Understanding the influence of external environment on the development of post-secondary education in Kazakhstan

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №2 - 2011

Author: Novitskaya Yuliya, Kazakh-American Free University, Kazakhstan

The last decades of the past century and the beginning of this century witnessed an academic revolution all over the world. The academic changes are very intense due to their global nature and the number of institutions and people they affect. Higher education has turned into a competitive enterprise competing for the niche in the education market (Altbach et al, 2009). Like any other business, institutions of higher education have to be governed taking into consideration norms, rules and laws of for-profit organization management. To be able to stay competitive in this rapidly changing world and to effectively design and realize change management strategy we need to understand the environment in which an institution of higher education operates and the way colleges and universities are organized. This paper makes an attempt to describe external and internal environments of higher education in Kazakhstan which can be helpful in understanding change and tailoring change management approach.

The external environment of higher education consists of multiple components which form several mega-forces influencing the development of the educational system: political, economic, technological and social (Scott, 2003). Political force includes current legislation of the country related to education, intergovernmental agreements, international relations in educational sphere and overall country policy. Major political and economic force is globalization and marketization of all spheres of life including education. Social factors include demographic situation, welfare of the population, changes in the family size, while technological changes involve rapid development of technology, emergence of on-line educational services and new forms of education.

Let us consider all these components in a more detailed fashion.

Governmental policies have a broad effect on institutions (Green, 1987). Kazakhstan has been creating its new education legislation since gaining independence in 1991. The major law regulation operation of the system of higher education is the Law of Higher Education adopted in 1993, Law on Licensing, Law on Education of 1999 and Legal and Regulatory acts of the ministry of Education. The central executive body responsible for the management of the system is the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan. 7th Edition of the World Data on Education describes its functions as defining and executing State educational policy, drafting and adopting state educational standards, preparing state orders concerning specialists training, providing assistance in organization of educational process in the Kazakh language and establishing international agreements.

These legal regulations make a certain impact on how educational institutions operate. One of the major changes of the last years resulting from an attempt to create a common open educational network which makes credits transferable, degrees convertible and diplomas internationally recognized is joining the Bologna process. The system of higher education experienced fundamental change in 2004 when the 5-year training specialists system was abandoned and universities started training students according to a bachelor-master-doctor model (Piven’, Pak, 2006). Adopting Bologna process is however goes far more beyond adopting the three level system. Among other things university programs should be more student-centered and aimed at the desired outcomes rather than on number of credit hours offered (OECD, IBRD, WB, 2007).

Another important change in the operation of education institutions is caused by Kazakhstan language policy. Article 4 of the Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan on Languages adopted in 1997 runs: “The state language of the Republic of Kazakhstan shall be the Kazakh language. The state language shall be the language for state management, legislation, legal proceedings and office work, functioning in all spheres of social relations in the entire territory of the state. The duty of each citizen of the Republic of Kazakhstan shall be mastering of the state language, being the major factor in consolidating the people of Kazakhstan”.

With the adoption of the Law on Languages all education institution made an emphasis on teaching the Kazakh language and providing instructions in Kazakh. Secondary and higher education schools increased the amount of hours devoted to studying the state language. This created demand in developing teaching materials and methodology in teaching all subjects to a Kazakh speaking audience. Besides the Law which determines the status and role of the state language there is a state educational standard issued by the Ministry of Science and Education which describes the state policy toward the English language and determines the amount of time which should be devoted to studying it. All these is the result of the state language policy proposed by the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

As we entered the twenty first century, the major forces of a larger societal environment are reshaping the nature of postsecondary education. Speaking about major economic forces influencing higher education we should mention globalization, marketisation and commercialization of all spheres of human activity, increased competition between academic institutions, changed profile of labor markets, and other factors. An institution such as higher education could not survive in a society undergoing radical changes unless it succeeds in adapting to those changes. (Ehrle & Bennet, 1987)

Competition, which is primarily an element of business world, has become one of the major issues to consider while governing institutions of higher education. The major forces that shape the competition within postsecondary education industry are similar to those that influence competition in a business world and as follows: the threat of entry into industry by new organizations, the bargaining power of suppliers (students clientele), the bargaining power of customers (employers, funding sources), and the threat of substitute services. (Peterson & Dill, 1997)

Between 1950 and 1990, business scholars proposed two dozen management innovations, some of which were adopted by institutions of higher education. The management innovations considered were Planning, Programming and Budgeting System, Zero-Based Budgeting, Management by Objectives, Strategic Planning, Total Control Management, Business Process Reengineering, and Benchmarking. (Birnbaum, 2000) Some of them, or their elements, have proved to be useful in higher education environment and are still considered by university authorities.

The development and advocacy of new management approaches in academic world continues, and at an increasing pace. The fact that academic and business organizations have a lot of common features and that they are influenced by the same external environment forces and the experience of the past show that business theories might be successfully implemented in the academic setting. Peculiarities of academic institutions that make them different form for-profit organizations suggest that business management innovations should be tailored to the nature and needs of postsecondary education industry and not be used as universally applicable quick-fix solutions.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and emergence of new independent states brought a shift from a planned to market economy. This resulted in decrease of a public mission of higher education and contributed to the development of private higher education sector. For the period from gaining independence in 1991 to the present day the number of private institutions of higher education increased from zero to 95 in 2010, while the number of students enrolled in private post-secondary institutions exceeded the number of students enrolled in public universities (94,7 thous. students and 86,4 thous. students respectively according to the data of the Department of Statistics of the Republic of Kazakhstan). Unlike state institutions of higher education private institutions have more operational freedom and greater management flexibility. Private institutions are not bound with any kind of responsibility to allocate resources according to the parameters the Ministry of Education and Science laid down; they can purchase any equipment and study materials they need and own their land and buildings. While private universities still have to comply with the regulations of the Ministry to be able to operate in the educational market, they have a greater degree of autonomy and thus are capable of adapting quickly to the changing environment (OECD, WB, 2006).

Another factor that has changes the face of higher education is its commercialization. Bok defines commercialization as "efforts within the university to make a profit from teaching, research and other campus activities." Universities started to provide services for certain fees, which vary greatly depending on the University reputation, major and degree offered. Programs training students in economics, marketing, finance, management, computer studies, law which are currently in demand and prove to be quite prestigious attract more students and universities spend more money on development of these programs. Programs offering degrees in teacher education, Russian language and literature, history and some other classic disciplines have become poor stepchildren for higher education institution since they produce less income for the universities. They suffer from poor enrollment rates and receive less research money.

On the other hand, these programs receive grant money in accordance with Article 43 of the Law on Education which states that higher education is financed in accordance with the State Education Order. Thus, in order to regulate training of specialists the States places an order, which means cover the expenses, for training specialists in certain fields like teaching, agriculture, medicine and engineering. Those who want to be involved in marketing, management or law have to cover the costs of education and training on their own.

A key indicator of whether a higher education system is the right size is whether it is producing the right numbers of trained workers to meet the needs of the country’s labour market. This is usually assessed by looking at whether there are unemployed skilled workers or skill shortages in the economy as a whole or in key employment sectors. Another indicator is the percentage of graduates who find jobs on graduation. Preferably, these would be jobs in the disciplines the graduates have trained in, especially in specific vocational areas, like medicine, that require long and expensive training; but in a free labour market a perfect match between supply and demand is unlikely, and higher education can be said to serve its labour market purpose wherever a person’s qualification assists them in getting a job. Graduates with relevant qualifications can also aspire to compete in the international labor market (OECD, WB, 2006).

Currently in Kazakhstan there is a lack of interaction between the labor market and the system of higher education. Post-secondary institutions tend to provide educational services in the fields that are in demand by applicants (or their parents) rather than by labor market. According to the data, social professions and the humanities are in highest demand among students as well as pedagogical education due to relatively inexpensive tuition. There is an oversupply of economists and lawyers with poor knowledge and skills. Another example of this mismatch between higher education and the labor market is the shortage of Information Technolgy specialists, who are in high demand by the market (IBRD, 2007).

The next mega force which influences the development of higher education is a set of social factors which includes change in demographic situations, family incomes, massive movement of population from rural areas to cities, establishment of admission quotas and grants for applicant from rural areas and so on.

Ashimbayev and his co-authors in their paper “Current demographic situation in Kazakhstan” made an analysis of the demographic situation and proposed a number of policies to improve it. Some facts they state in the work which are of relevance to higher education are as follows:

1) The country’s total population has declined by 7.7% from 1989 to 1999, and though the last years show slight growth in the population, the changes mean that at the present period of time the number of 19-to-24-year-olds is rather small and will continue to drop steadily from a peak of 180 thousands in 2010 to below 120 thousands in 2025;

2) The share of Russian-speaking population declined, while the share of Kazakh speaking population increased, which brings certain changes related to the language of instruction and methodology used in educational institutions;

3) The number of males declined relatively to the number of femails, which may cause certain changes in the labour market and demand for certain professions;

4) The average size of the family declined. This seemingly irrelevant for education factor also brings changes to the education system: the state developed a policy for providing benefits for large families and young families;

5) The health level of children declined which can have a certain negative impact on the quality of education.

According to the Department of Statistics of the Republic of Kazakhstan the State Education Order shows a steady growth. The number of student in higher education institutions studying at the expense of the state increased from 440 thousand students in 2000-01 to 610 thousand students in 2009-10.

The last in a line, but one of the very influential forces, is the advancement of technology of the recent years. This factor, as well as a political factor, influence the development of post-secondary education sector in a direct way. Development of technology has brought changes in types of education institutions offering the degrees in educational markets, contributed to the development of on-line programs and virtual universities, created possibilities for getting access to the programs of the best world universities from literary any place on a globe. Technological advancement made a huge positive impact on research since it provided opportunity to use resources of large universities and resource centers from a home computer. Technology advancement also greatly changed the way university subjects are taught to the students.

Bringing technology into the classroom generates certain advantages and disadvantages to the students. Among advantages we can mention a great degree of flexibility, convenience, access to very diverse backgrounds of students and other things. Class members can communicate freely physically residing in different hemispheres of the globe, providing their cultural experience and contributing to a more comprehensive scrutiny of the studied problem. Disadvantages include technological glitches, delay in communication, inconvenient time for webinars and video conferences.

Thus, we have made an attempt to describe forces influencing higher education development worldwide and in Kazakhstan. Understanding these factors of influence, reasons for their emergence and impact they make is of primary importance for education leaders in managing education change. What has been described in this paper is just a tip of an iceberg – the topic needs a more thorough investigation with reference to statistics and university practices.


1. Altbach, Ph., Reisberg, L., Rumbley, L. (2009) Trends in Global Higher Education: Tracking an Academic Revolution. World conference on higher education.

2. Ashimbayev I. et al. (2004) Current Demographic Situation in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Kazakhstan

3. Birnbaum, R. (Jan.-Feb., 2000). “The Life Cycle of Academic Management Fads”. The Journal of Higher Education. Vol. 71, No. 1, pp. 1-16.

4. Bok, D. (2003). Universities in the marketplace: the commercialization of higher education. Princeton University Press.

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11. World data on education, VII Ed., 2010/11

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №2 - 2011

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