Minister chastised over loans

December 24, 2004

Student protests over proposals to increase the cost of government-backed loans have earned the Kazakh education minister a presidential dressing-down and have cost his deputy her job.

Plans announced by Zhaksybek Kulekeev, the Minister of Education and Science, to increase the cost of repaying student loans provoked nationwide protests earlier this month.

Students at seven Kazakh universities, including the Al-Farabi Kazakh National University, the National Technical, Almaty Institute of Energy and state humanities and economics universities, issued an ultimatum to Mr Kulekeev to back down.

Protest leader Erlan Karabalayev said: "Bureaucrats seem to have confused their own pockets with those of students."

The dispute has been simmering for more than a year, since the Education Ministry introduced an amendment to correct an error in loan contracts issued between 1999 and 2003 that would have increased the cost of a typical repayment by more than 170,000 Tenge (£718). The error was corrected last year but the cost to students hit home only this year.

The students' case has been taken up by President Nursultan Nazarbayev's daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva, who was recently elected a member of Parliament.

Within days of her intervention, President Nazarbayev reprimanded the minister and cancelled the increases. He then sacked Mr Kulekeev's deputy, Aiman Abdykadyrova.

Mr Kulekeev is now looking at replacing state loans with grants.

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