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Academic freedom, optimization and ranking — on development of Kazakhstan’s universities

Tuesday, 10 November 2020, 18:51:16

Today in the press center of the Central Communications Service, Vice Minister of Education and Science Miras Daulenov, Director of the Department of Higher and Postgraduate Education of the Ministry of Education and Science Adlet Toybaev and Chair of the Committee on Control in Education and Science of the Ministry of Education and Science Gulzat Kobenova spoke about the changes in the higher education system and the measures taken to improve the quality of higher education.


Expansion of academic independence of universities

As Miras Daulenov noted, at present there are 128 universities in the higher education system of Kazakhstan. Of these, 56 are state, 72 are private universities. In pursuance of Step 78 of the Plan of the Nation “100 Concrete Steps”, on July 4, 2018, a law was adopted, within the framework of which universities were given independence in:

  • determining the content of educational programs not lower than the State Educational Standard;
  • determination of qualification requirements for teachers; implementation of educational activities on the basis of independently developed workload norms, forms and amounts of remuneration;
  • development and approval of the rules for admission, transfer and reinstatement of students;
  • development and approval of the rules for organizing and conducting professional internship and the rules for defining organizations as bases of practice.

In addition, universities were given the right to create branches in foreign countries, create endowment funds, open start-up companies, as well as attract additional sources of financial and material resources to carry out statutory activities.

As a result, the academic independence of universities has reached 85%, and the Register of educational programs includes 9,999 educational programs that were independently developed by universities.

The dynamically changing conditions for the development of the economy and human capital require further expansion of the academic freedom of universities.

In this regard, the Minister of Education and Science Askhat Aimagambetov announced an Anti-Crisis Plan for the Development of Higher Education in August this year.

The plan provides for 3 main steps to further expand the academic independence of universities:

  1. 5 targeted measures to expand academic freedom;
  2. 6 quick fixes during the pandemic;
  3. ranking of universities in 4 categories.

Step 1 provides for:

  1. Implementation of a blended form of education with the transfer of some disciplines to a distance format;
  2. Regulation of only learning outcomes in OOD disciplines, and not determining the content of these disciplines (the formation of topics in the competence of universities);
  3. Cancellation of External Assessment of Academic Achievement, since it no longer fulfills its function of assessing the quality of educational programs;
  4. Removal of regulations from the stages of conducting doctoral research and providing universities with independence in defining academic policy for doctoral programs;
  5. Cancellation of requirements for graduation, staffing and "basic education" in such subjects as "Information and Communication Technologies", "Telecommunications", "Finance and Accounting", "Journalism and Information", "Service sector (catering, tourism)" , "Transport services", "Standardization, certification and metrology" and in other non-science intensive areas.

The implementation of these measures will require amendments to the Law "On Education". The Ministry initiated the corresponding amendments.

As part of the implementation of Step 2:

  1. The requirement for the ratio of the cost of training and the cost of the grant has been cancelled;
  2. The requirement to provide employment for university graduates has been specified;
  3. The reporting of universities has been reduced, in particular, the transcripts of students, undergraduates and doctoral students have been excluded, protocols of commissions, statements of teaching time for teachers for each month / for a year, a work plan of the department, minutes of meetings of the SAC, etc., which overload teachers with a paper load, have been excluded. All this can be conducted in electronic form, while the university develops the forms independently.

The ranking of universities in 4 categories (at the international, national, regional, sectoral levels) as part of the draft Concept for the Development of Higher Education until 2025 on Oct. 8 was presented at a meeting of the Council for Enhancing the Competitiveness of Universities. The main criteria for ranking universities are: a) international accreditation; b) the level of employment of graduates; c) contribution to the development of science; d) the contribution of graduates to the development of the country, region and industry; e) the level of teachers' salaries.

A mechanism for ranking universities has been proposed: 1) according to their full compliance with the specified criteria and 2) according to partial compliance with the criteria with the guarantee of the akimat, large companies.


Expansion of managerial independence of universities

The management of a university is carried out in accordance with the legislation and the charter of the university on the principles of one-man management and collegiality. The governing bodies in universities, depending on their organizational and legal form and form of ownership, are supervisory boards or boards of directors, or other governing bodies, the creation of which does not contradict the legislation. Accordingly, the legislation does not restrict universities in choosing the types of governing bodies.

25 state universities were reorganized into NAO with 100% state participation. NAO is a non-profit organization that does not pursue income generation as the main goal of its activities and does not distribute the resulting net income. All the income received goes to the development of the university, in particular, equipping the laboratory base; increasing teachers' salaries; development of the infrastructure of the university.

In all universities with 100% state participation, boards of directors have been created, the structure and staffing have been approved. The transition of universities to the NAO is a new stage in the development of the entire higher education system.

The transfer of universities to the NAO will not affect the labor relations of the university and its employees, with the exception of the management team.


Increasing requirements for quality of higher education

On May 18, 2020, amendments and additions were made to the Standard Rules for the Activities of Organizations of Higher and (or) Postgraduate Education. The main changes include:

  • annual reporting meetings of rectors of universities with the public on educational, research and financial activities of the university;
  • checking the student's written works (term papers, theses (projects), master's theses (projects) and doctoral dissertations) for the presence of borrowed material and the use of text with synonymous replacement of words and expressions without changing the meaning (paraphrase), including the use of text translated from another language. At the same time, the rules and procedure for conducting a check for borrowings are determined by the university;
  • in case of revocation of the license and (or) annex to the license to engage in educational activities or liquidation of the university, the student of this university is transferred to other universities to continue his studies during the current semester from the date of revocation of the license and (or) annex to the license, and (or) during the summer and winter holidays (transfer will also be possible in case of suspension of the license, without waiting for the end of the semester);
  • the transfer of students from foreign universities is carried out to universities in which a state educational order has been placed for the corresponding level of education, field of education and year of admission and (or) national and (or) foreign accreditation bodies that have international specialized accreditation included in registers and (or) associations accreditation bodies of the member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in the field of education;
  • in order to improve the quality of educational activities, the university creates an internal quality assurance system based on international standards and guidelines to ensure the quality of higher and postgraduate education in the European higher education area;
  • the basis of the learning process is academic integrity, the implementation of which is ensured by the university.

On May 5, 2020, amendments and additions were made to the State Educational Standard of Higher and Postgraduate Education, which provide for:

  • increased requirements for scientific supervisors of master's and doctoral dissertations;
  • teachers in the field and (or) specialists who meet the 8th level of the National Qualification Framework with at least 3 years of work experience are allowed to manage diploma theses (projects);
  • the possibility of preparing a graduation project instead of writing a thesis;
  • learning outcomes in higher education are complemented by the need to master research methods, academic writing and the ability to apply them in the field of study, the principles of academic integrity;
  • a pan-European supplement to the diploma (Diploma Supplement is issued to students free of charge;
  • a research proposal is maintained (a document prepared by a doctoral student and approved by the university during the first or second year of study, including the goal, objectives and methodology of the study, a literature review and expected research results);
  • doctoral students are given the opportunity to defend a thesis within one year after graduation on a free basis, and in subsequent years on a paid basis in the amount of at least 4 academic credits.

The ITCs for universities will also be supplemented in terms of special requirements for the training of lawyers, doctors, architects, builders.


Increasing quality when placing grants

Placing a state order is carried out by the Republican Commission, which includes representatives of public organizations, deputies of the Majilis, public figures, representatives of state bodies and NCE Atameken.

This year, for the first time, 36 universities have not been allowed to participate in state order. The main reasons for not admitting universities before placing a state order were: the provision of inaccurate data by universities, unsatisfactory quality of education, and a low level of employment. The rating of NCE Atameken was also taken into account as an additional criterion.

As a result, more than 53 thousand grants were awarded to students on the basis of a competition — UNT.

The State Program for the Development of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan for 2020-2025 provided for an increase in the cost of the state order from Sep. 1, 2020.

So, the cost of the state order in state universities has been increased from 342.9 thousand to 955.8 thousand tenge, in national universities from 635.8 thousand to 1,082.6 thousand tenge. In doctoral studies, the cost of the state order increased from 1,307 thousand to 1,900 thousand tenge.


Optimization of universities

In accordance with the instructions of the Head of State, the ministry is systematically working to optimize universities that provide low-quality education.

Since the beginning of this year, preventive control has been carried out in 26 universities, by the end of the year it is planned to carry out control in 5 more universities.

The results of the inspections indicate that universities violated the legislation in the field of education on the admission of applicants, the recruitment of teachers who do not meet the established qualification requirements, in terms of improving the qualifications of teachers, planning the teaching load, final certification of students, etc.

According to the results of the work carried out:

First. 5 universities were closed. For 2 universities, resolutions of the Ministry were adopted to revoke the general license. At present, the process of appealing the adopted decisions is under way. All students in the established order are transferred to other universities and continue their studies. The question of the employment of teachers is also being worked out.

Second. 25 universities returned 60 applications to licenses in certain areas of personnel training. Additionally, 4 more universities returned 13 applications to the license. And, as a result, the number of universities providing teacher training is already decreasing.

Now, in the event of the liquidation of the university, the revocation of the license or annex to the license for engaging in educational activities, students can be transferred to other higher educational institutions without waiting for the end of the semester.

Answering the questions of journalists, the Director of the Department of Higher and Postgraduate Education of the Ministry of Education and Science Adlet Toybaev said that more than 35 thousand foreign students are currently studying at Kazakhstani universities.

“In fact, we assumed that the number of foreign students would change due to the development of the situation with the coronavirus. However, thanks to all the measures that we have taken together with universities, this figure has practically not changed. If we talk about the 2019-2020 academic year, then the figure was 34,452 people — foreign citizens studying in Kazakhstan in universities. Today this figure is 35 thousand 146 students. Not big, but we have a gain,” he informed.

According to the director, this became possible due to the provision of distance learning opportunities for those foreign citizens who could not come to the territory of Kazakhstan, in the new conditions they study while at home.

“We had citizens of foreign countries who expressed a desire to study on the territory of Kazakhstan, due to the lack of access to the Internet at their home. We provided them with accommodation in hostels, that is, they live in hostels and study remotely, they were provided with the Internet and equipment,” Toybaev said.

When asked about the transition to the traditional format of education, Vice Minister of Education and Science Miras Daulenov noted that everything will depend on the epidemiological situation in the country.

“The decision is made taking into account the sanitary and epidemiological situation in a particular region, as a whole in the country of the Ministry of Healthcare. In this case, if we talk about educational organizations, it does not matter if it is a school or university, we are generally ready for any format of education. Speaking specifically about individual educational organizations located in certain regions, located in the red or yellow zone, the decision on them will be made by the Interdepartmental Commission. The situation changes literally every day. You see what is happening in other countries, what the dynamics of the growth of the incidence of CVI is. All this will be decided taking into account how close the region is to the foci of the epidemiological situation and depending on this a decision will be made,” he said.

Chair of the Committee for Quality Assurance in Education and Science of the Ministry of Education and Science Gulzat Kobenova informed about the situation with the Astana University.

This is the university whose graduates this year could not receive their diplomas in a timely manner, since the university was accredited only in August 2020, respectively, the graduates were not able to enroll in the master's program on time, if they had such a desire, or could not immediately upon completion of training to find a job.

“On the part of the Ministry of Education and Science, the following question arises: what is the educational activity at this university, what are the shortcomings. Because there is concern on the part of students. Judging by our information, this university cannot be classified as a microentrepreneur, since about 3 thousand students study at this university, and according to the business code, at least 15 employees should work here,” she said.

As Kobenova assured, during the year two attempts were made to conduct an audit at the Astana University. The last unscheduled check, which was planned to be carried out at the request of students, when students expressed concern that they had already passed the graduation course, but they did not have scientific supervisors of their theses, since the university simply did not have teachers by the end of the previous academic year.

On the basis of this appeal, an inspection was registered, however, the university recorded an obstruction of the inspection, which was expressed simply in the denial of access to the building. The university was brought to administrative responsibility in the form of an administrative fine.

“The second check was planned on a planned basis, but at the same time the university was also refused, which resulted in the failure to submit documents. And then the university was also involved in administrative responsibility. In this regard, today, as such, checks at this university have not been carried out,” added Kobenova.

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