Foreign Policy Blogs

Kazakh Science Policy: Sincere Efforts, but Little Progress

flask.jpgIn 2006, Kazakh President Nazarbayev made an impressive speech promoting the idea that the country he ruled would continue to grow in the years ahead and soon be among the world's top 50 economically competitive nations. Unfortunately, the economic downturn and lowering of energy prices have made this promise unfulfilled as of yet as Kazakhstan has actually dropped ten spots from 56 to 66th place.

But I’m not here to talk about Kazakh macroeconomics today. I want to talk about how this economic downturn has affected Nazarbayev's conjoining claim in that 2006 pronouncement, which was to increase science research funding in the country 25 times over in six years. The most recent issue of the journal Science discussed science policy in Kazakhstan, specifically analyzing the countries progress since Nazarbayev's 2006 speech.

The author Glenn E. Schweitzer, in a very approachable and thorough fashion, reports on the unfortunate lack of progress by the state. Despite what he calls 'sincere’ efforts by the Kazakh state, funding for science research and education has actually slipped from .2 to .15% of GDP. Schweitzer points out that the state lacks both human and structural resources needed for a vibrant scientific and technological innovative industry. The nation still has a shortfall of managers and technicians needed to run productive laboratories and its science departments’ faculties were underpaid and most were found to have low morale. The Science article also rates the Kazakh educational system as rather weak as most talented students either study abroad or go into the business sector.

There is hope though, as Nazarbayev's government seems determined to make science research and industry a priority. The Kazakh government should heed Schweiter's pragmatic advice about what it takes for a country to obtain a thriving science industry:

Only with effective fiscal, trade, industrial, natural resource, agricultural, environmental, health, and social policies will science and technology have an opportunity to achieve the much-heralded status of an engine of economic growth in Kazakhstan or other countries.

President Nazarbayev and his government need to do what they can to make sure all policy avenues and resources are aimed at the same goal, the creation of a significant scientific community thriving in their country. Lastly, Schweiter offers even more specific advice to further the cause:

An endowment of $1 billion to ensure adequate faculty salaries and to support a tuition-free student body of several hundred engineering students with a policy of zero tolerance for corruption could make a real difference.

Obviously, finding the billion dollars in this economic climate will be difficult and not likely to happen any time soon, but like many policy prescriptions, it sure sounds nice! The article unfortunately needs to be purchased.

Extra Science Fun!:

Though this is not really related, I found this interesting chart about the Acceptance of Evolution in several Muslim countries, Kazakhstan included. Compared to the other 5 countries polled, Kazakhstan is quite the believer in the theory of evolution, with about 37% of the citizens’ polled stating that the theory was True. Though I could not find data, I have heard from a reliable source that in the US the figure is around 40%.


The chart is also from Science magazine: Acceptance of evolution in six Muslim countries. The data were gathered from 1996 and 2003, as part of a study of religious patterns in Muslim countries (8). The number of participants for each country is given in parentheses.



Patrick Frost

Patrick Frost recently graduated from New York University's Masters Program in Political Science - International Relations. His MA thesis analyzed the capabilities and objectives of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Central Asia and beyond and explored how these affected U.S. interests and policy.

Areas of Focus:
Eurasia, American Foreign Policy, Ideology, SCO

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