5. Strengthening the governance of the skills system in Kazakhstan

Effective governance arrangements are central to effective skills policies and creating a resilient skills system. The skills policy priorities discussed in the previous chapters will only realise their full potential if accompanied by supportive governance arrangements. The policy responses to the economic crisis resulting from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic also require strong governance arrangements, as many challenges of Kazakhstan’s skills system might be exacerbated.

For the purpose of this chapter, skills policies refer to the set of measures to improve the development and use of skills throughout the life course. Policy areas related to the development of skills include compulsory schooling, vocational education and training (VET), higher education (HE), training for enterprises and adult learning opportunities. Policy areas related to the use of skills include activation policies, such as active labour market programmes (ALMPs) and policies to disseminate better management and work practices in workplaces.

Skills policies contribute to societal as well as economic goals by both fostering economic development, as evidenced through key indicators like wages, productivity, growth and export performance, and reducing unemployment and wage inequality (OECD, 2020[1]).The governance of skills policies is therefore complex, involving a wide range of actors in the provision, financing, reform and day-to-day administration, from different levels of government to stakeholders such as employers, employees, their associations, education and training providers, representatives of civil society and local communities.

To manage their complex interactions, effective governance needs to be multilevel and agile. Multilevel governance involves creating a set of arrangements for making binding decisions that engage a multiplicity of interdependent actors at different levels of territorial aggregation through continuous negotiation, deliberation and implementation (Schmitter, Wiener and Diez, 2018[2]). Agile governance enables policy makers to rapidly gather input from a variety of stakeholders to design cross-cutting policy solutions (World Economic Forum, 2019[3]). The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of having agile governance arrangements, as different ministries in Kazakhstan, as in other countries, have had to quickly design policies to solve shared challenges, such as supporting access to learning opportunities and skills activation. Agile governance arrangements will also prove crucial to increase the resilience of the skills system in the context of megatrends, such as digitalisation, by enabling Kazakhstan to rapidly adapt to new circumstances (World Economic Forum, 2019[3]).

The OECD Skills Strategy 2019 (OECD, 2019[4]) identifies four pillars on which well-functioning governance arrangements are built (see Figure 5.1). These four pillars can be seen as enabling conditions for other skills policy areas (OECD, 2019[4]):

  • The first pillar captures co-ordination across the whole of government (a “whole-of-government approach”). This includes “vertical” co-ordination between different levels of government as well as “horizontal” co-ordination between different departments of government that are either directly responsible for skills policy or impact on skills policies. It also captures whether horizontal and vertical co-ordination are supported by effective assessment and monitoring practices.

  • The second pillar emphasises the importance of stakeholder engagement in skills policies. These non-governmental stakeholders include employers and their associations, trade unions as well as education and training providers, students, and the voluntary and community sector.

  • The third pillar recognises that an integrated information system to assess (future) skills needs is necessary to cope with the inherent complexity and uncertainty present in skills policy.

  • The final pillar captures the necessity of aligning and co-ordinating financing arrangements within skills policy.

Given its particular importance in Kazakhstan’s context, building an effective skills information system is discussed separately in Chapter 4. This chapter focuses on the three remaining pillars: promoting co-ordination and co-operation across the whole of government; engaging stakeholders throughout the policy cycle; and aligning and co-ordinating financing arrangements. This chapter first provides an overview of Kazakhstan’s skills governance system and performance across these three pillars. Subsequently, it identifies opportunities that can help Kazakhstan to strengthen the governance of its skills system, based on desk research and discussions with government and stakeholder representatives (participants) consulted during the OECD Skills Strategy project.

Several ministries and government bodies play a role in skills policies in Kazakhstan, as in OECD countries and other countries (see Figure 5.2). The direction of skills policies is set by the president and the government through the Prime Minister Office. As described in Chapter 2, the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of the Population (MLSPP) leads national policy formulation related to skills activation through active labour market programmes. Within the MLSPP, the Workforce Development Centre (WDC) is in charge of providing information and analytical support for public policies to regulate the labour market and implement active measures to promote employment, methodological support for local employment authorities and employment centres. As discussed in Chapter 3, the Ministry of Education and Science (MOES) is responsible for implementing a unified state policy in the field of education, while the Ministry of National Economy (MNE) leads and co-ordinates policies to support industrial development, which can contribute to increasing the intensity of skills use in workplaces.

The MLSPP supervises the design and implementation of the National Qualifications System (NQS) in co-operation with the MOES, other ministries and social partners. The Prime Minister Office is in charge of co-ordinating the development of the NQS through the National Council for Development of Social and Labour Sector (NCDSLS) established in December 2019, which is chaired by the deputy prime minister and includes vice ministers from all ministries. According to legislation, this council should also be responsible for co-ordination in the spheres of social protection of the population and in the development of the labour market.

As described in Chapter 1, the different ministries develop state programmes to deliver the objectives set by the president and the government through the Kazakhstan 2050 strategy. For instance, the MLSPP has taken the lead on the State Programme of Productive Employment and Mass Entrepreneurship Development 2017-2021 (Enbek) to promote skills activation, especially among vulnerable groups (see Chapter 2). The Ministry of Finance (MF) is responsible for funding the national programmes and for approving annual budgets related to education and skills policies. As well as implementing policies to support industrial development, the MNE co-ordinates the development of the state budget and oversees the co-ordination and monitoring of the national programmes.

At the local level, Kazakhstan is divided into 14 regions (oblystar), which are further split into 177 districts (akimats). Subnational authorities consist of local branches of the MLSPP and MOES and local representative bodies (maslikhats), and are mainly responsible for implementing policies as specified in the state programmes. The Kazakhstan 2050 strategy foresees the need to decentralise decision making from central to local government to improve accountability and better reflect regional differences. However, according to stakeholders, limited progress has been made on this decentralisation agenda.

As in other countries, non-governmental stakeholders in Kazakhstan, such as representatives of civic society, employers and trade unions, play an important role in skills policies.

Since 2019, representatives from local communities, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and media meet in the National Council of Public Trust to voice public opinion or to provide recommendations on ongoing reforms related to skills policy development, as well as other policy areas, at the presidential level.

The role of employers and trade unions in policy development is recognised in legislation. The National Chamber of Entrepreneurs (NCE or Atameken) accredits industry associations that can officially engage with government ministries on behalf of their members. These industry associations mainly represent the interests of large enterprises. According to the existing legislation, trade unions can engage in policy development by participating in consultations with government officials and employers at the national, regional and sectoral levels. At the national level, according to legislation, consultations on policy development should happen within the Tripartite Republican Commission, which includes no more than seven representatives of the Kazakhstan Government, trade unions and employers. Representatives from the NCE, the Federation of Trade Unions (FTU) and sectoral associations also sit in the recently established NCDSLS.

Employers play an important role in policy implementation, especially in vocational and education training (VET) and policies to promote entrepreneurship and skills use in enterprises. The NCE takes part in the accreditation of VET institutions, conducts independent qualification certification and plays an important role in the development of education materials and curricular framework for VET. The NCE also supports the MNE in the implementation of policies to promote innovation and growth by facilitating interactions between MNE and enterprises at the national and regional levels (see Chapter 3).

To strengthen employer involvement in the education and training system, Kazakhstan has taken two additional steps in the last few years. First, the MOES and MLSPP signed a memorandum of understanding with the NCE in 2014, which made it possible to establish dual education programmes and employer-led VET training centres and schools. Second, the Government of Kazakhstan has passed legislation to introduce public-private partnerships (PPPs), which have been found to be an effective way to facilitate co-operation between employers and educational institutions on skills development, especially in the case of VET and adult learning (ETF, 2020[5]). For the purpose of this report, PPPs indicate mechanisms for co-ordinating action and sharing responsibility between public and private stakeholders in skills, with a view to formulating, designing, financing, managing or sustaining engagements of common interest (ETF, 2020[5]). Kazakhstan’s law on public-private partnership (with amendments and additions as of 3 April 2019) sets the rights and obligations of public and private partners, state regulation in the field of PPPs, forms of participation in PPPs, general provisions by definition of a private partner and features of legal regulation.

As in other countries, employers also play a crucial role in the development of the NQS (see Box 5.1 for a definition). As well as in the NCDSLS, employer representatives sit in the sector skills councils (SSCs), which are in charge of developing Sectoral Qualification Frameworks (SQFs). As in many other countries, Kazakhstan has developed a National Qualifications Framework (NQF) to help employers and other stakeholders develop SQFs, occupational standards and educational programmes. The NQF is aligned to the European Qualifications Framework (EQF) and includes eight levels. As in the EQF, outcomes are divided into three groups: knowledge, abilities, competencies and ability to describe theoretical knowledge; practical and technical skills; and social competencies.

In Kazakhstan, public expenditure accounts for a substantial share of total expenditure on education policies. According to data from the World Bank, public expenditure accounted for 85% of spending on primary, secondary and tertiary education in 2018 (World Bank, 2020[7]). The allocations of public expenditure across different ministries are conducted through the Ministry of Finance’s Budget Committee. The Budget Committee approves state and programme budgets (such as for Enbek programme) on an annual basis, with a three-year rolling forecast. For education policies, the MOES distributes the funding according to funding formulas and state grants, but the process differs across level of education, as in other countries. For primary, secondary and VET, the MOES distributes funding to local authorities, which then allocates it to the institutions. For tertiary education, the MOES distributes the funding directly to institutions through a funding formula and to students through state scholarships.

There is limited information on the financing of adult learning opportunities (see Chapter 3). As described in Chapters 2 and 3, the MLSPP funds the Enbek programme, which provides learning opportunities for vulnerable groups, such as the unemployed, workers younger than 29, self-employed and individuals with no formal education, whereas companies are responsible for organising their own training depending on the size and capacity of their business. Large firms, which account for more than 50% of total formal employment, often establish their own training centres to meet the sector’s needs at their own expense, whereas smaller firms often struggle (see Chapter 3). As discussed in Chapter 2, local authorities receive funding from the MLSPP to implement ALMPs. The amount of the transfer is proportional to the size of the local active populations but is often adjusted to reflect specific regional development priorities.

Effective horizontal and vertical co-operation and collaboration arrangements are crucial to ensure that countries develop and implement policies that are coherent, mutually reinforcing (i.e. complementary to each other) and sufficiently flexible to be able to deal with new challenges (OECD, 2020[1]). Even if effective collaboration and co-operation arrangements are in place, countries also need effective monitoring and evaluation mechanisms in place to assess the functioning of the skills system (OECD, 2020[1]).

Kazakhstan has room for improvement in both dimensions. First, as in other formerly centrally planned economies, Kazakhstan has inherited a top-down governance model that leaves little room for extensive horizontal co-ordination in policy development and implementation (OECD/The World Bank, 2015[8]; ETF, 2020[9]). In the last few years, there has been a transition towards a more inclusive governance model with increasing exchange and dialogue among government ministries and between central and local government (UNESCO, 2020[10]). However, there are no systemic institutional arrangements to guide horizontal co-operation and collaboration on skills policies. Co-operation and collaboration seem to take place on an ad hoc basis through formal mechanisms such as memorandums, based on synergies created by certain projects or in the context of ambitious policy goals, such as the development of the dual VET system. The recent introduction of the NCDSLS could increase co-ordination and co-operation among ministries, but it will require some adjustments (see Opportunity 1). Similarly, there are no effective mechanisms for vertical co-ordination and co-operation between central and local government. This might help explain why some government programmes, such as the Enbek programme often fail to take into account the needs of more remote regions (see Chapters 2 and 3).

These insights are corroborated by the work of the European Training Foundation (ETF), which has undertaken considerable analysis on the governance of the VET system (ETF, 2019[11]). As part of its ongoing work with partner countries, ETF governance experts have assessed the strength of horizontal and vertical governance arrangements for the VET system for four countries in Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan). The ETF framework ranks the performance of countries across four categories: “low”, “medium”, “high” or “outstanding”. Kazakhstan scored medium on both dimensions, while the other three countries scored low. This suggests that, although Kazakhstan has considerable room for improving VET horizontal and vertical governance, it could still be considered as a leading performer in the region (ETF, 2019[11]).

Second, when it comes to assessment and monitoring practices, Kazakhstan has room for improvement. There are limited resources for the assessment and monitoring of government policies, and very few evaluations are carried out across the different areas of the skills system. As remarked in Chapter 2, evaluations on the impact of ALMPs are not common in Kazakhstan, making it difficult to understand which programmes deliver the best value for money. Similarly, there is limited evidence on the effectiveness of different adult learning programmes (see Chapter 3). The work by the ETF also confirms that the lack of systematic monitoring and assessment applies to VET policies (ETF, 2020[9]). Kazakhstan has also struggled in designing an effective system of quality assurance for non-formal educational institutions (see Chapter 3), schools, VET colleges and HE institutions (OECD, 2017[12]; ETF, 2020[9]; OECD, 2020[13]).

Engaging non-governmental stakeholders is an effective instrument to support policy makers in dealing with the inherent complexities of skills policies. Stakeholders contribute valuable information to the development of skills policies that is difficult for policy makers to access themselves. For instance, non-government stakeholders have experience regarding the real-world effects of policies and regulations, which might be quite different from the steering effects that governmental policy makers initially intended (OECD, 2020[1]). Engaging stakeholders in policy development can also contribute to increased trust and transparency in decision making (OECD, 2020[1]). Stakeholders can then play an important role in supporting policy implementation. For example, employers can provide adult learning opportunities in the workplace (see Chapter 3) or apprenticeships to young people through dual education (OECD, 2020[1]).

Engaging non-governmental stakeholders, such as employers and trade unions, is particularly important to support the development of the NQS because they can provide information on what skills are required across different qualifications and occupations (ETF, 2017[14]). The analysis gathered by the OECD team suggests that Kazakhstan should better co-ordinate stakeholder engagement in the development of the NQS.

Fuelled by the need to develop high-quality qualifications that could meet labour market demand, Kazakhstan has made substantial progress in the development of the NQS over the past decade. With support from the World Bank, Kazakhstan launched projects for the targeted development of occupational standards, which led to the creation of around 36 SQFs (UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning, ETF and Cedefop, 2015[15]). These SQFs have been consolidated into the national system, however the system is still fragmented and not yet fully utilised. This fragmentation contributes to weak linkages among the VET and HE sectors in the Kazakh NQF. The levels 6-8 form a sub-system managed by HE institutions, which are bound to implement the Qualifications Framework for the European Higher Education Area (QF-EHEA). This is necessary as Kazakhstan joined the Bologna process in 2011 (UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning, ETF and Cedefop, 2015[15]).

More broadly, Kazakhstan has the potential to improve stakeholder engagement throughout the policy cycle, both in policy development and implementation.

Kazakhstan has already made progress in strengthening stakeholder engagement in policy development in recent years (UNESCO, 2020[10]). It has made increasing use of dialogue and stakeholder co-operation practices, engaging civil society and citizens in public consultations (UNESCO, 2020[10]). For example, the National Council of Public Trust meets regularly to discuss ongoing reforms and offer new initiatives related to skills policies, as well as other policy areas. A meeting in June 2019 was focused on discussion around human capital development and further reformation of the education sector (Akorda, 2020[16]).

Employers and trade unions have also been increasingly active trying to shape the direction and implementation of skills policies. According to the consultations conducted by the OECD team during the OECD Skills Strategy project, the NCE has a strong reputation and is actively involved in the policy debate on developing and using skills. The OECD team also found that trade unions have a strong willingness and motivation to become more involved in the skills policy debate. For example, the latest strategy by the FTU places a strong emphasis on improving co-operation with government and employers in the development of the NQS and ensuring that education meets the needs of the labour market.

However, there seem to be two barriers to creating effective stakeholder engagement in policy development. First, the approach to stakeholder engagement to inform policy development needs to be more unified and systematic, especially in the case of employers and trade unions. Discussions with employers and trade unions seem to happen on an ad hoc basis, without a coherent and structured process. The recent introduction of the NCDSLS could provide a platform to engage employers and trade unions in policy development, but it will require some adjustments (see Opportunity 1). Second, policy makers in ministries need to collectively shift their mindsets when it comes to their understanding of the role of stakeholders and how best to engage with them. Specifically, they need to transition from viewing stakeholder perspectives as external demands that need to be managed to viewing them as contributions made in the common public interest. As well as generating better policy outcomes, this could also contribute to improving the transparency and accountability of skills policies, which has been signalled as an issue by many active stakeholders in the country.

When it comes to improving stakeholder engagement in policy implementation, Kazakhstan could strengthen employer involvement in the provision of VET and adult learning opportunities (see Chapter 3). As discussed in Chapter 3, large employers could strengthen the intensity of training and better incorporate foundational and soft skills in their training programmes, whereas more small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) could engage in training. In the case of VET, there is potential to expand the role of dual education. Following the memorandum of understanding signed in 2014, Kazakhstan has started to make progress in the implementation of the dual system of technical education. However, so far only 10% of VET students are enrolled on a dual track, which is still far from the objective of creating “a core of a national system of dual technical and professional education” stated in the Kazakhstan 2050 strategy (ETF, 2020[9]). PPPs could play an important role in making further progress in these two areas by offering a framework to organise co-operation between public and private actors (ETF, 2020[5]).

Aligning and co-ordinating financing arrangements is crucial for an effective skills policy. First, countries should provide adequate resources for skills policies by setting long-term budgetary goals and distributing them effectively. When distributing these resources, they then need to bear in mind equity, as well as efficiency considerations. Second, countries should diversify financing arrangements by tapping into multiple sources of funding, for instance, from employers, to complement public funding raised from taxation (OECD, 2020[1]).

Kazakhstan does not seem to provide sufficient resources to primary, secondary and tertiary institutions when compared to neighbouring countries, other upper middle income countries and top-performing OECD countries (see Figure 5.3). According to World Bank data, Kazakhstan spends approximately 3.4% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on primary, secondary and tertiary education. This is below the OECD average (4.6%), neighbouring countries such as Uzbekistan (5.7%) and Tajikistan (5.2%) and upper middle income countries such as Mexico (6.2%) and Peru (6.9%). Across countries, there is substantial variation in the relative contributions from government and households. Kazakhstan seems to perform broadly around the average for spending by households, whereas government spending is below every country in the comparison group.

This level of relative underspending on education also remains when government expenditure per student is used as a measure. Kazakhstan spends less per student (as percentage of GDP per capita) than the OECD average, neighbouring countries and upper middle income countries (excluding Ecuador), both across primary and secondary education, and tertiary education (see Figure 5.4).

When it comes to adult learning, as discussed in Chapter 3, the evidence is more limited. Across OECD countries, employers account for a large share of adult learning opportunities. The available evidence suggests that both large enterprises and SMEs under-invest in training, compared to upper middle income and OECD countries (see Chapter 3). Similarly, as described in Chapter 2, Kazakhstan seems to under-invest in ALMPs, especially in the provision of training opportunities.

Increasing the funding for skills policies will likely depend on tapping into multiple sources or raising additional tax revenues. Kazakhstan is already spending a substantial proportion of total government expenditure on primary, secondary and tertiary education (see Figure 5.5). This implies that there might be limited scope to shift resources away from other policy areas towards skills policies. To some extent, improving the funding for skills policies will depend on increasing financial contributions from employers by strengthening the use of financial incentive schemes. The evidence gathered during the OECD Skills Strategy project suggests that Kazakhstan is making limited use of financial incentives, such as tax deductions, subsidies and levies, which can help increase investment from employers on skills development.

This section describes three opportunities to strengthen the governance of the skills system in Kazakhstan. It is based on input from literature, desk research, discussions with Kazakhstan’s national project team, discussions with stakeholders in workshops in Nur-Sultan and Almaty, as well as virtual meetings involving more than 100 stakeholders. In light of this evidence, the following opportunities are considered to be the most relevant for the specific context in Kazakhstan to strengthen the governance of its skills system:

  • Opportunity 1: Strengthening co-ordination and co-operation across the whole of government

  • Opportunity 2: Strengthening stakeholder engagement in skills policies

  • Opportunity 3: Better aligning and co-ordinating financing arrangements.

Strong governance arrangements first require effective co-ordination and co-operation across the whole of government. As discussed in the performance section, horizontal co-ordination and co-operation on skills policies at the central government level in Kazakhstan are fragmented and tend to rely on formal mechanisms, such as memorandums. Kazakhstan has also faced difficulties in monitoring and evaluating the functioning of the skills system. Building on these findings, this opportunity first explores how to improve horizontal and vertical co-ordination and co-operation on skills policies. Then, it considers how Kazakhstan can implement better monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, with regard to the effectiveness of skills policies and the quality of education and training institutions.

Ministers and government agencies in Kazakhstan have shown an increasing willingness to strengthen co-operation and collaboration in the design and implementation of skills policies. As seen in the description of current arrangements, for instance, the MLSPP and MOES have signed a memorandum to guide co-operation on the provision of VET. There has also been some progress in inter-ministerial collaboration in the development of the NQS (see Opportunity 2).

However, in at least three important skills policy areas, co-operation and collaboration are not in place. Adult learning policies are currently implemented in Kazakhstan by the MOES, the MLSPP and the MNE. The MOES is responsible for HE and VET, the MLSPP oversees training opportunities offered within active labour market policies, and the MNE and the NCE are responsible for training opportunities for SMEs (see Chapter 3). Large firms also play an important role by running private, stand-alone centres for their employees (see Chapter 3). There is currently no formal mechanism to guide co-operation and collaboration on adult learning policies, leading to potential duplication and unexploited synergies between different initiatives. The second area is the production and dissemination of information on labour market and skills, including information on current and future labour market needs from skills assessment and anticipation (SAA) exercises, as well as study and career opportunities for individuals (see Chapter 4). Currently, the production of SAA tools is under the responsibility of the MLSPP. According to stakeholders consulted during the missions, other governmental bodies that may require the use of forecasts to inform policy development, such as the MOES, are not involved in their governance and do not have access to the underlying data. Similarly, there is little co-ordination on strategies to disseminate information on the labour market and skills between the MLSPP, the MOES and other relevant governmental actors, such as education and training institutions or local government bodies. The third area is the assessment and monitoring of skills policies, which is discussed in depth in the following section.

In principle, the recent introduction of the NCDSLS could foster horizontal co-operation in these three areas and across skills policies broadly. However, its current set-up is not fit for purpose for two reasons. First, its remit only covers explicitly the development of the NQS, whereas other policy areas where co-ordination is missing, such as adult learning and the production of SAA tools, are not mentioned in the underlying legislation. Second, the council lacks mechanisms to ensure that co-ordination at the vice-ministerial level translates in co-ordination and co-operation among policy makers involved in policy design and implementation.

To overcome these shortcomings, Kazakhstan could transform the NCDSLS into a Skills Policy Council, as, for example, in Norway (see Box 5.2), by taking two additional steps. First, Kazakhstan should clarify which policy areas, besides the development of the NQS, should be covered by the remit of the council, by conducting a review of institutional arrangements (RIA), which is a structured process for assessing the capacity of different ministers to implement the specific measures assigned to them (ETF, 2014[17]). The RIA could help clarify existing overlaps in goals and responsibilities across ministers involved in skills policies, providing useful evidence on areas where co-ordination should be strengthened. The RIA should be a collaborative effort, involving officials from central government, experts and stakeholders. This means that the process underlying the RIA could lead to building a clearer vision and a consensus on how to modernise governance arrangements in the country.

Second, following the RIA results, Kazakhstan should establish inter-ministerial working groups or technical bodies to ensure that high-level strategic co-ordination at the vice-ministerial level can be complemented by co-ordination and co-operation among policy makers involved in policy design and implementation. Based on the evidence gathered during this project, Kazakhstan could introduce three separate inter-ministerial working groups, responsible for: 1) adult learning policies (see Chapter 3); 2) the production and dissemination of information on the labour market and skills (see Chapter 4); 3) monitoring skills policies (see the following section). Kazakhstan could also introduce a technical body responsible for the development of the NQS (see Opportunity 2). The three inter-ministerial working groups should share information with the NCDSLS to help prepare the meetings and receive feedback from the NCDSLS on their initiatives, whereas the technical body should report to the NCDSLS directly (see Opportunity 2). These proposed arrangements are shown in Figure 5.6. Clearly, the results of the RIA might provide evidence to further refine these proposed arrangements.

As well as improving horizontal co-ordination and co-operation at the ministerial level, Kazakhstan should increase vertical co-ordination and co-operation on skills policies between central and local government. While some skills policies are best overseen and designed at a central level, such as the development of the NQS, other initiatives, particularly those related to the implementation of education and training programmes, could benefit from being tailored to local needs. Kazakhstan exhibits substantial variation in the levels of GDP per capita and skill and labour market outcomes by region. The latest PISA data show large regional differences in reading performance, with more rural, poorer regions attaining scores more than 40 points lower than urban and richer regions (OECD, 2020[13]). These differences are very large, as one year of schooling on average across OECD countries is equal to 40 points (OECD, 2019[18]). Similarly, as shown in Chapter 3, there are significant differences in the proportion of low achievers in reading, numeracy and digital skills across adults in urban and rural areas. These gaps in skills outcomes also mirror divergences in skills activation and labour market performance (see Chapter 2). However, the current design and implementation of skills policies do not fully reflect these regional differences. For instance, as discussed in Chapter 3, according to stakeholders consulted during the OECD Skills Strategy project, the Enbek programme has not managed to support training opportunities aligned with regional needs.

To a significant extent, this lack of co-ordination and co-operation is the result of the current governance structure, in which regional authorities are mainly required to implement priorities and policies designed by the central government. Further decentralisation as foreseen in the Kazakhstan 2050 strategy could contribute to improving the effectiveness and flexibility of skills policies. For example, the local representative bodies (maslikhats) could gradually acquire more responsibility in designing and overseeing skills policies.

To make progress in the decentralisation agenda, Kazakhstan could conduct pilot projects to deliver regional skills strategies, for instance, as in Scotland (United Kingdom) or Sweden (see Box 5.2). The creation of the regional skills strategies could be overseen by regional skills hubs, involving local government bodies, local branches of the MLSPP and MOES, the NCE and educational institutions. More broadly, Kazakhstan could benefit from the experiences of Ukraine, which has been working with the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR) to pursue the decentralisation agenda (see Box 5.2).

Previous chapters in this report have highlighted that Kazakhstan has substantial room for improvement in the evaluation of skills policies. As foreshadowed in the performance section, several stakeholders reported that very limited evaluations of the impact of active labour market programmes are carried out in Kazakhstan (see Chapter 2). Moreover, even when the evaluations are carried out, the results are unlikely to be used to inform relevant policies to facilitate progress towards good practices. As discussed in Chapter 3, there is also limited evidence on the outcomes of different adult learning programmes. For instance, it is not clear whether short-term courses delivered with the Enbek programme result in actual skills gains for participants.

To some extent, limited evaluation might depend on the lack of easily accessible data on labour market and skills policies (see Chapter 4). However, even as more data become available, it would be useful to develop a common framework to assess and evaluate the effectiveness of skills policies. This common framework can help policy makers monitor and evaluate skills policies by specifying principles and methods that they should rely upon. An example from OECD countries are the resources, information and tools produced by the federal government in Canada (see Box 5.3). A similar harmonised framework could be applied to all state programmes delivered within the context of the Kazakhstan 2050 strategy that focus on skills policies. To further increase co-operation among policy makers, the framework could be drafted by an inter-ministerial working group, as Brazil’s Committee for Monitoring and Evaluation of Federal Public Policies does, for example (see Box 5.3). This inter-ministerial working group could become part of the Skills Policy Council and report back to the NCDSLS (see the previous section).

As well as implementing a common framework to evaluate government policies, Kazakhstan could make further progress in assessing and monitoring the quality of education and training institutions across the skills system. Chapter 3 highlights that Kazakhstan does not have a strong system of quality assurance in place for providers offering non-formal learning opportunities. Recent research by the OECD and the European Training Foundation suggests that the problem extends to compulsory education, VET and HE (OECD, 2017[12]; ETF, 2020[9]; OECD, 2020[13]).

According to the recent series of OECD Education Policy Perspectives on Kazakhstan, the country does not currently have an active school evaluation framework, which is a set of explicitly related policies that cover how school quality will be evaluated. The Committee for Quality Assurance in Education and Science in the MOES carries out school visits, but these are mainly concerned with evaluating compliance with legislative standards. In the past five years, Kazakhstan has developed a “school review”, which focuses on assessing teaching and learning in schools and supporting school improvement. To help implement this new framework, the OECD has recommended establishing a separate school inspectorate, because schools currently regard the Committee for Quality Assurance in Education and Science with anxiety and do not like interacting with it for fear of reprisal (OECD, 2020[13]).

According to the OECD’s Higher Education in Kazakhstan 2017, the system of external quality assurance fails to effectively monitor the conduct of HE institutions, due to high levels of fragmentation. In Kazakhstan, the quality of HE institutions and programmes is recognised by independent accreditation agencies (OECD, 2017[12]). The speed with which these agencies have accredited HE institutions and programmes, however, has raised concern about the thoroughness of the external quality checks being undertaken (OECD, 2017[12]). Accreditation agencies are not required to adopt uniform standards. While some agencies have high standards for the accreditation process, meeting European standards and guidelines, this is not necessarily the case for all agencies (OECD, 2017[12]). To help strengthen external quality assurance, the OECD HE review for Kazakhstan has recommended setting achievable and realistic targets and metrics for assessing the quality of different types of institutions (OECD, 2017[12]). These measures could be combined with initiatives to strengthen quality assurance at the institutional level, for instance, by conducting cyclical reviews of academic programmes (OECD, 2017[12]).

The situation is potentially more problematic in vocational education and training. According to the ETF Torino Process report, there is no specific quality assurance system for VET institutions (ETF, 2020[9]). Existing external quality assurance tools, such as obtaining accreditation with an agency to provide vocational training, are either too expensive, or they are no longer compulsory (ETF, 2020[9]). In light of these findings, the ETF has recommended upgrading the quality assurance system in VET (ETF, 2020[9]).

Implementing these recommendations is crucial to ensure that different segments of the skills system develop a strong quality assurance framework. However, they should not be implemented in isolation, as doing so risks leading to duplication of work and lack of policy coherence. Kazakhstan could consider introducing an intra-ministerial working group on quality assurance within the MOES, comprising policy makers involved in quality assurance in compulsory education, VET, HE and adult learning. The group could develop common principles for internal and external quality assurance standards and their implementation at the institutional level, as the National Center for Educational Quality Enhancement (NCEQE) in Georgia does (see Box 5.3).

Improving horizontal and vertical co-ordination and co-operation across governmental actors is but one path to strong governance of skills policies. As foreshadowed in the performance section, Kazakhstan also needs to better co-ordinate stakeholder engagement to make further progress in the development of the NQS, which is considered a policy priority by the government. More broadly, Kazakhstan can benefit from more systematically involving employers and trade unions in policy development and implementation, while making further progress in engaging representatives from civic society in the debate on skills policies. In light of these insights, this opportunity first explores how to strengthen stakeholder engagement in the development of the NQS. Then, it considers how to improve stakeholder engagement throughout the policy cycle.

Developing the NQS requires a substantial degree of stakeholder engagement because social partners need to feed detailed information on what skills are required across different qualifications and occupations (ETF, 2017[14]).

Kazakhstan has made some progress in developing the NQS. Under the leadership of the NCE, sectoral associations have been quite active in developing occupational standards and qualification frameworks. As discussed in the performance section, a large number of sectoral standards and frameworks have been developed. However, according to stakeholders consulted during the OECD Skills Strategy project, there is no national register or database that centralises them, and there has been little oversight to reduce duplication and overlaps. Better co-ordination of the stakeholder engagement process is crucial to ensure that the frameworks and standards are merged into a coherent NQS with aligned educational programmes.

Kazakhstan has already taken three additional steps to make further progress in the development of the NQS. First, the MLSPP has developed a step-by-step roadmap (Roadmap for Development of National Qualifications System 2019-2025), which outlines specific actions, responsible parties and deadlines for the development of the NQS (Government of Kazakhstan, 2019[29]). Second, following the roadmap, Kazakhstan has introduced the NCDSLS, which, as foreshadowed in the description of current arrangements and Opportunity 1, could strengthen co-ordination in the development of the NQS at the vice-ministerial level. Third, the MOES, the MLSPP and the NCE committed to increasing their co-operation efforts via a memorandum signed in February 2020. The memorandum commits the three parties to developing and implementing a joint list of educational programmes and standard curricula based on approved occupational standards. To help translate this memorandum into action, the MOES and the MLSPP have also agreed to establish joint working groups and share information on standards and learning outcomes.

The roadmap has contributed to revamping the progress of NQS development, but Kazakhstan has struggled to implement some of its actions successfully. The MLSPP could not continue to co-ordinate the implementation of the roadmap in 2020, due to its critical shift in focus to develop an effective social policy response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. As a result, stakeholders involved in the NQS development do not yet have a common vision and are not yet working towards a clear set of objectives.

Going forward, the introduction of the NCDSLS and the memorandum are unlikely to be sufficient to strengthen co-ordination across stakeholders. The consolidation of the NQS is a time-consuming and complex process, which requires close interactions between experts from different fields, for instance, to review, update and merge different Sectoral Qualification Frameworks (ETF, 2017[14]). As discussed in Opportunity 1, the NCDSLS can only provide high-level strategic co-ordination at the vice-ministerial level. The joint working groups formed by MOES and the MLSPP could provide valuable input, but are unlikely to have the capacity to co-ordinate the whole process.

To strengthen co-ordination on the NQS development in the short term, Kazakhstan could establish a technical body reporting directly to the NCDSLS. Many countries have taken a similar route to finalise the development of the NQS (see Box 5.4). The technical body should include full-time staff, potentially on secondment, with different backgrounds (e.g. with experience in government or industry). The co-ordinator could be a skills policy expert with some managerial experience, reporting directly to the Deputy Prime Minister. The co-ordinator should start by revising the existing roadmap and allocating responsibilities across different stakeholders.

As well as introducing a technical agency to co-ordinate the NQS development, Kazakhstan should review the roles, composition and functioning of the sector skills councils. The OECD team could not gather sufficient evidence to assess their institutional performance. According to stakeholders, the functioning of SSCs is not a transparent system, and almost no information is available to the general public about how they operate and what outcomes they generate. The limited feedback that the OECD was able to gather suggests that their effectiveness and capacities vary across sectors. These councils could be a useful platform to co-ordinate stakeholder feedback on the development of the qualification framework by reviewing and updating occupational standards. They could also be involved in forecasting or validating forecasts from SAA tools (see Chapter 4) and in providing input on state programmes and specific policy initiatives (see the following section).

Kazakhstan could strengthen stakeholder engagement beyond the development of the NQS, both in the case of policy development and implementation.

With regard to policy development, the current mechanisms to gather inputs from stakeholders are not sufficiently systematic. The recent introduction of the National Council of Public Trust could provide a useful framework to gather input from representatives of civic society in the development of skills policies at the presidential level. However, Kazakhstan does not seem to have well-functioning mechanisms to involve employers and trade unions in similar discussions. According to stakeholders consulted during the OECD Skills Policy project, the Tripartite Republican Commission does not play an active role in shaping policy discussions. Some active stakeholders had never heard of its existence. More broadly, when it comes to the development of the state programmes or other specific policy initiatives, there are no well-defined arrangements to engage employers, trade unions or civic society alike. Employers are represented by the NCE, which is designed to enhance the negotiation power of business with the Government of Kazakhstan and public authorities, but the process of development and implementation of existing programmes does not generally include consultations with non-governmental actors. According to stakeholders consulted during the project, engagement has an ad hoc nature, and the level of influence is low.

The introduction of the NCDSLS could allow Kazakhstan to make some progress on this front. The “Order of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Kazakhstan from 19 December 2019 No. 226-r” provides a legal basis for the involvement of stakeholders in the NCDSLS with the NCE, the Federation of Trade Unions, and various oil, gas and energy companies represented.

The position of external stakeholders in the NCDSLS can, however, be strengthened in three ways. First, a broader range of external stakeholders could sit in the council, including other sectors such as the service industry, regional representatives and social partners who work in skills-related fields. Second, the council meets on an ad hoc basis whenever there is the need, but Kazakhstan could consider mandating meetings to be held on a regular basis (such as every quarter) to ensure that external stakeholders have a regular forum to express their opinions. Third, Kazakhstan should ensure that relevant legal documents, minutes from previous meetings, and topics for discussion in the upcoming meeting are circulated in advance, so stakeholders have time to gather input from their organisations and prepare their stance on suggested reforms.

Kazakhstan could also consider strengthening the role of the Tripartite Republican Commission to increase engagement at the presidential level. In the case of the state programmes and more specific policy initiatives, Kazakhstan could consider gradually strengthening the remit of the SSCs, building on the experiences of OECD and other countries, such as Australia and South Africa (see Box 5.5).

Strengthening institutional arrangements needs to be complemented by a shift in the culture of government officials. As noted in the performance section, in the consultations during the OECD Skills Strategy project, it emerged too frequently that government officials view stakeholder concerns as external concerns. To facilitate this cultural shift, Kazakhstan could consider developing a digital platform to promote exchange on skills policies between the central government and external stakeholders, as Estonia has done with the Electronic Co-ordination System for Draft Legislation (see Box 5.5). This could also contribute to increasing transparency of the policy-making process and increase trust in government policies, which has been signalled by many stakeholders as important to tackle.

In the case of policy implementation, as explained in the performance section, Kazakhstan needs to strengthen employer involvement in the provision of dual education and adult learning (see Chapter 3). Public-private partnerships could play an important role in making progress in these two areas. For example, PPP frameworks could be used to create employer-led associations to organise apprenticeships, as seen in Norway (see Box 5.5), or to set up local training networks to increase access to training opportunities among SMEs (see Chapter 3). PPPs could also facilitate co-operation between public and private employment agencies in the provision of career guidance and job-matching services for the unemployed (see Chapter 2).

As outlined in the section on current arrangements, Kazakhstan has taken important steps to establish a PPP framework. The work by the ETF highlights that the Government of Kazakhstan considers PPPs as an effective mechanism for delegating responsibilities on policy implementation to the private sector (ETF, 2020[5]). Kazakhstan has also established the PPP Project Support Centre under the MNE to support the implementation of PPP projects. The team of professional experts and analysts in the field of PPP has implemented more than 30 unique PPP projects to date. The PPP Project Support Centre implements projects in such areas as education, health, energy, culture and sports, housing and social facilities, telecommunications, transport and infrastructure, and others. In the field of education, 271 contracts have been concluded for KZT 74 billion (ETF, 2020[5]).

Kazakhstan can strengthen the adoption of PPPs for skills development in two ways. First, Kazakhstan could improve the legislative framework. The current law on PPPs only sets the rights and obligations of public and private partners in relation to broad objectives, such as creating the conditions for effective interactions between the public and private partners and improving availability and quality of goods, works and services. However, ETF’s recently published report, Public-Private Partnerships for Skills Development, which reviewed good practices across more than ten countries, suggests that a specific bylaw could foster the adoption of PPPs for skills development (ETF, 2020[5]). Skills-orientated PPPs require a relatively unique set of legislative requirements in order to balance the risk and responsibility of providing social services. To strengthen the legislative framework, Kazakhstan could introduce a bylaw specifying the responsibilities of public and private partners for PPPs that focus on the provision of education and training, such as employer-led associations might organise apprenticeships or local training networks (see Chapter 3).

Second, Kazakhstan can disseminate good practices to implement PPPs for skills development. According to stakeholders, there is limited awareness among public and private actors on how to establish a successful PPP for skills development. To help build awareness about good practices, Kazakhstan could build an online platform that provides information on important principles that stakeholders should follow in implementing PPPs for skills development and shows successful examples of PPP projects. The platform could potentially rely on principles and good practices gathered by the ETF during its project on “Public Private Partnerships: Success factor for skills development” (ETF, 2019[32]) According to the ETF, for instance, a successful PPP for skills development requires an actor to set clear objectives in the partnership, establish how risks should be balanced, and set criteria on how to allocate and transfer responsibilities among private and public actors (ETF, 2019[32]).

Effective co-ordination and co-operation across government and with stakeholders need to be supported by strong financing arrangements. As discussed in the performance section, Kazakhstan does not seem to provide sufficient public funding to education, when compared to neighbouring countries, other upper middle income countries and top-performing OECD countries. In spite of these comparatively low levels of public investment, Kazakhstan has made limited use of financial incentives, such as tax deductions, subsidies and levies, which can help increase investment from employers on skills development. Building on these findings, this opportunity explores how to strengthen public funding arrangements for skills policies. Then, it discusses how to better use incentives to engage the private sector in skills development.

As discussed in the performance section, Kazakhstan’s relative underperformance in providing public funding to education applies whether education spending is measured as a percentage of GDP or as expenditure on education per student, and to different education levels, such as compulsory and tertiary education.

The international evidence suggests that in Kazakhstan’s case, increasing the share of government funding for education policies could result in better skills outcomes for youth, which lag behind other countries (see Chapter 1). Across countries, there is a positive relationship between expenditure per student and skills outcomes, both for compulsory education and tertiary education, but only up to a threshold. Such a threshold is approximately equal to USD 50 000 (per student and in cumulative expenditure) for students from age 6 to 15, and USD 5 000 in government funding for tertiary education (see Figure 5.7) (OECD, 2019[18]; OECD, 2019[38]; World Bank, 2020[7]). After this threshold, the relationship between the amount invested in education and student performance weakens, and how resources are allocated becomes more important. Kazakhstan lies significantly below this funding threshold, both in primary and secondary education and in tertiary education, implying that there might be substantial benefits in increasing public funding for education policies.

As discussed in the performance section, it is unlikely that a substantial increase in funding could happen by shifting resources away from other policy areas. However, Kazakhstan could, for example, rely on contributions from employers, gathered through a training levy, to increase funding in VET (see the following section). However, the funds gathered through training levies are not typically used to finance general education programmes in primary, secondary and tertiary education (OECD, 2017[39]). To increase funding for these general programmes, Kazakhstan could first consider whether at least some resources could be re-allocated from other policy areas. Further increases in funding for these general programmes will depend on raising additional tax revenue, for instance, through direct and indirect taxes. Given the substantial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, it might be appropriate to wait until the economy starts to recover before pursuing this avenue.

As well as increasing public spending on education policies, Kazakhstan should consider improving the efficiency and equity of public funding allocations across the skills system. As highlighted in the performance section, Chapter 2 provides specific recommendations on the financing of ALMPs, whereas Chapter 3 provides recommendations on financing incentives for adult learning opportunities among individuals and enterprises. The United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), the ETF and the OECD have already reviewed financing arrangements for compulsory education, VET and HE in depth (Clarke, 2018[41]; ETF, 2020[9]; OECD, 2020[42]).

A report by UNICEF has broadly endorsed the per capita funding formula introduced in 2016 for compulsory education but has recommended adjusting some coefficients to ensure that smaller schools and schools with a lower class size receive sufficient funding (Clarke, 2018[41]). In the case of VET, the ETF has recommended diversifying the streams of VET funding to better reflect different regional needs (ETF, 2020[9]). When it comes to tertiary education, the OECD Education Policy Perspectives section on Kazakhstan has recommended providing additional financial resources alongside state scholarships, such as student loan schemes, so students are not wholly dependent on the outcome of the Unified National Test (UNT) exam to be able to afford higher education (OECD, 2020[42]).

Kazakhstan should now make further progress in implementing these recommendations. As more data on labour market and skill needs become available (see Chapter 4), Kazakhstan could also consider modifying funding arrangements in VET and HE, so that institutions become more responsive to labour market needs. The experiences of Poland could be useful in this respect (see Box 5.6).

As foreshadowed in the performance section, Kazakhstan could make better use of financial incentives to engage the private sector in developing skills. Across OECD countries, a variety of financial incentives are used to expand the role of employers in funding and delivering skills policies (see Table 5.1). The vast majority of incentives come in the form of direct subsidies (OECD, 2017[39]). Training levies are less commonly used, and tax incentives and public procurement are relatively uncommon (OECD, 2017[39]). Although payback clauses can be found in most European countries, it is not clear to what extent they are being used or enforced (OECD, 2017[39]). International experience suggests that different schemes have potential advantages and disadvantages (see Table 5.1). Generally speaking, it is important to carefully assess different options (e.g. cost-efficiency) and strongly co-ordinate policy dialogue with potential partners to identify the most suitable solution.

Kazakhstan has so far made limited use of these financial incentive schemes. The only financing incentive schemes the OECD team were able to identify during the stakeholder consultations were a tax exemption for education and training of employees, specifically targeting subsoil users, and subsidies for more vulnerable individuals (including workers made redundant) in the framework of the Enbek programme (see Chapter 3 for details).

Among the different incentives, Kazakhstan should give priority to the introduction of a training levy. As discussed in the previous section, Kazakhstan is already investing a substantial proportion of total government expenditure in education policies, implying that further increasing spending might be difficult. Introducing a training levy could help raise additional resources, which could be earmarked for expenditure on VET (see the previous section), ALMPs (see Chapter 2) and training in enterprises (see Chapter 3). Kazakhstan could learn from the experiences of a number of OECD countries to understand how to introduce a training levy (see Table 5.2). Among these different schemes, Kazakhstan could closely consider Brazil’s Systema S and Hungary’s training fund (see Box 5.7). These levies have the advantage of being hybrid schemes. The contributions are collected centrally but are then allocated to different funding purposes, which may suit Kazakhstan’s need to increase spending across different policy areas.

Implementing a training levy successfully will require employer-buy-in. A detailed review of training levy schemes by the World Bank has concluded that extensive consultations and consensus with employers on the need and benefits are essential before introducing a levy scheme (Johanson, 2009[43]). Countries that allocate a leading role to employers, such as Brazil, tend to be successful, whereas over-control by government can have deleterious results (Johanson, 2009[43]).

In Kazakhstan’s case, employers should be closely involved in discussions on which initiatives should be financed with the additional revenue because there are numerous options on the table. An obvious choice might be to use some of the funding to finance learning opportunities in the VET system, consistent with other countries, such as Hungary and Brazil. The funding from the levy could also be important to expand the role of dual education. Kazakhstan could consider introducing subsidies to encourage firms to deliver apprenticeships. The grants could be offered directly to enterprises and/or could be used to finance the creation of employer-led associations established through a PPP, such as the OOF in Norway, which can support employers in operating the system (see Box 5.5). Kazakhstan could also learn from the experiences of Austria to make progress on this front (see Box 5.7).

Table 5.3 summarises the recommendations for this chapter. Based on feedback from stakeholders and from the national project team, three recommendations have been selected that could be considered to have the highest priority based on potential impact and relevance in the current Kazakhstan context. To strengthen the governance of the skills system, the OECD recommends that Kazakhstan should:

  • Strengthen the remit of the National Council for Development of Social and Labour Sector, by specifying a clearly defined mandate and introducing a combination of inter-ministerial working groups and technical bodies (Recommendation 4.1).

  • Introduce a technical body to co-ordinate the development of the NQS (Recommendation 4.5).

  • Introduce a training levy to increase the financial contribution of employers to VET, adult learning and ALMPs, following extensive consultations with employers (Recommendation 4.11).


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