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Why Do I Value Public Policy Education?

12 Apr 2018

I grew up in a small city called Bayan-Ulgii in the westernmost region of Mongolia. It is inhabited by minority ethnic Kazakhs who have lived in this remote mountainous region for centuries. After finishing my university in Ulaanbaatar, I was able to study outside Mongolia with a scholarship from the Czech Government to attend Charles University in Prague. Later with the Asian Development Bank and the Government of Japan’s joint scholarship, I studied Master in Public Policy (MPP) at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP)

Life as an MPP Student

Through my MPP experience, I learned about the importance of good governance, efficient policy, and how policy makers should serve the public. It made me aware of the major challenges facing our world - from climate change to population growth to ethnic conflict to international migration. While living in Singapore, I saw the geopolitical and economic changes taking place in the region. I learned a lot from my schoolmates who came from 50 countries and had different cultural and educational backgrounds. I was amazed by the number of ideas that would emerge through classroom discussions and their commitment to improve their communities, regions and the world at large. Many of my schoolmates have taken up important roles in governments and in the international development sector. Many of them have turned their ideas into effective public policy.

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Career in Public Policy Education

Later, I developed a career in promoting public policy education in Asia and Europe including bridging scholarships with public policy programs to create opportunities for public servants to pursue higher education in public policy. In the last few years, I have helped establishing several partnerships between European and Asian universities and governments to train public sector officials. 
I helped establish a strategic partnership between Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan and LKYSPP to set up a Graduate School of Public Policy (GSPP) as the main training institute to prepare Central Asia’s future leaders in public sector. The purpose of the partnership is for GSPP to learn from the LKYSPP’s world class, research-focused, public policy teaching methodology.  

Kazakhstan 2050 Strategy

Kazakhstan’s ambition is to become one of the top 30 economies in the world by 2050. To achieve this goal, Kazakhstan needs visionary leaders and professional public servants to implement its strategies. LKYSPP’s best practices will definitely help GSPP attain an international standing. The Government of Kazakhstan, recognizing my contribution to the development of public policy education, awarded me a Diploma of ‘The Patriot of Kazakhstan 2017’ in conjunction with the Independence Day celebrations in Astana.  
In June 2017, I addressed ethnic Kazakhs gathered from 49 different countries at an international event in Astana. In my speech, I shared my experience of bridging Kazakhstan with other countries where I had worked and lived, and my goal of supporting Kazakhstan’s higher education development especially in public policy. The event was chaired by the President of Kazakhstan NA Nazarbayev, who was a great friend of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew. He encouraged me to continue to make Kazakhstan’s higher education globally competitive. The vision set by the President of Kazakhstan to make a trilingual education system is the key in setting the ground to make the education system internationally recognizable. 

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Training Policymakers in Asia

While working at the Executive Education (EE) department of LKYSPP, I helped design and deliver public policy training in Central and South Eastern Asian countries, Far East Russia and China. Through these programs, I interacted with hundreds of government officials in the developing Asia, which allowed me to continue learning and dig deeper into the challenges faced by the region’s key policy makers. It made me realize how good public policy education improves lives and increases standards of governance. 

The more challenging the issue, the more exciting the discussions were. During a class simulation, senior-level policy makers from two neighboring countries of Central Asia got into a heated debate due to the then existing dispute between those two countries. An LKYSPP professor intervened by challenging the policy makers to come up with a solution using the conflict resolution methods that they had been taught. This exercise helped them to understand the root causes of the problem and to find a better solution based on the lessons learnt from other countries.

We need to inspire more youth in Asia to go for higher education in public policy to aspire as honest, meritocratic, and entrepreneurial leaders and managers to serve the public. With core skills relating to ethics and accountability, they can be empowered to make critical decisions, solve complex public sector problems, and address social issues with goodwill and responsibility.
Aika Bolat

Master in Public Policy (2008)