Higher education institutions in Kazakhstan: quality assurance and internationalization

Higher education institutions in Kazakhstan include universities, academies, and technical institutions. At the moment there are 122 HEIs in Kazakhstan, 75 of them are private. According to Kazakhstan’s Committee on Statistics, there are over 496,000 students enrolled in Kazakh HEIs nationwide in Academic Year 2017-2018, with the highest concentrations of students in Almaty (40 HEIs), Astana (13), the South-Kazakhstan region (12) and Karaganda (9). Slightly more than 85% of the students are self-funded and 14,7% are on state scholarships.

The number of mostly private or partly private universities has decreased following the government’s reform on ‘optimization’ of higher education in Kazakhstan. This reform tightens licensing regulations and qualification requirements of local universities to assure higher quality of educational programs and compliance with international standards.

State HEIs work on their stage-by-stage expansion of academic and managerial independence. HEIs are supposed to become major financially independent associations in the form of a non-commercial joint-stock company. Kazakhstan has been implementing the State Program of Education Development in the Republic of Kazakhstan for 2016 – 2019.

This program aims to enhance HEIs' competitiveness, ensure that higher and postgraduate education graduates are fit for industrial and innovative development of the country. Its main objectives are internationalization of higher education, integration into the European Higher Education Area; integration of education, science and industry, creating conditions for the commercialization of intellectual property products and technologies, preparing highly qualified teaching and research staff.

Universities need to be more flexible, aimed at generating new knowledge, susceptible to innovations and able to adopt them to maintain their international reputation in a new competitive environment. The higher education system in Kazakhstan faces an increasing internal competition among higher education institutions and Kazakh HEIs can compete with foreign universities.

Also, there is very high demand in Kazakhstan to study overseas at both undergraduate and graduate levels. In addition, government policy encourages this and has also dramatically increased English-language education nationwide over the past decade. The quality of the students has been improving and with the introduction of new reforms and high-quality school technologies, student academic performance has improved by 15-20% since 2010. A recent reform initiative would introduce curriculum taught in English at senior high school classes, resembling education systems in Malaysia and Singapore. As to inbound student mobility, Kazakh HEIs enroll about 14,000 foreign students from Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, China, India, and other countries.

The number of international students is expected to reach 50,000 by 2025. For this purpose, Kazakstan is planning to create a Central Asian educational hub, on the model of Dubai and Malaysia, that will help Kazakh universities attract more international students, adopt the best educational programs, invite the best professors of the world, open the branches of the best international universities where students can receive a world-class education. Now Kazakhstan pays much attention to the development of educational tourism and attraction of foreign students.

The Bolashak Scholarship

One of the most common initiatives as part of internationalization of higher education in Kazakhstan is the Bolashak Scholarship. The Bolashak is a national government scholarship established in 1993. It aims to assist talented young people in obtaining quality education abroad. The scholarship covers all costs related to education including tuition and fees, costs of travel, and a living stipend. The program requires all Bolashak recipients to return to Kazakhstan upon completing their education and to work for five years in Kazakhstan. From 2011, the program provides scholarships for masters and doctoral programs only.

The most popular countries for study are the U.K., U.S., Germany and Russia. The Bolashak program currently has agreements with 33 countries and 200 educational institutions worldwide. Requirements for foreign universities have been raised – first 200 positions in QS ranking, Times Higher Education (THE) and Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) international rankings, first 30 positions in national rankings and in QS 50 under 50, Times Higher Education 100 under 50 rankings.

Since 2015 candidates with Kazakhstani Master/PhD degree has got access to foreign master/PhD programs. New Split-PhD program has been integrated in the educational process of state universities chosen as leading institutions of training professionals for country’s industrialization. Process of language training in Kazakhstan has started, since 2015 scholars take language courses in accordance with “6+6” model – 6 months in Kazakhstan, another 6 – abroad. As a result of a stable and purposeful policy of Program’s implementation process improvement, at the VIII International Going Global Conference in Miami in 2014, Bolashak Scholarship has been named the best one among 11 academic mobility programs worldwide.

Kazakh universities in national and international rankings

Higher education institutions of Kazakhstan are evaluated by the following quality assurance agencies of the country: theIndependent Agency for Accreditation and Rating (IAAR), the Independent Kazakh Agency for Quality Assurance in Education, the national chamber of entrepreneurs of the Republic Kazakhstan "Atameken". The IAAR ranking is based on the evaluation of educational programs by the following parameters: concentration of talented teachers, researchers and students; student and staff mobility; training quality and graduate employability; a high level of interaction between HEIs and employers; competitiveness of scientific publications of teachers, doctoral students and Master's students.

The ranking of the Independent Kazakh Agency for Quality Assurance in Education has three components: an evaluation of quality of HEI's academic resources; an expert evaluation of the quality of HEIs' activity (15%; an evaluation of HEIs' activity based on the survey of employers and government authorities. The Atameken ranking is focused on graduates' opportunities and evaluation of HEIs by employers.

The QS Ranking 2018 featured a total of 8 Kazakh HEIs:

  • Al-Farabi Kazakh National University - 236
  • N. Gumilyov Eurasian National University - 336
  • Satbayev Kazakh National Technical University - 411-420
  • Kazakh National Pedagogical University - 491-500
  • Auezov South Kazakhstan State University - 501-550
  • Karaganda State Buketov University - 651-700
  • Kazakh-British Technical University - 651-700
  • Kazakh Ablai Khan University of International Relations and World Languages - 801-1000

Al-Farabi Kazakh National University became the first HEI of Kazakhstan and the only one in the Central Asia region to be awarded a four-star rating out of possible five in the QS Stars Development Roadmap international ranking.

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