Doing fine in Kazakhstan

April 7, 2016

We at Nazarbayev University would like the opportunity to comment on the piece by Ararat L. Osipian about the university (“Can a young university be a world-leading university?”, Features, 31 March).

NU is now six years old. The Foundation Programme began in 2010 and the three undergraduate schools (Engineering; Science and Technology; and Humanities and Social Sciences) opened their doors in 2011. Our first graduates, in 2015, were admitted directly from BAs and BScs to PhD programmes at 17 universities including Nanyang Technological, Pennsylvania State, Pittsburgh, Purdue, Tulane, Massachusetts and Vanderbilt, as well as to 132 master’s programmes at universities such as the University of California, Berkeley, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and New York University. Our students are admitted on merit and on a needs-blind basis in a competitive examination offered across Kazakhstan and set and marked by Cambridge Assessment.

Since 2010, we have opened graduate schools in business, public policy, education and medicine, have had four university hospitals internationally accredited and have begun master’s and PhD programmes in the undergraduate schools. We are also about to open courses in nursing and to establish a School of Earth Sciences and Mining. There is nothing complacent about the students or faculty at NU, and we publish, discuss and debate freely every day  – academic freedom and autonomy are obligatory under our charter. This is a demanding place, but salaries are adjusted to the dollar value before the Tenge’s flotation, so the challenges are not quite what Osipian suggests.

His remarks about our boards of governance (which has more than one level) are inaccurate and outdated on several points; for example, we have had international members for three years now (out of five) and more international members are joining.

As for research, faculty numbers have grown over four years, with each faculty member bringing their “research in progress” from their previous university. Faculty have published steadily from day one but, quite rightly, under their previous affiliations. New NU-based projects began only as laboratories, library holdings and databases were established and research centres such as the National Laboratory, Astana were formed.

Everything happens at once here; our visitors remark on the extraordinary pace, energy and optimism. Given that the usual time between submission of a working paper and publication in an international peer-reviewed journal is 18 months, and that the research project itself may have taken three years, it is hardly surprising that articles, chapters and books coming from work at NU started to appear only in 2014. There is now a steady stream of publications. Scopus currently records 636 publications with 1,372 citations; 70 per cent of our publications are in international peer-reviewed journals, and 10.9 per cent in the top 10 most-cited -journals globally ; we will host the first Horizon 2020 project in Kazakhstan and have more than 350 research collaborations, including partners at Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge, Columbia, Tokyo, INSEAD, University of Hong Kong, Max Planck Institutes and Seoul National University.  And we are, in research terms, three years old.

Before he writes about us again, we hope that Osipian will have the chance to observe us closer up.

Anne Lonsdale
Provost, Nazarbayev University
Astana, Kazakhstan


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