Nazarbayev gives eponymous university unprecedented autonomy

January 20. Central Asia Newswire

By Hal Foster

Nazarbayev gives eponymous university unprecedented autonomyPresident Nursultan Nazarbayev yesterday signed legislation that gives the new university named for him unprecedented independence in setting academic policy.

The legislation, which both houses of Parliament passed unanimously, gives Nazarbayev University “special status.” That means the university does not have to follow Education Ministry regulations on programs, curriculum and other matters.

University administrators have noted, however, that they plan to maintain a close working relationship with the ministry.

Nazarbayev University is the first institution of higher education in Kazakhstan to obtain special status.

The autonomy that the legislation authorized will be a key to achieving the president’s mandate that the institution become one of the best in the world, university administrators have said.

The objective of the legislation is to enable the university, whose first group of 486 students started classes last fall, to adopt Western educational standards that it believes are necessary for it to become a truly international institution.

Some standards in the United States, Great Britain and other Western countries clash with Kazakhstan standards, which are rooted in the Soviet educational system.

A university should be able to choose programs that meet market demand, said Aslan Sarinzhipov, chair of the university’s project management team.

“It should be able to introduce programs and curriculum on its own, control the quality of its education on its own and should be responsible for the diploma that it is issues,” he said.

University College of London developed Nazarbayev University’s first year of classes. It also hired Western-educated professors as teachers.

The university will have other Western partners, including the University of Wisconsin, Duke University and Carnegie Mellon University, playing key roles in its academic programs as well.

The granting of this “special status” is unusual for Kazakhstan.

The Almaty-based Kazakhstan Institute of Management, Economics and Strategic Research, or KIMEP, sought special status for years because its Western-style approach clashed with Education Ministry guidelines.

A few years ago, in fact, the ministry failed to reaccredit KIMEP before relenting. And last year it suspended the university’s license for a few weeks.

Special status would have prevented both the reaccreditation and the licensing-suspension problems, but KIMEP’s administrators have never been able to get the legislation through Parliament.

President Nazarbayev has championed the internationalization of Kazakhstan education – both at the school level and the university level – and Kazakhstan has made rapid progress in that direction in the past decade.

Special status at Nazarbayev University will underscore the country’s commitment to internationalization.

Kadisha Dairova, the university’s vice president of academic policy, said recently that the university considered itself a partner of the Education Ministry, and that wouldn’t change once it obtained special status. “We learn from them, and they learn from us,” she said.

She also said one of Nazarbayev University’s missions is to be a catalyst for educational innovation, sharing inventive ideas with other educational institutions.

The new education minister, Bakhytzhan Zhumagulov, has shown he believes in the international path that Nazarbayev University is taking.

Zhumagulov, who assumed his post three months ago, helped internationalize Almaty-based Kazakh National University, the country’s oldest and most prestigious institution of higher education.

During his two years at KazNU, he introduced programs with international components, hired several full-time foreign professors for the first time and made a number of other internationalizing moves.

Zhumagulov then organized an important national conference in Karaganda in June on Kazakhstan’s efforts to embrace the Bologna Process, a European educational reform movement that many non-European countries have adopted.