Project co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union

In the framework of the decentralisation policy of the Republic of Kazakhstan policymakers and university leaders are looking for a strategy for greater institutional autonomy. A similar system as in the United States has been proposed as one of the options for improving the quality of the higher education system, but the US historical and social context is quite different that in Kazakhstan.

On the other hand, Kazakhstan joined the Bologna process and implements the reform of higher education in line with the system used in EU countries.

A recent study about education reform in Kazakhstan by Hartley, M., Gopaul, B., Sagintayeva, A. et al demonstrates that “academic leaders in Kazakhstan want greater autonomy. However, there is no clear consensus about what level of fiscal and academic autonomy is desirable and whether all institutions are prepared to manage themselves without Ministerial oversight. The roles of key constituents in academic governance have also not yet been clearly defined”.

The Consortium wants to undertake this project in order to provide insights about models of university autonomy of EU universities. The idea is that Kazakhstani academic leaders together with the Ministries of Education and Health can observe and analyse different approaches to autonomy, and evaluate alternative options.

Identified needs

  • Acquiring EU perspective in the field of university autonomy.
  • How models of autonomy are implemented in EU.
  • Opportunities, challenges, risks connected to the models.
  • Finding balance in the relationship with the Ministries.
  • Elaboration of feasible models of autonomy together and in consensus with Ministries.

Problems hindering transition to increased autonomy

  • How to break the cycle (Ministries waiting for universities´ ideas and universities waiting for Ministries’ ideas).
  • How to create the ground/basis for an informed and constructive discussion with the Ministries about university autonomy.
  • These problems can be addressed with help from expertise from the EU-partners, thus contributing to facilitating the process of transition.

The TRUNAK project addresses Kazakhstan’s national priorities through focusing on one of the university governance’s main challenges, which is university autonomy.

Higher degree of organizational, financial, academic and staffing freedom is pre-condition for modernization of university governance. The universities and the Ministries agree that an appropriate framework is necessary for the fulfilling of their missions. Working with the area of university autonomy the TRUNAK project will have a significant impact on Kazakhstan’s HE sectors. Despite of the importance of other problems also relevant for university management, we believe that autonomy should be addressed first to create a solid ground for further organizational modernization.

Efforts have been made in Kazakhstan to decentralize and modernize university structures, organization and management. Nazarbayev University, has a high degree of autonomy and the experiences gained can be used in other institutions. On the other hand, it is still not clear to what extent autonomy will be granted to the entire system of HE.

In EU university autonomy is a fundamental issue. The European University Association represents an independent voice of European universities: ”It is clear that autonomy does not mean the absence of regulations. The state needs to provide an appropriate framework in which universities can fulfil their missions in the best possible way”.

This project is offering a bottom-up approach, which is new compared to previous experiences, in order to contribute to a constructive discussion together with the Ministries about university autonomy. The existing situation is that the government makes huge effort to decentralize and modernize university governance but a more comprehensive and structured expression of the points of view of the universities is desirable.

Kazakhstan has already adopted the Bologna process, the TRUNAK Consortium sees a clear a synergy effect with this initiative and also with the EU Flagship Initiative “Innovation Union” of the Europe 2020 Strategy for Smart, Sustainable and Inclusive Growth. The initiative states the need for European universities to be freed from over-regulation and micro-management in return for full accountability. In EU the European University Association has developed the University Autonomy Tool for benchmarking of national policies in the field of university autonomy. The definitions and methodology developed in the University Autonomy Tool will be used as instruments of this project.


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