How an international outlook stemmed Kazakhstan’s brain drain

November 03, 2023

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

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