Technological progress in the Republic of Kazakhstan

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.

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.

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