Lately, Kazakhstani government has been adamant to grant universities more independence and autonomy. This reform, as they think, will boost higher education institutes’ (hereafter HEIs) performance and increase their competitiveness on the world arena. However, in this maelstrom of reforms in higher education sphere have they pondered of the universities’ readiness to accept this responsibility? Have they thought how to amend the reform so it fits the local realities? Well, I am a bit skeptical about it. The evidence at hand witnesses that universities are not ready to cope with this challenge. Professionally. Mentally. The long existent custom of being dependent on someone in Moscow and insufficient knowledge of the reform pose the main obstacles to the successful implementation of the reform.
After a quarter of a century of independence Kazakhstani HEIs still heavily rely on the Ministry of Education and Science (MoES) and have only relative freedom of actions. This legacy of the Soviet Union became so deeply entrenched in the minds of people that they see any new form of GOVERNANCE as harmful and deficient. According to the data Sagintayeva and Kurakbayev (2015) reveal, people are reluctant to take the responsibility because they are afraid of it. Basically, they are so used to just fulfilling the assignments “from above” that they do not know how to deal with this new system. Additionally, there is a number of issues which arise from the incompetence HEIs staff.
Certain people believe that autonomy means greater accountability to the MoES. Thus, HEIs staff views autonomy as something that will complicate their laborious work. This brings up a crucial point of building trust between a university and MoES. The authorities should allow HEIs some freedom and treat them not with constant suspicion, but with respect and trust. Another problem, which is the product of ignorance, is people’s misbelief that rectors will have an absolute power and, therefore, run universities as their own businesses (Sagintayeva & Kurakbayev, 2015). To put it simply, people assume that rectors will have the right to hire or fire anyone they want, impose his own rules and etc. In reality, university autonomy implies that board of trustees and academic staff make this sort of decisions.
The HEIs reform brought up a number of issues which have been in shadow for the 25 years of independence. These issues, if not addressed, threaten the achievement of the reform goals. I believe we should thoroughly contemplate all the steps and introduce the changes one-by-one. Otherwise, we risk ending up with an ugly parody of an effective governance system.
How do you see the implementation of the university autonomy reform? Do you think it is a viable one in Kazakhstan?
Sagintayeva, A. & Kurakbayev, K. (2015). Understanding the transition of public universities to institutional autonomy in Kazakhstan. European Journal of Higher Education, 5 (2), 197-210.