Nazarbayev University
Graduate School of Education

Graduate School of Education

Implementation of Initiatives in Kazakhstani Higher Education

Implementation of Initiatives in Kazakhstani Higher Education

Implementation of Initiatives in Kazakhstani Higher Education

Status: completed, 2017

Research Team

Nazarbayev University Graduate School of Education

Dr. Darkhan Bilyalov
Dina Gungor, MEd
Zakir Jumakulov, MPP
Dr. Kairat Kurakbayev (Co-Principal Investigator)

Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education

Dr. Matthew Hartley (Principal Investigator)
Dr. Peter Eckel

Project Introduction

The study was conducted in 2017 by a research team from Nazarbayev University Graduate School of Education (NUGSE) and the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education (Penn GSE). The study focused on conducting a qualitative research among stakeholders of Kazakhstan’s higher education system in order to identify their perceptions of the current situation in the context of introducing institutional autonomy and corporate governance in higher educational institutions of Kazakhstan.

Major Findings

Kazakhstan currently has several kinds of functioning boards. Many public institutions have established boards of trustees that serve largely as advisory bodies. A subset of institutions have been granted permission to form boards of overseers, which have the authority to approve the annual development plan of the university, approve the institutional budget, and identify the finalists for rector positions, which are then sent to the Ministry of Education and Science for final approval. “Private” universities, under Kazakhstani law, are joint stock companies, often with the government owning a majority or even entirety of the shares of stock. As enterprises, they have Boards of Directors who have considerable authority over the strategic direction and budget of the institution and they hire and fire their rectors. This study focused on institutions with boards of overseers and boards of directors. First, what is clear across the interviews with board members is that the chief motivation for agreeing to join a board (or put their application forward for consideration) was a deep desire to help the institution. The current legal framework has led to individuals being selected for board whose background does not naturally prepare them for this role. What all of this underscores is the importance of providing training to board members. A few institutions we spoke with have some kind of orientation, usually provided by the secretary of the board. The board members of a number of institutions talked about trainings they had undergone that were supported by national efforts such as ones held by the National Analytic Center. Board members must embrace the idea that they are part of a partnership with the senior administration. While they may check them at times, they are not there primarily as auditors and regulators. Further board members should not take on their role to serve the narrow interests of a constituent group. Rather, as board members their responsibility is to the institution as a whole. Trainings, tailored to the Kazakhstani context but informed by international best practices, will be important to help people serve this role wisely and well.

Project Methods

The study has opted for a qualitative research design. The interviews were intended to explore the following research questions:

  • How and why individuals chose to become board members;
  • How senior administrators and board members understand their roles;
  • People’s perceptions regarding the work of the board–how it is structured and what dynamics influence its work;
  • What changes individuals believed were necessary to further improve the work of these relatively new governance bodies.

As an exploratory study, the intention was not to gain a comprehensive perspective on the experiences of senior administrators and board members across the entire higher education system. Consistent with effective practices in qualitative research, its purpose was to surface the range of complex issues facing these bodies as they strive to understand and enact their role. The research team was able to speak with representatives from the senior administration (either the rector or a vice rector) and a member of the board from four of the five institutions in the study—a total of fifteen individuals. The disparate stakeholders interviewed for the study offered a range of perspectives on the work of the board.

Planned Publications

Eckel, P. Centralization and Decentralization in Higher Education Governance.
Hartley, M. & Bilyalov, D. Autonomy and Governance in Higher Education: the evolving roles of boards.