The Human Resource Base
This chapter emphasizes the role of the higher education system and related research activities in Kazakhstan in preparing science and technology (S&T) specialists for the nation’s workforce. It only briefly mentions the importance of adequate secondary school preparation, although a strong primary and secondary school system is essential for providing well-qualified applicants to higher education institutions and for promoting general scientific literacy of the general population. These important aspects were beyond the scope of the study.
The National Center for Scientific and Technical Information (NCSTI) has carried out a number of studies of the S&T human resource base of the country. About 13,200 scientists and engineers are involved in research and development (R&D) activities. Supporting personnel, including technicians, number about 5,700. In general, these studies have been quite critical of efforts during the past decade to improve higher education. One report, for example, has concluded that “the growth rate in higher education coverage will not result in rapid economic growth but will be reflected in the loss of public funds and in expectations of the youth that have not come true.”1 Still, such reports exude confidence that the problems impeding rapid progress can be overcome through better strategies, focused priorities, and more effective programs. The Ministry of Education and Science (MES) correctly believes that a talented, motivated, and well-prepared scientific workforce will be an indispensable key for national development.
Turning to the international community for advice, MES called on the World Bank and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in early 2006 for assistance in reviewing the S&T aspects of the higher education system. A report by World Bank, OECD, and MES specialists, working as a team, was to be completed during the fall of 2006. The review was to be carried out in accordance with a comprehensive methodology that the OECD had used in other countries. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Industry and Trade had contracted with the Science Foundation of Ireland to undertake yet another study of higher education, and this effort was under way during the fall of 2006. The study involved distributing questionnaires to dozens of higher education institutions and then carrying out analyses of the responses as background for subsequent visits to selected institutions by two experts and for preparation of their report.
The information-gathering component of the study that led to this report was completed in September 2006. Therefore, the committee did not have an opportunity to review the findings of the other international study efforts. Informal conversations with the specialists involved in these efforts indicated that there will be considerable overlap in the coverage of their reports and the coverage of this report.
The committee was able to make brief visits to only a limited number of educational institutions and to consult with but a few of the many Kazakhstani specialists with responsibilities for improving the education system. NCSTI selected most of the universities and secondary schools that were visited, and these institutions were probably among the best in the country. Consequently, the committee was not in a position to address some aspects of the education system, particularly at the regional and local levels.
At the outset, this chapter presents relevant data and general observations prepared largely by NCSTI about the education system in order to provide a context for discussions that follow in this chapter and in later chapters.2 The on-site observations of committee members and comments to them by a number of Kazakhstani specialists were consistent with the information presented in NCSTI reports and set forth in this chapter. The chapter then raises a few issues concerning the evolution of higher education institutions, the integration of education and research, the special challenges of engineering and medical education, and the importance of international educational opportunities.
THE CHANGING CHARACTERISTICS OF HIGHER EDUCATION3
The number of government higher education institutions increased from 40 in 1992 to 72 in 1994-1995. The number decreased to 56 in 2004-2005 as the result of (1) government efforts to ensure that the quality of all institutions was satisfactory and (2) financial difficulties at some institutions. Nine universities currently have the status of national universities, and 18 serve as regional universities. Five of the higher education institutions are pedagogical institutes. In addition, there are 13 security-related higher education institutions established by the government (negrazhdanski vuzi in Russian) and 80 affiliates of higher education institutions in geographical areas distant from the parent organizations. Five of the affiliates are extensions of higher education institutions in Russia.
Beginning in 1997, private higher education institutions became popular. By 2005, 109 nongovernmental institutions were functioning. All private as well as public institutions have been accredited by the government as discussed below.
In 2004-2005 about 400,000 students were enrolled in government higher education institutions and 344,000 in nongovernmental institutions. About 47 percent of the students were day students. About 53 percent were correspondence students (zaochni in Russian), who spend most of their time off campus but take examinations at the institutions. A very small percentage were evening students. The percentage of day students was significantly higher in governmental institutions than in nongovernmental institutions. As to the language of instruction, nearly 59 percent of the courses were taught in Russian and 40 percent in Kazakh. About 5,700 students studied in English and 3,500 in Uzbek.
In 2004-2005 the teaching staffs of the institutions numbered about 42,000, including 2,700 doctors of science (a degree based largely on a compilation of important research achievements of midlevel and senior scientists) and 12,400 kandidats of science (a degree often equated to a Ph.D. but for which the requirements vary depending on the granting institution). The ratio of students to professors and lecturers is somewhat higher in the nongovernmental institutions.
As to students studying for advanced degrees during this period, 48 governmental higher education institutions, five nongovernmental institutions, and 66 scientific research institutions, not affiliated with higher education institutions, accepted graduate students who were working toward the kandidat degree. For the doctor of science degree, 15 government universities and 23 scientific research organizations accepted scientists who were seeking to expand their education credentials. But as of 2004-2005, only 18 percent of graduate students ever succeeded in obtaining their kandidat degrees, reflecting at least in part
shortcomings in undergraduate preparation together with lack of motivation by the students.
The distribution of students among the eight disciplines used by the government for statistical purposes was roughly even following an upsurge in enrollment in humanitarian, economic, and juridical studies and a decline in enrollment in agricultural and technical studies in recent years. The disciplines are as follows: humanitarian, economic, juridical, agricultural, technical, medical, pedagogical, and scientific.
The criteria used by MES in accrediting higher education institutions and the weight given to each criterion are as follows:
General aspects of the educational program: 11
Technical and sociocultural base for pedagogy: 11
Preparation and qualifications of the faculty: 9
Level of knowledge of the students during the educational process: 13
Scientific capabilities of the institution: 25
Financial condition of the institution: 10.5
Reputation of the institution: 14.5
Student success in national and international competitions: 6
MES officials are concerned about weaknesses in the accreditation process and are attempting to improve both the criteria and the procedures.
Among the weaknesses in the education system that MES has singled out are the following:
Absence of a system for evaluation of higher education activities and lack of qualitative information.
Large exodus of young instructors into the business community.
Aging of professors and senior researchers at higher education institutions.
Poor preparation of teachers for secondary schools.
Lack of responsiveness of education to the needs of the country.
Poor utilization of information technology.
No material means for stimulating quality of institutions or quality of individual faculty members.
Poor quality of advanced technical education.
Too great a dependence on correspondence students.
Many recommendations have been set forth by national and international experts for raising higher education to an international level and for integrating the system with international approaches. Among the most significant recommendations that are being implemented are the following:
Transition from the past system of granting a diploma after about five years of successful higher education and then a kandidat degree after three or more years to a system of bachelor’s-master’s-Ph.D. degrees with times for attaining each degree comparable to times in the United States and Europe, in keeping with the Bologna process of educational harmonization.
Transition from the past system of MES awarding all degrees to a system whereby approved higher education institutions award degrees. In addition, several administrative centers that oversee the independent research institutes are scheduled to have authority to grant the master’s and Ph.D. degrees for work carried out at these institutes.
Transition from financing higher education based solely on funding provided from either the state’s appropriated budget for education or by the students themselves to increased reliance on research-education grants (particularly at the master’s and Ph.D. levels).
Support of a core of strong universities, as reflected in the relatively high level of resources provided to the nine national universities and also in the initiative for an advanced-technology university in Astana (discussed below).
Providing a clear and strengthened vocational track for students who complete 10 years of schooling and who desire to acquire skills that will lead to employment within two to four years.
Finally, with regard to financial support for universities, MES encourages higher education institutions to find innovative ways to increase their incomes. Though funding from the state budget is the primary source of support for state institutions, these as well as the private universities increasingly rely on fees from students who are required to pay their own way, including fees for enrollment in continuing education programs. Also of importance are the renting and leasing of property and equipment belonging to the institutions. In addition, investments by the institutions in stocks and venture funds are identified as a new and important possibility. While the policy of encouraging self-financing holds promise, adequate attention should be given by the government to the implementation of such a policy to help ensure that legitimate financing schemes are developed and carried out while government financing continues to provide for core requirements. Finally, as noted in Chapter 1, government-industry matching grants, perhaps encouraged by tax incentives, also should be considered in strengthening university research capabilities.
Clearly, the foregoing discussion does not touch on several aspects of higher education that will probably be addressed by other international teams. For example, financial aspects of higher education, such as the overhead associated with grant funds, are particularly complicated and controversial. Also, many facilities are in poor condition, and salary levels are generally low. Highlighting the challenge of upgrading education is one report by MES that a large percent-
age of students in the higher education system admit to giving bribes in exchange for favorable grades.
During Soviet times, most of the fundamental research throughout the USSR, including research in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan, was concentrated in the research institutes of the academies of sciences, medical sciences, and agricultural sciences. Applied R&D was carried out in large measure in applied research institutes (previously referred to as industrial branch institutes) and in design bureaus that were subordinate to various ministries and enterprises.
Now the academy structures have been changed in Kazakhstan, and the academies that are currently in place do not manage research institutes. Most of the applied research institutes and design bureaus have been closed. However, there remains a legacy of separation of the universities from many important research activities supported by the government.
Based on the observations of committee members, the research programs at the universities are not as strong as some research programs in the same fields at the independent institutes that formerly were components of the Academy of Sciences. At the same time, the government devotes 20 percent of its R&D budget to higher education institutions. These funds support a large number of research institutes and laboratories embedded in the major universities. Even though these institutes and laboratories are components of the universities, the coupling of their research and education activities does not always seem to be strong. In this regard the universities seldom use their core funding to support research. Since funding is in short supply, the university-based research institutes must respond to government tenders with fundable proposals that may or may not be related to the curricula of the universities.
Sixty percent of the government’s total R&D budget is provided to independent scientific research institutions, including the institutes that had been affiliated with the Academy of Sciences. While many scientists from these institutes give lectures at the universities, these scientists are at times motivated simply by opportunities to supplement their incomes and not by commitments to link education and research. A limited number of graduate students conduct research in these independent institutes, but overall the gap between the universities and the independent institutes is significant.
Committee members visited several research centers of Al Faraby Kazakh National University and K.I. Satpaev Kazakh National Technical University that are reportedly among the most extensive research facilities in the country’s higher education community. Altogether these centers employ hundreds of researchers and cover many disciplines. In these settings, graduate students often play a prominent role as participants in research activities. For these students
the integration of research and education seems good, but they appear to be the exceptions.
While most of the research facilities at public-sector universities that were visited are in poor condition and the equipment is old, the senior researchers whom committee members met nevertheless seemed to be carrying out important research of international interest. Within the institutes of Kazakh National University, publication of research findings is a top priority. At Kazakh National Technical University, applied efforts to improve the performance of engineering and other industrial systems are prominently on display. At both universities the researchers reported considerable success in obtaining research grants from MES and other ministries, although the size of the grants that were reported was small—usually on the order of tens of thousands of dollars with little funding provided for new research equipment.4
At these and other universities, great respect is shown for past recipients of the doctor of science degree; they usually lead both academic and research programs. While the universities are making the transition to the bachelor’s-master’s-Ph.D. model (as noted above), which could eliminate the doctor of science degree, the committee believes that continuing to award this degree is important, even though it is not commonly awarded in the United States or other industrialized countries. The respect for this degree, which had great prestige in the Soviet education system, is understandable and probably well justified. If the degree provides an incentive for senior scientists to document and analyze their accomplishments in their fields of specialization, there is strong justification for the government to continue to recognize it as an important achievement.
Committee members visited the Kazakh-British University, which has impressive research capabilities that have been equipped by a number of private companies. Also, two Kazakhstani companies have their research laboratories on the premises of the university. The Industrial University and the adjacent Metallurgical Institute near Karaganda have an obsolete experimental machinery facility, but there is a newly equipped metallurgy laboratory. The university is strongly oriented toward support of Kazakhstani metal processing enterprises, providing technical support to the plants without charge. The Eurasia University in Astana has an impressive new nuclear accelerator for investigating heavy ions; it should attract the interest of both faculty and students. Each of these examples reflects the importance of modern laboratory facilities as a bridge between education and research, with opportunities to connect with enterprises as well.
Clearly, strengthening the research capabilities of universities throughout Kazakhstan is an essential component of improving higher education in science,
engineering, and medicine. Faculty research activities enrich the environment for the training of students and provide opportunities for hands-on participation by students in research work. Up-to-date equipment and modern research facilities are important, but they are not the only requirements for meaningful research programs. Expanded staffs to handle both pedagogical and research responsibilities are needed. Financial incentives—salary increases, opportunities to travel to international meetings, and in some cases access to housing—are important to attract researchers who can design and lead competitive programs. Also, provision of sufficient copies of basic and advanced textbooks for use by both faculty and students is essential. Easy access to research papers that are published in international journals, facilitated by continuous access to broadband Internet connections, is also a clear requirement for both education and research.
A major challenge facing Kazakhstan is how best to upgrade the research capabilities of its university system given (1) the limitations on qualified faculty members who are currently available and those who may be in the pipeline and (2) financial constraints. As discussed below, the government plans to follow several directions to deploy scientific talent and financial resources that can build on the current array of university research capabilities while also establishing new facilities that attract highly talented Kazakhstani scientists, engineers, and medical professionals. The dual effort of modernizing existing universities and establishing new education-research complexes will be expensive and will take many years to accomplish in a manner that significantly strengthens the nation’s international competitiveness.
At the same time, the deadline set by Kazakhstan’s leadership for the country to enter the ranks of the world’s top 50 most competitive countries is less than 10 years away. The young scientists who will receive their Ph.D. degrees in 2015 are already in secondary school. This short timeline will require quick and decisive changes to upgrade the training of young scientists by preserving and enhancing the country’s research activities.
The government will be confronted with many choices as to education priorities. Clearly, high priority must be given to scientifically sound approaches that are appealing to talented Kazakhstani specialists and to students. Yet balancing the interests of the different generations of specialists will not be easy. Many well-known and highly respected scientists have spent their entire careers developing the older institutions of the country, and their priorities may well be to expand the activities they are currently pursuing. The new generation has far fewer institutional or personal allegiances to past approaches, and new efforts with greater opportunities for professional advancement in the near term may be the enticement that outweighs opportunities to work abroad. All the while, it will be necessary to address the lack of affordable housing near new workplaces, particularly in Almaty and Astana.
Turning to an immediate and highly relevant issue, a proposal heard by the committee several times in Kazakhstan is to bring together the former research
institutes of the Kazakhstan National Academy of Sciences and the universities. These institutes obtained independent status just a few years ago. MES is still trying to find an appropriate administrative structure to manage the affairs and provide for the budgets of the institutes.
The proposal for a merger suggests to many scientists that each institute would become subordinate to a selected university. Few, if any, scientists in these institutes think this is a good idea. Each institute that committee members visited has an impressive history. The scientists at the institutes believe that the capabilities developed during these histories would be degraded if the institutes were combined with universities where the research capabilities are, in their view, often of a lower quality and stature. Of course, they are concerned about degradations in their professional status as well if their institutes are subsumed by the universities.
Most scientists, within and outside the universities, seem to favor close cooperation between the independent research institutes and the universities. Many recognize that an undervalued asset is continued exposure to research in fields that are tangential to but important for their own projects, an opportunity that often characterizes university environments. However, there is now head-to-head competition for research grants. This competition at times discourages transparency in research programs since such transparency might reveal likely themes of future competitive proposals. Indeed, a frequent complaint of researchers who had worked within the Academy of Sciences structure is that now they must share with university researchers government funds that in the past had been earmarked exclusively for the Academy.
The committee recommends that during the next several years the institutes gradually become affiliated with the universities in a way that avoids further disruption of important research activities. The form that this affiliation takes should be worked out by MES in consultation with both the universities and the institutes. But there clearly is a need to bring the research capabilities closer together and to link research more closely with educational programs. As part of the transition, degree-granting authority should become the exclusive purview of universities even when the research leading to a degree is carried out in independent research institutes. However, standards for the degrees should be carefully developed, taking into account that the independent research institutes often impose higher demands than many universities.
At the same time, the government should continue its efforts to encourage through financial incentives the establishment of joint teams involving scientists from the universities and the independent scientific institutes to undertake important research problems, as has already become a tradition for a number of groups. Also, additional teaching opportunities with appropriate financial rewards should be afforded to specialists from the independent institutes. Financial incentives are a strong motivator in this regard. As groups from the two communities become more accustomed to close cooperation in both education and re-
search endeavors, an organizational affiliation might become more desirable and less disruptive in the future.
In summary, the research-education link is crucial if strong S&T capabilities are to be developed. The absence of positive research experience for students undoubtedly contributes to a lack of enthusiasm for S&T careers. While foreign experts can provide advice on how to improve the integration of research and education, visits by Kazakhstani university administrators to Western universities that have successfully addressed this issue would be helpful in promoting changes to the science culture.
Applied Sciences at the Universities
Three initiatives are addressed in this section: (1) the Kazakhstani government’s initiative to establish a new “world-class” technology-oriented university in Astana, (2) the government’s plan to establish 15 technology-specific applied research centers at 15 universities throughout the country, and (3) a committee recommendation to establish a university hospital adjacent to one of the medical universities that will help demonstrate the importance of integrated and improved education, research, and clinical services. A number of other applied science initiatives also are under way at a variety of universities (e.g., establishment of incubators and techno-parks; see Chapter 4), but in considering educational opportunities the committee concentrated on the foregoing three initiatives.
A World-Class University in Astana
The proposed university in Astana is to be constructed during the next several years with instruction beginning by 2010. The university is to offer both undergraduate and graduate programs. The emphasis is to be on education in four high-technology fields, with extensive research facilities embedded in the university to support activities in each field. Two fields being considered are biotechnology and nanotechnology; there apparently is still some uncertainty as to the other fields. Research priorities that may be relevant to the orientation of the university are discussed in Chapter 2.
Recognizing the importance of attracting experienced faculty and staff to lead the administration of the university, to establish high-quality academic programs, and to design cutting-edge research programs, the government plans to select one-half of the professors from the faculties of foreign universities. They will move to Astana for periods of two to three years, or longer. Short-term visiting faculty will also be invited to Astana. For each of the four fields, one or more international partner universities will help guide the design and implementation of both the educational curriculum and the research program.
This initiative of the president of Kazakhstan is an innovative way to provide an important focal point for rapidly developing advanced technological
capabilities. There are many advantages of a new start that is strongly supported by the political leadership of the country. They include (1) the ability to attract faculty members to Astana, including Kazakhstani citizens living abroad, by offering them appropriate salaries and scientific leadership positions; (2) the opportunity for faculty members to design new programs that reflect modern approaches to education and research; and (3) the excitement of students who are participants in frontier research involving respected scientists from abroad working in modern facilities. Taiwan, Japan, and Singapore, for example, have successfully used the prestige of international scientists to inspire local students to become engaged in cutting-edge research.
Of course, there are pitfalls as well. Myriad administrative, pedagogical, and research challenges are entwined within the concept of the new university. The key to success will be the quality and integrity of the faculty and students who are attracted to Astana. The government should maintain very high academic standards for all appointments, beginning with the president of the university, and should not lower these standards in a rush to launch the institution. The government should be patient in arranging for appropriate collaborating international institutions. It should also ensure that the university’s leaders are selected on the basis of educational and research credentials and that students demonstrate outstanding capabilities during acceptance procedures and throughout the educational process. It should insist that both faculty and students abide by an internationally acceptable code of ethical conduct. In short, the university should be corruption-free—academically, administratively, and financially.
The return on this investment will come many years in the future. At least a billion dollars, probably much more, will be needed to build, equip, maintain, and operate the university during the first decade if it is to acquire international recognition as a promising young university. Detailed cost estimates are presumably being carried out by the government, based on both the estimated size and composition of the student body and the research capabilities that are needed to prepare students for appropriate positions in society during the next several decades. It seems clear that extensive computational facilities and large stocks of both large and small research equipment and instrumentation will be essential, and they will constitute a substantial portion of the total cost of establishing and operating the university. These investments will need to be supplemented every few years.
Of course, it is difficult to estimate the actual initial investment costs in research facilities until the leaders of the various laboratories have been selected. These leaders undoubtedly will have their own ideas of how best to equip the laboratories for which they are responsible. After their requirements are accommodated, the final cost estimates for research facilities may significantly exceed the estimates of planners who will not have responsibility for operating the laboratories.
Fifteen Technology Research Centers
The Kazakhstani government plans to establish applied research centers in yet-to-be-selected priority fields at 15 yet-to-be-selected universities. The government describes these centers as “engineering” centers, to be geographically distributed throughout the country. Preliminary selections of the universities and fields of concentration have apparently been carried out by the government, but the committee is unaware of firm commitments to any universities in this regard. Locating the centers in different regions (oblasts) will have considerable political appeal among the leaders of the chosen regions. However, the likely impact on the economy of dividing such a major investment among 15 recipients with untested technological capabilities may not be as great as other approaches.
This concept is part of the proposed reform of the nation’s research system that is intended to focus innovative efforts on specific technologies. These centers are to upgrade the workforce through graduate-level studies and research while also providing strong technology transfer capabilities in fields with significant economic potential. However, upgrading technical education at the graduate level and developing an associated research base with strong linkages to the private sector will be a complicated, expensive, and time-consuming process. Building an effective research base at a large number of universities of uneven quality will simply not be possible in the near term. There are too many administrative, financial, personnel, and technical issues that must be addressed—all subject to questioning by the universities that were not selected.
Illustrating the problem of selecting an appropriate university, Kazakhstan National Technical University was part of the Soviet system of polytechnical universities that were important in developing the technological strength of the USSR. The university continues to attract and graduate well-qualified students who find significant positions in many sectors of the economy. But its staff is aging, its facilities are in poor condition, and its research achievements command less and less attention from the industrial sector. Still, this is probably the best engineering university in the country.
At the same time, the importance of stronger technical capabilities within the university and research systems cannot be underestimated. Committee members heard from many sources about the need for more and better-trained engineers and the opportunities for saving energy, improving food production, developing water resources, and reducing construction costs through better engineering practices. Pricing of major construction works, ensuring the quality of engineering projects, and reducing contamination from industrial processes were among the common comments the committee members encountered. All of these observations point to a need for better technical capabilities.
The government apparently is determined to move forward with the establishment of the new centers. However, there is a need for stronger education and applied research capabilities in a variety of science-based areas, such as the
biomedical, agricultural, and geological sciences as well as in engineering fields. The term “engineering” center seems too restrictive in developing the concept and might be replaced with the term “technology” center.
Even assuming that the concept of engineering centers is broadened to technology centers, the committee is not able to endorse the concept of establishing in the near term 15 new centers at 15 universities to develop advanced technologies. Alternatively, it recommends that the Kazakhstani government focus its major resources on establishing or strengthening three or four centers at particularly strong universities. This initiative would overlap but not duplicate the university initiative in Astana discussed above where the emphasis is to be almost entirely on “breakthrough” technologies. The selected universities would stress the importance of modernizing current approaches to traditional S&T subjects, particularly the systematic use of computational sciences in addressing engineering and other technical challenges. Electrical, mechanical, chemical, and civil engineering would be among the disciplines at the forefront of concerns. Strong involvement by the international community in upgrading both educational and research activities would be very important. Also, the centers should not necessarily be single technology-oriented facilities but in some cases should be able to select several important technologies as focal points for their activities.
Second, the centers should be selected on the basis of a competition open to research institutes as well as universities. In some areas, such as nuclear technology, it is difficult to identify universities which could supply technologies for applications that would be of interest to the leaders in the field. The competition should clarify the extent to which the centers are expected to enhance the international competitiveness of Kazakhstan’s S&T, and criteria should be developed for judging the responsiveness of the applications to this requirement. If there is a compelling need for geographic distribution, the competition could limit the number of centers to be located in any one city.
The foregoing recommendation raises doubts about the overall plan for the five national laboratories that are to be based on the five areas of priority interest that will be determined by the government, with the laboratories providing the umbrellas for the 15 technology centers. This plan should be reconsidered. The national laboratories can still have strong outreach programs to universities throughout the country. But the likelihood seems low of a significant number of regional universities being able to develop strong applied technology programs that would provide new processes or products for businesses in Kazakhstan and internationally in the near future. It is essential to begin on a small scale, striving for excellence; if the initial centers are successful, the plan for 15 centers might be fully implemented over the next decade.
Finally, as suggested above, economics training for engineers and other technical personnel, together with management training that links economics and engineering considerations, is important and should be a key component of the proposed centers. The country will continue to make large investments in
engineering systems in the years ahead. Capabilities to help ensure the selection of the most cost-effective technical choices by both the government and the private sector can have significant economic impacts.
A Model Medical Education Complex
The future role of the medical universities is of particular interest in addressing the integration of education, research, and clinical services. The Ministry of Health (MOH) is responsible for medical education, medical research, and health care services.5
Six medical universities and 20 medical scientific centers are key components of the infrastructure of the public health sector. In the aggregate these institutions cover almost all medical and public health disciplines. In addition, several medical colleges prepare a range of professional and technical specialists, including nurses, dental assistants, laboratory diagnosticians, and optometrists.
The near-term educational goals of MOH include the following:
Creation of an education system that provides clear career paths for entry into medical universities after 12 years of schooling and entry into technical training after 10 or 12 years as appropriate.
Improvement of procedures and requirements for admission of students into higher education with better linkages between admission and (1) education policies and (2) the health needs of the nation.
Restoration of the practical and technical bases of medical higher education institutions, with an emphasis on providing opportunities for training of students in clinical settings through establishment of clinical teaching centers.
Introducing a system for managing the quality of education, including accreditation of medical education organizations in accordance with international standards and with the assistance of international experts.
Introducing a system of independent control of the quality of medical activities, including licensing of all specialists and their recertification every five years.
Strengthening the capabilities to use information technologies and expanding education in foreign languages to better integrate the health care system with international networks.6
Based on committee visits to two medical universities, observations at several clinics, and consultations with MOH officials, achievement of these goals
seems very important but at the same time very challenging. The universities that were visited in Almaty and Astana have good staffs, but they do not have the basic research strengths that are commonplace in well-developed medical schools in many countries. Further, they suffer from a lack of access to English-language journals, and the researchers have little tradition of publishing in English-language journals. Thus, they have difficulty staying abreast of developments in the rapidly moving international mainstream of medical science.
The universities have expressed strong interest in having their own hospitals rather than relying on clinics distant from the educational campuses as locations for student experiences and faculty medical services. It is becoming increasingly difficult for both doctors and students to travel through traffic jams to take advantage of health care facilities distant from the campuses. Consideration should be given to building a new modern hospital adjacent to the campus of one of the strong universities. Such a hospital would not only help improve the current unsatisfactory situation of providing care for the population but would also significantly increase the opportunities for training experiences for students, interns, and residents. And it would generally improve the integration of education, research, and clinical practice. If this kind of teaching hospital were to be as successful as anticipated, a model could be developed from it to eventually be expanded to other universities as well. In time the science-oriented nonmedical universities should also become important components of medical complexes. An important model for such a complex is the recently established King Abdullah University Hospital in Irbid, Jordan, which is on the same campus as a medical school and other departments of the Jordan University of Technology and Science. This approach brings technology to medicine and medicine to technology.
Higher Education Abroad for Kazakhstani Students
According to NCSTI, in early 2006, 21,000 students from Kazakhstan were studying abroad. About 16,000 were enrolled in Russian institutions. These international students were studying many subjects, with business and economics among the most popular. Also, many students apparently were enrolled in science-oriented programs, but detailed statistics were not available to the committee.
The most highly publicized Kazakhstani program for supporting such international studies is the Bolashak (meaning future in Kazakh) program, which began about five years ago. Under this “Presidential” program, the government covers all expenses associated with the higher education of 3,000 students who are abroad at any one time. Thus, as students complete their international studies, perhaps 1,000 per year, they are replaced by new selectees. The participants are enrolled in programs at all levels (bachelor’s, master’s, Ph.D.) at leading universities in many countries. They are selected on a competitive ba-
sis, and the universities of choice must be judged by the government to be leading universities.
Following completion of their studies, participants are required to return to Kazakhstan to work for five years. They are not required to work in their fields of study, and indeed many of the science-oriented students apparently find more attractive positions in business upon return home. For some of these positions, S&T training is undoubtedly useful, but others may have little relevance to S&T backgrounds. To reduce the likelihood of an international brain drain, each student’s family must provide the government with collateral, such as a lien on property, to ensure that the five-year commitment is fulfilled.
Recently, the government decided to give more emphasis to science-related studies in the Bolashak program, and the number of participants in such studies is on the rise. But it is too early to ascertain whether the program will have a significant effect on upgrading the nation’s S&T infrastructure. In principle, it certainly should. However, the reentry conditions must be conducive to encouraging participants to work in S&T fields upon their return to the country.
A less publicized program supports research assignments abroad for about 250 of the most talented young university instructors each year. They too have the freedom of choosing their foreign destinations for postdoctoral studies. Of course, they are expected to return to their university positions in Kazakhstan. The only criticism of this program that committee members heard was the observation that researchers outside the university system could not participate. But a program targeted at university development seems appropriate.
The issue of appropriate employment of students upon their return from studies abroad is a challenge that needs serious attention. Salaries, research facilities where they can use their training, and housing are among the key determinants of whether talented young scientists will remain in science in Kazakhstan wherever they have been trained. One of the major attractions of the advanced technology university to be established in Astana is the opportunity for rapid professional advancement, and government authorities are considering whether housing incentives can be offered. While success of this university is important, the problem of placement of talented young scientists extends across the country.
The committee supports the establishment of postdoctoral grant programs. Grants should be sufficiently generous for students trained abroad to have adequate salaries and appropriate laboratory equipment. Initially, the programs might concentrate resources on returnees from the Bolashak program who have completed their Ph.D. degrees. Then as more government resources become available, the program might be opened to other recent recipients of Ph.D. degrees in Kazakhstan and abroad while creating new junior faculty positions that will help establish viable career paths.
The effectiveness of the Kazakhstani higher education system will continue to be a critical determinant of the country’s future. Kazakhstan is fortunate to have a highly literate population that appreciates the value of education and is proud of the country’s high-technology achievements in the nuclear and space fields. The prospect of benefiting from the increased resources available to the government has been a strong incentive for many Kazakhstani specialists to search for their niches in private business with or without the benefits of higher education. As the economy continues to improve, new professional opportunities for the nation’s children are important motivators for many families, and public support for education at all levels is therefore widespread. According to colleagues in Kazakhstan, interest in S&T education is on the rise.
The government has been establishing a variety of mechanisms to improve the integration of education and research (e.g., upgrading student laboratories, creating programs for students to spend more time in research settings) and to transfer technologies from universities to commercial enterprises (e.g., student internships in companies, university technology transfer offices, incubators). But these mechanisms, however well designed, will be useful only if significant research activities are integrated into the education system and if competitive technologies are developed that are of interest to the commercial sector. Only the human resources that are available in Kazakhstan can ensure that R&D activities are meaningful and that competitive S&T products flow through the system.