Chapter 4. Internationalisation and higher education in Kazakhstan

This chapter focuses on policies to help ensure that graduates develop the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in a globalised world. It deals with the benefits of and effective practices in, internationalisation before looking at the policy implications for Kazakhstan in terms of governance, quality assurance, student and staff mobility and curriculum. It also traces how the Bologna Process, the Bolashak programme and Nazarbayev University have influenced the system. The chapter places particular emphasis on areas of priority for Kazakhstan in dealing with barriers to this internationalisation process. These include increasing the currently limited academic autonomy of higher education institutions and improving the level of English language proficiency of students, faculty and staff. The chapter points out the lack of an effective system of external quality assurance and the weakness of international academic partnerships. It also highlights gaps in data for institutional and system planning and the financial barriers facing students who wish to study abroad.


Internationalisation is the process by which an international, intercultural or global dimension is integrated into higher education’s purposes, functions and modes of delivery (Knight, 2003). Various factors explain why higher education has become increasingly internationalised in recent years. These include the phenomenon of globalisation1 ; the increasing importance of information and communications technology; nations’ pursuit of high-ranking research universities; reductions in public budgets for higher education institutions; and the increasingly entrepreneurial nature of modern academia (Gao, 2015).

The benefits of internationalisation

Internationalised higher education delivers benefits for individual students, higher education institutions and staff, and economies and societies more broadly.

For students

In the contemporary world, individuals benefit from interconnected networks and global awareness. Internationalisation is the major means by which higher educational institutions can ensure that graduates develop the international, foreign language and intercultural skills required to interact successfully in a global setting.

International higher education provides opportunities for students to learn in new situations and with people from different backgrounds, to develop global networks, and to acquire a broader understanding of the world. This helps them build the advanced skills and competencies that modern economies require. Outwardly mobile students experience all these benefits, but students who remain in their home countries can also reap the benefits of internationalisation through their interactions with international students, and through a more internationalised curriculum.

For higher education institutions and staff

The benefits of internationalisation for higher education institutions are also extensive. It allows them to develop a global reputation and attract high-quality staff and students; to expand their academic community; to leverage institutional strengths through strategic partnerships; to develop stronger research groups; to benchmark their activities on a global scale; to mobilise internal intellectual resources; to incorporate valuable, contemporary learning outcomes into the student experience; and to generate revenue and share infrastructure (Hénard et al., 2012).

Internationalisation through student mobility can also help mitigate some of the effects that demographic changes have on higher education institutions. Many countries are experiencing stagnation or even a decline in the size of their 18 to 25-year-old cohort, and there is a growing understanding that foreign students can help address the challenges posed by declining domestic enrolments (OECD, 2008).

For the economy and society more broadly

The internationalisation of higher education serves the public interest by delivering substantial short- and longer-term economic benefits; enhancing international relationships and understanding at home and abroad; and attracting talent and building capacity.

Public funding to support internationalisation helps promote national participation in the global knowledge economy and brings economic benefits from trade in education services. The exchange of students and staff can help develop long-lasting diplomatic ties between countries. Internationalisation also helps governments ensure the development of a skilled domestic workforce with global awareness and multicultural competencies (Hénard et al., 2012). In addition, governments are increasingly recognising that it is an effective way to develop intercultural understanding (Fielden, 2011). While recognising the challenges of “brain drain”, many countries are also using internationalisation to attract talented workers (students who stay on in their host country, at least temporarily, after graduation).

While some countries are grappling with declining traditional student cohorts, other countries and regions – especially People's Republic of China India and Southeast Asia – are experiencing a growing domestic demand for higher education that is beyond the current capacity of their higher education systems. Internationalisation can be a cost-effective alternative to national provision of higher education.

Internationalisation approaches in higher education

The internationalisation of higher education is achieved through a variety of approaches including inbound and outbound student mobility; inward and outward staff mobility; offshore delivery, including transnational education; and “internationalisation at home”.

Student mobility, characterised by students studying for the short or long term at a foreign university, is the most common form of internationalisation. The number of higher education students studying outside their country of citizenship nearly doubled between 2000 and 2010, and there is little suggestion that this trend will slow any time soon (OECD, 2012a). It is projected that with demographic changes, international student mobility is likely to reach 8 million students per year by 2025 (OECD, 2012b) and that by the same date at least 20% of all graduates from the European Higher Education Area will have spent a period of time studying or training abroad (European Commission, 2014).

Staff mobility or exchange programmes are also common and fulfil an important knowledge-sharing and capacity-building role. They facilitate professional development, teaching collaborations and research linkages.

Offshore delivery or transnational education has been adopted by a number of countries including Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. Higher education institutions in all these countries have established campuses in foreign countries. In addition to establishing campuses, institutions may teach part or all of a programme in a foreign country – either face-to-face, or supported by technology or distance education practices. There are about 220 campuses worldwide that provide free courses open to all participants via Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) (University of Oxford, 2015).

“Internationalisation at home” is an expanding area of activity. This can take the form of joint teaching and research programmes, in which domestic students and researchers collaborate with peers in other countries. It can also include the internationalisation of the curriculum, which incorporates intercultural and international perspectives into coursework and extra-curricular activities. This approach develops students’ international and intercultural skills without them needing to leave their home country (Wächter, 2003).

Effective practices in internationalisation

International higher education involves more than just universities and their students: it goes beyond the exchange of students or the signing of Memoranda of Understanding between governments and higher education institutions (Gallagher et al., 2009). A truly effective approach embeds internationalisation in all dimensions of teaching, research and institutional practice, as well as in national policy. It requires engagement between higher education institutions, employer groups, social partners and government agencies.

Well-formed public policy

Governments can contribute to the internationalisation of higher education by developing national strategies that attract international research initiatives, support corporate partnerships, and facilitate the mobility of student and faculty talent (see Box 4.1). However, while many governments implement national strategies to deliver the benefits of internationalisation, not all have clear strategies that also address the challenges of international higher education and support its expansion.

Box 4.1. Examples of national international higher education strategies

In 2014, Canada launched its first International Education Strategy. The goals of this strategy include attracting more international researchers and students to Canada, deepening the research links between Canadian and foreign educational institutions, and establishing a pan-Canadian partnership across provinces and territories that includes all key education stakeholders. The strategy seeks to double the number of international students in Canada by the year 2022.

The strategy for the “Internationalisation of Higher Education Institutions in Finland 2009-2015” (Finnish Ministry of Education, 2009) aims at creating an international higher education community in Finland, increasing the quality and attractiveness of Finnish higher education institutions, exporting Finnish educational expertise, supporting a multicultural society and promoting global responsibility.

The “Internationalisation Policy for Higher Education Malaysia” (Ministry of Higher Education Malaysia, 2011) was adopted in 2011. The policy addresses core aspects of internationalisation such as student mobility, staff mobility, academic programmes, research and development, governance and autonomy, social integration and cultural engagement.

Sources: Matross Helms, R., and L. E. Rumbley (2016), National Policies for Internationalization - do they work? International Higher Education, No. 85, pp. 9-11,

Since they can have an impact on a number of different areas of society and on the economy more broadly, higher education internationalisation strategies cannot be developed in isolation from other government policies. An effective internationalisation policy is typically a whole-of-government approach which ensures the alignment of higher education policy with dimensions of immigration policy (e.g. student and faculty visas and conditions around remaining in the country after graduation); trade policy (e.g. coherence with commitments on education services in bilateral and multilateral agreements); development policy (e.g. consistency of aid and development policy in higher education); and labour market policy (e.g. co-ordination between professional bodies, industries and higher education institutions). Inter-governmental committees that have policy makers representing areas such as education, research, immigration, science and technology, labour and foreign affairs can help ensure a whole-of-government approach to internationalisation. Australia, for instance, has a well-established whole-of-government approach (Box 4.2).

Box 4.2. Case study: Aligned policies in Australia

The Australian Government recognises the need for policy aligned across government departments. This is reflected in the National Strategy for International Education 2025 which sets out a ten-year plan for developing Australia’s role as a global leader in education, training and research. The strategy provides a framework of priorities for the Australian international education community to help develop the sector.

Starting in 2016-17, the Australian Government will provide AUD 12 million over four years to support implementation of the National Strategy. The strategy aligns with the National Innovation and Science Agenda, which will further enhance Australia’s global reputation as a leader in research and education into the future. It is also part of a suite of Australian Government initiatives to support international education.

The Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade introduced the Colombo Plan in 2013. This is a targeted scholarship programme designed to enhance knowledge of the Indo-Pacific in Australia by helping Australian undergraduates study and undertake internships in that region. It includes a scholarship programme for study; internships and mentorships; and a flexible mobility grants programme for short- and longer-term study, internships, mentorships, practicums and research. The Plan’s aim is to build long-term relationships across countries and to develop stronger ties between strategic partner countries in the region. It is directly aligned with efforts of higher education institutions to increase outbound student mobility.

Australia has signed free trade agreements with People's Republic of China, Korea and Japan, and is also a signatory to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Trade agreements assist the free flow of higher education students in and out of Australia, and facilitate Australian higher education institutions’ engagement in trans-national education.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection’s Simplified Student Visa Framework supports student mobility by simplifying the visa process for international students wishing to study in Australia. The framework allows international students on a visa to work part-time while studying, an approach that can improve graduate outcomes.

Sources: Australian Government (2015), National Strategy for International Education 2025.

Inward and outward mobility can be stimulated by a range of policy instruments that span a number of different government portfolios:

  • Mobility scholarships can support both the outward and inward mobility of students. Outward mobility can be encouraged through means-tested scholarships which are sufficiently generous to encourage mobility for less affluent students. Merit-based scholarships are particularly effective when targeting inward mobility, especially when countries have an underlying migration-attraction agenda.

  • Internationally accessible information on domestic programmes can help potential international students decide where to study. Such information might include for instance data on the quality of learning and teaching (e.g. the results of student experience and satisfaction surveys, and information about the labour market outcomes of graduates).

  • International education trade fairs can help countries attract international students. Presence at these fairs is effectively complemented by a central national access point for mobility-related information.

  • Simple and quick visa application processes can also reduce barriers for students hoping to enter the host country, and thus help a country establish a competitive advantage.

Support for student mobility

Student participation in mobility programmes can be influenced by factors such as concerns about living in a new environment, financial constraints, family influences and logistical obstacles.

For many students, especially those who have not travelled abroad, the idea of international study may be daunting. This can particularly be the case if such study involves learning in a foreign language. Students may feel that they will be vulnerable in unfamiliar environments, where they risk falling prey to unscrupulous education agents and higher education providers. As well, some students will be discouraged from international exchange if there are too many barriers (e.g. travel and visa policy, or difficulties accommodating another institution’s curriculum).

Students may also be unable to afford the costs of travel and living associated with an international experience, and those who are working are often unable to give up their job and income in order to study abroad. If a student’s family members have not travelled overseas, and do not understand the value of international study, they are less likely to support a student’s engagement in such activities. In fact, many of these limiting factors are linked to socio-economic status either directly (as a consequence of affordability and capacity to pay) or indirectly (through expectations and aspirations).

There is, however, much that can be done through policy initiatives, funding schemes and structured support programmes to address these challenges:

  • Scholarship schemes can minimise the direct financial impact of travel.

  • Government policies can streamline visa policy settings to explicitly support student mobility. Governments can also set up systems to protect international students.

  • On the “receiving end”, higher education institutions can support international students by offering services such as academic advice and guidance, language support, technical assistance, welfare provision and accommodation (Gao, 2015). Such measures are important in helping students adapt to their new environment.

  • Institutions can also organise the timing of international experiences so that they have minimal impact on students’ capacity to work.

  • Technologies can assist in extending the international experience pre- and post-travel to create opportunities to deliver highly effective shorter-term mobility experiences.

  • Internationalisation of the curriculum can make a major contribution to developing international perspectives and understanding without the need to travel.

  • Collaborative articulation pathways that provide a formal route for international students to undertake part of a qualification at their home institution before transferring to a foreign partner institution can also facilitate student mobility.

  • Articulation arrangements can allow a student to transfer from a lower level qualification at his or her home institution to a higher-level programme in the foreign partner institution.

Joint degree and twinning arrangements

The ‘brand’ of individual institutions – and of a country’s higher education more generally – can be enhanced through partnerships and joint degree programmes with high-quality international partner institutions. Joint programmes can make a substantial contribution to an internationalised curriculum, allowing international perspectives to be explicitly integrated into the programme. As staff of the institutions work together to decide on areas of alignment and credit agreement, they can build in cross references to regional content. Because they require substantial collaboration in the process of design, development and accreditation, such partnerships can also function as a major capacity-building exercise, exposing staff to international thinking and pedagogic expertise.

These kinds of collaborations may be referred to as joint programmes, articulation agreements, twinning programmes or by other names. While there are some variations, in general these kinds of arrangements provide credit transfer and recognition for study completed in one institution, which is then counted for the completion of study in another foreign institution. Twinning and articulation arrangements between institutions provide clear pathways for students and allow institutions to partner with another organisation to mutual advantage.

Box 4.3. Articulation between the China University of Mining and Technology-Beijing and Pennsylvania State University

The China University of Mining and Technology-Beijing and Pennsylvania State University have a collaborative undergraduate degree programme in Engineering (otherwise described as a 2+2 programme) that specifies majors that students may take at the two institutions. Under this arrangement, CUMTB students first complete two years of undergraduate studies at their home institution. After successful completion of this initial period of study, and provided they meet all programme and Penn State admission requirements, CUMTB students may transfer to Penn State where they complete their undergraduate studies in engineering. Students who successfully complete the Programme will earn a Bachelor of Science degree from the Penn State College of Engineering or from the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.

Sources: University approved articulation agreements,

Staff engagement and collaboration

Staff collaborations can play an important part in the development and teaching of internationalised programmes. The development of joint curricula, the re-use and adaptation of teaching and learning resources, and collaborative teaching development activities are all common forms of international collaboration. Information communications technologies support visiting lecture and seminar contributions from the faculty of foreign institutions, and e-learning techniques make it possible for students from different institutions to collaborate on projects and join in discussions supported by learning management systems and web-based collaboration software. The potential contributions of virtual classrooms to collaborations between staff and students are far from being fully realised.

Furthermore, collaborative activities can extend well beyond these approaches. They can for instance include exchanges and shadowing programmes for management and administrative staff, as well as joint work on business processes and governance. Such programmes may involve informal arrangements between partner institutions or other partners, semi-formal arrangements (e.g. activities supported by professional organisations such as the Knowledge Network Institute of Thailand and the United Kingdom-based Leadership Foundation) or government-to-government initiatives.

International research collaborations are also becoming increasingly important. These help develop expertise, and they enable the shared use of scarce or expensive research infrastructure and shared data sets. Traditionally, international research collaborations have been driven by relationships and shared research interests between individual staff researchers. However, as institutions have become more strategically focused on their research enterprise, they have found that the identification of strategic research themes and priorities, linked to the identification of international partner institutions, can maximise research output and performance. Consequently many institutions are now providing targeted funding incentives to support the establishment and growth of international research collaborations. Their strategic research plans identify partners, and it is common for national research funding schemes to require or incentivise international partnerships.

International research partnerships can also develop as a result of the supervision of international research higher degree (PhD) students, when the graduating student returns to his or her home country. Joint PhD supervision between faculty members of partner institutions is a growing means by which research collaborations are encouraged. These sorts of collaboration make a valuable contribution to institutions’ international standing and are rewarded by national research funding mechanisms.

Internationalisation of the curriculum

Academic staff can also be engaged through internationalisation of the curriculum (Leask, 2012). This approach is guided by a belief that all students should learn about the world in which they live and should develop the skills they need to function effectively in an internationally connected society. Internationalising the curriculum has been shown to develop a global awareness within the context of learning discipline content (Jones and Brown (eds.), 2007). All educational programmes can have an international dimension.

Internationalisation of the curriculum may involve the inclusion of international case studies and extended examples, rather than a simple focus on local examples. Approaches to an internationalised curriculum explicitly capitalise on the experiences of international staff and students, valuing and using their experiences in the formal learning component of the programme. They seek to develop intercultural competence and the skills and understanding that allow individuals to function in a global society (Mak et al., 2013). Some forms of internationalised curriculum may include an embedded international experience such as an internship, practicum, study experience or research project – but this is not a necessary feature.

Data collection and analysis

Education systems need robust, high-quality data if they are to effectively develop and assess policy. Informed policy-making requires information about the impact of “international experience” on individuals (e.g. through graduate or destination surveys) and the value-add of internationalisation for research capacities.

Longitudinal databases are the gold standard. They collect information about international students and about domestic students going abroad, improve knowledge about the impacts of international mobility on those who participate and also measure broader economic impacts. Data-informed analysis can focus on issues such as quality of delivery and capacity building in priority subject areas; enhancements to the innovation and research systems; the retention and subsequent migration of highly trained workers; equity of access to opportunities for mobility; and the impact of internationalisation on higher education finance.

The benchmarking of activity and performance is most effective when there is alignment with international standards. In recent years there has been substantial work towards harmonising systems and qualifications around internationally recognised standards. The International Student Barometer (ISB) (i-Graduate and Universities Australia, 2013) is used by many universities across the world to track and compare the decision-making, expectations, intentions and perceptions of international students.

Higher education initiatives such as the Bologna Process have sought to establish international standards as a point of reference and comparison. UNESCO and the OECD developed guidelines for quality provision in cross-border higher education in 2005 to protect students and other stakeholders from low-quality provision and disreputable providers (i.e. degree and accreditation mills), and to encourage the development of quality cross-border higher education that meets human, social, economic and cultural needs. The recommended practices have largely been implemented by governments and higher education institutions, and have also been integrated in major policy guidelines and declarations related to quality assurance (Vincent Lancrin et al., 2015).

Internationalisation in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan clearly recognises that a more globally aware and engaged workforce will make important contributions to the economy and society, and that higher education plays a key role in developing this workforce. It also acknowledges the longer-term value of relationships and networks that are established as a consequence of the international experiences of Kazakhstani citizens. Kazakhstan has made some progress towards greater internationalisation since the 2007 OECD/World Bank Review of Higher Education in Kazakhstan (see Figure 4.1 for an overview).

Figure 4.1. Implementation status of the 2007 OECD/World Bank recommendations

Sources: OECD/The World Bank (2007), Reviews of National Policies for Education: Higher Education in Kazakhstan, OECD Publishing, Paris,


As noted above, countries with successful internationalisation strategies for higher education have taken an integrated approach. They use intergovernmental committees or groups, and ensure a whole of-government approach to internationalisation. While strategic direction in Kazakhstan is clearly provided by the Office of the President (as evidenced in number of documents), the OECD review team observed that co-ordination across ministries faces challenges. It was reported, for instance, that the different the ministries responsible for different higher education institutions – for instance the Ministry of Industry and Agriculture for the agricultural universities and the Ministry of Finance for Financial Academies – do not necessarily fully co-operate on an integrated approach to higher education.

Quality assurance

In the 1990s, legislation in Kazakhstan enabled the creation of private providers and opened the doors to international higher education providers. This resulted in a rapid rise in levels of internationalisation. However, the opening up of higher education was not matched by an appropriate level of quality assurance.

From 2006 on, the government has been taking active steps to improve quality by reducing the number of higher education institutions (the so-called “optimisation policy”) and by putting in place a voluntary system of accreditation. While these initiatives may have to some extent slowed internationalisation, they were nonetheless essential to improve public confidence in the quality of the higher education sector and to enable the country to compete successfully on the international stage.

Student and staff mobility

Mobility – particularly outbound staff and student mobility – has been a defining feature of Kazakhstan’s international education efforts. The SPED for 2011-2020 envisages that one in five students will be engaged in academic mobility. The Strategy for Academic Mobility in the Republic of Kazakhstan for 2012-2020 is the primary policy informing the internationalisation of higher education.

Outbound students

Outbound academic mobility is the primary component of Kazakhstan’s internationalisation strategy. In 2015, 48 875 students studied abroad (UIS, 2 016). Their primary destinations included the Russian Federation (35 106), Kyrgyzstan (4 357), the United Kingdom (1 725) and the United States (1 884) (see Figure 4.2).

Figure 4.2. International students in Kazakhstan and destination countries of Kazakhstani students


1. Data are for reference year 2014.

2. When data for the reference year are not available, the latest data within three years prior to reference year are presented. For the year-specific, country-specific and time-series data, please consult the UIS Data Centre.

3. Data for students abroad shown in Key Indicators are for reference year 2013.

Sources: UNESCO International statistics database (2016),

The predominance of the Russian Federation may be explained by a number of factors. These include geographic proximity, linguistic compatibility, the volume of scholarships provided by the Russian Federation to Kazakhstani students (in particular to students from areas bordering the Russian Federation) and similarities between the educational systems of the two countries. However, the recent entry of Kazakhstan into the European Higher Education Area may lead to a comparative increase in student mobility to and from other countries.

Outbound student mobility is heavily dependent on foreign funding (e.g. from Erasmus Mundus) and on self-financing by students. However, the Ministry of Education and Science reports that its international mobility funding programme supported 52 universities to send 805 students to study abroad for at least one semester in 2014 (JSC Information-Analytic Center, 2015).

Inbound students

As Figure 4.2 shows, inbound students come mainly from Georgia and countries in Central Asia. Countries that are eligible to send foreign students are identified each year by a ministerial order. Foreign students applying to Kazakhstani higher education institutions do not normally have to pass the Unified National Test or the Complex Test, and can be admitted on the basis of the receiving institution’s admissions criteria.

Figure 4.3 shows that the number of foreign higher education students who study in Kazakhstan institutions has varied over the last seven years, ranging from 10 458 in 2008 to 9 077 in 2014 (Committee on Statistics of the MNE RK, 2014-2015). The level of inbound student mobility has been consistently low: in 2014 it stood at roughly 2.1% of higher education enrolment.

Figure 4.3. Foreign students in higher education in Kazakhstan

Sources: Ministry of National Economy of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Committee on Statistics (2014-2015),

Outbound faculty mobility

Since the introduction of the Strategy for Academic Mobility in the Republic of Kazakhstan, outbound faculty movement has been increasing. In the period between 2011 and 2015, more than 2 600 faculty travelled abroad for internships, study and professional development (including 1 472 faculty who were in receipt of Bolashak scholarships). This represents over 5% of the total number of faculty members in Kazakhstan.

Unfortunately, based on the data available, it is not possible to determine which institutions were represented in these instances of staff mobility, nor the nature and duration of the activity. Similarly, Kazakhstani data do not allow for direct comparisons between Kazakhstan and other countries. However, to provide a very rough comparison: data on staff mobility supported by the European Commission’s Erasmus Programme indicate that in the period 2013-2014, a total of 2 327 United Kingdom staff participated in outbound mobility programmes. In Spain 5 727 staff were outwardly mobile during that same period, and in Turkey 5 838 staff engaged in an outward mobility experience (European Commission, 2015).

Inbound faculty mobility

The Ministry of Education and Science reports that between 2010 and 2014, a total of just under 7 000 foreign scholars and faculty visited Kazakhstani higher education institutions. These visits are frequently of short duration, consisting of guest lectures or seminars that are often given in translation. There has been little assessment of the effect of these visits.

Within the framework of the Bologna Process, the volume of visiting professor and researcher activity has been increasing. In 2011, around 1 500 professors spent time in-residence at 27 Kazakhstani institutions (European Commission, 2012); in 2014, 1 726 foreign experts visited 52 Kazakhstani universities (Center for Bologna Process and Academic Mobility).

International mobility in Kazakhstan compared to other countries

Two figures in this section compare inbound and outbound student flows for a range of countries. These comparisons include total numbers of students (Figure 4.4), as well as mobility rates – which are defined as the number of students from abroad studying in a given country, or the number of students from that country studying abroad, expressed as a percentage of total tertiary enrolment in that country (Figure 4.5). Kazakhstan performs reasonably well on outbound measures. This reflects the attention that has been paid to supporting a range of initiatives such as short-term exchanges.

Figure 4.4. Outbound and inbound student mobility (total number of students) in 2015

Sources: UNESCO International Statistics database (2016),

Figure 4.5. Outbound and inbound international mobility (rates) in 2015

Sources: UNESCO International statistics database (2016),

Australia, Singapore and the United Kingdom all have high inbound mobility rates. This reflects active government policies encouraging inbound international mobility, as well as the attractiveness of these countries’ education sectors. Countries such as Brazil, People's Republic of China, and India, which lack adequate capacity to meet domestic demand for higher education and are considered by many to have higher education systems of variable quality, have low rates of inbound mobility.

Kazakhstan’s rate of inbound mobility is comparable to that of the Russian Federation, Azerbaijan and the Republic of Korea. Kazakhstani universities are not competitive in international ranking schemes, which are one of the key factors that influence international students’ choice of destination. In addition, the generally low standard of facilities, services and infrastructure in Kazakhstani higher education institutions, their limited capacity to provide instruction in English language, and restrictive visa conditions all contribute to a lack of competitiveness.

Anecdotal evidence provided in interviews suggests that external media coverage of corruption in Kazakhstani higher education, and in the country more generally, has also had a negative effect on international student interest (Rumyantseva, 2004). The State Program of Educational Development 2011-2020 acknowledges that corruption in higher education remains a problem that must be addressed. While it may be possible to increase inbound student numbers by working more closely with aid agencies, until the quality and integrity of higher education are demonstrably improved, substantial increases are unlikely.

Inbound student mobility has not been a priority for Kazakhstan, and the reasons for this are somewhat understandable. The higher education system derives greater benefit from inbound mobility of faculty than that of students: the former make a direct contribution to the capacity of the higher education system. Outbound student mobility, because of the way it develops the intellectual capacity and the skills base of the population, will tend to be a higher priority than inbound mobility in countries like Kazakhstan. However, it should be remembered that internationalisation is not only about direct financial and economic benefits: foreign students also bring new perspectives, and they can contribute to improved cultural competence while enabling longer-term relationship building and networking. These long-term indirect benefits of the diplomatic and economic relationships that inbound material builds can prove extremely valuable.

The internationalised curriculum

Little attention has been paid to developing an internationalised curriculum in most Kazakhstani institutions. The OECD review team observed scarce evidence of explicit development of international examples, case studies, or the development of global perspectives in curricula. The key pillars of Kazakhstan’s internationalisation strategy have rather been the implementation of the Bologna Process, the Bolashak Scholarship Programme, and the establishment of Nazarbayev University.

The Bologna Process

Kazakhstan has made substantial efforts to reform its higher education system along the lines of the Bologna framework, though significant challenges remain (see Chapter 2). The three cycle-system of bachelor-master’s-doctorate (PhD) was introduced in 2004, and a special centre was established to manage the Bologna process and academic mobility initiatives. In 2010 Kazakhstan became the first Central Asian country to join the EHEA. Kazakhstan has also taken steps to align national qualifications and credits with the European Qualifications Framework and the European Credit Transfer Scheme (ECTS).

The implementation of the Bologna Process has provided substantial stimulus for international student mobility in Kazakhstan. However, academic staff with whom the OECD review team spoke reported that mobility credits have not always transferred easily – if at all – between institutions. This functions as a disincentive to mobility for staff, students and institutions within Kazakhstan and beyond.

The adoption of the Bologna Process has also created opportunities for Kazakhstani universities to implement joint education projects such as double diplomas, mutual recognition of academic courses and international accreditation. Double diploma programmes have been implemented by 37 Kazakhstani higher education institutions. More generally, in 2013 Kazakhstani higher education institutions had 2 704 international education agreements with institutions in 46 countries.

However, the OECD review team heard concerns that the vast majority of these agreements are declarative in nature and do not result in real partnerships. There is currently little evidence of meaningful international co-operation or activities that have resulted from these agreements. Analysis conducted in 2013 by the Centre for the Bologna Process and Academic Mobility indicates that few institutions were able to specify how many of the signed international agreements had been operationalised.

Where tangible international co-operation is occurring between Kazakhstani higher education institutions and foreign institutions, it appears to be primarily with those located in Commonwealth of Independent States countries. Nonetheless, engagement in Bologna has expanded the range of potential partner countries and international partnerships, increasing opportunities for wider collaboration.

The Bolashak programme

Perhaps the most significant state policy initiative to encourage internationalisation has been the presidential Bolashak scholarship programme that was established in 1993. The Bolashak programme is designed to train future leaders in economics, public policy, science, engineering, medicine and other key fields. Bolashak scholarships have been awarded for bachelor’s, master’s and (since 2005) for PhD degree studies – as well as, since 2008, for research activities. Support for study at bachelor’s level was discontinued in 2011; the focus is now clearly placed on master’s and PhD-level study programmes.

Bolashak scholarships cover all study-related costs: tuition fees, accommodation expenses, book allowances, medical insurance, travel expenses, entry visas and other registration costs, and application fees. The programme is administered by the Center for International Programmes, a government owned-entity that was created specifically to manage the scholarships and is overseen by the Ministry of Education and Science. Despite the current slump in resource prices, the government reports that Kazakhstan will continue this high-cost but potentially promising programme – although the numbers of students who are supported may vary.

Since its inception, around 10 000 students have benefitted from Bolashak scholarships. They have studied in more than 200 universities in 23 countries, including Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. The annual number of scholarships awarded increased in the years following 2005. In 2014, a total of 1 297 young people aged between 18-28 were Bolashak recipients.

The most popular specialisations are information technologies and systems, management and administration, electronics and radio engineering, and construction and architecture (JSC Information-Analytic Center, 2015). Male and female applicants are equally represented in the Bolashak programme (51% men and 49% women). The programme has been most influential at master’s level, with half of Bolashak recipients graduating from master’s programmes, as opposed to one-third from undergraduate programmes. The remainder graduated from doctoral and specialist programmes, or held research fellowships.

The Bolashak progamme was initially created to train future civil servants. To a large extent it has achieved this aim: upon their return to Kazakhstan, the majority of graduates have taken jobs in the civil service. Bolashak alumni work in a variety of other sectors though, such as manufacturing and financial services. The programme has also had a major impact in the higher education sector workforce, with over 1 000 of its graduates employed at higher education institutions.

Bolashak has also been focused on meeting the needs of the oil, gas and power industries. Historically, less attention has been paid to other areas that may play an important role in the country’s future development (e.g. biology, biotechnology and the automotive industry). But a state priority, identified in President Nazarbayev’s Address to the Nation in 2012 as “Strategy Kazakhstan 2050” (Nazarbayev, 2012), is to build a “science-intensive economy”. Thus the priorities of the Bolashak Scholarship Programme are now directed to the support and development of graduate students in specific fields of study who will contribute to the achievement of the second five years of the State Industrial and Innovative Development Programme.

There has been considerable concern about the “brain drain” that may occur as a consequence of Bolashak recipients’ experiences abroad. Award conditions require that a scholarship only be given to an applicant who provides collateral property equivalent to the value of the scholarship, or provides up to four guarantors who will assume financial liability for the government’s investment should the recipient not return to Kazakhstan. Upon completion of their study abroad, recipients must work in Kazakhstan in the discipline of their degree for five years. Their collateral guarantee is then released (Sagintayeva and Jumakulov, 2015).

Nazarbayev University

There are high expectations for Nazarbayev University, which was established in 2010 as a model institution with a dual mission: to integrate science, education and industry to support the development of the country, and to spearhead the implementation of international best practices. The University currently has around 200 faculty members (85% of whom are from other countries), just under 2 000 students, seven schools and 16 undergraduate programmes. It has a selective admissions process.

Nazarbayev University utilises a model of strategic partnerships with foreign institutions, and currently has 12 foreign partners including institutions such as Duke University, Cambridge University, University College London, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Wisconsin. It appears though that many of these partnerships are still simply course licensing agreements. It was also far from clear to the OECD review team to what extent these relationships have been evaluated, that is, to what extent the learning they generate and their rate of return on public investment, has been assessed. It will be a sign of maturity when the university moves beyond service agreements to true international partnerships such as joint research centres or jointly developed curricula.

Nazarbayev University is clearly Kazakhstan’s most internationalised higher education institution – with a high proportion of international staff and several joint and collaborative teaching programmes. It is arguably the institution that is best positioned to attract international students from beyond the country, as it has a high proportion of English-speaking staff with international qualifications (although the annual faculty turnover rate of 15% is high). Nazarbayev University is also extraordinarily well resourced compared to other universities in the country, with high-quality infrastructure and facilities. Its operations are unencumbered by the state requirements regarding curriculum and content that affect other universities.

Policy makers intend that the experience of Nazarbayev University, for example with its internationalisation processes, will be “translated” to the rest of the system. However, to date there appears to have been insufficient support and structure for capturing the learning from this experiment, and for translating it in ways that can be applied by higher education institutions that are less well resourced. There is currently little publicly available documentation of the performance of Nazarbayev University: some of the supported research projects are yet to report their findings, and the OECD review team’s discussions with staff of other institutions identified a lack of awareness of the university’s initiatives, its achievements and any lessons learned.

According to some stakeholders with whom the OECD review team spoke, the competitive advantage associated with the special status of Nazarbayev University may also be a factor preventing co-operation and knowledge transfer. Moreover, five years into operation, much of the university’s governance and policy are still under development. It is likely that it will take some time for the Nazarbayev University to fully establish itself and analyse its performance in ways that make it possible for other institutions to draw on its experience.

Supporting increased internationalisation of higher education in Kazakhstan

The previous section outlined some of the recent initiatives surrounding internationalisation in Kazakhstan, and the challenges that Kazakhstan faces. This section will examine in more detail ways in which Kazakhstan might make further progress.

Academic autonomy and institutional partnerships

Recent state initiatives to allow greater levels of academic autonomy are a welcome and necessary step towards a mature higher education system. As Chapters 2 and 7 note, the State Programme for Education 2011-2020 and State Programme for Education and Science Development 2016-2019 have substantially increased notional academic autonomy, decreasing the proportion of the curriculum that is centrally specified. Nevertheless, student mobility is still limited by the high level of prescription in the undergraduate curriculum, and there is a relatively low level of institutional readiness for autonomy in programme design and curriculum. In short, the rigidity of the current programmes and curricula, still governed in part by specified state standards, hinders the achievement of mobility goals. Students report that they sometimes find it difficult or impossible to gain credit for their international experience.

More academically autonomous institutions could help inspire confidence in the overall quality of higher education in Kazakhstan. Autonomy, though, requires a robust external and internal quality assurance and accreditation processes. Increased academic autonomy also needs to be accompanied by appropriate levels of staff development and training. Such training should be extensive, accessible and focus on more than pedagogic practice: it should address programme and curriculum design, assessment, evaluation, new technologies and delivery approaches.

Kazakhstan’s limited academic autonomy has other negative consequences beyond restricting student flows. It also discourages the development of joint international programmes, in part because it makes it hard to accommodate the programme requirements of other universities. To be effective, joint programmes need to take the form of partnerships – rather than simply be the acquisition of another institution’s programme (at Nazarbayev University, despite its higher levels of academic autonomy, the latter approach still prevails). It will take time, despite the loosening of academic restrictions, for institutions and staff to develop confidence in the quality of their academic programmes. It is essential that Kazakhstani university staff have the freedom, along with the requisite knowledge and skills, to work in a reciprocal manner with partner institutions to develop shared educational programmes.

Partnerships between institutions within Kazakhstan can also support internationalisation. Institutions can, for instance, share credit recognition arrangements and other procedures, and they can provide each other with support for strategically targeted engagement with institutions in other countries. Kazakhstan has made some progress towards establishing a mechanism that encourages and supports universities in their development of international partnerships and co-operative programmes that are aligned with state priorities. Chances of success will be increased, though, if strategies for the development of educational priorities are integrated with other activities and strategies across government.

Box 4.4. An example of partnership in internationalisation: Quality Beyond Boundaries

The Quality Beyond Boundaries Group (QBBG) is a network of international quality assurance agencies that has been formed to address the growing quality assurance challenges and opportunities associated with cross-border higher education. Members of QBBG include:

  • The Knowledge and Human Development Authority of Dubai

  • The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education from the United Kingdom

  • Singapore’s Council for Private Education

  • Hong Kong (China)’s Council for Accreditation of Academic and Vocational Qualifications

  • The Malaysian Qualifications Agency

  • The New England Association of Schools and Colleges from the United States

  • The WASC Senior College and University Commission from the United States

  • Australia’s Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency.

The QBBG is meant to better address common challenges by creating a platform to collaborate, share information and best practices, and work together to improve quality assurance systems for cross-border higher education.

Sources: Australian Government, Tertiary Education Quality Standard Agency,

Ensuring institutional strategy and support

In countries that have extensive internationalisation activities, the administrative processes, procedures and systems supporting student and staff mobility are well established and professionally and strategically run. For example in Australia, a country with a strong international student sector, each university has a large international division that is responsible for a wide range of activities such as marketing, recruitment, enrolment quality assurance and student support. Umeå University in Sweden offers another example of a strategic approach to internationalisation (see Box 4.5).

Box 4.5. An Institutional Strategy for Internationalisation: Umeå University, Sweden

Umeå University in Sweden has developed a high-level Internationalisation Strategy for Education. This comprehensive strategy addresses six key goals:

  • Improve the range of programmes.

  • Develop the campus into a distinctly international environment.

  • Be a bilingual university.

  • Develop the organisation based on an international approach.

  • Strengthen the university brand based on an international perspective.

  • Prioritise certain geographical areas.

The strategy identifies the reasons for engaging in international activities, and targets groups of students and forms of internationalisation. It identifies key performance indicators and targets, identifies the activities that will deliver these and emphasises the role of data. A feature of the strategy is its inclusion of target regions and countries, and of the reasons for focusing on these.

Sources: UMEA University (2014),

Australia also has a national network of senior International Office leaders under the auspices of the apex national body for Australian universities, Universities Australia. The International Education Association of Australia provides professional development, conferences, resources and networking for professionals engaged in international education – while also taking on an advocacy role vis-à-vis government. Finally, agencies such as Australia’s Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency belong to cross-country networks on internationalisation (see Box 4.4).

Compared to many countries, international co-operation activity in Kazakhstani higher education is still in its infancy: it lacks strategic vision and the level of resourcing needed to make a real difference. For instance, a number of Kazakhstani universities have established “Offices of International Co-operation” to build international ties and support staff and student mobility. However, the OECD review team observed that these units are in general poorly funded, understaffed and often located within linguistics departments rather than operating as self-standing offices. It was also reported to the review team that the staff members in the international co-operation offices have limited networking and knowledge-sharing opportunities. This leads to reduced opportunities for relevant professional development.

Gaps in the strategic capacity of Kazakhstan’s higher education institutions doubtless explain in part the low impact of international co-operation offices. Higher education institutions in Kazakhstan need to be more strategic in their international engagement. They need, for instance, to ensure that they set targets; identify strategically important partnerships; target appropriate institutions and regions; provide professional development for staff; and create structures that facilitate student exchange. Networking opportunities for staff (including at international events), as well as the use of data, performance measures, benchmarking and metrics, can all contribute to a strategic approach.

The OECD review team also observed extensive variation in the extent to which institutions prepare students for international experiences, and help them make later use of their experiences once they have returned to Kazakhstan. The mechanisms by which students can participate in international mobility activities should be clearly described, widely disseminated and transparent.

Improving data and intelligence

Higher education institutions in Kazakhstan appear to collect a variety of different data about internationalisation and to manage it in different ways. Reports made to the OECD review team suggest that there is not a consistent framework for developing institutional datasets relating to international activities. Different institutions indicated that the collection of data on these activities is determined by the institution itself; frequently this appears to be a decision made at the level of an international co-operation unit.

Kazakhstan consequently has little in the way of nationally co-ordinated data on internationalisation, and thus undertakes little evaluation of various internationalisation initiatives. Data in itself is of course not sufficient: to be useful, it also requires the capacity for analysis and action. However, the establishment of rigorous state data collection on international co-operation activities would be an important contribution towards a better-managed approach to internationalisation. Without reliable long-term data, informed decision making and robust evaluation are problematic. Data need to be openly available, accessible and shareable if they are to have any effect. Countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia, which have strong international education traditions, provide comprehensive national data sets on line.

Enhancing financial support for students

Some stakeholders whom the OECD review team spoke with – in particular, at private higher education institutions – reported that financial barriers are the greatest impediment to the success of mobility programmes. While an increasing number of institutions require students at master’s level to go abroad, their experience may be restricted to a very short visit due to limited funding. Financial considerations play an essential role in decisions about choice of country and institution.

Kazakhstan needs to provide sufficient financial support for outbound mobility of students and staff available, with this funding made available via scholarships and low-cost loans. Furthermore, this funding should be targeted. As noted above, Kazakhstan already targets priority discipline areas. By also using enhanced student support to target specific countries, Kazakhstan could achieve greater alignment between its development priorities and international education activity. There are longer-term consequences of students studying abroad: it develops relationships and networks that can endure as students move into the workforce. If funding were also able to identify realistic priority institutions abroad (rather than simply seeking to send all students to “tier one” universities), this would enable Kazakhstani higher education institutions to develop stronger relationships with international partners and make outbound mobility schemes more efficient.

A number of institutions reported to the OECD review team that they could not afford faculty mobility. This situation has been exacerbated by the devaluation of the tenge, which has made the cost of living in foreign countries very high for faculty members from Kazakhstani higher education institutions. Given the longer-term benefits that accrue from internationalisation, additional state investments are also warranted here.

Institutions have little scope to raise their own funds, philanthropic activity is limited, and there is limited support from business and industry to sponsor students who study abroad. However, where institutions could develop or already have strong relationships with employers, there is potential to attract industry funding for student mobility in areas of economic demand. This could also be one part of the endowment strategy discussed in Chapter 3.

Capitalising on the Bolashak programme

The British Council, which supervises exchanges of students to and from the United Kingdom, described the Bolashak initiative as the “best scholarship programme in the world” at its Going Global international conference in 2014 (Washington Times, 2016). However, while the programme has been the object of substantial investments (see Chapter 6), there are as of yet no rigorous evaluations of the effectiveness of this spending. Indeed, it is difficult to find any direct or indirect measures of the effects of Bolashak on the country. It is very likely though that other public investments in internationalisation, with lower price tags and more short-term in nature, will need to complement the Bolashak programme if Kazakhstan is to achieve its development goals.

Despite the positive informal comments that the OECD review team heard about Bolashak, there were also concerns about the programme. For instance, official descriptions of the selection criteria and processes of the programme suggest that the highly competitive nature of the selection process ensures that only the best students, representing Kazakhstan’s most promising young leaders, are named Bolashak Scholars. However, the review team heard that there may at times be a lack of transparency, and perhaps even undue favouritism, in the selection process. This warrants further investigation: if it is the case, it could undermine the effectiveness of the programme.

Also, more could be done to derive value for Kazakhstan from Bolashak recipients’ international experiences. The Bolashak Alumni Relations Office (BARO) at the Center for International Programmes is a relatively new initiative that helps graduates realise their potential within their specialty. To date it appears that BARO activities have focused on helping Bolashak alumni find employment through job fairs and meetings with major companies. BARO also gathers feedback from graduates about ways to improve the programme. These are worthwhile activities, but Bolashak graduates return with substantial and valuable knowledge, and with extensive professional networks, that could be made use of more intensively. Structured projects and events could play an important role in harnessing this untapped potential.

Attracting foreign staff

It is difficult to obtain reliable data on the number of foreign academic staff in Kazakhstani higher education institutions. Although the Unified Higher Education Management System (UHEMS) does provide some information on foreign teaching staff and consultants, such data does not appear to be collected systematically across the sector. The OECD review attempted some calculations and found incomplete and imperfect counts. The largest numbers of foreign faculty members are clearly at Nazarbayev University, which has been given a mandate to recruit international faculty and administrative staff who are paid at internationally competitive levels; a few other exceptions, such as KIMEP in Almaty, are also able attract a fair number of international faculty. Most other Kazakhstani universities, however, are poorly funded. They have low salaries, low levels of infrastructure and high instructional workloads, making them inherently unattractive to foreign faculty members.

The widespread use of Kazakh and Russian, and absence of English as a true medium of business and instruction at most universities, further restricts the regions from which foreign faculty can be recruited. Low levels of academic autonomy are also a disincentive, as are concerns about integrity, and immigration laws and employment regulations. Finally, the current low-level reputation of the Kazakhstani higher education system is a powerful disincentive to foreign staff. Until the status and reputation of institutions is improved, it will be difficult to attract high-quality academic staff to work in Kazakhstani higher education. The recommendations found in other chapters of this report can all help Kazakhstan arrive at a point where international faculty more actively seek out employment at Kazakhstani higher education institutions.

Improving English-language skills

Anglophone nations dominate global academic mobility: four English-speaking countries deliver more than 50% of programmes involving students studying abroad. Without staff who have good English-language skills, and without programmes taught in English, institutions will find it difficult to attract and retain the “brightest and best” international students. While capacity building and reputation enhancement involve long-term change, changing the medium of instruction can occur relatively quickly and can have substantial positive short-term effects. For instance, large increases between 1998 and 2003 in international student enrolments in Iceland, Norway and Sweden appear in part to be the result of these countries’ adoption of a policy promoting greater English-medium instruction (Hénard et al., 2012).

The low level of English-language instruction in higher education, and the limited English language competency of staff, adversely affects the extent to which academics can engage in activities such as research collaborations, international research publications, programme collaboration and joint teaching. English remains the primary language for academic publication – particularly in high citation journals which have traction in rankings schemes. If Kazakhstani faculty members lack sufficient English to research and publish internationally, then their capacity to engage in the research arena will be limited.

As observed above, English-language proficiency (and to a lesser extent, proficiency in other commonly spoken languages) is also a significant impediment to staff and student mobility. Potential exchange participants are often restricted to countries where Russian is a language of instruction. If they choose to go elsewhere, then their ability to engage and interact will be limited. In the recent Youth Survey, 35% of respondents aged 14-17 and 45% of 26-27 year olds reported that they believed that they “lack knowledge of English language” (MESRK, 2014). The OECD review team’s interaction with Kazakhstani students suggests this figure may be an underestimate.

A more active and better-resourced multilingual approach could equip Kazakhstani students with the skills and confidence to study abroad, and create an environment that facilitates foreign academics teaching, researching and publishing collaboratively with Kazakhstani faculty. President Nazarbayev has remarked that the new generation of Kazakhstanis should be fluent in three languages, Kazakh, Russian and English. He has described Kazakh as the official language, Russian as the language of interethnic communication and English as the language of successful integration into the global economy (Isaeva and Sultaniarova, 2013, MESRK, 2014). The school sector will face real challenges as it seeks to develop graduates fluent in three languages using its already stretched resources. Clearly, though, the development of better English competencies needs to be a key priority for Kazakhstan.

Making better use of digital technologies

Digital technologies present a number of significant opportunities for expanding internationalisation in Kazakhstan at a reasonably low cost. Technologies could be used to create virtual classrooms, allowing Kazakhstani students at home to interact with foreign faculty and students. The vast range of digital learning assets (such as MOOCs, i.e. Massive Open Online Courses) can enrich curriculum, bringing international perspectives and examples into Kazakhstani curricula and teaching. Virtualised experiments and instrumentation can support international research and teaching collaborations and allow access to equipment that may be beyond the means of individual institutions.

The MESRK (2015) reports that digital technologies are in limited use in higher education; the observations of the OECD review team would support this view. Some learning materials may be available on the web, but these tend to be static rather than interactive. As a result, such materials only generate low levels of engagement, and they do not support the synchronous learning activities that characterise contemporary distance and e-learning.

Technologies could be harnessed to support international teaching co-operation by having international staff teach virtually in Kazakhstani programmes, run seminars, and even lead combined classes of foreign and Kazakhstani students. Technologies might also enhance mobility programmes, supporting Kazakhstani students as they prepare for educational experiences abroad and helping them stay connected with their home institution while away. Finally, upon their return to Kazakhstan, students and faculty members might use technologies to build on the knowledge, skills, connections and networks that they gained while abroad.

Enhancing research capacity and quality

The internationalisation of advanced degree studies has been encouraged by recent requirements that a foreign co-supervisor support PhD students. Similarly, changes to the requirements for state research grants now specify the need for a foreign co-director and for international participation. If successfully implemented, these initiatives will strengthen the quality of research, contribute to the development of international partnerships and collaboration, assist in brain circulation and building internal capacity. These aspects are described in detail in Chapter 5.


Further internationalisation could improve the quality and relevance of the higher education sector, and enhance Kazakhstan’s competitiveness. Internationalisation is primarily an institutional activity, but one that is located within a broader higher education environment in which the state plays a major role. Consequently the recommendations below relate both to the higher education system and to higher educational institutions themselves.

This review recommends that Kazakhstan:

Take a whole-of-government approach to international higher education with a robust policy framework and national strategy that aligns with Kazakhstan’s goals for human capital development.

  • Kazakhstan has focused its internationalisation for higher education policy on outbound student and staff mobility to increase the skills and capacity of its population.

  • Real benefits will accrue from a more consistent and integrated approach to internationalisation, harmonising policies across portfolios such as education, trade, immigration and labour. Sharing of data across these areas, combined with complementary policy development, will contribute to a more effective system that is working towards shared goals. For example, “brain gain” from higher levels of inbound staff mobility will be difficult to achieve until issues relating to immigration, visas and employment laws are resolved.

  • The creation of an inter-governmental committee or group would help ensure a whole-of-government approach to internationalisation. The provision of platforms for knowledge sharing and networking about the strengths and weaknesses of the national higher education system would allow all stakeholders to gain a deep comprehension of the complexity and potential of internationalisation.

  • It is important that the state continue to strengthen the convergence between national policies and institutional interests. However, key partners come not only from the world of academia. They include other regional and national stakeholders, as well as stakeholders in the international settings where institutions operate.

Allow institutions to determine the approach to internationalisation that is most appropriate to their aspirations and circumstances.

  • With a strong government framework, there is much that individual institutions can do to achieve effective internationalisation. Greater institutional autonomy will allow institutions to develop appropriate responses to the internationalisation agenda.

  • Institutions should be encouraged to engage progressively in mobility activities, in line with their mandate and capacities. Not all institutions are well positioned to fully develop strong inbound programmes; they will first need to address gaps in quality, reputation and language of instruction.

  • State initiatives such as the Bolashak programme, the adoption of the Bologna Process and the establishment of Nazarbayev University have all had an impact on the level of internationalisation in higher education. They should be reviewed to ensure this impact is effective and supports system improvement.

  • Kazakhstani institutions should be encouraged to develop more joint degrees and twinning programmes with targeted institutions in priority countries. These sorts of programme offer the potential for institutions to leverage the expertise of their partners, and thus help better assure quality and build capacity.

Continue the current relaxation of curriculum and prescribed content to enable a more internationalised curriculum and enhance student mobility.

  • A less rigid curriculum would facilitate the development of joint and dual programmes, and reduce some of the current barriers to student mobility.

  • Institutions should encourage curriculum development that increases opportunities for mobility (e.g. that embeds an outbound experience into the curriculum).

  • The state should provide greater incentive for initiatives that internationalise the curriculum. Professional development should be implemented to develop faculty knowledge in this area. Foreign faculty should be encouraged to share their experience and international examples.

Establish indicators on student, programme, and institution-level mobility that allow international comparison. Publish these regularly. To enhance comparability, adopt international standards for data and indicators on internationalisation.

  • Central government agencies and higher education institutions need to collect data about all aspects of internationalisation in a systematic manner, and make this publicly available.

  • Longitudinal databases that collect information about international students, and about domestic students going abroad, will improve knowledge of the impacts of international mobility on those who participate, and on the economy and society more widely. This will allow for the effective evaluation of internationalisation strategies.

  • Kazakhstan should adopt a broad view of what it means to measure the impact of mobility and internationalisation. Evaluation should focus on areas such as quality of delivery and capacity building in priority fields of study; enhancements to the innovation and research systems; the retention and subsequent migration of highly trained workers; equity of access to opportunities for mobility; and the impact of internationalisation on higher education finance.

  • Another key priority is better information on the impacts of “international experience” on individuals (gathered for example through graduate or destination surveys) including the “value-add” that such experience brings.

  • Data and indicators should allow Kazakhstan to compare itself to other countries. To this end, Kazakhstan might draw for instance on ongoing international initiatives regarding diploma recognition and credit transfers.

Expand the current scholarships scheme, and introduce new forms of financial support for study abroad to increase the sector’s capacity for international mobility.

  • State incentives such as the Bolashak programme have been very effective in encouraging outbound mobility; recent changes to the programme will help ensure that it results in “brain circulation” rather than “brain drain”. In particular, the 2011 decision to remove bachelor degree study from Bolashak support, and to focus on master’s level scholarships, is a positive move. Further growth is needed at PhD level.

  • However, Bolashak is not sufficient on its own. Kazakhstan also needs lower-cost financial incentive schemes that will support a larger number of students studying abroad for the shorter or longer term. Industry may sponsor some outbound schemes that support study in associated disciplines. The state should consider establishing a mechanism to encourage private contributions to a mobility scholarship fund.

  • Scholarships for outbound mobility should be targeted, identifying particular priority countries with which Kazakhstan wishes to further existing ties or develop new trading relationships.

Better leverage the efforts of the Bolashak programme.

  • Activities of the Bolashak Alumni Relations Office should be expanded and the skills of the Bolashak alumni used for in-country peer learning. For instance formal mentoring relationships between alumni and current Bolashak scholars will enhance the preparedness of new scholars for their experience.

  • The Alumni Relations Office should also establish a mechanism to support the continued development of relationships formed by the scholars while they are abroad. This will stimulate the development of professional and diplomatic networks. It could take the form of newsletters, assistance with networking opportunities or reciprocal visits and exchange.

  • The careers of returned Bolashak scholars should be formally tracked over the long term to better identify the benefits of the programme for educational institutions and for the country.

Encourage collaboration between higher education institutions, and reinforce efforts to identify and disseminate lessons from Nazarbayev University and the national universities for the internationalisation of higher education.

  • A more active and proactive approach that builds networks and supports collaboration will have greater chance of success. There are real economies of scale to be seized if institutions can work collaboratively to share their internationalisation practices (and their evaluation of these practices) with each other.

  • The national universities, and Nazarbayev University in particular, could play a convening role here. They can also take a leadership role by making available the results of their approaches to internationalisation and highlighting lessons learned. This will require that they invest in rigorous approaches to evaluating their programmes.

Increase the English proficiency of the youth population and faculty members, to help them seize a wide variety of internationalisation opportunities.

  • The growing emphasis on English language in schools is an important first step. This initiative needs to be expanded and adequately resourced to ensure its impact. Changes will take time to work through the population before their influence is fully felt. Initiatives to improve the level of English must be directed at the whole system of education.

  • Improved language skills will make transitions easier for Kazakhstani students who are studying at foreign universities. It will also enhance student demand for internationalisation experiences.

  • Until the English-language proficiency of teaching staff in universities and schools is improved, student progress will be held back. Investments in improving the English-language skills of faculty members will support increased international collaboration. Targeting an allocation of Bolashak support to improving English-language skills of faculty members is one possible approach.

Increase investments that exploit digital technologies to expand in-country “internationalisation through the curriculum”.

  • Leveraging technologies to access resources from elsewhere will allow Kazakhstani students to benefit from an international curriculum without having to travel abroad. It will help them develop a global perspective by engaging, for instance, with international case studies and experts.

  • Collaborative educational programmes such as joint curriculum development and the use of technologies to bring foreign staff and students virtually to Kazakhstan will give students the opportunity to learn from foreign staff and students.


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← 1. As Harvey writes: “The concept of globalization emphasizes ‘integration’, an internationally viable and globally acceptable standard, or the establishment of a sole standard”. On the other hand “internationalisation indicates exchange among or between nations based on the unit of a geographical or sovereign nation”. These two notions are of course linked though: “both transcend the scope and/or framework of nations or national borders, targeting the expansion and promotion of an exchange among or between nations/regions other than their own and enabling the process and achievement of exchange on a world scale.” (Harvey, 2016: pp).