Though still an emerging destination for international study, Kazakhstan and its universities are fast claiming a place on the higher education map.
Here we take a look at the country’s progress in establishing itself as a regional study hub for Central Asia, and what prospective international students need to know about universities in Kazakhstan, local life and the application process.
The largest and wealthiest of the countries nicknamed the ‘Stans’, Kazakhstan has long been an ethnically diverse country; in the 2009 census, only 63% of residents were native Kazakhs. This international element is also a key characteristic of the country’s higher education sector, in which global collaborations and exchanges are occupying an increasingly prominent role, with universities in Kazakhstan keen to welcome international students and academics from across the world.
There are approximately 150 universities in Kazakhstan, many located in former capital Almaty and current capital Astana. Eight universities in Kazakhstan are featured in the QS World University Rankings® 2016/17, of which the four highest entries are: Al-Farabi Kazakh National University (KazNU), L. N. Gumilyov Eurasian National University, Kazakh National Technical University named after K.I.Satpaevand Kazakh National Pedagogical University named after Abay.
Universities in Kazakhstan award three levels of degree: bachelor’s (four years), master’s (two years) and doctoral (five years). The country joined the European Higher Education Area in 2011, and is participating in the Bologna Process, which aims to standardize higher education provision and principles across the area.
For those who plan to study in Kazakhstan, here’s a closer look at some of the nation’s highest-ranked universities:
The country’s oldest and largest university is situated in the former capital city, Almaty. Al-Farabi Kazakh National University (KazNU) was established in 1934 and currently teaches more than 20,000 students, both undergraduates and postgraduates. The university’s “Kazgugrad” campus is the largest in the country, covering a total area of 100 hectares, and holding all of the 14 faculties and 98 departments. International students number around 4,000, coming from more than 80 countries around the world. KazNU is ranked 236th in the QS World University Rankings® 2016/17, up from joint 275th last year.
One of the leading classical universities in Kazakhstan, L. N. Gumilyov Eurasian National University (ENU) is Kazakhstan’s second entry in the QS World University Rankings, ranked joint 345th in 2016/17. Founded in 1996 in capital Astana, ENU has about 13,000 students. Courses are available in a range of languages, including Kazakh, Russian, English, French, Chinese, French, German and Turkish. Having set a mission of becoming a leading research and education center in the Eurasian region, ENU currently has 26 scientific institutions, including research institutes, laboratories and science centers.
Developed with close ties to the British Council and a number of well-known UK universities, the Kazakh-British Technical University (KBTU) was established in Almaty in 2000, with the aim of producing graduates to work in Kazakhstan’s oil, gas and petrochemical industries. Ranked 651-700 in the QS World University Rankings 2016/17, KBTU specializes in the fields of petroleum engineering, chemical engineering, Earth sciences, information technology, economics, finance and management.
The world’s ninth biggest country and largest landlocked nation, Kazakhstan has a vast and diverse landscape which includes flatlands, steppes, hills, deltas, canyons, lakes, mountains, and deserts. A former Soviet state, life in Kazakhstan has changed dramatically since the communist era. Rich in oil and gas resources, it now ranks among the most economically free countries in Central Asia and has attracted much attention from Fortune 500 countries seeking to expand their businesses. The country has many modern cities, of which the two most important remain Almaty and Astana.
Originally, the Kazakhs were a nomadic tribe – and though much has changed, visitors may notice some lingering traces of nomadic traditions, especially in more rural regions, where agriculture remains among the largest employers. Perhaps the most memorable characteristic of Kazakhs is their tremendous tradition of hospitality, which means guests are always treated with great respect – and are likely to be offered a large meal! For those who choose to study in Kazakhstan, this means a warm welcome and no shortage of helpful faces along the way to help you get settled.
Find out more about life in Kazakhstan’s major student cities:
Having taken on the role of capital city in 1998, Astana has been a hive of activity over the past few decades, with some of the world’s most striking modern buildings emerging in the midst of its more traditional grand structures. Among the most iconic is the Baiterek Tower, an immense structure supporting a huge sphere. Then there’s the pyramid-shaped Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, the imposing Ak Orda Presidential Palace, the multi-layered Central Concert Hall, and Khan Shatyry Entertainment Centre – a 150m-high transparent ‘tent’ covering an area greater than 10 football stadiums.
There’s little doubt that Kazakhstan is serious about its ambition of making Astana a capital not just for the nation, but the entire Central Asian region. Higher education is playing a central role in the city’s development, and one central symbol of this is the new Nazarbayev University, which opened in 2010. Teaching is entirely in English and courses are being developed and delivered with support from prestigious universities around the world – including the UK’s UCL and Cambridge University; the National University of Singapore; and the US’s Duke University and Carnegie Mellon University, among others.
In the south of Kazakhstan, close to the border with Kyrgyzstan, Almaty is in the foothills of the Trans-Ili Alatau mountains, which provide a dramatic backdrop to the city. Almaty remains Kazakhstan’s largest city, and a thriving hub for business, culture and education. In all spheres of life, it has plenty to offer – fine dining, extensive transport links, museums, theaters, shops, clubs, bars, and even ski resorts.
There’s also a long list of universities in Almaty to choose from, including many of the country’s highest ranked institutions. These include Al-Farabi Kazakh National University (KazNU), Kazakh-British Technical University, Kazakh Ablai Khan University of International Relations and World Languages, Kazakh National Pedagogical University Abai, Kazakh National Technical University (KazNTU).
Almaty is also home to the independent KIMEP University, which offers an American-style education in English.
Situated in the southern part of the country near the border with Uzbekistan, Shymkent is the third most populous city in Kazakhstan. A major cultural and industrial center, it has strong transport connections to other cities and towns within Kazakhstan, as well as an international airport. The climate is typically noticeably warmer here than in Almaty and Astana, and there’s plenty to do and see, from sports events at the Hippodrome to bargain-hunting in the local markets, or simply relaxing by the outdoor swimming pool in summertime. Shymkent is home to one of Kazakhstan’s most prestigious universities, South Kazakhstan State University.
When applying to universities in Kazakhstan, you will need to show proof of completed secondary education and in some cases you may be asked to take part in a telephone or face-to-face interview (depending on whether you can travel to Kazakhstan or not). You may also be asked to sit an entrance exam, and/or demonstrate proficiency in the language your course will be taught in. This is most likely to be Russian or Kazakh, though a growing number of universities in Kazakhstan offer all or some programs in English or another language.
Most international students will need to apply for a student visa in order to study in Kazakhstan. Once you’ve received an offer of a place at a university, the admissions department will ask you for any information they need to prepare an official letter of invitation, which you can then use to apply for a visa through your nearest Kazakh embassy. On arrival, you need to register with the local authorities within five days. Don’t worry if lots of different offices ask for your passport details; this is standard practice. You’ll also need to inform the university in advance of any plans to change your address or to visit another part of the country.
Tuition fees at most universities in Kazakhstan vary from around US$200 to 4,000 per year, depending on the university and whether it is public or private. If you choose to study at Nazarbayev University, you won’t face any fees at all, as tuition fees at this new university are currently covered by the national budget, with a few exceptions for courses taught at the Graduate School of Business. Almost all universities in Kazakhstan offer a variety of scholarships and loans for students with high academic achievement and/or financial difficulties.