Year: 2023

Bulat Utemuratov has turned Kazakhstan tennis into a model of success

Bulat Utemuratov, president of the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation and member of the ITF Board, has been one of the main architects of the incredible tennis improvements that his country has experienced in recent years.

Utemuratov, recently re-elected to his third term, is turning Kazakhstan into a real presence in the global game. The country has become one of the top 20 in the world, in terms of tennis development.

A clear example of this dynamism was undoubtedly demonstrated by the recent successes of Elena Rybakina, winner of Wimbledon 2022 and finalist at the Australian Open 2023. The Kazakh tennis player reached the 3rd position of the WTA ranking, winning 5 titles, among which (in addition to Wimbledon) the prestigious WTA 1000 at Indian Wells and Rome. But Elena’s successes are just the tip of an iceberg that shows excellence on a structural level.

Tennis Kazakhstan data: Bulat Utemuratov’s commitment and investments

According to data provided to Tennis World USA by President Bulat Utemuratov’s press office, the game in the country has experienced a crescendo that has placed it among the world tennis elite. In Soviet times, tennis was almost non-existent in Kazakhstan. The game became a bit more popular in the 1990s, but the country had little success due to high barriers to entry.

Bulat Utemuratov became passionate about the sport and was elected president of the KTF in 2007, establishing a new strategy. He has invested more than $100 million of his personal wealth to build 38 tennis centers with 364 hard and clay courts in Kazakhstan.

Reducing the cost of renting courts from $50 an hour in 2007 to $10 an hour now has been another key part of his success. The Federation has trained 300 coaches and 500 instructors. And the numbers become even more impressive if you consider that the children playing tennis in Kazakhstan have gone from 900 in 2007 to 30,000 in 2023!

The first phase of the tennis development program involved the naturalization of players from other countries, including Yaroslava Shvedova, Yuri Schukin and latterly Elena Rybakina. This has created success and interest in the sport nationwide. At the same time, there has been greater focus and success in bringing forward a really promising group of young players (Kazakhstan’s junior team recently reached the semi-finals of the ITF World Junior competition).

Fulfilling Bulat Utemuratov’s dream, Kazakhstan has hosted ATP 250, WTF 250 and ATP 500 tournaments and has 7 ITF votes.


Kazakhstan showing tennis success without deep traditions in the sport

Kazakhstan, a country that prior to 2007 has almost never been associated with international tennis, has achieved such significant success in this sport in recent years that some have taken to calling it a tennis miracle. But the secret to this success is extremely simple — the effective use of limited resources and a systematic approach to training and fostering talent.

I have been both a witness and direct participant in the transformation of Kazakhstan into a tennis powerhouse, since joining the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation in 2020 as tennis director. Kazakhstan’s journey to tennis triumph began in 2007 when Bulat Utemuratov, a great fan of tennis, started leading the federation. He launched a project to build tennis centers all across the country, and now Kazakhstan boasts 38 modern tennis centers and 364 hard and clay courts. 

Utemuratov, who has been recently re-appointed as the ITF vice president for the 2023-27 term and elected as a member for the ITF board of directors, helped make tennis in Kazakhstan not only more accessible, but also laid the foundation for more widespread and thorough training of young talent. Since 2007, the average cost of court rental has fallen from $50 per hour to $10 per hour. The federation has prepared 300 coaches and 500 instructors to train children from an early age and now hosts more than 200 tournaments a year. The number of children playing tennis in Kazakhstan has soared — from just 900 in 2007 to over 30,000 in 2023, with the 3,500 most talented players receiving free training, equipment and support to participate in tournaments.

A common refrain is that success in tennis is determined by money. Of course, that is part of the story. But in Kazakhstan we have focused on the efficient use of our limited resources, and on establishing a system of training that is based on principles of the correct volume and quality of training and competition for each age. The system in place today is similar to the very successful player development system used by Italy and Canada.   

What does that mean in practice?

You always want more coaches, more courts and more funding. However, it is necessary to understand that it is not only the number of courts that matters, but that the courts you have are busy and actively being used to train the nation’s tennis stars of tomorrow. We pay great attention to this in our day-to-day work in Kazakhstan. 

In addition to the effective utilization of tennis infrastructure, effective work with players is also crucial — ranging from physical training and funding to putting in place the proper motivational structures. This is a huge amount of work that is often overlooked, but which the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation is dedicating time and resources to in order to establish a system that is capable of systematically producing world-class players.

We adopt the world’s best practices in our player development, and that’s why we believe it’s not the concrete place or country where the players train that matter, but the training program. Some of our players train inside Kazakhstan in one of our tennis centers and some are based outside of Kazakhstan. Wherever they are based, the federation makes sure to monitor each player to ensure that they are doing enough tennis and fitness training, playing enough matches against a variety of opponents and gaining experience on different surfaces. 

The implementation of this approach and the redistribution of resources has allowed the federation to provide more support to successful players and has already produced a number of promising juniors. Today, in every junior age group we have at least 6-7 players that are really talented and showing good results. 

The federation and its president have done a great job, not only in creating the necessary tennis infrastructure, but also providing the sport and the players with sponsors. Strong, nationally recognized companies, including the likes of ForteBank and mobile operator Beeline are investing their money in the development of the sport, enabling the federation to create its own tennis academy and finance players’ travel to tournaments. 

The federation also invests in identifying and tailoring coaching programs for talented players through the KTF’s targeted programs for under-14s and under-10s that operate in every tennis center. Federation supervisors attend all major tournaments at dedicated age groups, analyze the results of every player and see how they can best support the players and their coaches. Training one player from the age of 12 until 22, when they could become one of the best in the world, requires a significant investment and a lot of planning and organization. 

It is also important to note that we are establishing a training system that will work in the long term, regardless of who runs tennis in the country. When I started working for the federation as tennis director, I told Mr. Utemuratov that my main objective would be to make my job redundant in the future, and that the system we have developed will function and thrive without me.

Kazakhstan has already achieved a lot in developing tennis domestically, as the success of players in the international arena shows. Since 2010, the country has had significant success at the top professional tournaments and in the Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup. The country has now established a player development system based on proven world standards. Of course, the full-fledged functioning of the system needs some more time, as was the case in Italy and Canada, but I am very confident that in the near future it will produce new, successful top-level players in Kazakhstan. 

Kazakhstan serves as a good example of how a country without a deep tradition of tennis or producing tennis players can achieve great results in a relatively short period of time through passion and the great work of the federation’s president and by putting in place a systematic approach and sound strategy. This is a lesson that other federations can follow. 

Dave Miley is executive director of the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation and an international tennis consultant.


Kazakhstan Tennis Federation celebrates another strong year, re-electing President Bulat Utemuratov and setting out ambitious plans

  • Strong 2023 for established and junior players, including US Open mixed doubles victory
  • Bulat Utemuratov re-elected KTF President, member of BoD and ITF Vice President; KTF’s Yuriy Polskiy elected President of Asian Tennis Federation
  • Successful ATP 250 Astana Open and ambitious plans to further develop tennis in Kazakhstan in 2024

ASTANA, Kazakhstan, Dec. 14, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — The Kazakhstan Tennis Federation (the “KTF” or “Federation”) has held its annual conference in Astana to review the results of 2023 and outline plans for the upcoming year.

Kazakhstan’s women’s team with the KTF Officials (Pictured from Left to Right): Dias Doskarayev, the Vice-President of the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation; Janel Rustemova; Gozal Ainitdinova; Yulia Putintseva; Bulat Utemuratov, the President of the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation; Anna Danilina; Elena Rybakina; Yaroslava Shvedova, Captain of Kazakhstan’s women’s tennis team - Image Credit: Kazakhstan Tennis Federation

Kazakhstan’s women’s team with the KTF Officials (Pictured from Left to Right): Dias Doskarayev, the Vice-President of the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation; Janel Rustemova; Gozal Ainitdinova; Yulia Putintseva; Bulat Utemuratov, the President of the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation; Anna Danilina; Elena Rybakina; Yaroslava Shvedova, Captain of Kazakhstan’s women’s tennis team – Image Credit: Kazakhstan Tennis Federation

The conference, which brought together heads of regional branches and tennis centers, as well as officials from the KTF head office, also included the election of the Federation’s president, resulting in Bulat Utemuratov’s tenure being extended for another four years. This follows Mr. Utemuratov’s re-election as member of Board of Directors and Vice President of the International Tennis Federation for the 2023-2027 term earlier this month.

2023 marked another successful year for Kazakhstan’s tennis players, with notable achievements from the juniors. For the first time in history, both the boys’ and girls’ national teams qualified for the Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup world team championships for players under 16.

Elena Rybakina had a stellar year, reaching the final of the 2023 Australian Open, winning two WTA 1000 series tournaments and finishing the year in fourth place in the world rankings.

More broadly, the women’s national team continued to perform strongly, reaching the final stage of the Billie Jean King Cup for the second consecutive year and ranking 9th in the world.

Anna Danilina, the country’s leading female doubles player, won the US Open mixed doubles title, giving Kazakhstan its first mixed doubles victory at the Grand Slam tournament.

In the men’s game, Alexander Bublik had a successful season, winning the ATP 250 in Antwerp and the ATP 500 in Halle. Doubles players Aleksandr Nedovyesov and Andrey Golubev also secured their first ATP 250 titles, while the men’s national team retained its place in the Davis Cup World Group, ranking 14th.

Kazakhstan held the ATP 250 Astana Open tournament for the third time, with Almaty set to host the event next year. The Federation also has ambitious goals as it continues to build new tennis facilities, enhance coaching qualifications, support junior players and develop the domestic game.


Bulat Utemuratov Foundation marks another successful year with prestigious philanthropy award

  • Bulat Utemuratov named Philanthropist of the Year 2023 by the Kazakhstan Growth Forum, in recognition of social projects
  • Continued focus on autism, recently opening 13th Asyl Miras Autism Center in Semey
  • Other notable projects include opening new school Kosshy city, with plans for two more schools in Almaty region and construction of Kyzylorda airport terminal underway
  • Humanitarian relief program includes donations to Turkey earthquake victims and families of Kostenko mine disaster in Kazakhstan

ALMATY, Kazakhstan, Dec. 12, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — Bulat Utemuratov Foundation has completed another successful year with Bulat Utemuratov, the organization’s founder, recently named Philanthropist of the Year 2023 by the Kazakhstan Growth Forum.

The award is in recognition of the Foundation’s social projects, having provided $150 million for healthcare, education, infrastructure and cultural projects in Kazakhstan. The results were unveiled at a charity event in Almaty where independent members of the Kazakhstan Growth Forum’s Expert Council selected winners across 13 categories.  

Photo Credit: Bulat Utemuratov Foundation

Photo Credit: Bulat Utemuratov Foundation

The key initiative of Bulat Utemuratov Foundation has been its work in the field of autism, and most recently the Foundation, with the assistance of the Akimat of the Abay region, opened its 13th Asyl Miras Autism Center in Semey, Kazakhstan.

The new center will employ 15 specialists and educate up to 300 children a year, with classes aligned with the “Autism. One World for All” six intervention programs. It will provide tailored support for each child, with each three-month cycle of work based on their specific needs following diagnosis. Seven classrooms at the center are fully equipped with furniture, inventory and teaching aids.

The Foundation’s “Asyl Miras” autism centers have been operating for nine years, educating 16,000 children throughout Kazakhstan free of charge. They adopt cutting-edge practices and partner with recognized experts including the Kasari Lab at the University of California, the Marcus Autism Center in Atlanta, and the international organization Autism Speaks.

Other notable projects of the Foundation in 2023 include the construction and opening of a new school in the city of Kosshy for 3,000 pupils, along with commencing construction of an 8,500 square meter community center. In 2024, the Foundation plans to commission two more schools in the Almaty region, in the cities of Issyk and Shelek. The Foundation continues to support the construction of a new airport terminal in Kyzylorda, to be completed in the spring of 2024.

Humanitarian relief is another focus, and during 2023 the Foundation donated $5 million to victims of the earthquake in Turkey, along with $1 million to support families of victims of the Kostenko mine disaster in Kazakhstan’s Karaganda region. The Foundation also provides regular assistance to Kazakhstanis affected by natural disasters under its “Aid Card” program.

In addition, Bulat Utemuratov supports cultural projects such as the Batyrkhan Shukenov Foundation and the Kulanshi Gallery of Contemporary Art.

Almaz Sharman, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Bulat Utemuratov Foundation, commented: “In the last decade, Bulat Utemuratov Foundation has had a significant impact on several areas, including infrastructure, healthcare, education, and cultural initiatives. Notably, its dedication to supporting individuals with autism has been remarkable. The journey began with the establishment of the inaugural autism center in Almaty, which has since expanded into a successful network. The positive changes in children’s lives and social abilities have been inspiring, greatly assisting their integration into society and helping them adapt to challenges. These initiatives underscore Kazakhstan’s dedication to fostering a fair and inclusive society.”


Kazakhstan is becoming a world leader in higher education

Kazakhstan has set itself the task of internationalizing its higher education sector and turning the country into one of the world’s leading providers of education.

Despite the existence of objective challenges, the Central Asian country has already achieved a lot of work on this journey, and the current geopolitical situation in the region will only further boost international interest in Kazakhstan and its universities.

One key indicator of Kazakhstan’s progress on this journey — outlined in the country’s strategic development plan — is the share of international students at the country’s universities. In recent years, that number has tripled to more than 26,000, with foreign students now making up 4.5% of all students. The plan is to increase that to 10% by 2025 and to 20% by 2050. The government also expects that by 2025, three Kazakh universities will rank in at least two internationally recognised university league tables. By 2050, the goal is for five institutions to be ranked among the world’s top education institutions.

So, just how ambitious is this goal, what is it based on and, most importantly, how achievable is it?

Competing in the international education market is a serious challenge. Kazakhstan is entering a market dominated by giants like the United States, Britain and Europe, as well as rapidly developing players like China and India. Therefore, Kazakhstan needs to clearly understand and demonstrate what unique aspects it has to offer. 

In my opinion, one of Kazakhstan’s key distinguishing features is its special geopolitical situation. As one of the most stable and developed countries in Central Asia, which is increasing relations with both the United States and China, Kazakhstan has become a very attractive option for students not only from across its region, but also from Russia, which left the Bologna Process. Given these preconditions, demand to attend Kazakh universities will remain not only for the next few years, but also over the long-term.

This fortunate geopolitical situation is not the only ace up Kazakhstan’s sleeve when it comes to international education. The country has implemented significant reforms to the sector in recent years — culminating in joining the Bologna Process in 2010 and becoming the first country in Asia to become a part of the European education space.

I am convinced that education is a key pillar of a resilient and sustainable society. It is impossible to build such a society without institutional solutions in the field of domestic education. This notion is increasingly relevant in a world where global competition is constantly changing the rules of the game. Kazakhstan is an example of a country which understands this importance and is actively developing its education system to adapt to new challenges and requirements.

Last year, Kazakhstan was ranked 56th on the UN’s Human Development Index (HDI), entering the category of countries with a “very high” HDI score. This is the result of serious state reforms, including in the field of education, and proof that Kazakhstan is one of the most reformed countries in the post-Soviet space, with its education sector having undergone a radical transformation over the past 30 years.

The country’s progress is increasingly getting the attention of international ratings providers, with Kazakhstan’s top universities being recognised for their curriculums and as destinations for educational exchange programs within Central Asia. British analytical company Quacquarelli Symonds included 31 Kazakh universities in this year’s QS Asia University Rankings.

Today there are 117 universities in Kazakhstan — 47 of which are private. In recent years, a large number of new private universities have appeared in the country, in addition to the older — and radically reformed — state institutions. 

Many in the post-Soviet space have a stereotypical idea that commercial universities do not provide quality education and their goal is simply to turn a profit. This is far from true. Public and private universities offer different functions.

For instance, our university Narxoz is a private institution, supported by entrepreneur and philanthropist Bulat Utemuratov. But fundamentally it is a non-profit university, it does not aim to pay dividends or make a profit. All earnings and economic resources are directed towards a single purpose — improving the university through attracting and retaining high-caliber staff, developing infrastructure and offering grants to students. 

Narxoz achieved a 5-star rating in the QS rankings in several categories, including quality of education and career opportunities. In the overall rankings, it was one of 111 universities to be awarded four stars. Narxoz has the most extensive international connections of any university in Kazakhstan, including partners such as the University of Pittsburgh in the United States, the University of Helsinki, the University of Coventry in the UK and the EU Business School in Switzerland.

State universities, meanwhile, fulfill a social mission — providing broader access to higher education. From my point of view, this is a good trend, where the education sector has many different players, all taking on different tasks and specializing in different areas.

Kazakhstan’s achievements so far show the country has made excellent progress in developing its education sector. The tasks set down by the government — to boost education exports — are more than justified and achievable. However, it is also important to ensure these efforts do not turn into a blind pursuit of ratings and league tables, but instead are designed to develop the country’s human resources and scientific base.

By Marat Atnashev, Chairman of Narxoz University and Academic Ambassador of Narxoz Business School


Turning a Soviet-era university into a leading Eurasian management school

Nearly 32 years ago, Kazakhstan gained its independence from the Soviet Union and began building a market economy. It was a difficult transformation for our country and society — especially for our education system.

Dozens of new private, for-profit universities and colleges began operating in Kazakhstan. Existing universities had to change on the fly, adapting their educational programs to the new environment, competing with the new establishments, recruiting faculty with more up-to-date qualifications and competing internationally for both students and academics.

I have first-hand knowledge of the complexities involved in these processes. As a student, I secured a Bolashak International Scholarship — an initiative Kazakhstan launched shortly after independence to fund the sending of Kazakh scholars to universities abroad, to equip us with modern technical and managerial skills — and studied at the University of Wroclaw in Poland. Upon returning home, I worked as an administrator at one of the Kazakh universities in Astana, and then served as Kazakhstan’s vice minister of Education and Science for almost two years.

I’ve seen this constant process of reform, experimentation and modernisation play out from three sides — a student, a university manager, and a government minister. So in 2021 when I was offered the chance to continue this journey and become the head of Narxoz University, located in Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, I gladly accepted the challenge..

To a large extent, the story of Narxoz’s development and its ambitions for the future is the story of Kazakhstan’s entire modern university sector — rapid transformation, built on historic foundations.

Founded 60 years ago, Narxoz made its reputation training the best and brightest to be top civil servants, bureaucrats, politicians and managers of public institutions and state-owned companies during the Soviet period. Education was based on the prevailing economic theories of that era, and the university quickly became recognised as the country’s top academy for teaching public administration and management.

With independence, universities from Kazakhstan were suddenly thrust into the international marketplace for education, a market economy took hold at home and the idea of management and leadership training changed almost overnight.

Perhaps the biggest challenge was new international competition. Students had a plethora of new opportunities to study abroad, with scholarships for young Kazakhs available at prestigious universities in the United States, Britain, Netherlands, Germany and elsewhere. As many of these top students continued living and working abroad after gaining a degree, they lost touch with their homeland, and Kazakhstan experienced a brain drain.

For the country to develop, it was — and remains — obvious that talented young people need to be able to study in Kazakhstan and to have access to the best educational practices in the world at home.

Narxoz set about an educational overhaul to meet this challenge and to play a leading role in modernising Kazakhstan’s university system. Most fundamentally, this meant improving and updating teaching methods, boosting research capacities, forging new international partnerships, and putting quality at the heart of the curriculum.

But that didn’t mean abandoning our heritage and core strengths, rather building on them as a national leader in public administration and management, bringing in new connections to private industry, more international expertise, learning from global best practice and helping reform the country’s entire education sector.

One of the first projects on this path was an EU-funded program in collaboration with the Maastricht School of Management in the Netherlands and Italy’s Bocconi University that became the basis for nationwide changes, like the move to credit-based university courses.

After years of such reforms, several Kazakh universities signed the Magna Charta Universitatum, officially joining the Bologna Process to uphold academic standards across Europe — a key stage in the transformation of Narxoz and the wider sector.

But change is a constant progress, not a fixed goal and Narxoz is determined not to stand still in our mission to become one of the best management universities in Eurasia.

The latest phase of Narxoz’s journey is the involvement of Bulat Utemuratov, one of Kazakhstan’s leading business figures. A Narxoz graduate, Mr. Utemuratov dreamed of turning his alma mater into a state-of-the-art institution.

Since 2007 he has invested more than $70 million to develop the university. Last year, the reconstruction of Narxoz’s stylish, state-of-the-art campus was completed. The building facade, equipment and furniture were all upgraded. Environmentally friendly materials were used to create a comfortable indoor space for students. More than 30,000 trees and bushes were planted on the campus, reducing harmful emissions by about 75% and making the campus one of the most pleasant and safest places in Almaty.

The main changes, however, were not external, but internal. Outdated and unpopular educational programs were cut, and new programs based on international experience and with teaching in English were added. These programs are accredited by FIBAA, an international foundation headquartered in Bonn that assesses the quality of higher education in Europe, the United States and China.

Launching new programs and courses is an easy task — knowing when and how to get rid of those whose time has passed is much tricker. In the last two years Narxoz has cut almost 50 individual programs. It is hard and painful, but part of the ethos of quality-first. If a program isn’t accredited, international recognised, valuable to industry or has lingering questions, it needs to be put under review. We want to achieve a portfolio of quality programs that provide value to our students for the rest of their careers — something you can’t achieve without internal transformation.

Narxoz went about this process of updating its programs to serve the needs of a modern, independent state, while staying true to its founding DNA. For instance, the university launched an Applied Finance program alongside the National Bank of Kazakhstan that has today become a key training ground for future leaders in the country’s financial sector. Our faculty have also pioneered the development of the domestic accounting and audit market, drafting accounting and financial reporting laws, and participated in the creation of Kazakhstan’s Chamber of Auditors. And this year, Kazakhstan’s financial market regulator allocated grants to train actuaries at Narxoz University.

We also collaborate closely with the private sector to ensure students get an applied, rather than purely theoretical, education and stay connected with the real world, not just in academic circles. Our educational programs are developed in partnership with private business and based on practical examples. For instance, our Telecommunications Marketing program is carried out in conjunction with Beeline Kazakhstan, one of the country’s largest telecoms companies. Tourism and hospitality students spend five months undergoing training at the Ritz-Carlton Astana and Rixos Borovoe hotels, while we have also launched a program with Big Four accounting firm EY in which the company selects instructors for the course.

Even as the university sector has developed fast over the last three decades, these days competition for students is arguably even fiercer. Kazakhstan and Narxoz aren’t just competing with universities in Western Europe and North America now, but also the likes of China, Malaysia and eastern Europe in terms of attracting students.

One key part of our offering on this front is our double degree programs — where students earn degrees at two universities in different countries simultaneously — for instance, with the University of Coventry in the UK for economics, finance and accounting and with Mykolas Romeris University in Lithuania for law programs.

Looking to the future, I think it’s entirely realistic to focus not only on encouraging the best Kazakh students to study inside the country, but even on attracting international students to come here. Thanks to its academic development and campus investments, Narxoz is already attracting students from abroad — both from traditional neighbors like Uzbekistan and Russia, as well as emerging economic powerhouses like India and Nigeria. At the moment, around 5% of our 6,000-strong student body are international students.

Our ambitions there secured a big boost this year, with Narxoz being recognised in top international university league tables, used by millions of students around the world when choosing where to study. For instance, QS’s World University Rankings 2024 awarded Narxoz four stars, the same as the likes of the University of Central Lancashire in the UK and the American Institute of Applied Sciences in Switzerland. We secured the highest-possible five stars in several categories that have been core focuses of our reforms — teaching, employability and inclusiveness.

Three decades after the journey of transformation started, such recognition is testament to the hard work and difficult choices countless people are responsible for. I hope it will serve as motivation for Narxoz and Kazakhstan’s wider university sector in the years ahead as we continue our mission to become one of Eurasia’s top management schools.

About the author: Dr. Miras Daulenov is the President of Narxoz University, a leading economics, business, finance, and law university in Kazakhstan. His past positions include Vice Minister of Education and Science in Kazakhstan from 2019-2021, and lecturer at the University of Wroclaw from 2009-2012, among others. He has also worked on development projects with the World Bank and other institutions.


Nature-based solutions reduce environmental damage caused by mining

Dr Brendan Duprey* outlines how Kazakhstan is employing innovative solutions to reduce air and water pollution caused by mining tailings.

Mining activities pose a risk to the environment. After valuable metals are extracted from ore, often involving the use of chemicals, millions of cubic metres of contaminated waste rock remains, which is deposited in mine tailings. These tailings cause numerous environmental problems, including airborne dust particles, water pollution, landslides, and dam failures, as exemplified by the infamous incident at Vale’s Brumadinho site in Brazil in 2019.

Kazakhstan, a resource-rich country in Central Asia, has adopted a scientific approach to mitigating the environmental damage caused by mine tailings. The Sustainable Kazakhstan Research Institute (SKRI) has developed a technology for creating a vegetative barrier to capture harmful particles from the air (“phytocapture”) near mining facilities. Utilising ENVI-met software and a powerful computer, the institute conducted 3D modelling and calculated that the planting of trees and shrubs, if properly planned, can reduce air pollution around these facilities by up to 40%.

SKRI has gone beyond scientific research, however, having implemented its phytocapture technology in practice at the Altynalmas gold mining company in Kazakhstan. Near the company’s Aksu mine, SKRI staff planted rows of silverberry shrubs, which can grow up to 1.5 metres in height and effectively capture large dust particles. A second perimeter was planted with rows of maples and elms, which, thanks to their height and dense canopies, are effective at capturing fine dust particles carried by the wind. As the trees grow, this project is moving closer to achieving the targeted 40% reduction in air pollution.

SKRI initiated a similar project this year at RG Gold, another Kazakhstani gold mining company, which is co-owned by American private equity firm Resource Capital Funds. Through the project, the SKRI team aims to plant thousands of  trees and shrubs. The research institute considers improving the environmental situation in Kazakhstan and protecting the health of the people living near mining facilities to be of paramount importance.

According to the United Nations, air pollution affects 99% of the world’s population and leads to 6.7 million premature deaths annually. With each breath, people inhale tiny particles that can harm the lungs and lead to cardiovascular problems. Among these particles, the most dangerous are fine solid particles with a diameter of less than 2.5 microns (PM 2.5) – precisely the type found in the air near mine tailings.

In May, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE, one of five regional commissions within the UN, which brings together 56 countries) held a regional conference on the Convention on Mine Tailings Safety and Industrial Accidents. During the conference, the solutions developed by SKRI were presented as advanced practices for ensuring the safety of tailings.

Considering the industry’s needs, SKRI has also begun developing two major nature-based solutions for reducing water pollution from mine wastewater. One involves planting trees in special “wells” made of impermeable materials, allowing the root system to absorb pollutants from deep groundwater layers in the soil.

The other solution involves placing special mats made of biochar and peat at the bottom of channels or streams to absorb pollutants. The Dutch company Tauw Engineering has laid such mats at the bottom of a contaminated canal near an old asphalt plant in Ghent, Belgium.

SKRI, in collaboration with Tauw, is now conducting trials of these technologies in Kazakhstan and at the mine tailings of the Ak-Tuz rare-earth mine in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan.

* Dr Brendan Duprey is Director of the Sustainable Kazakhstan Research Institute, Narxoz University


How an international outlook stemmed Kazakhstan’s brain drain

Miras Daulenov | 28 October 2023

This year, the university of which I’m president broke into some of the most reputable international university rankings for the first time in our 60-year history. It was a proud moment for all of us involved with the institution, representing the latest milestone in a three-decade journey of transforming a Soviet-era university into a modern, cutting-edge teaching and research centre.

More than anything, perhaps, it demonstrates the importance to universities of taking an international outlook, embedding a global mindset and forging international partnerships.

The university is Narxoz, a leading private university in Kazakhstan which specialises in management, public administration, economics, finance, law and social sciences. This year it was recognised by both the QS World University Rankings and the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings.

QS awarded us five stars – the highest-possible score – in several categories: teaching, employability and inclusiveness, and gave us four stars overall, on a par with institutions such as the University of Central Lancashire in the United Kingdom and the American Institute of Applied Sciences in Switzerland.

This is a significant achievement for us and demonstrates how far Kazakhstan’s higher education sector has come since gaining independence with the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

For many years after the Iron Curtain came down, thousands of talented young Kazakhs would go abroad to study every year: to the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, the United States, China and elsewhere. Often, they stayed in those countries after graduating, contributing to a brain drain and depleting Kazakhstan of the skilled leaders that our public administration and private enterprises were crying out for.

But rather than fight the growing trend of internationalisation in higher education, Narxoz saw the opportunities in embracing new market-based principles that had come to Kazakhstan.

We needed to compete on quality and to start giving students access to the best, most inclusive, employer friendly and globally recognised education, ensuring that young Kazakhs could get a world-class education without having to abandon their homeland.

Going international

Embedding an international outlook has been key to that transformation – bringing a global education to our campus in Almaty. That task has spanned everything from recruitment of faculty to launching multilingual courses and double-degree programmes.

In total, Narxoz now has more than 75 international partners in 30 countries, including leading universities in the United States, Europe and Asia. In recognising Narxoz among the world’s top education establishments, QS specifically highlighted the success of our graduates, international reputation and the share of foreign teachers as strong attributes.

Sustainable development

The university looked both to the East and the West for inspiration and collaboration.

One of the first projects was a European Union-funded capacity-building programme in collaboration with the Maastricht School of Management in the Netherlands and Italy’s Bocconi University that became the basis for nationwide changes, like the move to credit-based university courses.

Meanwhile, the creation of the Kazakh-Japanese Centre for Human Resource Development enabled Kazakh entrepreneurs and business leaders to learn modern Japanese-influenced management practices, including the chance to study at the University of Tsukuba with financial support from the Japanese government, as well as helping to bolster Kazakh-Japanese relations.

International faculty have also helped put the university on the map, leading innovative projects, bringing new expertise to Kazakhstan and enhancing our cooperation with various institutions.

For instance, American expert Brendan Duprey, the director of our Sustainable Kazakhstan Research Institute, is leading a project to capture phyto particles – the smallest particles of dust and dirt from industrial production facilities – at gold mining companies in Kazakhstan.

The initiative was recognised by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe as one of the best environmental protection practices in the world.

Kazakhstan nominated another of his studies, on incorporating a component of the Sustainable Development Goals into the school curriculum, for the joint UNESCO-Japan Prize on education for sustainable development.

Projects like this helped secure Narxoz recognition in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings for four years running – a league table that specifically looks at a university’s contribution towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. On our impact in advancing quality education, we were ranked alongside the University of Helsinki in Finland, the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom and the University of Ottawa in Canada.

New opportunities

Narxoz University’s latest embrace of combining historic tradition as a leading national management school with new international opportunities has evolved since 2007, with a multi-million-dollar investment programme from Verny Capital, which as well as supporting the university directly also provides grants and scholarships to students, who have to pass competitive entrance exams to secure a place at Narxoz.

The investment has helped the university not only make practical investments in a new campus and building upgrades, but also further strengthen its international credentials, for instance, by hiring new faculty.

Among the latest international recruits to come on board is the Czech Professor Marek Jochec, whom we were able to lure away from Nazarbayev University. Narxoz also strives to hire Kazakhstanis who have made their academic career abroad, rather than just expats, such as Anel Kulakhmetova, who received her doctorate from the University of Cambridge in the UK and spent a long time conducting research at UNICEF.

One of the most important aspects of our international approach has been our double-degree programmes, where we partner with European universities to offer students the chance to earn two degrees in two jurisdictions through one programme. For this, we work with strategic international partners – a must for ambitious universities.

For instance, our bachelor of business administration dual-degree programme with Coventry University in the United Kingdom works on a 3+1 format, with students spending three years in Narxoz and one year in Coventry, receiving a diploma from both at the end of four years.

We run a similar initiative for our law students with Lithuania’s Mykolas Romeris University, with joint tuition from professors at both institutions included from the first year.

For our students, these programmes are an excellent offer that can help address the ‘brain drain’ issue – providing students with the chance to get an international degree without the full costs of studying abroad or having to sacrifice their domestic connections.

Double-degree programmes also offer students the chance to gain experience with an international company through internship opportunities, opening up the chances to build a career either in Kazakhstan, internationally, or a mix of both.

An international mindset

But taking an international approach to education doesn’t just extend to offering study abroad programmes or recruiting foreign faculty. It’s also about the mindset and overall approach at your home campus.

One recent reform we’ve introduced is a move to teach all our bachelor of business administration (BBA) programmes in English. For the upcoming academic year, Narxoz is introducing British BBA programmes in finance, economics and accounting. These will prepare graduates with the sort of practical management skills that employers need.

Meanwhile, the university’s annual Ryskulov Readings conference has attracted international Nobel Prize winners such as James Mirrlees, Edmund Phelps and Christopher Pissarides, alongside dozens of other international researchers and university administrators.

When 32 years ago independence opened the gates of the international university marketplace to Kazakhstan, our universities – including Narxoz – were playing catch-up on the international stage.

Now we are hosting Nobel Prize winners, teaching business degrees in English, recruiting faculty members from around the world and have students from more than 25 countries, including India, Nigeria, the United States and Austria.

Thanks in part to embedding an international approach, learning from global best practices and focusing on internationally accredited courses, Narxoz has become part of the solution to Kazakhstan’s brain drain.

Dr Miras Daulenov is the president of Narxoz University, a leading economics, business, finance and law university in Kazakhstan. His past positions include vice minister of education and science in Kazakhstan from 2019 to 2021, and lecturer at the University of Wroclaw in Poland from 2009 to 2012, among others. He has also worked on development projects with the World Bank and other institutions.

SOURCE: University World News

Innovative solutions applied to some of world’s most pressing sustainability challenges

Brendan Duprey | October 27, 2023

July 2023 was the hottest month in the entire history of meteorological observations on Earth. Thousands of tourists in Greece tried to escape from wildfires caused by the abnormal heat. Residents of the southwest United States suffered from the scorching heat as well. In northwest China, the temperature exceeded 52°C, breaking national records.

The natural phenomenon El Niño became more active; it is linked to the warming of waters in the tropical part of the Pacific Ocean, posing a threat of new natural disasters in 2024.


In November 2023, COP28, the annual UN-led Climate Conference, will commence in Dubai, UAE, to discuss strategies aimed at limiting global warming to 1.5°C by mid-century.

Decarbonization, pursued by industrialized countries that are transitioning to renewable energy sources and electric vehicles to reduce carbon emissions, is one such strategy. Another method to address climate change involves nature-based solutions, a vital complement to not only decarbonization but also the restoration of natural ecosystems vital for human existence.

Kazakhstan has been taking measures to achieve decarbonization while also incorporating nature-based solutions. Kazakhstan has set a goal of reducing carbon emissions by 15% by 2030. To accomplish this, the country, which has historically been dependent on fossil fuels, is increasing its share of renewable energy. Kazakhstan’s largest industrial enterprises, including ArcelorMittal Temirtau, KazMunayGas, and KazZinc (a Glencore subsidiary), are implementing emission reduction programmes.

Furthermore, the Kazakh government is implementing a programme to plant 2 billion trees by the end of 2025. This initiative aims to improve the country’s environmental situation by enhancing air quality and combating desertification.

Another practical nature-based solution developed by the Sustainable Kazakhstan Research Institute (SKRI) at Narxoz University is the establishment of a vegetative barrier to capture harmful airborne particles in the vicinity of urban road systems and mining enterprises, which are among the primary sources of air pollution. The Institute calls this technology “phytocapture”.

Why is this significant? According to a United Nations assessment, air pollution affects 99% of the global population and results in 6.7 million premature deaths annually. With every breath, people inhale minuscule particles that can harm their lungs and lead to cardiovascular issues. The most perilous of these particles are fine particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 microns (PM 2.5), containing various pollutants ranging from industrial dust to sulphates.

The SKRI team has already incorporated its phytocapture technology at the mining site of Altynalmas, a Kazakhstan-based gold producer. The Sustainable Kazakhstan Research Institute is one of the pioneers when it comes to using artificial intelligence to determine the best ways to reduce the level of toxic pollution in urban areas and industrial sites in an effort to improve human health. Using EMVI-Met software and a high-performance mainframe computer, the SKRI team conducts 3D modelling of specific designs of vegetation around urban road systems and mine tailings dumps in order to reduce dust pollution as much as possible and thus improve human health. Our modelling has scientifically proven that such designs can reduce dust pollution by as much as 40% and harmful gases like ozone by as much as 70%, thereby improving air quality.

One specific example is our work at the Aksu mine. The SKRI team planted rows of silverberry shrubs in the vicinity of the mine tailings dumps. These shrubs can reach heights of up to 1.5 metres and are effective at capturing larger dust particles. At a slightly greater distance, rows of maples and elms have been planted: these tall trees with dense foliage are adept at trapping fine dust particles carried by the wind. Currently, we are implementing a similar project at a mining site belonging to RG Gold, another Kazakhstan-based gold producer that has invested in nature-based solutions research as part of its ESG strategy.

In the framework of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE, one of five regional commissions within the UN, which brings together 56 countries) regional conference on the Convention on Mine Tailing Safety and Industrial Accidents, the Sustainable Kazakhstan Research Institute’s nature-based solutions were presented as best practices for mine tailings safety and the prevention of industrial accidents.

Based on industry demand, the SKRI is expanding their portfolio of work in this sector to use nature-based solutions to combat water and soil pollution caused by mining waste.

There are two primary methods for the prevention and mitigation of wastewater deriving from mining operations. One involves planting trees in a unique manner, within “wells” made of impermeable material, allowing the root system to absorb pollutants from deep groundwater layers in the soil. The other method is the placement of special mats made of biochar and peat on the bottom of channels or streams to absorb pollutants. In collaboration with the Netherlands-based company Tauw Engineering, we are conducting tests of these technologies in Kazakhstan, as well as at a tailings dump belonging to the rare-earth mine Ak-Tuz in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan.

In addition to conducting scientific research, the SKRI’s mission also includes sharing best practices and exchanging knowledge with experts and industry leaders. All stakeholders are invited to take part in the online international conference ‘Global Solutions to Mine Industry Waste Water: From Research to Practice’, which will take place on 2 November, from 14:00 to 17:00, in Almaty (GMT+6). Click here to register.

Dr. Brendan Duprey is Director the Sustainable Kazakhstan Research Institute, Narxoz University


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