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Why Kazakhstan Needs to Abolish State Regulation of Higher Learning

Explained by a managing partner at Khalykbergen Strategy Communications

Photo: Unsplash

The education system of Kazakhstan is regulated by a law which describes in detail the powers of state bodies and many by-laws, including State Education Standards.

These standards, issued by the Ministry of Education and Science (MES) of the Republic of Kazakhstan, establish a number of stringent requirements regarding personnel of universities and institutes, which in fact prevents Kazakhstani universities from independently determining their personnel policy.

1. The ratio of the number of students to teacher

According to MES’s standards, for each educational program there is a determined standard ratio of the number of students to one teacher. There can be a maximum of 16 students per teacher, but there are restrictions within different specialties. For example, for the teaching specialty it’s eight students per teacher, for the art specialty it’s three and a half students. There are more than 600,000 students in Kazakhstan, and every year this figure increases thanks to the younger generation and foreign students. Maintaining a large teaching staff means an increase in a university’s expenses and, as a consequence, its cost of education.

The number of Kazakhstani students in 2020 increased by 11.4% compared to the previous year. In this regard, Kazakhstan follows the global trend. For example, India plans to increase the number of its students to 40 million. If we are to follow MES’s logic, in a few years Kazakhstan will not have enough internal resources to meet its own requirements.

2. The share of teachers with an advanced degree

According to the MES standard, at least 40% of the teaching staff must have an academic degree of candidate or doctor of science and at the same time work at only one university. Teachers with an advanced degree who work at a university on a part-time basis are not counted among these 40%.

This requirement assumes that the teaching staff of a university consists of specialists: candidates and doctors of science. However, in addition to the academic title and degree, there are other criteria for evaluating specialists: long experience, career growth, international certification, and others.

This requirement could be fulfilled if industry experts were equated with candidates of science. For example, an experienced lawyer with 20 years of court practice could be a good mentor for law students, whereas the CFO of an international company could be a perfect fit to explain specifics of tax regulation. This would solve the staff shortage problem and provide a link between education and the real sector of the economy. A practitioner should not be keeping their employment history at the university; they should be sharing their knowledge with students there.

3. Requirement for the staffing of teachers

The university should be the primary place of employment for 60% of its teachers. Part-time university teachers do not count as teachers with advanced degrees and do not count among the required percentage of employees working at their primary place of employment. On the opposite, they “make the statistics worse.” Thus, the main criterion for assessing the teaching staff is not a teacher’s experience and length of service, but for what employment type they were hired.

Firstly, this provision contradicts the Labor Code of the RK, namely the concept of “freedom of labor,” and also indirectly restricts the right of Kazakhstani citizens to secondary employment. Secondly, students will not see practitioners who are unable to exclusively work at a university, else they wouldn’t be practitioners. Thirdly, experienced teachers who are capable of working in two or three universities, including remote work, receiving several salaries, are forced to look for the highest-paid job which ultimately leads to an increase in the cost of education.

4. Qualification upgrades

Another standard that requires revision is the requirement for teachers to upgrade their qualifications at least once every five years.

This requirement should be abolished. Firstly, with continuous experience there is no need for advanced training since the specialist is a practitioner and confirms their qualifications daily with the employer. Secondly, an overly narrow range of training is counted as a qualification upgrade. Namely, advanced training is confirmed by a specific certificate and the volume of training must be at least 36/72 hours. At the same time, certificates are accepted only from those institutions whose statutory activities include the organization of training. That means that online courses, internships at enterprises and internal university courses are not taken into account.

In the absence of local teachers, it would seem logical to invite foreign specialists. However, if you hire an Englishman to teach English to students, for example, you will be surprised by the logic of the MES bureaucrats. Since a foreigner has no advanced training in the English language, they have no right to teach it.

State requirements for the teaching staff of universities are absurd. After all, personnel are the main asset of an educational institution, on the quality of which the university’s fate depends.

All of the above are just some of the standards imposed on the market by officials. This formal attitude towards higher learning is dragging the entire system down, especially during a pandemic and the total transition to online education.

A free, self-regulated market for higher learning is not a utopia; it has been proving its efficiency for centuries, for example, in the USA.

There, the higher education system is not regulated by the state in any way. Its management is the responsibility of public councils which are based on the principle of voluntary accreditation. If you want your university to enjoy market demand, you can go through accreditation: it will show the depth of programs in the university, the teaching staff’s level, the novelty of research programs and much more.

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