries, Palgrave Studies in Global
Higher Education, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-52980-6_8
CHAPTER 8
Looking at Kazakhstan’s Higher Education
Landscape: FromTransition
toTransformation Between 1920 and2015
EliseS.Ahn, JohnDixon, andLarissaChekmareva
In the past 25 years, Kazakhstan has undergone a period of rapid educa-
tion reform. As it began transitioning from a Soviet Republic to an inde-
pendent nation-state, President Nursultan Nazarbayev and the Kazakhstani
government made it clear that the lynchpin to becoming a globally com-
petitive market economy was education (Aitzhanova et al. 2014).
Ideologically, this focus signied a watershed moment, as the philosophi-
cal underpinnings of Soviet higher education (HE) were uprooted, with
the transition toward a market economy. However, this process of reforming
Kazakhstan’s HE system is situated amidst signicant demographic, socio-
cultural and political shifts which have taken place in the last two decades.
E. S. Ahn (*)
University of Wisconsin-Madison International Division, Madison, WI, USA
J. Dixon
Department of Political Science and Public Administration, Middle East
Technical University, Ankara, Turkey
L. Chekmareva
University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA, USA
200
Subsequently, while the path to education reform shares similarities to that
of other states of the former Soviet Union (FSU), there are idiosyncrasies
particular to the Kazakhstani context.
Starting with the establishment of its rst HE institutions (HEI), this
chapter provides a brief historical overview of HE in Kazakhstan starting
from the Soviet period. The next section examines the education reforms
that have been implemented since 1991 by examining three aspects of
system transformation that the contributions in this edited volume are
focusing on—horizontal diversication, vertical differentiation and inter-
organisational relationships (Teichler 1988). Drawing from various
sources, such as archival Soviet documents, Kazakhstani MoES reports
and policy papers, along with interviews with different Kazakhstani admin-
istrators and faculty members, we found that at the macro-level there have,
in fact, been departures from the Soviet HE apparatus vis-à-vis regulatory
reform. However, despite this, much change remains to be implemented
in terms of institutional, pedagogical and research practices in order to
full the teaching, learning and research mission of HE.The chapter con-
cludes with a discussion on ongoing and emerging challenges facing the
Kazakhstani HE system, as well examining its Soviet HE legacy.
The FoundaTions: KazaKhsTans sovieT higher
educaTion Legacy
The Soviet education apparatus began developing HE in the Kazakh SSR
as part of its overall massication of education project in the 1920s and the
emphasis on preparing local specialists during the korenizatsia period.
Prior to this time, no HEIs existed in the territory of present-day
Kazakhstan (Froumin et al. 2014; Kyzykeyeva and Oskolkova 2011).
During the rst phase of HE development starting in the 1920s, ve insti-
tutions were established—Bukeev, Semipalatinsk, Kazakh, Orenberg
Institutes of Public Education and the Kazakh Institute of Education in
Alma-Ata (Dzholdasbekov and Kuznetsov 1975). Between 1927 and
1932, 15 more HEIs were established, expanding the focus to include
medicine, agriculture and livestock, such as the Veterinary-Zoo Technical
Institute (1928), Kazakh State Agricultural Institute (1930) and the
Kazakh Medical Institute (1931).
The following 5-year period (1933–37) saw an expansion of pedagogi-
cal institutes throughout the Kazakh SSR, including the establishment of
E. S. AHN ET AL.
201
Kirov Kazakh State University (1934), as well as the inclusion of post-
graduate (aspirantura) studies in different institutes (Dzholdasbekov and
Kuznetsov 1975). Following World War II (1946–63), 16 more institutes
were established in the Kazakh SSR, along with the Kazakh Academy of
Sciences.1 In 1959, a state-level committee was formed to centralise the
HE management within the Kazakh SSR, which would then eventually
become the Kazakhstani MoES (Kyzykeyeva and Oskolkova 2011). By
1975, there were 47 HEIs, which offered programmes in 175 different
areas for 200,000 students (Dzholdasbekov and Kuznetsov 1975).2
However, not only was the HE system undergoing transition during
that time, but that was situated in the broader context of education reform.
One of the early challenges facing HE was a bottleneck effect; because of
limited access to quality primary and secondary education, access to HE
was consequently limited. Moreover, as Kyzykeyeva and Oskolkova (2011)
note, students’ education trajectories were also affected by the rupturing
of communities in the 1930s as a result of Stalin’s social engineering strat-
egy. Additionally, because HEIs expanded so rapidly between 1928 and
1975, they faced a number of pragmatic challenges including: classroom
and student housing shortages, a lack of textbooks and various teaching
materials and a shortage of qualied teaching faculty (Heynemann etal.
2007; Rumyantseva 2005; Silova 2011).
Like in the other SSRs, HE in the Kazakh SSR had several aims. The
rst was to produce specialists who could help sustain the Soviet Union’s
objectives, including education goals like universal literacy and sociopoliti-
cal ones like a commitment to the party ideology. Relatedly, the second
aim was to reproduce specialists who would be able to work in industries
that were being developed in various territories. For example, in the
Kazakh SSR, this included the oil and gas sector (Froumin etal. 2014). In
this way, the horizontal landscape of HEIs was an instantiation of these
two pillars—ideological and industrial—and they were centrally deter-
mined in a command economy.
However, the high degree of specialisation also consequently resulted
in resource inefciency and knowledge compartmentalisation. This knowl-
edge compartmentalisation was seen in the allocation of institutional
functions—institutes focused on teaching or conducting applied research,
and academies conducted more “pure” scientic research.3
By the end of the Soviet period, the Kazakh SSR had 55 HEIs that
enrolled 287,400 students (NIIVO 1992). Table8.1 provides an overview
LOOKING AT KAZAKHSTAN’S HIGHER EDUCATION LANDSCAPE...
202
of the institutional specialisations that were inherited by the nascent
Kazakhstani government.
While no ofcial taxonomy is available regarding the types of institu-
tions and the corresponding quantity, Table8.2 provides a general tax-
onomy of the types of HEIs that the Kazakhstani MoES inherited.
Al Farabi Kazakh National University (originally Kirov Kazakh State
University) is the oldest university in the country and was the only HEI
that could be considered a “classical” university with its multiple Faculties
and Departments and an enrolment of 12,909 students (1988) (Moskva-
Finansy i Statistika Razdel 1989). Most of the other HEIs could be cate-
gorised as either regional institutes or specialised institutes that were
subject to shared oversight by the MoES and another Ministry (e.g., the
Ministry of Transport, Internal Affairs or Defense). Regional institutes
were primarily dened by geographical distribution, for example, peda-
gogical institutes were established throughout the country. This is in
contrast to specialised institutes which, as mentioned earlier, were sector-
specic—oil and gas, engineering and so on.
In sum, the Soviet HE legacy in the Kazakh SSR included: a system
which was fundamentally undergirded by political ideology; isolation from
international trends and practices, because of its ideological underpin-
nings; poor nancing, which led to slow innovation; and systemically, the
emphasis on specialisations, which were linked to the Soviet’s raw econ-
omy (Rudista 2004). However, this legacy also included the network of
55 HEIs, of which the majority were engineering and pedagogy institutes,
which provided the nascent Kazakhstani government a point of departure
in 1991.
Table 8.1 Kazakhstani HEIs (AY1988–89)
HEIs by academic focus Quantity Enrolled students
Engineering 12 80,989
Transport 2 7,153
Agriculture 7 40,455
Economy/law 3 18,452
Education 23 104,516
Health, medicine, sport 6 23,477
Arts 2 1,836
Total 55 276,878
Source: Narodnoe Obrazovanie i Kultura v USSR (1989, p.142, 202)
E. S. AHN ET AL.
203
The earLy years: higher educaTion reForm
inThe1990s
The dissolution of the Soviet Union brought about signicant social,
political and economic changes in Kazakhstan. Economically, from 1991
to 1996 the country’s Gross Domestic Product dropped 39%, resulting in
an overall collapse of the country’s economy (World Bank 2005). But
despite seemingly grim prospects, the economy eventually began recover-
ing around 1999 and by 2007, achieved an annual growth rate of 10% and
higher (Pomfret 2014). However, in spite of steady growth, Kazakhstan
has not been exempt from the global economic downturn in the 2000s.
Unsustainable levels of currency exchange rate control by the Kazakhstani
Central Bank, combined with plummeting oil prices and economic
sanctions on the Russian Federation starting in 2014, led to the de-
dollarisation of Kazakhstan’s currency, the tenge, and oated the exchange
rate. This resulted in three signicant rounds of currency devaluation
(2009, 2014 and 2015). Consequently, the ination forecast for 2016 is
now 7.9% with a predicted GDP growth of 3.3% (Asian Development
Bank n.d.).
Demographically, as the economy struggled, birth rates declined in the
1990s. This declining birth rate was reversed in the early 2000s, a shift
which corresponds to the country’s economic recovery and a period of
relative sociopolitical stability as seen in Fig.8.1.
Table 8.2 Types of Kazakhstani HEIs in AY1990–91
HEI type
(quantity)
Example Location Afliation Research activity
National
university (2)
Al Farabi Kazakh
National Universitya
Almaty MoES Pure
Regional
institutes (24)
Kostanay Pedagogical
Institute
Kostanay MoES Applied research/
teaching only
Specialised
institutes (29)
Kokshetau Technical
Institute of the
MoES Kazakhstanb
Kokshetau Ministry of
Internal Affairs;
MoES
Applied research/
teaching only
Note:
aThe other university in the Kazakh SSR was Karaganda State University as noted earlier. It should be
noted that while Karaganda State University did have the status of university, it was smaller in terms of
number of faculties and student enrolment in comparison to Al Farabi Kazakh National University.
bSeehttp://www.kti-tjm.kz/nash_instityt.html
LOOKING AT KAZAKHSTAN’S HIGHER EDUCATION LANDSCAPE...
204
Socioculturally, with the establishment of its new Constitution in 1995,
the Kazakhstani government began constructing a new civic identity.4 This
began by privileging the titular Kazakh language as the ofcial state lan-
guage, moving toward the conation of an ethnic Kazakh and Kazakhstani
civic identity.5 This has resulted in changes in the language of instruction
(LOI) in all schools—there was a shift in the LOI at the primary, second-
ary and tertiary level from Russian toward Kazakh (and more recently, the
additional inclusion of English as the LOI).
In the 1990s, the Kazakhstani government began implementing a
system- wide education reform amidst wide-scale sociopolitical-cultural
reforms. The government’s focus at the time was primarily on creating a
regulatory structure that could create the conditions under which educa-
tion reform could take place. The Constitution (1995) established the
right to compulsory education for all Kazakhstani citizens, the Law on
Education (1992) and the Law on Higher Education (1993),6 along with
other regulations and standards (Yakavets 2014). What did not change
immediately was who “owned” education—HE remained a state-owned
enterprise. Consequently, this meant that the government maintained the
all-encompassing centralised control that had existed under the Soviet
regime (Sarinzhipov 2013).
Figure 8.2 provides an overview of the main foci of the regulations
initiated between 1991 and 2015.
Fig. 8.1 Demographic trends (1985–2012) (Source: Adopted from the Agency
of Statistics of the Republic of Kazakhstan (2013))
E. S. AHN ET AL.
205
Fig. 8.2 Education reform timeline (1991–2020) (Source: Adopted from OECD (2007, 112))
LOOKING AT KAZAKHSTAN’S HIGHER EDUCATION LANDSCAPE...
206
Although there were a number of departures from the Soviet HE sys-
tem and orientation in the new legislation and regulations, the most sig-
nicant was the opening of private HEIs. The 1993 legislation “On
Higher Education” permitted private universities to operate in Kazakhstan
(albeit under the auspices of all MoES regulations).7 During AY1990–91,
there were 55 public HEIs. After the 1993 law was passed, 32 more HEIs
opened, the majority of which were private (Sulima 2008). By AY1996–97,
43.2% of the HEIs were public and 56.8% were private (OECD 2007)—
this distribution stayed similar through AY2013–14 (MoES 2014). The
distribution of students enrolled in public and private HEIs was also simi-
lar (although there was some uctuation). For example, in AY2012–13,
49.1% of students were enrolled in public HEIs. By AY2014–15, this per-
centage shifted, with 48.3% of students enrolled in public HEIs and 50.3%
enrolled in private HEIs (MoES 2015). So while the proliferation of pri-
vate HEIs was initially permitted through the enabling of regulatory
reform, as seen in the enrolment distribution, there was a corresponding
demand by Kazakhstanis who felt that acquiring a HE degree was essential
to being employed in the new economic world order as demonstrated in
Fig.8.3.
Figure 8.3 reveals that the patterns of growth in student enrolment and
the number of HEIs are similar. There are upward trends in both graphs
with a particular peak in between AY2004–07. However, since then, there
has been a decline in both the number of HEIs and enrolment due to
increased accountability from the MoES (HEI decline) and demographic
decrease (student enrolment). But despite these social and institutional
shifts, the opening of HE to the private sector helped absorb the demand
for HE particularly in the rst 15 years of the Republic.
With an increased HE demand and the establishment of 114 HEIs in
the 1990s, it is plausible to expect that geographical access to HE would
have increased. This, however, did not happen. During the Soviet period,
HEIs were primarily located in major urban areas (e.g., Almaty, previously
Alma-Ata) or in oblasts with particular raw material factories (e.g., East
Kazakhstan). However, when looking at the distribution of HEIs in the
1990s, the majority were established in Almaty city because it was previ-
ously the capital of the Kazakh SSR and for the rst few years of independent
Kazakhstan. Figure8.4 shows that although Almaty is no longer the capi-
tal, it still has the highest proportion of HEIs in the country.
E. S. AHN ET AL.
207
Thus, in terms of the horizontal institutional diversication of HE after
independence, although it remained completely under the auspices of the
government through the MoES under the Law “On Education” (1993,
1997), the 1993 law did initially facilitate the establishment of private
universities. This helped introduce nancial diversity into the previously
solely, state-funded sector. In turn, the proliferation of new private HEIs,
along with the creation of new universities as a result of merging different
institutes, helped to absorb the mass demand for HE.
Fig. 8.3 HEI trends over time by institutions 1940–2014 (Sources: Adopted
from Brunner and Tillett (n.d.); MoES (2014, 2015); Ministry of Economics
(2015); Moskva-Finansy i Statistika [Moscow Finance and Statistics] (1989, 202);
OECD (2007, 40); Zhakenov (n.d.))
LOOKING AT KAZAKHSTAN’S HIGHER EDUCATION LANDSCAPE...
208
The PrivaTisaTion oFheand ThemodernisaTion
oFhe: The2000s
While the 1990s introduced private HEIs into the system, the year 2000
began the process of privatising public HEIs. The general privatisation
process of state-owned enterprises initiated in the 1990s was then extended
to select HEIs with the passing of the law “On the List of the Republican
State Enterprises and Institutions to be Privatised in 2000–01”. The result
was that 12 public HEIs became joint-stock companies (JSCs)8—a scheme
where the Kazakhstani government shares ownership with other share-
holders, which could be a private individual(s) or corporation. The priva-
tisation of HEIs was (and continues to be) an attempt to diversication of
the funding of higher education by introducing new revenue streams
(including student tuition fees). Consequently, the privatisation of HEIs
continued the process of horizontal HE diversication.
At that time, eight universities were given the status of “National
University”—Al-Farabi Kazakh National University, Gumilyov Eurasian
Fig. 8.4 Distribution of universities in Kazakhstan in AY2014–15 (Source:
MoES (2015))
E. S. AHN ET AL.
209
National University, Kazakh National Agrarian University, K.I.Satpayev
Kazakh National Technical University, S.D.Asfendiyarov Kazakh National
Medical University, T.K.Zhurgenov Kazakh National Academy of Arts,
Kurmangazy Kazakh National Conservatory and the Kazakh National
University of Arts.
Thus, after diversifying the Kazakhstani HE horizontal institutional
landscape with the inclusion of the private sector, the MoES then moved
toward creating greater vertical differentiation. Generally, the type of HEI
is determined by the institution’s licencing, which is based mainly on the
number of faculties that institution has—HEIs with three or more facul-
ties can apply to become a university, while those with less than three are
designated as an institute. An academy was a HEI that usually had one
specialisation (e.g., the Academy of Civil Aviation). However, there are
further distinctions which can be made via special Presidential Orders as
seen above since the aforementioned Order granted eight universities the
status of “National University”. National universities are public HEIs that
teach a wide gamut of programmes that have made a contribution to HE
in the country.
Subsequently, 18 HEIs were established as regional centres of teaching
learning (Zhankenov n.d.). These were also categorised as “state universi-
ties”. Many of these regional or state universities were institutes that were
merged in the 1990s in order to provide a diversity of taught program
offerings and ultimately to attract more students. Table8.3 is an overarch-
ing taxonomy of HEI types based on institutional mandate and scope and
does not include all the different ways Kazakhstani HEIs are classied.
As the MoES continues with institutional privatisation and by exten-
sion, with the move toward a free market HE environment, it requires all
HEIs to collect a percentage of the student fees which varies by institution
in order to prepare them for eventual nancial independence. Other poli-
cies and practices have been introduced to create an even “playing eld”
and to increase inter-institutional competition.
A signicant part of increasing competition in the HE sector was the
need to create a more transparent student admissions process (for both
students and HEIs). In the 1990s, Kazakhstani HEIs were initially allowed
to admit students based on their academic background and performance
and how that ts with an institution’s specialisation. In 2001, a new qual-
ity assurance system was implemented by the MoES, resulting in the estab-
lishment of the Committee for Supervision and Attestation; the National
LOOKING AT KAZAKHSTAN’S HIGHER EDUCATION LANDSCAPE...
210
Centre for Educational Quality Assessment; the National Accreditation
Centre; the Centre for Certication, Quality Management and Consulting;
and the National Centre of State Standards for Education and Tests
(OECD 2007). To combat public perceptions regarding corruption linked
to university admission, the Unied National Test (UNT) (Edinoe
Table 8.3 HEIs by type based on the law “On Education” (2007)
Type Description Example
Universities
National
research
university
A HEI which has a special status and programme
of development for 5 years approved by the
government, independently developed educational
training programmes of higher education in three
and more groups of specialties, using the outcome
of pure and applied studies for generating, and in
the transfer of, new knowledge
Al Farabi Kazakh
National
University
(Almaty)
Research
university
A HEI which implements programmes of
development for 5 years, approved by the
government and educational training programmes
of higher education, in three and more groups of
specialties. It uses the outcome of pure and applied
studies for generating, and in the transfer of, new
knowledge
Not dened
University A HEI that implements educational programmes of
higher education, master and doctoral programmes
in three and more groups of specialties, carries out
pure and applied research and is a scientic and
methodological centre
Suleyman
Demirel
University
(Kaskalen)
Academy
Academy An educational institution that implements
educational programmes of HE in one or two
groups of specialties
Academy of Civil
Aviation (Almaty)
Institutes
National higher
education
institute
A HEI which is a leading scientic and
methodological centre in the country with a special
status
Not dened
Institute An institution that implements professional
educational programmes of HE
Atyrau Institute
of Oil and Gas
(Atyrau)
Source: Law “On Education” (2007); National Tempus Ofce (2012)
E. S. AHN ET AL.
211
Nacional’noe Testirovanie)—a 3-hour university entrance test and also an
upper secondary school completion assessment—was developed for
AY2003–04.9 High scorers on the UNT would be guaranteed admittance
to a public university and could receive a full scholarship via state grants.
An alternative test—the Comprehensive Test (CT)—was later developed
for students who attended: a non-Kazakh/non-Russian language of
instruction secondary school, a school abroad but wanted to attend a
Kazakhstani university or a vocational/technical secondary school but
decided to enter university.
However, while the establishment of these tests addressed issues regard-
ing the perceived corruption connected to university entrance by provid-
ing a more standardised measure of academic ability, there remain some
unresolved issues. Neither test was or is calibrated to international univer-
sity entrance standards. Consequently, students who take the UNT or the
CT cannot use the scores earned toward admission into universities out-
side of Kazakhstan. From an assessment standpoint, they have been criti-
cised because of their lack of subject matter depth due to the limits of the
current format—30 multiple choice questions per section in 5 subject
areas with an emphasis on language.10
A student’s performance on the UNT not only has implications for
their HE admission but also to whether students qualify for a government
scholarship. These scholarships are “portable”, which means that grant
recipients have some choice(s) regarding which HEI they wanted to
attend (EC 2010). But the government’s priority areas for education and
economic development, nationality and language of education determine
grant availability. The other factor that is taken into consideration is mem-
bership of population categories that are under-represented in the HE
student population, which include orphans, students from single-parent
homes or from rural communities and young people with disabilities (EC
2010). The MoES also awards other types of scholarships for exceptionally
high-achieving students (e.g., Presidential Scholarships). The MoES
(2010) also established the “State Education Savings System”, whereby
parents can save money for their children’s HE costs by providing a pre-
mium return on their savings. Note, however, HEIs can also provide dif-
ferent funding support to better attract students including
institution-specic nancial aid and loans, scholarships for high-achieving
students and tuition and fee waivers or discounts.
LOOKING AT KAZAKHSTAN’S HIGHER EDUCATION LANDSCAPE...
212
Systemically, in AY2004–05, the Kazakhstani HE system changed
from the 5-year Soviet-era bachelor degree to a 4-year degree. This was
intended to facilitate increased student and faculty mobility in and out of
Kazakhstan, as well as greater degree of recognition in alignment with
international institutional structures (Piven and Pak 2006). This paved
the way for discussions regarding the possibility of Kazakhstan joining
the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). On 12 March 2010,
Kazakhstan then became the rst Central Asia Republic to sign the
Lisbon Convention of the Bologna Process (BP) becoming its 47th sig-
natory (Kazinform 2010).
Joining the BP has had the most comprehensive impact on the
Kazakhstani HE system. Soon after joining the BP, the “State
Programme of Education Development in the RoK for 2011–2020”
was passed (MoES 2010). This outlined the government’s plan to align
all three tiers of education to international standards by the year
2020in order to achieve its stated goal of “increasing [the] competi-
tiveness of education and [the] development of human capital through
ensuring access to quality education for sustainable economic growth”
(MoES 2010, 1). The plan was comprehensive, covering everything
from nancing to the professional development of teacher faculty,
along with intended structural and programme changes. The HE focus
of this report was on re-aligning its structural, university governance
and autonomy reforms to conform to BP priorities. In addition to leg-
islation that was passed in the 1990s, the Law “On Education” (2007)
and the Law “On Science” (2011) provided the legal framework that
has been guiding HE reform.
In addition to system reform, one of the goals outlined in the MoES
plan (2010) was the need to increase institutional and research output to
meet international standards. In order to fund and support research, a
number of laws have been passed, including the Law “On Science”
(2001), Law “On Innovative Activities” (2003), Patent Law (2003) and
the Law “On Support of Innovative Activities” (2006). In 2003, less
than 100 articles were published per 10,000 researchers (Thomson n.d.;
OECD 2007). The MoES (2010) stated that the goal was to have 2% of
faculty members publish in international, peer-reviewed journals by
2015 and 5% by 2020. But according to MoES (2014), out of 41,636
E. S. AHN ET AL.
213
faculty members, 541 (1.3%) have publications in international (peer-
reviewed) journals. In terms of gender parity, there is an almost equal
representation of genders among researchers, with the majority of
researchers are in the STEM elds—Science, Technology, Engineering
and Mathematics (UIS n.d.). However, in terms of researchers by sector,
the HE and non-prot sectors have seen a gradual increase between
2005 and 2011 with a decrease in number of researchers in the govern-
mental agencies (UIS n.d.).
The government remains the largest funder of research and develop-
ment; it is responsible for between 25% (2011) and 61.5% (2003) of all
related expenditures (UIS n.d.), which has limited the growth of research
and development in HE.After independence, similar to the other post-
Soviet countries, the Kazakhstani HE system faced a physically crumbling
research infrastructure, in terms of laborator y space, equipment, resource
centres and libraries, further constraining the ability of researchers to con-
duct research (MoES 2010). This is not surprising, given the reduction in
the expenditure on research and development since 2003 (UIS n.d.).
Relatedly, another systemic constraint on research output is the MoES’s
constrained funding priorities and by extension research outputs (OECD
2007). However, partnerships between international organisations like
the British Council and individual universities (e.g., Al Farabi Kazakhstan
National University), are moves to diversify research funding and have
contributed to building deeper research capacity of Kazakhstani
academics.
Another impetus for Kazakhstan joining the EHEA and committing
to the implementation of BP was the internationalisation of HE through
faculty and student mobility through programmes like ERASMUS
MUNDUS.Systemically, this meant that HEIs would need to adopt the
European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) and pro-
vide Diploma Supplements in order to facilitate mobility.11 Moreover, in
1998, Kazakhstan signed an agreement between Belarus, Kyrgyzstan
and Russia allowing for degree equivalence recognition, thereby increas-
ing opportunities for student and graduate mobility between the four
countries (Poletaev and Rakisheva 2011). Additionally, according to
MoES (2010), as of 2010, over 20,000 Kazakhstani students had stud-
ied abroad, of whom 3000 were Bolashak scholarship holders.12 In terms
LOOKING AT KAZAKHSTAN’S HIGHER EDUCATION LANDSCAPE...
214
of in-bound student mobility, Kazakhstan is the second most popular
destination to study in Central Asia (behind Russia) (Brunner and Tillet
n.d.).
In terms of creating a more transparent system, MoES (2010) articu-
lated a set of relevant HE policy aspirations—to establish a board of trust-
ees at different HEIs to help provide stakeholder-informed governance,
to continue the professionalisation of academic administrators (through
various training programmes) and to institute a transparent rector-
appointment system.13 To support academic administrators, the MoES
stated its intention of creating a comprehensive and easily accessible data-
base of educational statistics, which would be made available to all univer-
sities to facilitate data-informed management decisions. While a database
is not yet available, the MoES has been making yearly reports of aggre-
gated HE data available on its website.14 Also integral to the process of
transforming HE provision is the development and implementation of
lifelong learning through professional development opportunities for
university administrators and leaders. Such training opportunities are
being conducted through institutions like Nazarbayev University and
KIMEP University.
Along the same vein of transparency, the proliferation of HEIs in the
1990s and 2000s is now being curbed by the emphasis on institutional
quality assurance. At its peak, there were 182 HEIs in the system
(2001) but by AY2015–16, there were 126 (MoES 2015). In 2011,
the Independent Agency for Accreditation Rating (IAAR) was estab-
lished as an independent national agency with a remit that includes the
ranking of HEIs, the improving of their competitiveness, and their
institutional and specialised accreditation. The Independent Quality
Assurance Agency of Kazakhstan (IQAA) was established in 2012, also
an independent national agency but with a remit to provide both insti-
tutional and programme accreditation for Kazakhstani HEIs. Out of
the 131 universities in AY2014–15, only 3 universities (2%) had
received institutional accreditation from the IAAR (www.iaar.kz), 4
(3%) from IQAA (www.iqaa.kz) and only 1 had all of its degree pro-
grammes accredited by an agency listed on the European Quality
Assurance Register.15
While joining the BP has increased discussions regarding what consti-
tutes “quality education”, it has also foregrounded a number of policy
E. S. AHN ET AL.
215
tensions which were created in the rst 20 years of education reform. One
example of this is the tension between the MoES’ centralised control over
a signicant portion of institutional operations and discourses on decen-
tralisation and privatisation. Because one of the pillars of the BP is institu-
tional autonomy, HEIs need to be given more procedural and substantive
autonomy. “Procedural autonomy” refers to the ability for universities to
make decisions related to higher-level administrative processes.
“Substantive autonomy” refers to the ability to make decisions related to
academic affairs. The later would include what degree programmes uni-
versities wanted to offer students and, subsequently, the curricular require-
ments (Soltys 2014). According to MoES (2010), it was intended that
HEIs would be granted autonomy gradually—national research universi-
ties in 2015, national HEIs in 2016 and the rest by 2018. To date, this has
not been the case; the exception is Nazarbayev University, which was
established from its inception as an autonomous HEI by Presidential
Order.16
Currently, the reach of the MoES still includes the types of degree
programmes HEIs can offer through the list of state classiers—HEIs
cannot innovate degrees or programme titles which are not listed in the
list of 342 state classiers (OECD 2007; Sulima 2008), the standardisa-
tion of programme courses and core course curriculum through the
State Compulsory Education Standards, the standardisation of faculty
promotion and, for public HEIs, the constraints on tuition rates for fee-
paying students. According to Sarinzhipov (2013), regardless of whether
a HEI is public or private, they all need to comply with the MoES
requirements regarding these aforementioned areas in order to maintain
their institutional licences.
The centralised control of the MoES also affects research output. While
academics need to conduct research and publish in order to receive pro-
motion (according to the same criteria used pre-1991), there remain seri-
ous constraints on their time because of heavy teaching expectations, so
faculty research output remains relatively low. Such constraints include
800–900 contact hours with students per academic year, mandatory ofce
hours, thesis supervision, student consultations as well as being available
for a variety of different activities related to university service, which are
prescribed in various education laws. This, combined with low academic
salaries and institutional corruption, has resulted in the phenomenon of
LOOKING AT KAZAKHSTAN’S HIGHER EDUCATION LANDSCAPE...
216
faculty teaching at multiple universities—further limiting their time and
their personal capacity to conduct original, independent research (Silova
and Steiner-Khamsi 2008).
However, if the MoES does begin granting both substantive and pro-
cedural autonomy to HEIs, this would signicantly change the dynamics
between HEIs. Students would more freely be able to choose between
meaningfully different programmes of study, educational experiences and
curricula, and HEIs would have the ability to potentially innovate and
engage directly with industry to produce graduates who would be able to
aptly participate in the labour market.
Table 8.4 attempts to provide a comprehensive overview of the differ-
ent categories that were created by the MoES to delineate and differenti-
ate (horizontally and vertically) the emerging HE landscape between 1993
and 2010.
For potential students, such categories are important because they
determine whether their choice of HE is an eligible host for a government
scholarship, as well as the quality of education they might receive. But for
university rectors and administrators, the categories presented in Tables
8.3 and 8.4 are marginally exible. Private HEIs can move from being
institutes to universities, but by virtue of being private, they currently
cannot become national institutions. Because public HEIs are under the
auspices of the MoES, there is little major institutional/structural changes
which can be initiated by the institutions themselves. The table corre-
sponding to this chapter in the Appendices provides an overview of the
total number of HEIs that t into the categories outlined in Table8.4 as
of AY2014–15.
In addition to the vertical and horizontal institutional distinctions that
the MoES has made, it has also created another institutional taxonomy
which highlights the university’s expected research output based on the
ofcial institutional licence it has been granted. This research distinction
was based on the Law “On Education” (2007). Logistically, public HEIs
can be given the special status of “National University” or “National
Higher Education Institute” by means of a Presidential Order. “Research
University” is a title which is ostensibly open for both public and private
HEIs under the auspices of the Law “On Education” (2007). However, it
is noteworthy that to date, no HEI has been ofcially granted this status.
E. S. AHN ET AL.
217
By default, then, all other HEIs fall under the conventional categories of
“university”, “academy” or “institute” with no ofcial distinguishing
descriptor. Table8.5 provides an overview of the types of HEIs, proles of
exemplars and what they dene as demonstrations of research in their
institutional contexts.
Table 8.4 The Kazakhstani HE landscape between 1993 and 2010
Type Vertical Licensing Research Example Location
International International University Yasawi
International
Kazakh-Turkish
Universitya
Turkestan
Public Autonomous University x Nazarbayev University Astana
National Al Farabi Kazakh
National University
Almaty
Institute
Academy Academy of Public
Administration
under the President
of the Republic of
Kazakhstan
Astana
State University
Institute Atyrau Institute of
Oil and Gas
Atyrau
Academy
Private: JSC University KIMEP University Almaty
Institute
Academy Academy of Civil
Aviation
Almaty
Private University Almaty Management
University
Almaty
Institute Eurasian
Humanitarian
Institute
Astana
Academy Kazakh Academy of
Labor and Social
Relations
Almaty
aYasawi International Kazakh-Turkish University is unique because it is a joint education endeavour by the
Kazakhstani and Turkish governments.
LOOKING AT KAZAKHSTAN’S HIGHER EDUCATION LANDSCAPE...
218
Table 8.5 Characteristics of HEIs
Type
(2015)
Type (1991) Example Institutional details Education prole*Research activity International
engagement
National
research
university
University Al Farabi Kazakh
National
University
Est. 1934a
Location Almaty 14 faculties, 98
departments, 77
undergraduate,
80 master, 61
doctoral
programmes
5 institutes, 1
science and
technology park,
20 research
centres
418 university
partners, different
university association
international
Status Public
# of
students
18,000
# of
faculty
2,000
Research
university
Institute Ablai Khan
Kazakh
University of
International
Relations and
World
Languages**
Est. 1941b
Location Almaty 6 faculties,
15
undergraduate,
10 master, 3
doctoral
programmes
14 different
international
organisations, student
teaching/exchange 14
different universities
Status Private: JSC
# of
students
4,750
# of
faculty
135+
University Sh. Ualikhanov
Kokshetau State
University
Est. 1962c
Location Kokshetau 5 faculties, 47
undergraduate,
28 master, 3
doctoral
programmes
Lab, academic
journal
Partnerships with
universities in
Germany, the USA,
the UK, Malaysia,
Russia
Status Public
# of
students
5,000
# of
faculty
345
Academy Academy T.K. Zhurgenov
Kazakh National
Academy of Arts
Est. 1955d
Location Almaty 6 faculties, 14
undergraduate,
13 master, 7
doctoral
programmes
Creative
production—
performances,
lm production,
etc.
63 universities in
South Korea, Japan,
China, EU, CIS, ME
Status Public
# of
students
N/A
# of
faculty
400
(continued)
E. S. AHN ET AL.
219
Type
(2015)
Type (1991) Example Institutional details Education prole*Research activity International
engagement
National
HEI
Institute I.Altinsarin
Arkalyk State
Pedagogical
Institute**e
Location Arkalyk 4 faculties,
19
undergraduate
programmes
Status Public
# of
students
# of
faculty
Institute Specialised
institute
K.Satpaev
Ekibastuz
Engineering-
Technical
Institute
(est. 1994)f
Location Ekibastis 7 department, 14
undergraduate
programmes
1 applied
research and
teaching lab
Status Private
# of
students
1,145
# of
faculty
85
NB: *A “faculty” [fakultet] is a group of “departments” [kafedra]; **indicates potential exemplars (not determined in an ofcial regulation or Order)
aSee www.kaznu.kz
bSee www.ablaikhan.kz
cSee http://kgu.kz/main/en/universitet
dSee http://www.kaznai.kz/
eSee http://www.api.kz/
fSee http://eitiekb.kz/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=11&Itemid=125
Table 8.5 (continued)
LOOKING AT KAZAKHSTAN’S HIGHER EDUCATION LANDSCAPE...
220
concLusion
While joining the BP should lead to greater convergence across the EHEA,
Kazakhstani HE has been embedded in a dynamic sociopolitical cultural
context. For example, because the birth rate had declined in the 1990s
(Fig.8.1), HE enrolment is expected to decline from 2011 until around
2025. According to OECD (2007), the number of university-aged young
people is expected to fall from 180,000 (2010) to below 120,000
(2025)—a 33% decline over 15 years. Even with the MoES’s efforts to
close for-prot diploma mill universities between 2001 and 2015,
Kazakhstan’s demographic drop-off has had serious implications for fac-
ulty and stafng at the remaining 126 HEIs, since the majority of
Kazakhstani HEIs are private and since all institutions are expected to be
nancially autonomous by 2020.
From a systemic perspective, the Kazakhstani government has begun
implementing many of the Bologna action points since joining the EHEA
in 2010. Most notably, it has done the following: developed a necessary
legal infrastructure; mapping out governmental and national-level organ-
isational charts; and an array of procedural and substantive university
autonomy and reform policies. But despite the plethora of HE reforms
proposals and initiatives, there are a number of broad ranging challenges
that the MoES continues to face, as Kazakhstan continues to navigate its
way through its radical HE reform agenda (Heynemann 2010). For exam-
ple, the “proliferation of actions, the plethora of agencies and committees
and the frequent changes in the related regulations and processes are con-
fusing and overburdening HE stakeholders” (OECD 2007, 117–118).
This “proliferation of actions” and constant change are evident even in the
way the MoES has been articulating its vision for an HE institutional infra-
structure as seen in the MoES different organisational taxonomies pre-
sented in Tables 8.4 and 8.5.
Shifts in Kazakhstan’s language policies also continue to change the
linguistic context in which education is taking place. In AY1990–91, there
was a greater percentage of students studying in Russian as compared to
Kazakh. According to MoES (2014, 2015), there continues to be a shift
in student enrolment from Russian to Kazakh-medium HEIs with a small,
but growing number of enrollees in English-medium HEIs (2.6%) in
AY2014–15 (MoES 2015).
What remains the most idiosyncratic element of Kazakhstani HE is the
role of the government in making decisions regarding HE with little or no
E. S. AHN ET AL.
221
transparency. Despite the existence of education governance in the form of
the MoES, moves toward greater transparency and (imminent) institutional
autonomy, in actuality, Presidential Orders have been used to establish
HEIs—L.I.Gumilyov Eurasian National University, KIMEP University and
Nazarbayev University17—and have led to institutional mergers, Atyrau
Institute of Oil and Gas and, most recently, the merger of K.I. Satpaev
National Technical University with Kazakh-British Technical University (a
JSC university).18 The primacy of the government to make decisions in and
across different sectors points to the reality that in many post-Soviet coun-
tries, despite the development of systems and infrastructure, it retains
enough power to be able to establish (or dissolve) institutions, initiatives
and policies with little or no stakeholder involvement or public debate.
In its rst 15 years, the Kazakhstani government focused on establish-
ing the framework for a new HE system—one that would be able to meet
the needs of an emerging market economy, thereby pivoting away from
the Soviet-style HE infrastructure which it inherited. It has laid the
building blocks for its development through the creation of its education-
related regulatory structure (1990s) and embracing the BP agenda
(2000s). Moreover, it has made strides toward creating a more competi-
tive HE landscape by allowing the establishment of private HEIs, the pri-
vatisation of existing public HEIs, and creating a more vertically
differentiated structure which ostensibly acts to delineate between “elite”
and “mass” HE (Trow 1970). However, areas that will lead toward long-
lasting systemic and social change (e.g., curriculum content, programme
structures and reporting and audit processes) still require signicant
amounts of reection and change, with pre-independence HE organisa-
tional and institutional practices remaining entrenched. Moreover, because
there has long been a lack of substantive stakeholder involvement in the
HE reform process, there has been a lack of incentive to supporting reform
implementation processes meaningfully, as evidenced by the disengage-
ment from the reform process of both external stakeholders (business and
civil society organisations) and internal stakeholders (faculty, lower- to
mid-level administrators and students).
All this has been further problematised by the global economic crisis
since 2009, particularly because of the recent downward trend in prices of
oil and other natural resources, and the continued devaluation of the
Kazakhstani tenge, following the footsteps of the Russian ruble. This has,
inevitably, shifted government into austerity mode—cutting public fund-
ing for what it deems to be non-essential and non-time sensitive educa-
LOOKING AT KAZAKHSTAN’S HIGHER EDUCATION LANDSCAPE...
222
tional reforms, notably, the delay of implementing twelfth grade education
on a larger scale, which has long-run implications for HE reform.
While signing up for the Bologna Process has somewhat claried the
HE vision, its implementation will test the resolve of government to per-
severe with the post-Soviet reform package. In this sense, Kazakhstan is,
itself, a twenty-rst century experiment in education reform (Kucera
2014), a process that is taking place in the context of both the geopolitical
uncertainties and vulnerabilities in the Central Asia region and the
transitional nature of the Kazakhstani economic, social and political
environments.
In sum, the legacy of the Soviet Union in Kazakhstan is ambiguous.
While there have been departures in terms of institutional types and edu-
cation nancing, its pedagogical legacy (approaches to teaching, learning
and programme content) and administrative legacy (approaches to institu-
tional reporting and accountability) remain. Continued change requires
the MoES to continue its current trajectory of trying to aligning its HE
agenda with the BP in order to continue innovating and preparing young
people for work in the twenty-rst century.
This chapter focused on the horizontal diversication, vertical differen-
tiation and inter-organisational relationships among Kazakhstani HEIs. It
is clear that, systemically, there have been signicant departures from the
Soviet-era institutions. But meeting future challenges cannot be done by
one arm of the government in isolation; rather, it requires collaboration
from all levels of governance and from the broad spectrum of HE stake-
holders. It is in this area that we argue the lasting imprint of the Soviet
legacy is more clearly evident, for example, the intra-institutional opera-
tional policies (e.g., student admissions) and the day-to-day practices
within different HEIs. Thus, future research on intra-institutional reform
could elucidate how transformation is experienced, interpreted and imple-
mented at the local level and would provide a clearer picture regarding
sustainable, meaningful and long-lasting transformation.
noTes
1. A number of schools and faculties were evacuated to the Kazakh SSR after
World War II, along with many highly qualied faculty members due to
political reasons.
2. Karaganda Pedagogical Institute became the second university in the
Kazakh SSR, Karaganda State University in 1972 (http://www.euni.de/
E. S. AHN ET AL.
223
tools/jobpopup.php?lang=en&option=showJobs&jobid=16693&jobtyp=
7&university=Buketov+Karaganda+State+University&country=KZ&
sid=61473).
3. It should be noted that many institutes conducted applied research for
specic industries, for example, the Mining Institute (Institut Gordnogo
Dela), under the auspices of the Academy of Sciences.
4. See http://www.constitution.kz
5. The move toward privileging the Kazakh language started before 1991—
the Soviet 1989 Law “On Language” established Kazakh as the state lan-
guage of the Kazakh SSR.This law was passed when 62% of Kazakhstan’s
ethnic Kazakh population indicated they uently spoke Russian (Smagulova
2008).
6. See http://online.zakon.kz/Document/?doc_id=1001895
7. The exceptions were private institutes that were established by Presidential
Order (1991), like the Kazakhstan Institute of Management, Economics
and Research (KIMEP University since 2011) in Almaty.
8. See http://online.zakon.kz/Document/?doc_id=1018504
9. In the Kazakhstani education system, upper secondary includes grades 10
and 11.
10. There has been on-going discussion about cancelling both exams and
replacing them with a more comprehensive and rigorous university
entrance exam. In 2013, the MoES announced that the UNT would be
cancelled by 2015 (Lee 2013). However, at the time this chapter was writ-
ten,the MoES had yet to provide an alternative university entrance exam
and so, the UNT and CT testswere still beingadministered.
11. A number of Kazakhstani universities have begun implementing the MoES
guidelines on ECTS.However, at the degree level, the MoES is struggling
to harmonise the ECTS learning-hour with its own teaching- hour credit
system without diminishing its student workload requirements for gradua-
tion (Dixon and Soltys 2013).
12. The Bolashak scholarship programme was a governmental programme that
was instituted in 1994 and selects high-achieving Kazakhstani students to
study abroad at top universities on the condition that they would come
back and work in-country for a minimum of 5 years to offset brain drain.
13. Currently, all public HEI rectors continue to be political appointees.
14. See http://www.edu.gov.kz/ru/analytics
15. Additionally, all HEIs are still currently subject to regular licensing and
attestation inspections, which are under the MoES’s purview.
16. See http://online.zakon.kz/Document/?doc_id=30914968
17. See http://online.zakon.kz/Document/?doc_id=30914968
18. See https://www.interfax.kz/index.php?lang=eng&int_id=10&news_
id=8961
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224
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Elise S. Ahn was an Assistant Professor at KIMEP University, Almaty, Kazakhstan,
where she also worked as the Graduate Program Administrator in KIMEP’s
Language Center. Currently, she is the director of the Ofce of the International
Projects at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (USA) and also an adjunct lecturer
at Edgewood College’s Doctorate of Education programme (Madison, WI).She
has a PhD in Educational Policy Studies from the Education Policy and
Organization Leadership Department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-
Champaign (USA) with a concentration in Comparative and International
Education and a specialisation in Programme Evaluation. She has been awarded a
number of awards, including a Fulbright-Schuman award to the European Union
(2006–07). She co-edited a recently published book, Language Change in Central
Asia (2016, Mouton de Gruyter), and has a number of forthcoming articles on
issues related to emergent education stratication in post- Soviet Kazakhstan.
E. S. AHN ET AL.
227
John Dixon B Econ, M Econ, PhD, FAcSS, is a Professor of Public Policy and
Public Administration at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey.
From 2009 to 2014, he was the Distinguished Professor of Public Policy and
Administration at KIMEP University, where he was Dean of the College of Social
Sciences (2009–12) and of the Bang College of Business (2013–14). He has held
senior academic appointments in the UK (1997–2008), Hong Kong (1993–97)
and Australia (1981–92). He is a fellow of the British Academy of the Social
Sciences, and an honorary life member of the American Phi Beta Delta Honor
Society for International Scholars.
Larissa Chekmareva is a PhD student in international education (University of
Massachusetts, USA). She has served in the positions of the Deputy to the
President, Dean for Enrollment Management and Registrar at KIMEP University
(2000–14, Almaty, Kazakhstan). Her education consulting experience with
UNESCO, UNICEF, World Bank, National Ministries of Education in Central
Asia and so on include projects related to the quality of education, student assess-
ment, international accreditation, academic credit system, Bologna Process, enrol-
ment management and student information systems.
Open Access This chapter is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons
Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/
by/4.0/), which permits use, duplication, adaptation, distribution and reproduc-
tion in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original
author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license and
indicate if changes were made.
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and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the
permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder.
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