Should “Bolashakers” immediately come back after graduation?


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Kazakhstani international scholarship program “Bolashak”, well known for its limitations and rigorious rules, still keeps being a bone of conception raising various issues in its practice.  Despite the strictness of the Program’s measures of preventing drop outs and brain drain through providing pledge from the applicant, outflow of the qualified specialists among students studying abroad has been successfully prevented. An obligation to work for 5 years in relevant profession by arrival is a great opportunity to “pay back” to the country for the study in the world class university abroad. However, there are also complications in terms of the application of acquired knowledge in the home country that need to be discussed and questioned.

I strongly believe that providing 2 or 3 years of work in the country of study or anywhere else  abroad would be vastly beneficial for both graduates and government. The justification of this approach lies on the fact that mostly foreign higher education programs provide knowledge and skills irrelevant to the Kazakhstani context. Moreover, the graduates are not capable of applying theoretical framework on practice as they do not have neither practical work experience abroad nor relevant workplace to employ innovative skills in Kazakhstan. Moreover, a meticulous empirical study on the Bolashak program (Perna, L., Orosz, K., & Jumakulov, Z., 2015) has shown that many employers were not satisfied by the graduates of the Program due to the lack of sufficient work experience in their fields. Therefore, a couple of years spent in foreign organization would be an appropriate complement to the CV’s of the graduates in order to meet the requirements of employers in Kazakhstan.

The challenges in the Bolashak program concerning employability and restrictions on working abroad and gaining foreign experience demands the suggestions on the alternative measures that could lead to better results in human capital development. In this case, the concept of Brain Circulation is one of the appropriate ones. The definition of this concept given by Johnson & Regets (1998) refers to the mobility of competent and experienced workers. Brain circulation is related to receiving and sending countries that obtain mutual benefits out of the exchange of human capital (Pan, 2010). Shortly speaking, Brain Circulation concept enables the educated personnel to be hired abroad for a certain period of time in order to implement acquired skills and experience by coming back to home country to soar local economy (Dawson, 2007). For instance, Chinese government made deliberate efforts to promote this concept in three directions: supporting the overseas studies, encouraging overseas students to return and abolishment of the restrictions on going and coming of students, and this reforms empowered returned graduates to establish 5000 organizations costing 30 billion dollars in total by 2003 (Pan, 2010). It is evident that this concept might enhance the quality of human resources with long-term benefits on the development in political, financial and societal aspects. Because staying abroad will form new work and business connections contributing to the establishment of corporate networks in cross-border scale.

To sum up, the Bolashak program still needs significant reformations in terms of the inner policies concerning further career progression of the graduates. Appearing absence of correlation between the knowledge gained abroad and demands of the employers in Kazakhstan depicts rather negative consequences of the current regulations within the program. Brain circulation concept, as an opposite approach towards the vision of decision-makers of the Bolashak program, may catalyze positive outcomes from grant holders.


Perna, L., Orosz, K., & Jumakulov, Z. (2015). Understanding the human capital benefits of a government-funded international scholarship program: An exploration of Kazakhstan’s Bolashak program. International Journal Of Educational Development, 85-97. doi:10.1016/j.ijedudev.2014.12.003

Johnson, J. M., & Regets, M. C. (1998). International mobility of scientists and engineers to the United States–Brain Drain or Brain Circulation?. SRS Issue Brief.

Pan, S. Y. (2010). Changes and challenges in the flow of international human capital China’s experience. Journal of Studies in International Education14(3), 259-288.

Dawson, L. R. (2007). Brain drain, brain circulation, remittances and development: Prospects for the Caribbean. The Caribbean Papers. Retrieved from:


5 thoughts on “Should “Bolashakers” immediately come back after graduation?

  1. Great work, Khakim. (5/5) You have done some serious research to address an important topic. Thanks for employing carefully organized arguments, pausing to explain and connect as you write. It is very effective. Two minor recommendations: 1) add a source credit to your photo, since I’m pretty sure you didn’t take that picture of a sign in Astana, and 2) prompt your readers to engage in discussion with you, either by problematizing the topic, or posing a question at the end.


  2. Khakim, thank you very much for raising this topic as the name of the program speaks for the “brighter” future generation that will lead Kazakhstan. But haven’t the government already done enough? I mean, scholarships to the top universities, travel expenses, a stipend and other expenditures. And only 5 years of their lives as the pay back.

    Moreover, each student has got an opportunity to pass 2 or 3 paid internships in the country they are studying, which means to legally work in the best international companies up to 9-12 months. Fortunately, it is not Kazakhstan where the intern just seats in front of the computer for several ours to get a “check” in the attendance list. They do real work there and it is then counted as a working experience.

    I would agree, that there is a definite mismatch between expectations of employers in KZ and Bolashak graduates. But why employers are not satisfied with their working and other skills and experiences? Because, Bolashak graduates don;t want to start their careers from the lowest positions, they come back and apply for those jobs that match their education. Mostly, administrative positions.

    Needless to mention, that those studied abroad come back with a completely new mindset and a worldview. and I think, that letting them work abroad for 2-3 years will make that distance even longer.

    However, I agree that the 5 year “sentence” in Kz should be somehow reconsidered.


    1. Firstly, I completely agree with you Dana, that our government has done a huge amount of progress providing such opportunity to study in the top universities of the world as you say. However, progress is progress, and I won’t stay uncritical. No matter how much has been done, there will always be a space for step forward and advance.
      Secondly, graduates of Bolashak tend to seek for top positions because they did not experience searching for job abroad corresponding to their qualification. In case if they had to, it would be quite obvious that there is no way but accepting the lowest position since no company will provide them top positions as Kazakhstani ones might do. Therefore I am sure that overseas experience of job search will put cosmic expectations of some of them down.
      Thirdly, one or half year internship does not provide a carrier progression which is one of the crucial aspects in Brain Circulation concept which provides crucial connections for business partnerships. I don’t think that 9 months of internship will empower a young Kazakhstani engineer to create another Silicon Valley as it was done in India by those graduates enabled to stay in California for many years after their graduation. The government of India provided them an opportunity to come back supporting their initiatives in creating advanced technological companies. The benefits of this concept is therefore quite long term.
      At last, if 5 years of forced obligation is a measure of preventing brain drain, it will not stop anyone from leaving the country forever if he or she wants to. Anyway they even might leave the country after 5 years. Conversely, I know many talented people, including teachers, who came back after living and working abroad for more than 5, and none of them regret returning here, because they love being “at home”. Therefore I’m sure that there is no need to bind and limit educated people geographically.


  3. Dear @khakimkenzhetayev, as a person who once applied for Bolashak program years ago and having some friends among those who came back and some who never did, I concur that it is an extremely complicated program from the very beginning till the end.
    Apart from being a long-term scrupulous admission process, the constraint of the leavers with 5 year “pay-back” regulation of the program, as you have mentioned, is a strict and unjustified measure for those who actually earned the stipend. Undoubtedly, the experience and skills they acquire is a valuable and should be directed towards the country’s development, however, your study of the issues tells me that it is still a problematic topic though old. Have the regulations changed since the first years of the program? Have you yourself applied or thought about applying for Bolashak?


    1. @aigulazhigaliyeva,The regulations of the Program has not been changing a lot since its establishment. The improvments tend to be focused on the language requirements (IELTS results are being required to be higher year by year). However, there is no significant change in admissions and sending abroad regulations. As for me, I did not have a chance to apply to this program, while some of my friends could not apply due to the requirement of registering an immovable property as a pledge since their houses were already registered in bank loans.


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