Nazarbayev University Launches New Master’s Degree in Economics

ASTANA – Nazarbayev University (NU) launched a new master’s of arts in economics this month, the vice dean of research in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences of the school told The Astana Times on March 11. The master’s degree in economics is a two-year programme that is now the third master’s degree to be offered in humanities and social sciences at the university.


Nazarbayev University, Astana.

“One of the best parts of being at a new university is that you get to create new programmes,” Vice Dean of Research in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences Elizabeth Van Wie Davis said in the March 11 interview. Davis, along with the 13 members of the faculty of NU’s Economics Department and the programme’s partners from the University of Wisconsin shepherded the new degree to fulfilment between September and March. Nazarbayev University has a policy of maintaining multiple international partners; the University of Wisconsin is the partner school of NU’s School of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Online applications for the new degree began in early March and will be open throughout April, as the school looks for 15 strong candidates for the programme, Davis reported. The university is already looking ahead to what a Ph.D. in economics would look like, two or three years down the line.

For the new M.A. in economics and any master’s programme, they have two main objectives, Davis said. “One is to make sure that our graduates from the master’s degree could go on and do a Ph.D. anywhere in Europe, Australia, the United States, Canada, and that they’d be prepared to be competitive [there]. The other is to make sure that we can take the Bolashak [Kazakhstan’s international scholarship programme] students who have already gotten an undergraduate degree abroad … that they can come into our master’s programme and not feel like anything is being dumbed down for them or anything else.” Coming and going, the goal is for students to feel they’re in an international-quality programme, Davis said.

This outcome us monitored by Nazarbayev University’s quality assurance programme, Davis explained, which provides for constant international checks on the degree process and the candidates for it. “The whole programme was reviewed by the former head of the economics programme at the Colorado School of Mines,” Davis reported, as well as by the head of applied economics at the University of Wisconsin. “They looked at the programme as we were putting it together and then gave us feedback, all of which we took.”

There must be an external member on the graduate admissions committee and an international faculty member on each master’s thesis committee. A professor of economics at Duke University of North Carolina will sit on the graduate admissions committee, Davis said.

They don’t expect their brand-new programme to be perfect, the vice dean said. “One of the perks of being new is that you can always adjust, and I don’t think anybody expects the first shot to be perfect. So I’m meeting with the faculty that helped put together this economics graduate degree and saying, ‘Look, we know our first year, we’re going to find out what we did wrong during the planning stage.’ And there’s going to be something. If we knew what it was, we’d fix it beforehand!”

This is one reason the school is determined to bring in the best possible candidates for the programme’s first year, so when they hit snags, they know the calibre of their students isn’t the problem. “We’re already doing some outreach to returned Bolashak students with an undergraduate degree who haven’t gone on to a graduate degree,” Davis said. “We’re going to look at our own undergraduates to see if they’re interested and ready. Our primary purpose is to get them ready for an international school, but sometimes there are reasons they [don’t want to go abroad], so we’re looking at those students. And then we have three recruitment trips this month to go around Kazakhstan and try and pick up the best of the best, the students who have done degrees at other universities and they have the test scores and the language skills [they need].”

The school will begin evaluating applications at the end of April and they hope by June 1 to know who the first students in the new programme will be, Davis said. This year, they’re looking for 15 really good students, she said. Depending on how the first year goes, they may take between 15 – 30 in the programme’s second year, and eventually work up to a programme that takes 30 – 60 candidates per year.

Elective courses in the programme described in the new degree’s brochure include classes that cover the economics of energy, labour participation rates, the behaviour of companies, government intervention and development, income inequality, the economics of healthcare and more.

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