Bolashak Scholarship Makes Graduates, and Country, Competitive

NygymetThe Bolashak presidential scholarship programme, introduced in November 1993, has since become a key ingredient in Kazakhstan’s history of independent development as well as an intergral part of the country’s image abroad. To learn about the current status of the programme and its future, we spoke to Gani Nygymetov, the President of the JSC Centre for International Programmes under the Ministry of Education and Science, which administers the Bolashak scholarships.

How would you describe the key achievements of the Bolashak programme so far?

Last year, the Bolashak scholarship celebrated its 20thanniversary. At the alumni forum in November 2013, President NursultanNazarbayevnamed the scholarship “a golden page in the country’s history.”

Over 20 years, the scholarship has been awarded to 10,363 Kazakhstan citizens, including 6,975 graduates of the programme.

The Bolashak scholarship provides specialists for all economic sectors, according to market demand. In addition to its numerical value, there is an essential effect of the programme that cannot be measured.

First and foremost, it is the development of social-economic opportunities for young citizens throughout the state, including the regions. For the majority of the scholars, Bolashak offers the only possibility to study in the world’s top universities.

Another thing is that the Bolashak scholarship ensures the internalisation of the education process in Kazakhstan. The scholarship has already gained huge international recognition. At the Going Global International Conference held in Miami in 2014, Bolashakwas mentioned as the best scholarship programme in the world. Russia’s programme of training specialists abroadused experiences from the Bolashakprogramme. The Chinese national research fund [and] various organisations from Poland, Malaysia, and Ukraine are continuously studying Bolashak programme mechanisms.

Bolashak scholars are playing a key role in shaping Kazakhstan’s positive image abroad. They represent the elite of the Kazakhstan youth, scientific and training staff, civil servants, engineering and medical staff.

In recent years, there have been several changes in the programme, from ending the bachelor’s degree programme and refocusing on master’s degrees to introducing short-term fellowships. How would you rate the results of these changes? Have they been timely?

2011 was the year the bachelor’s degree for Bolashak scholarship was discontinued, but the programme-oriented approach to awarding the scholarship was introduced. The approach requires employer’s bids for personnel training which are formed according to national and industry development programmes. Therefore, the training of specialists has been implemented to match the recruitment needs of certain regions. After graduation, specialists have to work for 3-5 years in the organisation that got them into the Bolashak programme.

Over the years, the Bolashak scholarship has undergone many changes, the most recent of which were established in 2013. The priority categories of Bolashak programme applicants were broadened. Today, arts and mass media industry professionals are eligible for the scholarship, along with public servants, academic and medical staff, engineers and technical workers.

In order to foster integration into the world’s scientific community and strengthen the scientific capacity of homegrown scientists, Ph.D. scholarship holders are given an option to learn a foreign language for 12 months prior to starting their Ph.D. programme.

Many of the changes implemented over the years since the Bolashak scholarship was established were aimed at covering a shortage of highly-qualified specialists with international educations in light of the changing goals of the country’s economy.

The Bolashak programme is now in its 21st year. What are the challenges of the programme going forward? Is there a longer-term vision of how the programme will operate in, say, 5 or 10 years from now?

One of the main goals set by the head of state in his address, “Kazakhstan 2050,” is to build a science-intensive economy. Thus, one of the priorities of the Bolashak scholarship is the support and provision of specialists for the realisation of the second five years of the State Industrial and Innovative Development Programme [SPAIID].

The Centre for International Programmes supports the enhancement and diversification of internships. In collaboration with the National Chamber of Entrepreneurs, professional development programmes for the staff of organisations and enterprises of accredited entrepreneurs’ associations are being designed.

Another programme development objective is the creation of an innovative research professional elite in universities and scientific-research centres of Kazakhstan. This year, a pilot project on implementing a split-Ph.D. programme was launched. The project is targeted at the local staff of Nazarbayev University, including Bolashak programme graduates, to help them obtain doctoral degrees. The academic doctoral plan will involve research requirements to be accomplished in Kazakhstan (in Nazarbayev University’s laboratories and research centres) as well as in partner foreign universities.

Upon completing his or her studies, thePh.D. student will receive a doctoral diploma from the partner foreign university. If the programme is successful, this mechanism is planned to be applied in other leading universities of the country.

What are the top professions Bolashak students seek to get through the programme and what are the state’s priorities in terms of such professions?

A list of priority majors for Bolashak programme applicants is generated annually, based on requests from state agencies, universities and scientific organisations in Kazakhstan.

According to statistics, the most popular specialities among applicants for the Bolashak scholarship are state policy, political science, public administration, pedagogy and psychology [and] accounting and auditing. Finance and economics are among the technical specialities applicants actively submit for the oil and gas business. The list also includes petrochemicals and petrochemical synthesis, the development of oil and gas, computer science,information technology and systems,information security,computing equipment and software. A public health major is prevalent among medical staff.

The Ministry of Education and Science continuously modernises the programme in accordance with the new priorities of country’s development. The Plan of Development of the Bolashak Scholarship until 2015 adopted in 2011 emphasises masters and Ph.D. programmes.

Currently, the main priority of theBolashak programme, as an important mechanism for the implementation of the Kazakhstan 2050 Strategy, is to increase the regional representation of fellows. A large-scale information campaign in the regions by the Centre for International Programmes from March to April included 13 cities and 10 monocities. The number of participants reached 4,500.

How effective is the programme in finding jobs for Bolashak alumni?

The Minister of Education and Science established a new format for interaction with Bolashak alumni. The Bolashak Alumni Relations Office (BARO) at the Centre for International Programmes is a new initiative that helps graduates realise their potential within their specialty, contributing to employment in various companies and organisations, from national companies to government agencies, private companies and nonprofit organisations. In January 2014, BARO went through “ideological” changes. The orientation of the office now involves not only the mere administration of graduates’ five years compliance with prescribed contractual obligations, but also focuses on creating long-term relationships between Bolashak alumni, their consolidation, meetings with potential employers, job fairs [and] informal meetings with dignitaries. BARO holds regular meetings with employers in search of potential candidates for vacant positions.

The head of the Ministry of Education and Science has set a new standard of open, informal discussion with Bolashak alumni. Over the last three months, the Centre for International Programmes, together with the Ministry of Education and Science, has organised two informal meetings with the minister in Astana and Shymkent, with 200 and 150 participants respectively. During the meeting, graduates had a unique opportunity to discuss relevant issues with the minister and make their proposals on improving the Bolashak scholarship and education system in Kazakhstan.

Careful attention is paid to the employment of graduates. So, on March 15, the Centre for International Programmes in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Science organised a job fair at Nazarbayev University with more than 600 graduates. One hundred leading companies and organisations representing various spheres participated in the job fair. In conclusion, the job fair assisted more than 45 graduates in finding jobs. Another job fair took place in Atyrau on June 20. The overall number of participants reached 700 people, including 100 graduates of the Bolashak programme.

Once a month, BARO publishes its own newsletter, dedicated exclusively to Bolashak graduates, the BARO Digest. Graduates can share their success stories in a variety of industries, talk about their achievements and the process of education abroad and what impact the Bolashak programme has had in their lives. For employment, the BARO Digest contains a career centre section, through which graduates have the opportunity to work directly with employers.

In November 2014, another alumni forum of Bolashak graduates will take place. The forum will become a unique platform for alumni and … the exchange of innovative ideas and the development of further cooperation.

Bolashak graduates are a great example of talented, progressive-minded young people with active civil positions. Upon completion of the programme, graduates return to Kazakhstan with a full store of knowledge [and] experience, but most importantly with great potential and a desire to work for the sake of the country, improve the lives of our citizens and contribute to the development of the future. What distinguishes them from others is the competitiveness that they earned while studying abroad. When you study in a university where students barely know the geographical location of Kazakhstan, it pushes you forward to act, achieve and prove that Kazakhstan and its citizens are worth competing with.