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Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects Summary Kazakhstan has an ambitious program to increase its technological competitiveness in the global marketplace during the next few years. At the same time, the government has a wide variety of policies and programs in place that are intended to improve the social and economic well-being of a population of 15.2 million people dispersed over a vast geographical area. Government leaders have emphasized that achieving success both internationally and domestically will depend in large measure on the effectiveness of upgraded science and technology (S&T) capabilities—within the education system, research and development (R&D) institutions, and Kazakhstani production companies and service organizations. S&T-related activities permeate all sectors of the economy. Given the constraints on time and financial resources available to complete the present study, the National Research Council committee that was responsible for this report focused on a limited number of S&T activities in Kazakhstan. Still, the report identifies important opportunities and limitations in achieving more effective development and use of S&T in a variety of areas. While other aspects of S&T deserve further analyses, the conclusions and recommendations of this report, together with related conclusions of analyses by the Ministry of Education and Science (MES) and other ministries, should help a number of governmental organizations with strong interests in S&T chart the future course of the country. CONTEXT FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF S&T CAPABILITIES Kazakhstani officials have correctly concluded that the country’s long-term economic well-being will depend in large measure on how wisely its financial
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Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects resources are invested in the development of nonoil sectors of the economy and in promotion of sustainable, broad-based economic growth. The country needs to make the transition from producing and exporting primarily unprocessed raw materials to producing and exporting more knowledge-intensive, value-added goods and services, but this transition will take many years. Upgraded S&T capabilities in both the public and the private sectors are essential in moving forward in this regard. However, during the next few years, Kazakhstan has no choice but to rely heavily on foreign technologies to operate and modernize its industrial base and to serve the requirements of its population. The government must balance the urgent need to strengthen its industrial base through the use of imported technologies with a comparable need to support the rapid development of a capability to generate its own technologies. Thus, the government should support through financial, tax, regulatory, procurement, and other mechanisms the educational and S&T infrastructures necessary for the development in Kazakhstan of technology-intensive goods and services for the Kazakhstani and world markets. At the present time, however, few industrial companies show interest in the products of local R&D activities. Thus, the future technological needs of companies do not usually play a role in determining the focus of research programs, particularly within public-sector institutions. In the absence of the development of greater “market pull” for technological innovations, the likely success of most technology transfer programs will remain low. Governmental policies such as those noted above that encourage companies to invest in innovation, either in their own laboratories or through outsourcing tasks to R&D institutions, are essential. MES, other ministries, and many S&T institutions have documented these and other problems that inhibit effective development and application of S&T. Of critical importance, all reports that have been available to the committee underscore the fact that the number of talented and well-trained students who pursue S&T careers in Kazakhstan following completion of their studies is inadequate. This loss of S&T-oriented talent is due in large measure to low salaries, poor laboratory facilities, and housing difficulties that inhibit mobility, along with the attractions of working abroad or entering private business in Kazakhstan. At the same time, many well-established researchers must cope with outmoded laboratory equipment and limitations on financial support that inhibit their personal growth and their contributions to national development. Unfortunately, the coupling of research with education is often weak. For example, universities are not able to take full advantage of the research capabilities of the 25 independent research institutes that had formerly been under the management of the National Academy of Sciences of Kazakhstan. This is due to a variety of factors, including (1) the long history of organizational separation; (2) higher levels of scientific development in most of the institutes and the lack of interest of their scientists in a university environment; and (3) competition
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Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects among the educational and the independent research institutions for limited government resources, which discourages early sharing of concepts. APPROACHES TO UPGRADING S&T CAPABILITIES Against this background the committee reached the following conclusions: Considerable time will be required to reach the ambitious goals of the country. Progress is dependent on many factors in addition to the availability of financial resources. In particular, the pace of financial investments should be consistent with the development of human resources that can use the investments effectively. The Kazakhstani government faces a continuing challenge of choosing between investments in (1) upgrading existing S&T institutions, complexes, or laboratories and (2) replacing or supplementing these institutions, complexes, or laboratories with new facilities. Each approach will have certain advantages in specific situations, and the government needs to draw on objective expertise, domestically or internationally, to identify and assess the advantages and difficulties associated with each approach. Intense interest by the country’s leadership in the potential economic payoffs from development of “breakthrough” technologies seems to have pushed the importance of modernizing established technologies into the background. In the near term, upgrading established technologies will often have higher payoffs than attempting to introduce entirely new products and processes into uncertain domestic or international commercial markets. The government has ambitious plans to expand R&D activities so that new products and new processes can be developed in Kazakhstan, but comparable attention should be given to the importance of S&T services (e.g., health care, standards, geological mapping) that have been and should continue to be provided to government organizations, the private sector, and the general public by technology-oriented institutions. The government and R&D institutions should make special efforts to help ensure that researchers are linked to potential users of the results of research early in the R&D cycle. At the same time, the government should promote programs to educate the S&T community on recently enacted patent legislation concerning government-funded R&D that provides the researchers’ institutions with ownership of the intellectual property rights. The government should provide incentives for young entrepreneurs to take risks in setting up small innovative firms, such as tax incentives, opportunities to lease research equipment when necessary, and access to incubators. While the government’s commitment to taking advantage of international experience and expertise is laudable, the selection of international advisers should be made with care, assuring that they are not only experienced in their
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Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects fields of interest but also are sensitive to the realities of carrying out activities in Kazakhstan. Prior to engaging international advisers, the relevant government offices should clearly identify the tasks and scope of the results that are expected. Procurement offices throughout the government of Kazakhstan regularly make decisions as to whether to import products or equipment with embedded technologies or to purchase such products or equipment that are or could be produced or assembled in Kazakhstan. As Kazakhstan continues to develop its industrial base, the government should have a consistent policy as to the extent to which Kazakhstani organizations should be given special consideration in competing with foreign organizations for government contracts. This policy should recognize the importance of procurements that enable Kazakhstani institutions to use their S&T capabilities and to link these capabilities with users of the results of their research. Kazakhstani officials, in their presentations to political leaders, emphasize the simplicity of a linear model that depicts the movement of an idea from basic research to applied technology to design and development and then to a successful process, product, or service. But the steps are seldom discrete, and the overall process is not simple. While some key officials recognize this reality, others may not. Furthermore, the process of developing a product does not necessarily lead to a successful business, and a substantial failure rate for businesses, particularly technology-intensive businesses, should be anticipated. The committee has several recommendations as to S&T policy: The committee is concerned about the intention of the Kazakhstani government to consolidate the administration of all government R&D funds under MES. Before such consolidation is implemented, careful analyses should be carried out of the possible negative impacts on the capabilities of other ministries to draw on and effectively nurture the technical expertise of the R&D institutes for which they are responsible. The Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources (MENR) has limited in-house capability to assess oil, gas, and mineral reserves as a basis for setting development and extraction policies and for negotiating and controlling the activities of national and international companies operating in the country. The current approach of reliance on short-term contracts, awarded on a competitive basis, to provide authoritative natural resources information is not adequate, given the large financial stakes involved. MENR needs a strong resources assessment unit within its organizational structure that can help guide the development and use of hydrocarbon and solid mineral resources in a consistent and sustained manner. The government should encourage foreign investors to satisfy “local content” requirements through the use of products based on local R&D activities
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Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects and the use of services provided by highly skilled Kazakhstani S&T specialists rather than using only low-technology local products and low-skill services to satisfy these requirements while importing S&T-intensive goods and services. INITIATIVES IN RESEARCH AND EDUCATION Turning to developments within the universities and research institutes, the committee has reservations about the Kazakhstani government’s plan to establish 15 applied technology centers in specialized technical fields at 15 universities of uneven quality in various regions of the country. These technology centers would be components of five central national laboratories that are planned. The importance of stronger education, applied research, and technology transfer capabilities in a number of disciplines is clear, and the committee recognizes the political appeal of the distribution of technology centers within selected universities in regional cities. However, the committee recommends an alternative approach. This approach calls for concentrating available resources within three or four technology centers and expanding to a larger number in several years if the initial centers are successful in bridging the gap between research and commercial applications. Also, the locations of the centers should be determined on the basis of open competitions that would not be limited to applications from only universities. If geographic distribution is important, a constraint on the competitions could be a limit on the number of technology centers that could be located in any one city. Other aspects of higher education are also of considerable importance. As the universities make the transition to the bachelor’s-master’s-Ph.D. degree system, the awarding of the degree of doctor of science should continue and should be widely recognized as a significant scientific achievement. Stronger integration of research and higher education activities should receive priority. In particular, the 25 research institutes that had been components of the Academy of Sciences should gradually become affiliated with the universities during the next few years in a way that avoids further disruption of important research programs. Finally, one or more new grant programs to support postdoctoral scientists at universities, research institutes, and other appropriate institutions should be established, with particular emphasis on using such programs to encourage scientists trained abroad to become researchers in Kazakhstan. The Ministry of Health has under its jurisdiction a number of medical universities and research centers. However, the universities concentrate almost entirely on classroom education activities. Research centers that are separate from the universities are primarily interested in applied research and publish their research results primarily in Russian-language journals with limited international circulation. Also, clinics are distant from the universities. Establishment of a modern hospital as a component of one of the medical universities and located adjacent to the university, together with an expanded emphasis on basic research
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Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects at the university, could serve as a model for significantly improving opportunities for students, researchers, and practitioners to participate routinely in a broad range of education, medical research, and health care activities. As to research at the agricultural universities and institutes, linkages with international research centers are particularly important. Kazakhstan and other countries with institutions involved in international networks already benefit from the linkages to Kazakhstani institutions. The orientation of agricultural research toward highly applied activities is appropriate in the near term. In the longer term, greater emphasis should be given to basic research, particularly in the universities. The foregoing comments highlight the significance of higher education as a critical determinant of the technology future of Kazakhstan. The country is fortunate in having a highly literate population that appreciates the value of education and that is eager to expand on the country’s advanced technological achievements in the nuclear and space fields. Sound policies are of course important, and continued economic growth can provide much-needed resources. But only with competent and committed scientists, engineers, and health care professionals will Kazakhstan be able to reach the ambitious goals that have been set. The Bolashak program that provides government financial support for 3,000 students studying at leading universities abroad at any given time reflects the commitment of the government to strengthening the human resource base of the country. S&T PRIORITIES The Kazakhstani government should give special emphasis to several types of activities that cut across the entire range of S&T programs, particularly the following: Universal broadband access to the Internet by members of the S&T community. Appropriate modern equipment throughout the research laboratories. Maintaining the high level of pedagogy in mathematics, physics, biology, chemistry, and the earth and atmospheric sciences. Economics training and research. Professional scientific societies, industrial associations, and academies of science and engineering. Standards and quality control. Publication in English-language journals. Ethics for S&T-related activities. Turning to specific S&T areas that deserve priority, the committee developed the following criterion for judging their importance:
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Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects Within the area of interest, Kazakhstan has or could have in the next five years the technical leaders and the human and physical resources that are necessary to carry out R&D programs and/or provide S&T services that could contribute in a major way to the social and/or economic progress of the country. Such progress could over time be measured through (1) increased profits for Kazakhstani exporters of products based on R&D achievements or for providers of S&T services for foreign clients, (2) attraction of new domestic and foreign investments in Kazakhstan that utilize the R&D results or S&T services of local organizations, and/or (3) improved well-being of the general population as a result of the R&D products or S&T services. At the same time, expanded government support of the priority area of interest should (1) increase significantly the attractiveness of educational opportunities within the country that have the potential of leading to important S&T-oriented careers for highly talented young people and (2) enhance the prestige of Kazakhstani S&T within the country and internationally. With this criterion in mind, the committee recommends that the government of Kazakhstan give priority to the S&T aspects of the areas listed below, with the understanding that priorities should be reviewed periodically, perhaps every three years. There may be other areas of particular importance that the committee did not have an opportunity to address, such as the following: Nuclear science and technology: assessment of nuclear power facilities; radioecology; uranium mining. Biomedical science and technology: disease surveillance and prevention; cancer therapies; natural products chemistry; orthopedic devices. Agricultural S&T: cereal grain production; livestock productivity; nutrition. Hydrocarbon resources: chemical engineering; catalysis; assessment of reserves; environmental protection. Minerals: metallurgy; assessment of ore deposits; environmental protection. Construction: seismic-resistant structures; construction materials. Water science and technology: irrigation systems; monitoring and assessment of water quantity and quality; protection and remediation of water quality. Finally, hundreds of S&T-intensive programs are under way that involve specialists from Kazakhstan and neighboring countries. Given the long tradition of regional cooperation, the committee recommends expanding regional efforts in several areas that would be of economic as well as S&T benefit to Kazakhstan. Specifically, regional cooperation in the management of transnational water resources is increasingly important. Surveillance for human and animal diseases that are endemic to the region or that could enter the region is of great
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Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects concern. Educational experiences for foreign students in public health education and associated research facilities in Kazakhstan could strengthen important professional ties. Finally, the new advanced-technology university in Astana offers an opportunity to attract future scientific leaders from neighboring countries where Kazakhstan hopes to have markets for its high-technology products of the future.
Representative terms from entire chapter: