Developing an intellectual elite for Kazakhstan




Sayasat Nurbek


I often reflect on my educational journey that took me from the steppes of Kazakhstan to some of the world’s best universities.


I grew up without parents in a depressed suburb of Semipalatinsk in Eastern Kazakhstan, where the Soviet Union conducted 456 nuclear tests with little regard for their effect on the population and environment.  I was brought up by my father’s parents and at 13 I was sent to a boarding school. I had no ambitions other than to receive good qualifications and become an expert in the field of education.


In 1994 I was among 25 successful applicants out of 3,000 who enrolled for the Kazakh-Turkish lyceum. The lyceum opened up an excellent opportunity to receive quality education. There I developed strong language abilities and received an excellent grounding in physics, chemistry and information technologies.


In 1999 I entered the Eurasian National University in Astana to study International Law.  While at the Eurasian University, I went to study Political Science at Marshalltown College, Iowa, through a U.S. exchange programme.  A remarkable stroke of luck gave me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the U.S. political system up close by participating in Al Gore’s presidential campaign.


By winning grants in open competitions, I attended Tokyo State University and Italian education institutions.  I also underwent training in Belgium, the U.S. and Singapore, studying public administration, communication management, philosophy, and languages.  In other words, I gained access to the best education traditions in the world: Anglo-Saxon, classical European, and Asian.


Thanks to my own experience, I know firsthand the importance of investing in human capital and appreciate the historic nature of President Nazarbayev’s decision to create the International Bolashak (‘Future’) Scholarship in 1993.  Despite the difficult economic times during Kazakhstan’s first years of independence after 1991, the government invested in future skills and qualifications in the knowledge that they would pay dividends further down the line.


These skills are now being put to good use and are supporting Kazakhstan’s transition to an innovation economy.  They have also played a major role in the twelve-fold growth in per capita GDP that has taken place in 1994.


The objective of the Bolashak programme is to provide opportunities for the most talented students from Kazakhstan to undertake higher education courses at the best overseas universities and put their knowledge to work as successful professionals in Kazakhstan. Currently, over 3,000 Bolashak students are studying abroad.  Tens of thousands of highly-qualified Bolashak graduates have returned to the country and now hold main positions in state and private organizations in Kazakhstan.


Kazakhstan has created all conditions for young people to make their own choices and develop their own trajectory of study.  We are working hard to develop an education system consistent with international standards by supporting talented young people and fostering Kazakhstan’s new intellectual capital.


This system includes the Orken Presidential Intellectual Schools where schoolchildren acquire sound knowledge and strong skills, including languages; the Nazarbayev University where students develop a thorough grasp of sciences in research laboratories alongside world class specialists; and the Bolashak Scholarship that provides competitive, merit-based grants for students, scholars, teachers to undertake graduate study, advanced research, and university teaching.


These are tangible results from a set of consistent educational reforms that have laid a platform for increasing Kazakhstan’s educational and research potential.  Noting these positive trends UNESCO ranked Kazakhstan fourth in its most recent Education for All Development Index after Norway, Japan, and Germany.


No country can afford sit still in the area of educational reform. In this ever changing world graduates entering the job market need to have a combination of theoretical and practical knowledge. This is why the 2020 State Education Development Programme sets clear-cut priorities to ensure that graduates leave an educational institution better prepared for the requirements of the work place.  The Programme also foresees developing a system of continuous education.


Young people in Kazakhstan have great innovative and entrepreneurial potential.  The government has created unprecedented conditions for them to access the world’s repository of learning and experience to develop Kazakhstan as a stable and secure country with an open, competitive and diversified economy.


The author is President of the Center for International Programs, Ministry of Education and Science of Kazakhstan