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  • Over 620,000 students in higher education and universities in Kazakhstan;
  • 150,000 high school students graduate on an annual basis on average;
  • Nearly 80% of the student population is self-funded;
  • Of 37,000 self-funded students studying abroad, around 2,000 study in the U.S.;
  • The local government is committed to Education with $7.75 billion allocated to the sector over the past two years and plans to spend $3.5 billion in 2014;
  • Education technology; secondary, vocational and higher education are key priority areas.

According to Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Education, there are 571,691 students enrolled in higher education currently in 139 universities nationwide, with the highest concentrations of students in Almaty, Shymkent, Karaganda and Astana. Additionally, 80% of the students are self-funded and just 20% are on state scholarships. The country’s 2020 Strategic Development Plan which includes the adaptation of the education system to the new socio-economic environment creates opportunities for U.S. higher education institutions, education technology sectors, as well as for U.S. education literature and textbooks publishers.

According to the Ministry of Education and Science of Kazakhstan, state financing of education increased to $7.75 billion over the past two years (or 4.2% of GDP per year). In 2014, the government will spend $3.5 billion on education. The State Program of Education includes the adoption of the 12-year education model, construction of schools and kindergartens, modernization of vocational and technical education, e-learning education projects and professional development systems for teachers. The ministry notes that with the introduction of new reforms and high-quality school technologies, student academic performance has improved by 15-20% since 2010.

National Test

143,000 students graduated from Kazakhstani high schools in 2013 with a forecast of 200,000 - 250,000 students a year expected to graduate over the next five years. Students who successfully pass (50 points out of 100) the United National Test (ENT) – high school exit examination – are then allowed to apply to local universities and other higher educational institutions. The ENT is not obligatory for those students applying for foreign universities on a self-funded basis, but those students that apply for state-funded scholarships for studying abroad are required to pass the ENT. 99,560 students registered for the test in 2013, which is 72% of the overall number of graduates.

Students from Kazakhstan studying abroad can be classified into two groups:

  • Students whose parents can afford to finance their education abroad. The majority of these students live in the largest cities of Almaty and Astana.
  • Students that study abroad through different grant and scholarship programs. The majority of these are students who have obtained scholarships provided by Bolashak, a state funded educational grant program.

Local Higher Education Institutions

Higher education institutions in Kazakhstan include universities, academies, and technical institutions. In 2010-2011, there were approximately 150 higher education facilities in Kazakhstan including 53 public facilities. The number of mostly private universities decreased to 139 in 2012/2013, following the Government’s reform on ‘optimization’ of higher education in Kazakhstan. This reform attempts to resolve the disproportionate spread between degrees offered by the local universities and market demand for the degrees. The reform also tightens licensing regulations and qualification requirements of local universities in order to assure higher quality of programs and adherence to international standards. According to the Ministry of Education and Science, the number of higher educational facilities within 3-4 years will be limited to 100.

Nazarbayev University (NU) located in Astana is a state founded educational institution, which started admitting students in 2010, and currently has around 1500 students. It offers Bachelor degrees in engineering, science and technology as well as humanities and social studies and a Business Master’s degree. The University is a unique U.S. based model institution teaching in English language and originally worked with a team from the University of Pennsylvania to design academic and governance procedures. Harvard University is to establish NU’s Medical school in 2014. It is currently cooperating with Duke University, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Cambridge University, University College London (UCL) and University of Singapore to help run its academic programs.

Secondary education in Kazakhstan is represented by general secondary schools, training schools, and lyceums that provide general secondary and initial vocational education, as well as by colleges providing secondary vocational education.

There are 494 private and state-funded colleges in Kazakhstan that offer technical/intermediate vocational programs.

In late 2007, the World Bank proposed plans to upgrade and ‘commercialize’ the nation’s research and development efforts. Part of the Bank’s blueprint called for the creation of a network of university-housed, market-oriented research and development centers based primarily on U.S. models. Subsequent World Bank proposals for the revamping of the country’s technical and vocational education followed suit.

Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools (NIS) are a part of a wider program of educational reform, which includes the establishment of Nazarbayev University, the Centre for Educational Excellence and further initiatives to focus on teacher training and development. Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools are a group of 16 existing schools in Kazakhstan, which will grow to 20 by 2014. The schools are currently in the major cities such as Astana, Uralsk, Semey, Kokshetau, Ust-Kamenogorsk, Taldykorgan and Almaty. Uniquely, the children in Nazarbayev Intellectual schools are educated in a tri-lingual environment in Kazakh, Russian and English. Most NIS schools are for children aged 12 to 18.

U.S. Higher Education Competition

Overall, there are approximately 37,000 self-funded Kazakhstani students studying overseas. In 2012, there were 24,772 people studying in Russia, 9,000 in China, 2,054 in the UK and 387 in Malaysia. The rest are studying in other countries: USA, Australia,

Canada Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Singapore, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland and other European countries. Less than 25% of all the students studying abroad are awarded with the Bolashak Scholarship, the rest are self-funded. Fewer than 10% of potential Kazakhstani applicants are studying in the U.S.

Competition from other countries, admissions deadlines, fees and policies, current testing availability, perceived visa difficulty, limited access to high schools for recruitment and lack of institutional relationships tend to severely hamper the growth of enrollment in U.S. higher education institutions.

Sub-Sector Best Prospects

Education Technology

  • 522 new schools are planned to be built in the next five years;
  • $4 million has been budgeted for the improvement of the material and technical base of four higher education institutions;
  • Over 50% of Kazakhstani educational institutions will join e-learning projects in 2014 and 90% by 2020.

U.S. Higher Education

The government reform to tighten licensing regulations and qualification requirements of local universities in order to improve education quality in the country offers opportunities for U.S. higher educational institutions to enter this market. At the moment, fewer than 10% of potential Kazakhstani studying overseas are studying in the U.S., and out of 37,000 students studying overseas, 80% are self-funded.

U.S. Community Colleges

Vocational education is underdeveloped as many vocational colleges and technical training schools were closed or transferred to other uses in the 1990s. Vocational schools offer professional training for students who are not able to or do not wish to pursue higher education. Community colleges offering associate degrees in the U.S. could be a good fit for this specific category of students.


Although there is very high demand in Kazakhstan to study overseas at both undergraduate and graduate-levels, the total numbers for Kazakhstanis choosing to study in the U.S. has remained flat over the past five years. Unlike the rest of Central Asia, Kazakhstan’s per-capita GDP has increased significantly, creating burgeoning middle -and upper-class youth eager to travel and study abroad. In addition, government policy encourages this and has also dramatically increased English-language education nationwide over the past decade.

U.S. Five-year Visa Regulation for the Kazakhstani Citizens

Starting from August 1, 2013 the United States began issuing the first-ever five-year visas to citizens of Kazakhstan for travel to the United States. That fact is a great benefit for the future student willing to study in the U.S. as it will reduce their travel costs and encourage parents and relatives to visit. This is generally viewed to have a positive impact on U.S. Education.

Degrees in demand

The labor market demands for certain qualifications do not match its supply, mostly in technical professions. Major multinationals on the scene from the mid-1990’s regularly note a “skills gap” – an insufficient supply of up-to-date technicians, engineers, scientists and professional managerial types capable of filling increasing demand.

The Bolashak Scholarship

The Bolashak is a national government scholarship established in 1993. It aims to assist talented young people in obtaining quality education abroad. The scholarship covers all costs related to education including tuition and fees, costs of travel, and a living stipend. The program requires all Bolashak recipients to return to Kazakhstan upon completing their education and to work for five years in Kazakhstan. Since 1993 over 8,300 Kazakhstani students became Bolashak Scholarship recipients with a capacity of 3,000 scholarship recipients a year. From 2011, the program provides scholarships for magistrate and PhD programs only. The most popular countries for study are the UK, U.S., and Russia. The Bolashak program currently has agreements with 200 educational institutions worldwide, of which 49 are in the United States.

Bolashak scholarships awarded in 2005 – 2012 by educational programs

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