This is a best prospect industry sector for this country. Includes a market overview and trade data.
- 604,345 students are in higher education institutions in Kazakhstan and over 160,000 high school students graduated in 2020;
- Over 84,000 students study abroad annually and 1,830 studied in the United States (2020-21);
- Demand for K-12 distance learning education technology is expected to rise as the Government seeks to meet population boom while trying to address the shortage of teachers.
- Fall 2020/21 secondary education was conducted online at over 7,000 schools.
- Over 350,000 teachers currently receive training in IT and ‘cyber-pedagogy’;
- Lack of curated digital learning material despite good connectivity, especially in light of COVID-19
- College-aged population will expand considerably thru 2030 and this is expected to fuel continued growth in the number of outbound students;
- Government education spending will be increased to USD 27 billion thru 2025.
Education technology, boarding schools, technical and vocational education, English-language courses, and higher education are highlights for demand in this market. Per capita income of $24,380 (2020) and a large disposable income of its population make Kazakhstan an attractive market for the U.S. education sector. Unlike the rest of Central Asia, Kazakhstan’s per-capita GDP has been steadily increasing up until 2014, creating burgeoning middle- and upper-class youth eager to travel and study abroad. However, multiple currency devaluations in 2014 as well as in 2015 had a negative impact on Kazakhstani families. Nonetheless, government policy has dramatically increased English-language education nationwide over the past decade. Major multinationals regularly noted a “skills gap”, with an insufficient supply of up-to-date technicians, engineers, scientists, and professional managers, which meant an increasing demand in education for related degrees. Kazakhstan’s population reached 19,397,998 by July 2022, and 90% of the population completes secondary education or beyond. Since Kazakhstan’s independence in 1991, Kazakhstan nationals have taken increasing advantage of studying overseas. Over 84,000 students study abroad annually and 1,830 studied in the United States (2020/21).
The education system in Kazakhstan is highly centralized, which allowed it to effectively implement a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with local governments moving quickly to online learning platforms. Most higher education institutions already had online infrastructure in place and secondary schools had 90% readiness. Technical and vocational colleges were less prepared for the transition. There were also challenges with internet access in rural areas. Despite 78% internet coverage across the country and access to cheap cellular data, some rural areas with no access relied on TV and radio to transmit material to students. Teacher training in cyber-pedagogy is a priority along with developing online digital learner content. Even before the pandemic, the government has been keenly focused on increasing digital capabilities in schools in Kazakhstan, but there is much room for improvement.
COVID-19 challenges included:
- overall network capacity and connectivity issues;
- access to devices for teachers, parents, and learners;
- lack of curated, appropriate digital learning material;
- lack of material adapted for children with special learning needs;
- lack of IT and pedagogical skills.
Education has moved back to in-person for 2021-22 academic year. However, some exceptions or COVID-19 outbreaks still lead to schools moving to remote learning on a case-by-case basis. Investments in education technology may continue well beyond the pandemic to support students in remote areas suffering from lack of faculty and facilities, considering network capacity and internet connectivity issues are resolved.
From 2005 to 2020, the number of universities in Kazakhstan declined by nearly a third, falling from more than 180 to 125—33 public and 92 private, according to government statistics. The government hopes that improved oversight and quality standards will eventually reduce that number to 100.
- According to Kazakhstan’s Committee on Statistics, there were 604,345 students enrolled in higher education institutions in 125 universities nationwide in Academic Year 2019-20, with the highest concentrations of students in Almaty, Shymkent, Karaganda, and Aktobe, with a growing number of students in Nur-Sultan. Additionally, slightly more than 70% of the students are self-funded and 27% are on state scholarships. The country’s 2050 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 and education technology companies.
State financing of education in 2019 was a record 19% of the national budget and 3.62% of the GDP, with the largest portion spent on secondary education, amounting to over USD 5.5 million. The government announced that by 2025, education financing will increase to USD 27 billion (7% of GDP), with a focus on building 800 new schools, training in education technology and innovation, 100% coverage with kindergartens, and increasing teachers’ salaries, among others. The State Program of Education includes construction of schools and kindergartens, modernization of vocational and technical education, e-learning education projects, and professional development systems for teachers.
The government has attempted to cultivate international educational connections by promoting international student mobility, both into and out of Kazakhstan, and encouraging the internationalization of its higher education system. In its Academic Mobility Strategy in Kazakhstan 2012-2020, the primary policy document governing the country’s internationalization strategy over the past decade, the government laid out a series of bold internationalization goals. These included having one in five Kazakhstani students engage in some form of study abroad by 2020 and increasing the number of international students studying at Kazakhstani universities by 20 percent each year. Improving the English language skills of students and faculty, expanding the number of programs offered in foreign languages, and promoting links with foreign universities and international organizations were also identified as objectives in the strategy. The government has backed these plans with concrete actions. It has funded generous international scholarship programs, issued directives requiring institutions to establish international academic partnerships, and joined intergovernmental higher education initiatives, most notably, those associated with the Bologna Process.
In 2011, Kazakhstan was ranked first worldwide on UNESCO’s Education for All Development Index (EDI), which measures elementary enrollment and completion rates, adult literacy levels, and gender parity in education and literacy. Today, enrollment in elementary and secondary education is nearly universal, with negligible differences in access and achievement by gender. International organizations, such as the OECD, have also praised the Kazakhstani education system for its low repetition rates. Most Kazakhstan students’ progress smoothly from one grade to the next, with few held back.
The college-aged population will expand considerably over the rest of the decade and is expected to fuel continued growth in outbound numbers: the population of students aged 15-24 is over 2,290,000 and under 15 is 5,214,000.
The Unified National Testing
In 2020, over 160,000 students graduated from Kazakhstani high schools. Students completing high school courses take a final examination that certifies graduation. Those who proceed to enter higher education institutions undertake Unified National Testing. Students who successfully pass with 50 points out of 140 are then allowed to apply to local universities and other higher educational institutions. The UNT is not obligatory for those students applying for foreign universities on a self-funded basis, but 130,000 of them took the test in 2020, leaving 30,000 students to self-fund or seek scholarships in order to study abroad.
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 12,898 Kazakhstani students have received Bolashak Scholarships with a capacity of 1,000 scholarship recipients a year. Since 2011, the program has provided scholarships for masters and doctoral programs only. The most popular countries for study are the UK, United States, Germany, and Russia. The Bolashak program currently has agreements with 33 countries and 83 educational institutions worldwide, of which 31 in the United States. Bolashak is considered a good partner by U.S. universities.
U.S. Higher Education Competition
According to UNESCO, there are approximately 84,681 self-funded Kazakhstani students studying overseas, excluding China. According to Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Education, approximately 150,000 Kazakhstanis study in universities abroad and in 2025 the number of students studying overseas is expected to rise to 400,000. Both numbers are approximations but provide an average estimate of 100,000 students abroad. Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan (American University in Bishkek), United States, UK, and Malaysia lead the ranks. Other countries with Kazakhstani students include Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Poland, Singapore, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, and other European countries. Only about 10% of all students studying abroad are awarded with the Bolashak Scholarship, the rest are self-funded.
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.
Opportunities & Challenges
Although there is very high demand in Kazakhstan to study overseas at both undergraduate and graduate-levels, the total numbers of Kazakhstanis choosing to study in the United States has remained flat over the past five years (1,879 students in 2018-19 academic year). Unlike the rest of Central Asia, Kazakhstan’s per-capita GDP has increased significantly, creating a 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. The quality of students has been improving and with the introduction of new reforms and high-quality school technologies, student academic performance has improved by 15-20% since 2010. Despite Government efforts to introduce English as the third official language and building education facilities that have English language curriculum, Kazakhstan still ranks low on global English proficiency ranking at #96 out of 112.
- The government will continue to seek digital learning content from sources abroad to be adapted to local standards;
- In expectation of a population boom for teachers in the coming years, Kazakhstan is exploring options for online teaching platforms;
- Over 7,000 schools operated online in 2020;
- Lack of learning devices was cited as a key issue, especially in rural areas;
- Lack of technical skills and cyber-pedagogy is a potential opportunity for U.S. education training providers;
- Kazakhstan received a World Bank loan to develop its education system in the amount of USD 60 million;
During the pandemic the distance learning for K-12 was managed via national TV channels and there is now a nationwide push for online learning to be a norm for K-12, especially in rural areas . Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools is training its 3,500 teachers in English and could be a potential partner for U.S. education technology companies. Interest in partnerships with U.S. institutions for online education degree and certificate programs, especially valuable dual-degree programs that can be co-funded by the Ministry of Education. Partnerships can be directly with university/college or via local distributors.
U.S. Higher Education
Government reforms tighten licensing regulations and qualification requirements of local universities in order to improve education quality offer opportunities for U.S. higher educational institutions to attract students from Kazakhstan. At the moment, fewer than 5% of potential Kazakhstani students overseas are studying in the U.S., and out of 80,000 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 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.
Research and Development
Starting in 2021, up to 500 scientists from Kazakhstan will receive a scholarship, within the framework of the Bolashak program, to undergo training in leading scientific centers of the world.
Graduate Internships and Practical Experiences
Bolashak scholarship program is interested in identifying U.S. private internship placement companies, especially in Tech/STEM fields. They are referred to as “internships” due to Kazakhstan’s regulations, these opportunities can also entail research and fellowship-type activities.
English Language Training
Despite a strenuous government effort to promote English language competence, introduced by then President Nazarbayev in the 2007 Trinity of Languages program, overall English language proficiency in Kazakhstan remains low.
Degrees in Demand
The labor market demand for certain qualifications do not match supply, mostly in technical professions. Major multinationals on the scene from the mid-1990s regularly note a “skills gap” – an insufficient supply of up-to-date technicians, engineers, scientists and professional managerial types capable of filling increasing demand. Demand among students gearing towards business, humanities, and social studies with some increase in technical education.
- Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan
- Prime Minister of the Republic of Kazakhstan
- Committee on Statistics of the Republic of Kazakhstan
- Bolashak Program (https://bolashak.gov.kz/ru)
- World Bank for Technical and Vocational Education Project
- UNESCO International Students in Tertiary Education (http://uis.unesco.org/en/uis-student-flow).
For more information contact Commercial Specialist: Aliya.Shaikhina@trade.gov.