Nazarbayev University
Graduate School of Education

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Stability, performance and innovation orientation of a higher education funding model in Kazakhstan

NUGSE professors Ali Ait Si Mhamed and Rita Kasa in authorship with Dr Hans Vossensteyn published an article on higher education funding model in Kazakhstan in the prestigious International Journal for Education Development. An interview about this article with Dr Ali Ait Si Mhamed and and Dr Rita Kasa is available below. 


Journal: Stability, performance and innovation orientation of a higher education funding model in Kazakhstan

Publication date: January 26, 2021

Abstract:  This article is situated in a growing body of literature, focusing on higher education reforms in countries which emerged, or re-emerged, 25 years ago as the Soviet Union dissolved. With the focus specifically on Kazakhstan, this paper examines how the leadership of universities in this country views a higher education funding model– the state grants. The paper applies the lenses of stability, performance and innovation orientation to the ex- amination of the state grants-based higher education funding model in Kazakhstan. This paper finds that despite recognition of the limitations of the existing funding model, there is limited interest to push for changes. This can be explained by the complex higher education policy environment which is also discussed in this paper. 


What triggered you to look into this particular field of research?

This is part of the Roadmap research which looked at sustainability of higher education funding in Kazakhstan. The corresponding authors of this paper and myself were convinced after we completed our fieldwork for this project, that it is important to write this paper which uses the theoretical lens of stability, performance and innovation of a higher education funding model to understand how these three pillars apply to higher education funding in Kazakhstan. 

What are the key pillars of efficient higher education funding? 

An efficient higher education funding model supports higher education access, enhances quality of teaching, learning, and research, and encourages universities to use resources efficiently by achieving optimal results with the available funding. The ability of universities to achieve these goals is conditioned by the government’s higher education funding policy. Arnhold et al. (2014) document that criteria which can help to improve public funding models for higher education are stability, incentives, autonomy and flexibility, legitimization, and orientation to- wards priorities set at a system level.

 What are NPM and PVM approaches to funding and how are they different?

During the 1980s, New Public Management (NPM) emerged in the West in response to the criticism that the bureaucratic management process was inefficient, unresponsive to constituents, and unfit to cope with the tasks of contemporary realities (Hood, 1991; Olsen, 2007). NPM juxtaposed the state with the market and argued that market mechanisms are a solution to the ills of traditional bureaucracy. When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, NPM became the guiding framework for reforms in the public sector and higher education, promoted by international organizations such as the World Bank (Pollitt, 2011; Silova, 2011). A PVM approach emerged towards the end of the 1990s as the critique of the NPM paradigm. NPM was criticized as leading to the fragmentation jeopardizing the capacity of the government to pursue overarching public goals (Enders and de Boer, 2009; O’Flynn, 2007). A heightened institutional focus on competitiveness under the NPM created a situation where governments lost control over the extent to which individual higher education institutions and their units contributed to the aims of the higher education system, if such priorities were defined at all (de Boer et al., 2015).

Growing awareness about the shortcomings of NPM generated interest in a PVM approach, which indicated a shift away from juxtaposing the state versus market. Instead, PVM proposed a new ‘post-competitive’ paradigm (O’Flynn, 2007, p. 358), with a socially inclusive approach and a renewed focus on collective preferences. This was a shift away from the primary focus on performance outcomes toward the achievement of politically legitimate, social preferences created through processes generating trust and fairness.  

The PVM trend produced a growing call for more collaboration and a focus on socio-economic objectives, instead of prioritizing performance (Broucker et al., 2018). It has been argued that PVM is a better approach in higher education because it enables universities to work towards multiple objectives in their three missions of teaching, research and service (Jongbloed and Vossensteyn, 2016). PVM is also regarded as more suitable for higher education because it stimulates university leadership to engage in negotiations with stakeholders for building a shared understanding of organizational objectives. Thus, PVM frames higher education reform within a larger context, taking into account the diversity of higher education benefits to society. Consequently, it is argued that PVM can help to better understand why some policies succeed while others fail (Broucker et al., 2018). 

Could you highlight the key characteristics of higher education funding in Kazakhstan?

The State grant: The distribution of state grants between universities and programs varies considerably and is related to performance indicators such as the number of students and graduates, the proportion of graduates employed after graduation, staff qualifications, the number of students winning awards, and student grade point average (GPA) 

Tuition fees: Over three quarters of students in Kazakhstan pay for their higher education. More than half of students at public universities pay for their education. 

Resource diversification: Public universities in Kazakhstan rely on two main sources of revenue: the state budget and tuition fees. Availability of other revenue such as endowments and private scholarships are just evolving. This income is limited in amount and availability only at some universities. 

Student financial support: The national student financial support system in Kazakhstan consists of state grants with a limited use of student loans and the SEAS program. 

What research methods have you applied in this study? 

This research study applied qualitative research methods. Evidence presented in this paper was generated in a study conducted as part of the project Development of Strategic Directions for Education Reforms in Kazakhstan for 2015-2020. The study took place in 2016. Researchers travelled to 15 universities in different cities of Kazakhstan to interview university leadership representatives about their views on how the higher education funding model in Kazakhstan supports the sustainability of universities and strategic development goals for higher education and science. Face to face, semi-structured interviews were conducted with leadership representatives at one autonomous university, five national universities, five state universities, two universities with JSC status, and two private universities. In addition, researchers interviewed heads of two departments at the Ministry of Education and Science in Kazakhstan. This paper presents interview findings from representatives of universities in relation to higher education funding, access, quality of teaching and learning, research, and efficient use of resources. 

Could you please outline the key findings of your study for our readers? 

Applying the perspective of the three pillars for good higher education funding model (Ziegele, 2013) –stability, performance and innovation orientation – in the analysis of this system, the following observations emerge: 

Stability: The state grants ensure basic funding to publicly owned universities as well as cost orientation, since these grants are differentiated by the type of the university and the study program. The state grants funding model is perceived as legitimate, operationally feasible, and supporting institutional goals. Some private universities, which also educate state grants funded students, see this funding as supporting the reputation of higher education excellence at these universities, even if the grant itself is not viewed as a significant source of income. It is not the same case for public universities. Even though for most public universities the share of self-paying students is greater than the number of state funded students, the state grants present a significant source of revenue. 

Performance: Only universities which are accredited and meet a set threshold for their graduates’ employment, as well as some other criteria, can qualify to admit students with the state grants. The state grants are allocated to universities annually, thus there is an annual evaluation of universities applying for this funding. At the same time, the extent of this performance orientation can be viewed as limited. 

Innovation: The differentiation of the state grants per student by the type of the university implies expectations for research. Although the national program for higher education development (Ministry of Education and Science (MoES, 2016) lists innovations as a strategic goal for the higher education sector, there is no clear stipulation as to how the state grants funding reflects innovation orientation. 

Overall, data in this research suggests that the state grants is a funding model which does not balance between the three pillars of funding allocation – stability, performance, and innovation. The state grants funding model is heavily stability oriented, with limited impact on either performance orientation or innovation of universities.