By Aslan Sarinzhipov in Opinions on 5 November
Utilising world-leading universities to prepare Kazakh youth for leading positions in the Kazakh economic, education, science, welfare, national culture and artist spheres remains one of Kazakhstan’s top priorities in education and science.
More than 20 years ago, in 1993, President Nursultan Nazarbayev launched one of the most important strategic initiatives – creating highly qualified professionals at an international level under the Bolashak presidential scholarship programme. According to foreign experts, the programme has become a model for countries aimed at developing human capital.
This year, the Bolashak scholarship was named the best academic mobility programme, according to the results of the comparative analysis of 11 programmes of different countries, presented at the eighth International Going Global Conference in Miami (USA). Kazakhstan’s experience is being examined by countries such as China, Poland, Finland and Ukraine and formed the basis of the Russian “Global Education” programme for 2014-2016.
In general, being a reliable source of progressive knowledge and world technologies to the economic and social sphere of the country, the programme is considered to be the leading engine of the national education system. Precisely due to the programme’s potential, we have entered the international system of global elite training and set new objectives in the context of global development and the Kazakhstan 2050 Strategy. The goal of becoming a developed, competitive state with a highly educated population has established new development directions for the entire educational system. Simple literacy is not sufficient today. Our citizens should be prepared for the constant adoption of new skills related to the most advanced equipment and modern enterprises. The state provides opportunities and instruments for achieving this goal and the national education paradigm is aiming towards satisfaction of the current and perspective national economy’s demand in professionals.
For more than two decades, the Bolashak presidential scholarship has been contributing to this process. More than 7,000 professionals have been trained within the programme, every second of which works for Kazakh organisations in both public and private sectors. One-fourth represent governmental organisations and public agencies, 20 percent are employed in national companies and more than 4 percent in international and non-governmental organisations.
Considering the existing demand for specialists, the Bolashak scholarship has prepared a lot of specialists, among those are 2,736 engineering staff practicing in the field of innovation projects and technologies, the oil and gas sector, metallurgy, telecommunications and energy. Five-hundred-thirty-nine are practicing staff in the medical sphere, about 300 are civil servants, more than 2,000 specialists represent the education and science system, 1,200 of which work in Kazakh universities, about 400 are in schools and colleges, whereas 52 form the pedagogic and administrative staff of the five Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools. Seventy-seven are Ph.Ds, 76 are specialists who conduct scientific and research activity in higher education institutions and major scientific-research centres of the country and about 300 are specialists on the scholarly staff of Nazarbayev University.
Every professional has his own path and success story. Many of them have realised their professional potential and continue to make feasible contributions to the development of the economy’s real sector and social fields on a daily basis. Here are some examples: Aizhan Dzhusupbekova – graduate of prestigious Texas University in Oil and Gas Engineering, now serves as oil and gas exploitation engineer at the Kashagan project; Kuanysh Zhasymbek – upon receiving education in Malaysia, specialises in core analysis; Aigul Brimova – a doctor from Hannover Medical Institute and an oncologist applies her knowledge in oncology; Askar Bakhtiyarov is the head of the Neurosurgery department at Shymkent Clinical Hospital; the youngest Bolashak scholar Mariya Mudryak is considered one of the world’s top 10 sopranos and is in great demand by world-leading stages.
Obviously, the scope of the Bolashak programme makes it impossible to talk about every scholar in particular, but in general, it is a great team of professionals forming a strong human resource capacity for the state to realise its priority objectives. The indication of its effectiveness underlays the establishment of the Kazakhstan 2050 Strategy movement on the basis of the Bolashak programme. The nationwide movement is aimed at clarifying basic objectives of the state on its way to becoming one of the world’s most-developed nations.
It is necessary to mention that the programme itself transforms both quantitatively and qualitatively in accordance with the country’s needs, and every transformation is based on the cumulative experience which sets new strategic perspectives. First and foremost, it is the termination of bachelors training since 2011 and the focus shift to master and doctorate programmes, along with the introduction of internships for engineering and medical staff, that have marked recent transformations. Second, the programme has strengthened requirements for foreign partner universities where we send our students. The number of such universities has been reduced to 200 that hold top positions in international rankings. Third, the programme has also shifted to a fundamentally new format of alumni employment. This was preceded by a transfer to a programme-oriented approach to training staff, and since 2012, experts leave for training only in accordance with the target application with job retention and mandatory five-year work obligations upon graduating.
Special attention is also being paid to expanding access to the programme. The President’s initiative of funding up to 3,000 scholarships every year, introduced publicity in 2005 in his state-of-the-nation address, reduced the disproportion in specialists’ professional training and resulted in a significant increase in Bolashak resources. For a number of years, the programme has been expanding its format and providing opportunities for foreign education for our citizens. First, special quotas and categories have been established for applicants: rural youth, civil servants, scientific and training staff, medical and engineering specialists, professionals of art and mass media. Collateral requirements, which presented a major barrier for regional and rural youth, were revised. The problem was solved. Furthermore, the application process was greatly simplified. Applicants received opportunities to submit documents via an e-government portal and Population Service Centres. As a result, the annual index of regional participation has increased up to 40 percent.
Consequently, after strengthening its capacity, the programme is focused on the goal-oriented implementation of Kazakhstan 2050 Strategy objectives. First among those objectives is to provide regions with highly-qualified professionals in accordance with the needs of the national economy and the arrangement of professional internships abroad. Preparing high-demand specialists in the fields of culture, journalism, information technologies, housing and communal services reform, a number of technical and political majors and national security is also a central focus. The need for specialists is determined in conjunction with public authorities and relevant agencies. The Bolashak list of priority majors is compiled with their direct participation. Current statistics show the following: 2,132 scholarship holders are studying in 30 countries around the world, 785 of them are scientific and teaching staff from educational institutions and research centres, 708 are engineers and technical workers, 313 are civil servants, 265 are economists and managers and 61 represent art, mass media and medicine.
It is also important that under the accelerated industrial-innovative development of the country, the emphasis has been put on the support and provision of specialists for the realisation of a second five-year plan of the State Programme of Accelerated Industrial and Innovative Development
Kazakh companies in cooperation with the National Chamber of Entrepreneurs of Kazakhstan offer professional internships for engineers and technical workers under the Bolashak programme. Consequently, effective partnerships have been established with foreign organisations, such as Saekyung Itech Co., LTD in South Korea, European Test Center-Intespace Company, ASTRIUM Space Developments in France, German Society for International Cooperation GIZ, Hewlett Packard (HP), Aleadership in the United States, and others. A lot of senior engineers and technicians of regional enterprises are actively involved in internship programmes. Sixteen specialists from Kazakhstan Temir Zholy and 15 specialists of the Galam Kazakh-French enterprise trained in the field of control and testing of aircraft and systems, as well as 10 experts in the field of information technologies have benefited from these internships. Today, in accordance with a Ministry of Investment and Development of the Republic of Kazakhstan request, 19 specialists are taking internships in mechanical engineering, 13 scholars are studying the theory of flight and spacecraft design, energy conservation and energy efficiency, five and six specialists are training in the fields of chemistry and mining respectively, while six others are studying the field of electronics and electrical engineering. Overall, 292 specialists took internships last year and after two stages of competition this year, 136 internships have been awarded. About 3,500 engineers and technical workers are also expected to be trained from 2014 to 2017.
Increasing the need for ideas and innovations expands opportunities for our young scientists as well. More than 70 Bolashak alumni who received Ph.Ds, are successfully applying their knowledge in the leading scientific centres of our country such as Nazarbayev University, National Science Cardiac Centre, Centre for Earth Sciences, National Centre for Biotechnology, National Medical Holding, Lev Gumilyov Eurasian National University, Al-Farabi Kazakh National University, S. Asfendiyarov Kazakh National Medical University and the M. Aykimbaev Kazakh Scientific Centre for Quarantine Infections. Bolashak alumni are contributing to the creation of innovation clusters around research centres aimed at developing zones of high-tech, knowledge-intensive companies that perform the most complex cardiac surgeries. Nowadays, about 1,500 scholars are studying in the leading universities and research centres of the USA, the UK, Germany, France, Japan, South Korea and Russia within specified academic directions.
Furthermore, in partnership with Nazarbayev University, the pilot project on split-Ph.D. programme implementation was launched this year. The project is targeted at young scientists seeking to obtain Ph.Ds. It will provide the opportunity to accomplish research requirements in Kazakhstan, while studying abroad. The main idea is to conduct national academic research in partnership with leading research centres of the world in many fields of science and breakthrough technologies. In the case of the successful realisation of the project on the split-Ph.D programme at Nazarbayev University, the programme will be applied in other universities as well and will explore new areas of real innovation.
Another important aspect of the Bolashak programme’s modernisation is the improvement of the quality of the applicants’ selection process. Much has been said about the significance of shifting programme indicators from quantitative to qualitative. As a result, English and Kazakh language proficiency level requirements have been raised this year. This enabled applicants to apply for top universities with sufficiently high quality requirements. Moreover, in a short time, language training processes are expected to be optimised as well as new English learning centres will be opened in Astana and Almaty. Beginning in 2015, language courses will be held within a 6+6 model, according to which the first six months of training will take place in Kazakhstan and the next six abroad. This necessity is explained by the intention to integrate into the process of forming a local language basis with international standards.
The visible result of the programme is expressed in the increasing number of successful, educated people that form the Bolashak alumni. It is well known that the Bolashak programme has generated social lifts and continues to form a body of talented Kazakh youth. High-quality education, professionalism, mobility and language skills are keys to their competitiveness and relevance in all areas, whether it is politics, economics or the social sphere.
Overall, it is evident that the initiative of the head of state is paying dividends. By entering the international system of global elite training, Bolashak has become a breakthrough educational project in the field of human capital development and the landmark of Kazakhstan in the humanitarian dimension of the global area.
The author is the Minister of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan.