The committee gave special attention to the importance of the entire S&T community having affordable broadband Internet access. Such access is essential for carrying out research programs, for having access to information sources, and for communicating within the country and internationally. Internet access is increasingly important in educational efforts, particularly in a country as vast as Kazakhstan with schools and universities distant from qualified teachers and professors in specialized fields. And it generally elevates public awareness to the importance of using modern technologies for the benefit of the entire population. Indeed, broadband Internet access has become one of the commonly accepted measures of a nation’s international competitiveness.
Kazakhstan’s performance in this field has been uneven. On the one hand, Kazakhstan, with the help of Russia, has launched its own communications satellite, and it has developed strong information technology (IT) capabilities in connection with its programs in space science. It has developed a fiber optic network to link educational and research institutions in Almaty. It has opened a highly publicized IT techno-park in Almaty to promote commercial and public interest in IT. And it is developing impressive long-distance educational programs at both the primary and secondary levels as well as the university level.
On the other hand, results to date have been limited. Hiring qualified staff at the universities has been very difficult. Most educational institutions have inadequate computer capabilities for researchers or students. The fiber optic network connecting three university campuses in Almaty is vastly underutilized. Modern supercomputers that can provide advanced scientific computational capabilities and connect educational and research institutions internally and to external networks are not available, although Eurasia University is in the process of acquiring a 16 teraflop computer. And national information portals are only in their early stage of development. The hundreds of private firms engaged in software development have yet to demonstrate capabilities that will lead to a strong market niche on the global scene.
Kazakhstan cannot afford to continue to lag behind in this field if its S&T capabilities are to advance at a pace that will attract and retain scientists working in forefront areas of science. Furthermore, if Kazakhstan is to benefit from the rapidly expanding global information infrastructure, which should enable it to export services and assess export markets in many fields, it needs to develop and nurture a talented and flexible workforce that can play a more active role in supporting the government’s priorities within the country and internationally.
Most of the research equipment in the universities and research institutes that committee members visited is out of date. Much is not even operating. Occasionally modern instrumentation is provided by international companies for