The Business Year

Shigeo Katsu

KAZAKHSTAN - Health & Education

Take Me Higher

President, Nazarbayev University


After receiving a BA in International Relations and Economics from Tokyo University, Shigeo Katsu went on to pursue graduate studies and attend the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna. In 1979, he joined the World Bank as an economist. Between 1992 and 1995 he served as Principal Operations Officer for the Industry and Energy Operations Division, China Department, East Asia, and Pacific Region, in charge of financial sector and enterprise reforms. He was subsequently appointed Chief, and then Country Director of the Bank’s Regional Mission in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. He became President of Nazarbayev University shortly after retiring from the World Bank in 2009.

"We started off establishing ourselves by entering into strategic partnerships with top-class international universities."

What is your opinion of the education sector here in Kazakhstan?

The education sector is, like many other sectors here in Kazakhstan, rapidly developing and evolving. In general terms, the government has overseen what is called the Roadmap Project, which takes a comprehensive view of the overall education system from early childhood, pre-school, and primary school, through to higher education, and the research sector. This gives a holistic picture that was run through our university, and our Graduate Center for Education Policy. This policy research program is extremely ambitious, and it will definitely attempt to push forward the overall reform theme of modernizing the education sector. It is commendable that the authorities are putting an emphasis on early childhood, and not just building new kindergartens, but really focusing on the quality. This is, in many ways, a theme of the education sector. Access to higher education, overall, if we are speaking about the number of institutions, is not an issue. At the moment there are 132 institutions, and for a country of 17 million, in my view, this number is still too high, and you worry about the standards and quality of some of them. Having said that, with regards to access overall, about two-thirds of the universities are public, and the tuition fees are low.

What are the main achievements of Nazarbayev University thus far, especially in regards to the expansion of its programs?

Objectively speaking, we have come a long way. At the end of June 2014 we celebrated our fourth year, and May 30, 2015 will be our first big graduation of our bachelor cohort. Before that we were just trying to build up 300 undergraduate students, which we now have. Furthermore, we are adding Master’s and graduate programs, especially on the engineering and sciences side, as well as in political science. This is a significant step forward. In 2013, as planned, we opened graduate schools for business, public policy, education, leadership, and management. In 2015 we will also open our medical school, and that corresponds to our five mandates. The first was to contribute to educational reforms by building a new model and paradigm of higher education, not only for our institution, but to share it with others as well. We operate under a particular governmental and legal framework that gives us privileges, academic freedom, and autonomy, as well as considerable responsibility, and we must share the outcomes. Hence, we conduct a number of training programs for the leaders of other universities. The second and third mandates are the core tasks of academic excellence, and research excellence. The fourth is moving interest to the research side, and building toward a medical program that is integrated, and brings the teaching, research, and clinical sides all together. In our case that means putting our life science research activity center together with our future school of medicine, as well as the hospitals that are under the national healthcare system. One of the main developments under the national healthcare system is to rename and refocus a former emergency hospital as a national research oncology and cancer research center. We are making it a totally brand new facility, which should open in 2016. The fifth mandate is to build and develop an innovation cluster around the university, which is one of two national projects on this subject. One already exists in Almaty, and this one here now is not just a science park, it is a whole ecosystem of entrepreneurship and start-ups that we want to build. There will be a whole start-up corner, and we are also keen to attract established firms into our future park to set up research and development. The future park will have three or four clusters, with one area focusing more on geology, where we will most likely set up a joint venture with Kazgeology. It will help provide up to date mapping of geological resources, and also provide laboratory analysis, and core sampling. We will also have a general engineering center. We recently entered into a broad agreement with Samruk-Kazyna, which will be a win-win situation. We have committed to doing substantial contract research for its firms in a variety of areas including chemicals, infrastructure, transport, and materials. In return, Samruk-Kazyna will support our general research, and we will hopefully be able to contribute to its management and staff through leadership training, amongst other things. If there are any other joint possibilities, we will certainly pursue them.

What are some other iconic firms you are partnering with to develop and enhance the university’s network?

Some of the other firms we have signed agreements which include General Electric, and more recently Zeiss, the German imagery and optics firm. Philips is another firm we have reached an agreement with. Then, as with everybody else, we will pursue IT data related areas. We have agreements with Samsung and Huawei. Then there are Intel, Microsoft, and HP. The reason why there is this interest in the cluster in terms of entrepreneurship, research and development, and applied research is because President Nursultan Nazarbayev launched the Kazakhstan 2050 Strategy. That strategy is one of the platforms that should hopefully drive future growth. As you know, the goal is for Kazakhstan to join the 30 most developed nations in the world, not just based on per capita income, but also in quality of life terms. This is extremely important, and can only be achieved if Kazakhstan moves away from being a commodity-based economy. It needs to focus on higher valued-added and knowledge-based activities. This activity is meant to foster that growth, and our university was also involved in the 2050 Strategy planning.

What is the importance of knowledge transfers, and collaborating with other multinational firms?

We have a nice name for it: it is going to be called Astana Business Campus, or ABC. We hope that firms will find it to be an intellectual and academic environment, with all the human resources they need, and a business environment which will make it attractive for the firms to set up shop and move some of their new R&D facilities over here for more of the general Russian-speaking markets. Most firms have typically developed their facilities in Russia or Ukraine, and given recent turbulence, I think Kazakhstan will actually be an attractive new destination. We believe that our role is to help create this environment, and also provide the resources for our intellectual and academic activities. This can lead to knowledge transfers, but we also want to generate knowledge.

How do you position Nazarbayev University in the international arena, and what is your relationship with other international universities?

We started off establishing ourselves by entering into strategic partnerships with top-class international universities. Our partners include Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. We are also working with the University of Pennsylvania in higher education management; Cambridge University in education, leadership, and management; University College London in engineering; and University of Wisconsin-Madison in humanities and social sciences. Therefore, for each of our schools we have one strategic partner, and for the medical center we are working closely with the University of Pittsburgh. Further, we will be setting up a school of mining and environmental engineering. Our approach has been to identify good, strong partners, without becoming a branch campus. We need to have our own identity, culture, and coherent approach. Having said that, our partners have been great, and they have been supporting us. I look forward to further close collaboration with them, and more student exchange and research.

“We started off establishing ourselves by entering into strategic partnerships with top-class international universities.”

© The Business Year – October 2014



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