Kazakhstan brief

SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY IN
KAZAKHSTAN: CURRENT STATUS
AND FUTURE PROSPECTS (2007)
Kazakhstan has an ambitious program to increase its technological
competitiveness in the global marketplace during the next few years. At
the same time, the government has a wide variety of policies and
programs in place that are intended to improve the social and economic
well-being of a population of 15.2 million people dispersed over a vast
geographical area. Government leaders have emphasized that achieving
success both internationally and domestically will depend in large
measure on the effectiveness of upgraded science and technology (S&T)
capabilities—within the education system, research and development (R&D) institutions, and
Kazakhstani production companies and service organizations.
In light of this, the government of Kazakhstan requested that the National Academies carry out a
study of the current status and future potential of the S&T base of the country. Of particular
interest were the S&T human resources of the country, the organizational and institutional
structures of the public and private sectors that have S&T dimensions, the capabilities of research
and educational institutions, the linkages among these and other organizations that have a role in
the innovation process, and the sectors of economic and social development that deserve priority
for investments of government funds to support R&D activities.
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY POLICY CHALLENGES
Kazakhstani officials have correctly concluded that the country’s long-term economic well-being
will depend in large measure on how wisely its financial resources are invested in the
development of non-oil sectors of the economy and in promotion of sustainable, broad-based
economic growth. The country needs to make the transition from producing and exporting
primarily unprocessed raw materials to producing and exporting more knowledge-intensive,
value-added goods and services, but this transition will take many years. Upgraded S&T
capabilities in both the public and the private sectors are essential in moving forward in this
regard. However, during the next few years, Kazakhstan has no choice but to rely heavily on
foreign technologies to operate and modernize its industrial base and to serve the requirements
of its population.
The government must balance the urgent need to strengthen its industrial base through the use
of imported technologies with a comparable need to support the rapid development of a capability
to generate its own technologies. Thus, the government should support through financial, tax,
regulatory, procurement, and other mechanisms the educational and S&T infrastructures
necessary for the development in Kazakhstan of technology-intensive goods and services for the
Kazakhstani and world markets. Establishing policies which encourage companies to invest in
innovation, either in their own laboratories or through outsourcing tasks to research and
development (R&D) institutions, is essential in creating greater “market pull” for technological
innovations. Without them, the likely success of technology transfer programs in Kazakhstan will
remain low.
Also, the coupling of research with education, which is currently weak, is essential. For example,
universities are not able to take full advantage of the research capabilities of the 25 independent research
institutes that had formerly been under the management of the National Academy of Sciences of
Kazakhstan. This is due to a variety of factors, including (1) the long history of organizational separation;
(2) higher levels of scientific development in most of the institutes and scientists’ lack of interest in
working in a university environment; and (3) competition among the educational and the independent
research institutions for limited government resources, which discourages early sharing of concepts.
While the Kazakhstani government should take steps to better to integrate the universities and research
institutions, more generally it is critical that it develop policies to give more students the opportunity to
participate in cutting-edge research in the country’s best institutions.
HUMAN RESOURCES ARE KEY
Indeed, if Kazakhstan is to meet its development goals, it will do so largely by recruiting, educating, and
retaining qualified young people in key fields of S&T. All reports currently available underscore the fact
that the number of talented and well-trained students who pursue S&T careers in Kazakhstan following
completion of their studies is currently inadequate. This loss of S&T-oriented talent is due in large
measure to low salaries, poor laboratory facilities, and housing difficulties that inhibit mobility, along with
the attractions of working abroad or entering private business in Kazakhstan.
The government currently has several programs or proposed programs to strengthen science education
and recruit more students to S&T-related fields in Kazakhstan. The proposal to open a world-class
university in Astana, which would focus on four high-technology fields and include cutting-edge research
programs headed by leading Kazakhstani and foreign faculty, is likely to entice more highly-qualified and
well-trained young people into scientific careers. Applied research laboratories to be established in
priority fields at universities around the country also deserve support, although initially opening five such
labs, rather than the fifteen proposed, would be a wiser distribution of resources. In addition, a model
medical education complex should be established in conjunction with one of the medical universities in
order to strengthen the link between research and education in the medical field.
Kazakhstan currently has an excellent program, the Bolashak (meaning future in Kazakh) Program, under
which 3,000 Kazakhstani students at a given time can be studying at the leading universities in several
foreign countries. Returnees from these programs are then recruited for key positions in the government
as well as the private sector. This program is a crucial opportunity for Kazakhstani students to gain worldclass
skills and education and then apply the knowledge they gain to the S&T infrastructure of
Kazakhstan. The Kazakhstani government should continue and extend its commitment to this and similar
programs.
S&T PRIORITIES
As it makes decisions about funding for S&T, the Kazakhstani government should give special emphasis
to several types of activities that cut across the entire range of S&T programs, particularly the following:
· Universal broadband access to the Internet by members of the S&T community.
· Appropriate modern equipment throughout the research laboratories.
· Maintaining the high level of pedagogy in mathematics, physics, biology, chemistry, and the earth
and atmospheric sciences that has existed in Kazakhstan in the past.
· Economics training and research.
· Professional scientific societies, industrial associations, and academies of science and
engineering.
· Standards and quality control.
· Publication in English-language journals.
· Ethics for S&T-related activities.
Turning to specific S&T areas that deserve priority, the following criterion for judging their importance was
developed:
Within the area of interest, Kazakhstan has or could have in the next five years the technical
leaders and the human and physical resources that are necessary to carry out R&D programs
and/or provide S&T services that could contribute in a major way to the social and/or
economic progress of the country. Such progress could over time be measured through (1)
increased profits for Kazakhstani exporters of products based on R&D achievements or for
providers of S&T services for foreign clients, (2) attraction of new domestic and foreign
investments in Kazakhstan that utilize the R&D results or S&T services of local organizations,
and/or (3) improved well-being of the general population as a result of the R&D products or
S&T services.
At the same time, expanded government support of the priority area of interest should (1) increase
significantly the attractiveness of educational opportunities within the country that have the potential of
leading to important S&T-oriented careers for highly talented young people and (2) enhance the prestige
of Kazakhstani S&T within the country and internationally.
With this criterion in mind, the government of Kazakhstan should give priority to the S&T aspects of the
areas listed below, with the understanding that priorities should be reviewed periodically, perhaps every
three years. There may be other areas of particular importance, but the following deserve attention;
· Nuclear science and technology: assessment of nuclear power facilities; radioecology; uranium
mining.
· Biomedical science and technology: disease surveillance and prevention; cancer therapies;
natural products chemistry; orthopedic devices.
· Agricultural S&T: cereal grain production; livestock productivity; nutrition.
· Hydrocarbon resources: chemical engineering; catalysis; assessment of reserves; environmental
protection.
· Minerals: metallurgy; assessment of ore deposits; environmental protection.
· Construction: seismic-resistant structures; construction materials.
· Water science and technology: irrigation systems; monitoring and assessment of water quantity
and quality; protection and remediation of water quality.
As is evident throughout this article, Kazakhstan has an unusual opportunity to develop and use S&T for
increasing its global economic competitiveness while enhancing the economic and social well-being of its
population. The strong commitment of the nation’s leaders to rapid development of S&T capabilities and
the increasing availability of financial resources to support the S&T infrastructure are strong pillars for the
ambitious programs that have been developed.
The Committee on Science and Technology in Kazakhstan: Current Status and Future Prospects
Alvin W. Trivelpiece (Chair), Sandia National Laboratories
Clifford Gaddy, Global Economy and Development Program, The Brookings Institution
Norman P. Neureiter, Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy, American Association for the
Advancement of Science
Marilyn L. Pifer, U.S. Civilian Research & Development Foundation

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