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Simon Jones: Bolashak graduates work in almost every aspect of Nazarbayev University life

What is the role of education in the economy of the country? In my opinion educated work force and educated population can be the best indicator of the economic success, as well as the best guarantee of the stable and prosperous society.

In that sense Kazakhstan is the great example of the progressive and constructive view taken towards education which leads to the formation of human capital. And the “Bolashak” program plays a critical role in the whole system of education in Kazakhstan. 20 years ago when the country has only just established itself, a creation of the “Bolashak” program was a breakthrough. It was also a very brave thing to commit so much money at the time when the economic situation in the country was not very stable. No one knew whether the program would succeed or not. But investing resources into the program for over 20 years has resulted in several educated generations. It is not just enough to educate one generation, it has to be generation after generation.

Nowadays a lot of Bolashak graduates work at Nazarbayev University.  Bolashak graduates are the integral part of the university; they help with the administration, work in research centers, work as teaching assistants. One of the Bolashak graduates is managing my office now. Basically they are involved in every aspect of the university life. Whether it is taking advanced biology research in the Center of life sciences, dealing with new forms of renewable energy in the Center of energy research, or studying past, present and future of Kazakhstan and Kazakh society, I can firmly say that they show high qualifications. I see how the administrative staff of this university, the manyof whom are also Bolashak students, provide us with support and administration that really makes my job as a Provost much easier. It is so far the best support that I have ever had in any university that I have worked in, and I have even worked in MIT.

One of the real examples of Bolashak graduates efforts is the project in the Center for Life Sciences.

The Center for Life Sciences is a National research center based in the university. One of its research areas is personalized medicine. Being a Chairman of this center I can say that it is the remarkable thing. When you give the same medicine to two different patients, they respond very differently to it. For one of them it can be more effective than for another. And if you do a research on the reason behind it, you realize that it has a lot to do with your genetic makeup. Over the years Kazakhs have had very specific genetic makeup. What Bolashak students are doing is studying the precise genetic makeup of Kazakhs and how it interacts with medicine. Thus making sure that medicine is designed for the certain person, according to his genetic and physiological makeup. At least five Bolashak graduates work on this project in order to make medicine more effective.  Generally, personalized medicine has been a well-known practice for many years. It is a very important research topic.

Nowadays problems of modern science are so complicated, that you have to address them to the team, not to one person. Modern science involves teams, and the entire research breakthrough is also a team breakthrough. Bolashak students work as research technicians and they have enough qualifications to undertake research themselves or lead small research groups. This is what particularly makes Nazarbayev University more attractive for foreigners — the fact that there are good teams.

Bolashak graduates can also be distinguished by proficiency in English language. To become a successful scholar, individual should be proficient in the language of the country where he or she studied. According to the fact that most of the Bolashak graduates have studied in English speaking countries, they represent very competitive workforce nowadays. And it is true that the better your language is, the easier it will be to study. I know this myself. I have studied at German university for some time. And the better my German was the better student I became. But I can say that all universities look at the English language of students very carefully, because it is a good predictor of success. I think Bolashak program needs to keep careful eye on it. The level of learning is different, one person can have IELTS 5 and it can take him one year to get level 6, another can have IELTS 5 and improve it in 3 months. The better your language is, the better you can study.

We can bravely claim that Nazarbayev University and the “Bolashak” program are fulfilling common objective. Both educational institutions are aimed at creating qualified professionals with good English language.

First graduates of Nazarbayev University will be produced in May 2015 and some of our students who study Engineering Science already have good links with the industries. Many of our students have been to internships. Companies offer internships as a way to see whether the student is a suitable employee later on. I assume there are clear demands for NU students because they have advantages, they speak very fluent English, they have very high level of technical knowledge, they know how to work in team, and problem solving is one of the things we teach. The opportunities for the students are huge, they can either continue further studies and get Master or PhD degrees via Bolashak program, some might want to study here, work in companies, others – start their own business.

To sum up I can say that the “Bolashak” program, as I have already said, is extremely important and I think it is run very efficiently. If there is something that I would suggest, it would be that the “Bolashak” program supported students who want to start their own companies after they graduate. I consider it would be very interesting when graduates set up their own companies back in Kazakhstan, because it is just as much of contribution to the country as working in existing ones. Thus the “Bolashak” program can provide students with extra skills or trainings. I know that it is not straightforward, but I think that it’s worthwhile thinking about. This generation is getting more and more different from my generation. This generation wants to start their own business. They have been inspired by Google, Facebook, and all of these other things. “Bolashak” graduates represent very best of Kazakhstan’s young people. Encouraging and supporting them is a good thing.

So, I think Kazakhstan is a great example to many other nations because of the importance of the education for economic growth and of creating fulfilled and meaningful lives for its citizens. It is something that has to be done all the time; you can't give up on it. But it's definitely worthwhile to do.

Simon Jones, Provost at Nazarbayev University

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