The influence of returned PhD graduates and intellectual emigrants on the internationalisation of Kazakh higher education: implication, challenges, and suggestions

Myrzabek, Aidos (2023) The influence of returned PhD graduates and intellectual emigrants on the internationalisation of Kazakh higher education: implication, challenges, and suggestions. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Kazakh higher education institutions transformed from the Soviet education system to one modelled on European systems in 2010 and initiated programmes with English Language Instruction at certain state and private universities as part of an internationalisation process. However, there are still insufficient faculty numbers with the required levels of English competency. This is one of Kazakhstan's main obstacles to internationalisation at the institutional level. The Bolashak International Programme is one way the government has been attempting to address this obstacle for the last three decades since its early independence. The question arises whether the work done over thirty years (Bolashak) benefits the country in terms of improving the quality of Kazakh universities under the present internationalisation policy.

Moreover, some less developed nations have experienced unforeseen negative consequences of international academic mobility (Knight, 2012), and Kazakhstan is not an exception with more than half of those who emigrated from the country being educated to degree level (intellectual emigrants). This is likely to adversely impact the government’s ambition to be in thirty economically and technologically highly developed countries with a high level of well-being and human potential of the population ("Resolution Of The Government Of Kazakhstan", 2013). However, what is still unclear is what provokes PhD graduates who have returned to emigrate and whether they consider external long-term academic mobility as part of a deliberate strategy (Tremblay, 2005:196) to emigrate.

Empirically, this study concentrates on understanding the issue of the outflow of intellectual emigrants (brain drain) and how to productively utilise the new knowledge of the returned graduates (brain gain) and also of intellectual emigrants (brain circulation). This thesis sets three research objectives: one of which is to explore PhD graduates’ career experiences upon returning to Kazakhstan. Exploring their aspirations to emigrate or not is the second objective; while objective three is to explore Kazakh university managers’ perspectives and policies towards internationalisation. To be specific regarding the latter, the study focuses on universities’ internationalisation strategy and whether university managers are utilising intellectual emigrants' knowledge for internationalisation.

To achieve these objectives, the research poses three main and three sub-research questions. This thesis, first, reviews the failure of some nations in convincing or encouraging their graduates to return. It also considers how certain developing nations strategically attempt to turn brain drain into brain gain and develop brain circulation at the institutional and state levels. This study utilises an explanatory sequential mixed-method approach (Creswell and Creswell, 2018) to achieve the abovementioned objectives. First, as a supplemental data gathering technique, the survey focused on returned graduates’ general background, their motivation to study abroad and to return, and their emigration aspirations. The sample size of the survey respondents was 123 individuals with different foreign education levels and experiences. Second, the qualitative part involved 21 individuals from three different groups. They are university managers (4), returned PhD graduates (8), and intellectual emigrants (9). Semi-structured interviews were applied as the main data-gathering method. A hybrid approach (Fereday and Muir-Cochrane, 2006) was applied to analyse the qualitative data from interviews and open-ended responses from the survey.

This investigation revealed that the universities (mostly regional ones) struggle to attract returned PhD graduates due to limited financial, knowledge, and infrastructural resources. Moreover, the graduates face injustice when applying for a job or while working and experience limited opportunities for further upskilling in their fields. They may also feel unappreciated and insecure due to their religious and gender differences. These obstacles play a role in the graduates’ decisions not only to avoid working at Kazakh universities but also to leave the country. In addition to these push factors, factors such as having foreign work experience, better climate and working conditions and a better future for their children lured those who remained in and emigrated to the country of study.

Unexpectedly, although Bolashak is considered vital in brain gain policy, it fails to promote brain circulation practices by obliging the graduates to locate in Kazakhstan for five years (three years in rural regions). This obligation fails to assist the graduates to visit labs and research fields of top universities to co-research in their specific area and is likely to decrease scholars’ research competencies and collaborations. Furthermore, interviews with university managers and intellectual emigrants revealed that the former have limited ideas and experience in circulating knowledge through the latter who established themselves professionally abroad. It was also clear that intellectual emigrant participants are open to collaborating with scholars in Kazakhstan in their specific fields if there are offers from Kazakh universities.

Considering these findings, this research aims to make four main contributions. First, this research proposes that higher education institutions develop more effective strategies that facilitate collaborations between local faculty, returned PhD graduates, and intellectual emigrants. It may assist in decreasing the gap between local and international researchers in terms of English language competency, research methodology, and developing a lifelong learning mindset. Second, this draws attention to how Bolashak’s contract policy can be disadvantageous in terms of circulating knowledge between local and international scholars. Instead, the findings of this study suggest that Bolashak’s strict regulations established in the early 90s should be reconsidered according to the current demand of research trends because, in an economically and scholarly integrated global world, it is vital that scholars can be mobile whenever it is necessary for the purpose of research development. It further suggests that local universities provide fair competition amongst local and returned graduates and equal salaries for returned graduates and foreign scholars. This equality may benefit brain gain successfully and avoid future brain drain. Lastly, from the methodological perspective, this research can be an initial substantial study in the Kazakhstan context that involves three different groups of participants by applying an explanatory sequential mixed-method research design.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: L Education > LB Theory and practice of education
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB2300 Higher Education
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Education
Supervisor's Name: Houston, Dr. Muir and Hermannsson, Professor Kristinn
Date of Award: 2023
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2023-83860
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 25 Oct 2023 15:02
Last Modified: 08 Nov 2023 11:41
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.83860
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