Ministry of Science and Higher Education prioritises modernisation of regional higher education institutions — Sayasat Nurbek

On 28 October this year in Kokshetau, Minister of Science and Higher Education Sayasat Nurbek met with the population of Akmola region.

The Minister reported that this year, the Regional Akim has allocated 185 grants for pedagogical and medical specialties.

A trilateral memorandum of understanding between the Akimat of Akmola region and the WOOSONG Educational Foundation (South Korea), together with the GLOBAL SAPA International Education Center, was signed on August 19 of this year. I am sure that this Memorandum will give a new impetus to internationalization of education, improvement of its quality and will open new opportunities for students.

As it is known, the first and second missions of the universities are education and science. The third mission is the contribution of universities to the development of local society. For example, since last year, Kokshetau University named after Sh. The "Silver University" project was launched at Ualikhanov Kokshetau University last year. Today it provides free training to around 100 students of pre-retirement and retirement age in such areas as the Kazakh and English languages, digital and computer literacy and much more. This area is fully supported by the ministry and shows the university's involvement in solving the urgent problems of the region.

"It is extremely important for us to know your opinion on the initiatives promoted by the Ministry of Science and Higher Education. I have repeatedly pointed out at various platforms that the team of the Ministry is not only its staff, but above all the employees of the entire sphere who work in different parts of our country," Nurbek said in his welcoming remarks.  

In Akmola region there are 4 higher educational institutions with almost 885 professors and teachers (State Kokshetau University named after Sh. The main objective of these institutions is to promote the development and maintenance of the education system in the region. A. Myrzakhmetov, the Humanitarian-Technical Academy and the non-civil protection academy named after Malik Gabdullin of the Committee of Emergency Situations. All are located in Kokshetau), with more than 12,000 students.

President Tokayev attaches high priority to regional development. This is evidenced by recent steps in political-administrative reforms, which are seriously expanding local self-government and administrative responsibility.

"We see that the focus of economic and investment policy is shifting towards the regions, and the higher education system must be synchronised with these trends. Therefore, today the Ministry gives priority to modernizing regional higher education institutions, increasing their potential and role in the development of our regions. I declare with full responsibility that the centre of gravity of our work is shifting to the regions. After all, a strong university means strong staff, on whom the development of the local economy and industry will depend," Nurbek said.  

Synchronising the training system with local needs

"Here we have a concrete tool for its implementation: the development of regional Atlases of Professions. The idea is very simple: the system of staff training in the region's universities must correspond to the structure of the economy of the particular region. Take, for instance, Akmola region. It is an industrial and agrarian region. Alongside grain production, meat and dairy cattle breeding and food production, the region has developed uranium enrichment, gold processing and machine building. The tourism industry is showing significant growth," Nurbek said.  

It would make sense if specialists in these areas were trained locally in the first place, and if local students did not leave the region, but instead obtained knowledge and found suitable employment.

According to the Minister, a concrete tool - the development of regional atlases of professions, which has already been tested at the level of vocational education in the Pavlodar region - has already been proposed. 

A comprehensive work was carried out in the region as part of the project, which identified 40 new professions, which are in demand in the region. For these 40 professions, 25 new curricula have already been created for colleges, in which students of 15 colleges are trained. 

The development of the Atlas of New Professions and Competencies was one of the points of K. Tokayev's election platform in 2019.

Now it is necessary to scale up this practice to the higher education system, especially to the country's regional universities.

The organisation of the work and the necessary funding have already been included in the Programme for Improving the Income of the Population until 2025 as the Mamandygym-Bolashagym project. A list of 20 higher educational institutions participating in the project was drawn up, including the Valikhanov University in Kokshetau.

Under the so-called triple helix model, regional universities will work closely with Akimats and the local corporate sector.

As a result of this collaboration, project offices will be established at each regional HEI, which will be used to conduct foresight studies of the region's staffing needs, as well as to develop a regional Atlas of new professions.

This work has already begun in Mangystau region on September 21. In November this year it will be launched in all the country's western regions.

"I believe this is a very positive experience of linking the training system to the needs of the region. In general, thanks to the implementation of this project, regional universities will become key points of growth that will provide the regions with promising development plans and staffing. And this, in our idea, should stop the outflow of talented local young people. And these are not just words, but objective facts," Nurbek stressed.  

For example, 61% of state educational orders for technical professions go to universities in Almaty and Astana, while 80% of their economies are in the service sector. 

Therefore the Ministry is now considering the possibility of quoting up to 70% of the state educational order for technical professions in accordance with the structure of the regional economy.

And regional Atlases, which are based on foresight studies, will be an important tool for allocating state orders.

As for the pressing problems of students, including grants, scholarships and hostels, the Ministry of Science and Higher Education is implementing five measures: 

The first measure. Increase in the number of grants. This year, more than 88,000 state educational grants have been awarded. This is an increase of 19% compared to last year. The number of state grants will increase by 10% every year until 2025.

The second measure. Increase in scholarships. Starting from this academic year the size of the scholarship at the bachelor level has been increased by 20% (from 31,423 to 36,660 tenge). This includes an increase from 50,000 to 58,800 tenge for pedagogical students and from 76,950 to 86,987 tenge and from 172,500 to 195,000 tenge for master's and doctoral students, respectively. It is planned to double the number of scholarships until 2025.

The third measure. The introduction of differentiated grants (from 30% to 100%). A working group has been formed. The world experience is being studied; synchronization with the existing system of awarding grants is in progress. The new system will ensure greater coverage of young people with higher education based on their academic performance, active social position, scientific and creative achievements, and social status.

The fourth measure. Preferential education loans. Despite the fact that a record number of state educational grants have been allocated this year, 60% of students are studying on a fee basis. In order to support this category of students, they will be given the opportunity to receive preferential educational loans with an annual interest rate of 2-3%. To do this, amendments should be made to the current legislation. 

Fifth measure. Provision of hostels. The need for dormitories is about 87,000 places. In the period from 2018 to 2022, 50 hostels with 15,482 beds were commissioned for university students. This year, 17 hostels with 5,000 places are planned to be commissioned. Private investors are also being attracted to build dormitories. A simplified procedure for investors is under consideration. At the same time, regulatory requirements for universities to provide students with dormitories will be enshrined. The possibility of subsidising the living costs of non-resident students from socially vulnerable groups is also being considered. 

Training of teaching staff

In the framework of the "Comfortable School" project, it is planned to significantly increase the number of schools in the country. By the year 2026, the demand for teaching staff will exceed 100,000 teachers. In connection to this, state orders for teacher training are increasing year by year. The average cost of educational grants has tripled, reaching 1 million tg. As of today, 110 teachers at 17 national universities have received special training to develop new educational programmes, and 25 project teams have been created. A new model of teacher education and 30 new educational programmes have been developed in conjunction with universities in Finland. Emphasis is placed on the development of teachers' digital competencies, inclusive education and work with students with special educational needs, CLIL approach, STEM concept, interdisciplinarity. New educational programmes are planned to be introduced in the educational process from the next academic year.

In order to develop pedagogical science, a draft standard for accreditation of pedagogical universities is being developed. It covers early vocational guidance for students, admission of students, training and pedagogical practice, as well as support for young teachers to adapt to the profession. Quotas will be set aside for teachers in teacher training colleges. They will have the opportunity to receive training and internships under the Bolashak programme and the 500 scholars project.

Development of university science

As part of the Head of State's "5 Steps" election programme, which was announced just two days ago on 26 October 2022, a Law on Science and Technology Policy would be adopted. The Ministry will work to increase funding for applied science. For this purpose, work with large enterprises and businesses will be intensified. 

Specialized engineering centres will be formed in Kazakhstan under leading universities and large enterprises. As is known, in all developed countries of the world, science is done primarily in the university environment. Universities have a number of unique opportunities, first of all, it is a huge pool of young doctoral scientists who conduct research at the cutting edge of science through collaborations.

"Today we are faced with the task of not only stimulating the development of science in the university environment, but also establishing a close link between it and the real needs of the region's economy. And local universities have great potential in this direction," Nurbek said.  

For example, Valikhanov University cooperates with major universities in the region. Valikhanov cooperates with large industrial enterprises and scientific organizations, such as Eurasia Group LLP (supply of American John Deer agricultural equipment), Gormolzavod, and Softmaster LLP (automation of trade, pharmacies, cafes, etc.).  

Moreover, branches have been opened in JSC Zhusan Bank, RGK Kokshetau (hotel and restaurant business) and Akmola region court for educational purposes.

Memorandums of cooperation have been concluded with clinical bases of medical organisations of the regional centre for practical training, with medical universities of Karaganda and Nur-Sultan.

For training and demonstration purposes an experimental training and research-production complex "Elite" in village Vasilkovka, Zerenda district, Akmola region (30 km. from Kokshetau) has been organised. 

The University is conducting joint research with leading enterprises in the region to determine the method of manufacturing magnesium fluoride briquettes from UMP JSC. In addition, experimental work is being carried out on the processing of magnesium fluoride by plasma-chemical method and by exposure to steam plasma at the plasma-chemical unit at UMP JSC. Prototypes were obtained on the basis of magnesium oxide, which is a refractory used in the metallurgical industry.

According to the minister, these are good cases, which must necessarily be scaled, and most importantly, systematic conditions for this must be created.

Certainly, there are many problems in this sphere, connected with financial, personnel and other issues. Today, the financing of science in the country is about 0.13%, and this is one of the most frequently discussed issues among scientists.

"However, here we should clearly understand that the state alone is unlikely to be able to fundamentally change the situation in the foreseeable future. But the question is different: should the state cover the entire cost of science in the country? After all, the most effective approach to the development of science is the so-called open science model, in which universities build close cooperation not only with the state, but also with the private sector and big business. This is exactly what the Head of State talked about in his recent address to the nation, when he proposed the introduction of tax incentive mechanisms for business aimed at technological modernisation and scientific research," Nurbek said.  

Currently, the ministry is working on proposals to implement the initiative. 

Another important component of the strategy for creating a sustainable model for financing university science is the endowment funds which, in all the world's leading universities, are the basis of sustainable financing of science and scientific infrastructure.

In this direction, the Ministry is actively cooperating with the Kazakhstan Halqina Foundation. A joint action plan has already been adopted which provides support for endowment funds in the attraction of institutional investors, staff training and management, as well as tax incentives.

The issue of developing a separate draft law "On Endowment Funds" based on the experience of the USA, Singapore, Russia and other countries with sustainable financing of university science and innovation is also being considered.

Also, we cannot ignore the staff issue, as today more than 90% of students in Kazakhstan are enrolled in Bachelor's degree programs, 8-9% - in Master's degree programs, and only 1% - in PhD programs. In other words, domestic universities have an extremely limited pool of potential scientists.

Therefore, the priority for the coming years is to encourage our students to do science, to make science an attractive and promising business for young people again.

"For example, we are planning to pilot a new assessment model - the integral GPA - on the basis of four universities. According to this approach, one of the key indicators of assessing a student's performance should be his or her research activity. Or, for example, four HEIs, including Valikhanov Kokshetau State University, are piloting the introduction of a new assessment model - integral GPA. According to this approach, one of the key indicators of evaluating students should be their research activity," Nurbek explained.  

Also for the financial support of young researchers, a competition was launched on October 3 under the Zhas Kalym project. It gives 1,000 grants to young scientists to receive a monthly salary of at least 500,000 tenge for 3 years.

Overall, funding for scientific projects is increasing from year to year. Now the tender for grant financing of scientific and (or) scientific-technical projects for 2023-2025 on 10 priority directions of science development is announced. 

1) Rational use of natural resources, fauna and flora, ecology; 

2) Geology, extraction and processing of mineral and hydrocarbon raw materials, new materials, technologies, safe products and constructions;

3) Energy and engineering; 

4) Scientific research in the field of natural sciences; 

5) Life and Health Sciences; 

6) Information, communication and space technologies;

7) Sustainable Development of Agro-Industrial Complex and Safety of Agricultural Production; 

8) Research in Social Sciences and Humanities;

9) Research in Education and Science; 

10) National security and defence and specialised scientific fields according to the Tender Documents.

Expansion of academic autonomy of HEIs

"My deep conviction is that it is necessary to move away from manual control, giving more freedom to higher education institutions,"  Nurbek stressed.  

Two draft laws were submitted to the Majilis of the Parliament of the Republic of Kazakhstan: "On Professional Qualifications" and "On Amendments and Additions to Some Legislative Acts of the Republic of Kazakhstan on the Issues of Professional Qualifications". 

To date, there are 623 professional standards, which cover 2,689 of the most in-demand professions. The draft law would provide a basis for covering all professions with the required standards. The draft law will also recognise self-learned skills as well as the results of non-formal and informal education. A working group has been established and a bill will be drafted to develop endowment funds. Endowment funds established at universities will allocate funds to provide benefits and reimburse tuition fees to students, develop university infrastructure and conduct scientific research. 

Thus, in August, a number of amendments were made to the State Compulsory Standards for Higher and Postgraduate Education, which gave Kazakhstani HEIs more academic freedom.

The strict regulation of the number of credits of the blocks of basic and major disciplines has been eliminated. Whereas previously the basic cycle was a minimum of 112 credits and the core cycle 60 credits, universities will now determine the number of credits for the basic and core disciplines themselves, taking into account the particularities of the fields and respecting the total number of credits. 

"Now the universities are given the opportunity to make their own changes in the content of the disciplines of the cycle of general disciplines (GD), taking into account the specifics of training areas from 50% to 100%, except for the "History of Kazakhstan" and "Philosophy". I understand, all want to completely exclude GD in favour of core disciplines. Here you are motivated by the need for successful accreditation in international agencies and can give many examples of the experience of foreign countries. Each country cherishes its history, its language. How can we exclude their CSL? Foreign language, IT competences - necessary soft skills for successful specialists. Philosophy, the socio-political module forms the personality of the future person with higher education," Nurbek said.  

The new CSL provides for the recognition of micro-qualifications and introduces the concepts of "nano-degrees" and "stackable degrees". This aims at ensuring that citizens acquire the skills relevant in the labour market and closing the gaps in knowledge in a timely manner.

Internationalisation of higher education.

This direction is under special control of the head of state. It should be noted that development of academic cooperation with leading foreign universities is an effective tool in modernizing regional higher education institutions and increasing their competitiveness and attractiveness.

"Here I would like to bring the case of Kozybayev North Kazakhstan University, which this year has accepted 175 people to study under the programs of the University of Arizona, of which 45 people started studying under double degree programs. As a result of this move, for the first time in five years the outflow of high school graduates to study abroad decreased by half. In particular, the University of Arizona at North Kazakhstan admitted students from six regions," Nurbek said.  

Similarly, an increase in double-degree programs with Altai State University, Novosibirsk State University and Tomsk State Pedagogical University has helped to reduce the outflow of young people from East Kazakhstan region from 2,000 in 2019 to 880 in 2022.

"Today, including as a result of geopolitical developments, our universities have good prospects for attracting foreign students. Akmola region has long-standing ties with Russia. Let me remind you that in countries such as the USA, the UK and Australia, 25% of the income of local universities comes from foreign students. Today, as far as I remember, the number of foreign students in the region is 315, it is necessary to create conditions for increasing the number of international students. For example, together with the embassies of Kazakhstan in Germany and China, we are discussing the possibility of negotiations with Berlin Technical University and the University of Science and Technology of China. I am sure that these projects will be of interest to our colleagues from Akmola region. Also, as I noted earlier, in August the Akimat of the region held talks with a large South Korean educational foundation WOOSONG (South Korea)," Nurbek said. 

Development of hybrid education formats

This is not a trend but a requirement of the times and a condition of survival, he said. The digitalisation of the higher education system deserves special attention.

During the COVID-19 crisis, digital and online learning formats have become the "new normal" in everyday university life. 

In this regard, a deputy minister responsible for overseeing digitalisation has been created within the MoHE. There are also plans to introduce the post of digital officer in every higher education institution to coordinate the digital transformation strategy of higher education.

"We have already started building a full-fledged digital ecosystem that will enable the ministry to interact with all higher education institutions promptly and also accumulate data in a unified format effectively," he said. 

Why is this direction relevant? Nurbek gave just one argument. Analysis of the demographic situation in East Kazakhstan region shows that by 2025, the number of young people will increase by 25%, which will increase the number of students attending college and university. Consequently, the need to increase the number of places in dormitories and academic buildings will also grow.

"Of course, we will promote the construction of new infrastructure in regional universities, including through the development of a PPP mechanism. However, it will not be possible to solve this problem by building only physical infrastructure, it is necessary to actively involve virtual tools. Today the Ministry is actively working with foreign partners in this direction," Nurbek said.  

Under the agreements, such measures as attracting Coursera for campus to Kazakhstan, opening up access for Kazakhstani students to the online courses of the world's leading universities, and encouraging local universities to offer their own courses on the platform, are being worked out.

"In the future, we plan to give students the opportunity to earn credits for courses and disciplines mastered online. That is, a student will be able to independently take an online course of a renowned foreign professor, and to get for it the credits, which will necessarily be taken into account when receiving a diploma," the Minister assured.  

In addition, cooperation with Huawei is being actively developed.

"We have agreed with our Chinese colleagues to jointly set up the Academy of Information and Communication Technologies, a very important project aimed at promoting digital knowledge and competence in Kazakhstan. There is also an agreement that Huawei will train 5,000 students in ICT for free, who will then be issued internationally recognized Huawei certificates," Nurbek summarized. 

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