Change, Leadership, Global Trends Discussed at Higher Education Forum

ASTANA – Experts discussed global trends and aspects of leadership, accountability and quality assurance in higher education at the Eurasian Higher Education Leaders Forum held in Astana on June 12-13. Prominent speakers from higher education institutions of the United States, the U.K., Germany, Ireland, Australia, Qatar, Belgium and Poland gathered to discuss strategy, competition, cooperation and issues arising from the expansion of higher education in Eurasia.

The theme of this year’s Eurasian Higher Education Leaders Forum was “Global Trends in Higher Education and Their Impact on the Region.” Plenary sessions addressed “University Leadership, Governance and Accountability,” “Quality Assurance in Education and Research and Accountability” and “Trends in Global Education Hubs.” Keynote speakers Richard K. Miller, president and professor of the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering; Tom Boland from the Higher Education Authority of Ireland and Stephen P. Heyneman, professor of international education policy at Vanderbilt University, laid out experts’ current thinking on the topics. Shigeo Katsu, president of the Nazarbayev University, welcomed academics and guests to the forum for the second time.

In the first session, moderator Robert Zemsky of the University of Pennsylvania declared that “Leadership is an art, and is vastly different from management. Governance is also an art, requiring patience, wisdom and a willingness to take reasonable risks in order to achieve world-class results.” “The promotion of change—at times even change for change’s sake,” is part of the historical role of the university, Dr. Zemsky said. “The paradox of the modern university is that it is an institution with a keen sense of the past, but at the same time is expected to be an institution that welcomes change, even disruptive change. In a sense, the modern university is expected to be simultaneously an institutional anchor capable of preventing intellectual and procedure drift and a promoter of things that are new and untried.”

Not all shared the enthusiasm for change. Zhexenbek Adilov, rector of the Kazakhstan National Technical University, spoke about the need for “social stability,” quoting from the president’s annual address to the nation. His list of the responsibilities of a university included “preparation of elite society in the fields of politics, economy, science and culture,” and “the erosion of social barriers in society.” David Bridges, director of research at the University Of Cambridge Faculty Of Education, also provided his version of what a university should be, part of which was “respectful but fearless,” presumably with regard to authority. Later, as a moderator, he presented “What makes a university or university department an attractive and supportive environment for academic researchers? What might provide evidence of an excellent research environment? How do you build or develop such an environment?” Among the answers were having the funds to support attendance at research conferences and an ambient buzz of research conversation in break rooms.

The second discussion in the first session, “Strategic leadership in a competitive higher education market,” was moderated by University College London’s Michael Worton. He outlined “Who can and should take strategic leadership in this environment and what are the characteristics of successful strategic leadership?” as well as stating “The changing nature of international higher education,” and asking “How can universities engage more effectively within an increasingly competitive environment?”

The third and final session of the forum was dedicated to “Trends in Global Higher Education Hubs.” Stavros Yiannouka of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy; Sayasat Nurbek from the Centre for International Programmes, which administers the Bolashak scholarships; Guidi Langouche, University of Leuven, Belgium; Kadisha Dairova, Nazarbayev University; Martin O’Hara, KIMEP University and many others presented reports and statements to the delegates.

Kazakhstan is eager to develop a system of higher education equal to the best in the world. Nazarbayev University, established in 2009, is part of this ongoing effort. President Nursultan Nazarbayev has made promoting education a priority. “I am convinced that the Kazakhstan citizens of 2050 will represent a society of educated, free people speaking in three languages,” he said in his address to the nation in December 2012 on the topic of the “New political course of the established state.” During his speech, he emphasised the role of the national intelligentsia in taking on and developing his vision: “Intelligentsia can and must play a key role in drafting a model of the future of our country based on my vision of Kazakhstan 2050.”