GAITHERSBURG, MD – The International Science and Technology Centre (ISTC), a multigovernment nonproliferation programme established in 1992, is moving its headquarters from Moscow to Astana’s Nazarbayev University in 2015, at the invitation of the Kazakh government.
The organisationis mainly funded by the United States, Canada, the EU, Japan, Norway and South Korea, as well as some corporate partners, and funds projects in Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan. It was established to provide weapons scientists from Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), particularly those with experience with weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems, a chance at employment and incomes through peaceful activities, as well as to help those scientists integrate into the international scientific community, according to the organisation’s website. The organisation also supports the transition of former Soviet countries to market-based economies and contributes generally to global scientific research.
Headquartered in Moscow since 1994, the Russian government declared their intention to leave the organisation in 2010, and the Moscow office is expected to close in early 2015. No reason was officially given for the withdrawal at the time, but then-director of the ISTC Adriaan van der Meer said in a 2011 interview that clearly, Russian officials considered the organisation’s mission in Russia to be finished.
Kazakhstan expressed its willingness to host the ISTC when it heard Russia was withdrawing from the organisation, David Cleave, executive director of the ISTC, told The Astana Times on Nov. 28. “Kazakhstan was chosen on the basis that ISTC has had a large number of projects in Kazakhstan, over other regions, and we see that this may well be continued in future.”
The organisation has funded more than 2,700 proposals since its establishment, giving grants to more than 75,000 scientists in Russia and the CIS. There are currently 21 active projects in Kazakhstan; 200 ISTC projects have been completed in the country. The centre is expected to open with at least 20 staff members, a number which might increase depending on funding and projects.
The original choice for the new headquarters was Almaty, Cleave said, but it was decided it would be better to be closer to embassies and Kazakh governmental bodies in the capital. The decision to set up shop at Nazarbayev University was made in cooperation with Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Education and Science.
“It was through Ministry of Education and Science that they suggested we be housed in the Nazarbayev University campus, as the university itself is very much at the forefront of developing the future of science, technology and innovation in the future, something which [President of Kazakhstan] Nursultan Nazarbayev feels strongly about in developing Kazakhstan going forward,” Cleave said.
Nazarbayev University will serve as the ISTC’s organisational base, from which it will administer its projects in Kazakhstan and the region, including coordinating financing, procurement, funding, monitoring and auditing. The main work of the ISTC at Nazarbayev University will be to continue to fund projects and arrange scientific seminars and workshops in science and technology and research and development, Cleave said.
The impact on the university will not be huge, he said, as the organisation will simply continue to support specific projects within its network of countries from its new administrative headquarters. However, the university could benefit from the organisation’s presence there as a facilitator of contacts and collaborators for research and funding.
“If Kazakhstan continues to build its internal industrial capacity, Nazarbayev University could become a regional educational [or] research hub for Central Asia, which would allow the ISTC to tap into the regional educational system for up-and-coming new scientists,” Cleave said. As the university is still quite young, this must remain only a possibility for some time, the executive director cautioned.
The nature of Nazarbayev University may also contribute to some distance from the rest of the country’s scientific and educational system. “This system is not fully linked to the existing research and educational establishment in Kazakhstan, but rather is currently an independent initiative overseen and funded directed through the presidential administration,” Cleave noted. “To a certain degree, the research arm of Nazarbayev University might be considered to be in competition with established scientific research institutes in Kazakhstan.”
As for university students, again, the possibilities are all in the early stages of exploration. “There could be a role for the ISTC in expediting and facilitating exchanges for Nazarbayev University, in particular in the research arm of Nazarbayev University,” Cleave said. There is also the possibility of ISTC fellowships for specific activities, which would give local students exposure to work in an international organisation, while also helping the ISTC organise and plan local and regional events.
Cleave noted Kazakhstan’s efforts to develop and diversify its economy and its scientific and research capacity away from its primary strengths: resource extraction and, to some degree, processing. “Engineering needs will be prominent if the government [continues] to fund diversification of its economy, as well as developing the technical capabilities of the population to support widened industrial activity,” he commented.
The country is making progress in developing its scientific base, Cleave said. The most promising areas of scientific development in Kazakhstan include developing industries that provide higher value-added resources into the global supply chain, supporting public and private space launch initiatives and continuing to assist with the long term storage of hazardous and volatile materials, he said, as well as the energy and alternative energy industries currently receiving massive investment in the run up to EXPO 2017.