Many Asian countries admire Singapore’s world-class education system, which among other public sector achievements, is the key factor behind its success in development. Many leaders in other countries aspire to learn from Singapore’s experience with the hope of applying these lessons in their own countries. For example, the Republic of Kazakhstan introduced the Bolashakh (Future) scholarship programme in 1994, a few years after its independence from the Soviet Union, to send promising and young Kazakhs to universities around the world for higher education. In return for providing financial support the graduates are required to return and work in Kazakhstan. This is one of several ideas that the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, adopted from Lee Kuan Yew. Since the launch of the Bolashakh scholarship programme, the Kazakh Government sends about 3,000 student candidates overseas every year.
Currently, Kazakhstan’s education system, from primary schools to universities, is being reformed with the objective of making schools and universities more autonomous. The initiative is being implemented under Minister of Education Mr. Aslan Sarinzhipov, who is an Executive Education Alumni of LKY School (2011). Kazakhstan is aspiring to join the row of economically advanced 30 countries in the world by 2050. Under this initiative, a group of 33 presidents and provosts of regional universities of Kazakhstan visited LKY School between 23 and 26 June 2014.
The study tour, developed by Prof. Kenneth Paul Tan, Vice Dean (Academic Affairs) of LKY School and organized in collaboration with Nazarbayev University’s Graduate School of Education (GSE NU), provided lessons from Singapore’s autonomous universities’ experience. Through sessions delivered at LKY School, NUS faculty and staff shared the vision and principles of setting up a competitive and world-class education. LKY School’s achievements, challenges, as well as policies and practices that define the journey NUS has taken in the last twenty years as an autonomous university was presented to the delegation.
Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, President of NUS addressed the high-level delegation at the School, and Mr. Albert Tsui, Head of Higher Education Policy under the Ministry of Education, met with the delegation. A tour of one-north, a case study of Singapore’s modern high-tech research and innovation hub was showcased, and a visit to NUS’s latest campus addition U-Town and an interesting session with Yale-NUS College were incorporated into the study tour.
One of the senior delegates, Dr. Moldabayev Sarkytbek Sarsembayevich, Chief of Academy of the Financial Police of Kazakhstan, expressed his appreciation of the programme when he said “the practicality of the curriculum that provides the opportunity for students to gain hands-on experience while pursuing higher education and the merit-based selection of students based on their intelligence, passion and talent is an invaluable lesson for Kazakh universities to adopt. From the interactive and open discussions provided during the visit, I also understood that introducing autonomy comes with accountability and greater responsibility and setting the right vision from the beginning, in accordance with the country’s development goals, and implementing those with the help of “powerful talent magnet” as President Tan Chorh Chuan stated in his remarks, is the core element for every university to succeed.”
Mr. David Lock, Coordinator and Consultant of the study tour, assigned from GSE NU (Director of International Projects, Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, UK) said “it was an excellent experience at NUS. I had admired the institution from a distance for several years but it was a great opportunity for me to find out at firsthand what made it successful during the study visit. I appreciate the opportunity provided for Kazakh University leaders by LKY School that it was an ideal case study against which they could reflect on their own situation and how more autonomy could be well founded in Kazakhstan.”
The learning journey of the Kazakh university leaders continued in Astana the following week with reflections on the lessons they learned in Singapore and with presentations to the Minister of Education.