Kazakhstan: Could demand for study abroad shift to new destinations this year? – ICEF Monitor

In 2018, according to UNESCO, Kazakhstan was the eighth-largest sender of students to foreign higher education institutions in the world. This distinction naturally puts the country on the radar of international student recruiters everywhere – but there is a caveat. More than 80% of outbound Kazakh students have traditionally chosen Russia and China for their studies, according to a recent WENR analysis, with roughly 76% going to Russia alone.
That high proportion is understandable given the two superpowers’ influence in the region and the strong economic ties that Kazakhstan has with Russia. But the geo-political shocks caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are acutely felt in Kazakhstan, which now finds itself in a very uncomfortable position: right beside Russia, but not supporting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
During the annual Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum in June 2022, Kazakh President Tokayev stated – while sharing a stage with President Putin – that Kazakhstan would not recognise the independence of the so-called Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics in eastern Ukraine.
The declaration is in line with Kazakhstan’s increasing emphasis in recent years on its sovereign right to follow its own path and to enter into strategic agreements with the West if it so chooses. For example, Kazakhstan is part of NATO’s Partnership for Peace programme, though it is not a NATO member. It is entering into stronger cooperation around energy with European countries. And its education system is part of the Bologna Process that governs the mutual recognition of bachelor, master’s, and doctoral degrees across Europe.
ICEF Monitor recently surveyed a sample of established agents from the region, and they don’t see demand for Russian degrees abating yet to any great degree in Kazakhstan. Those agents noted that the tradition of students travelling across the border to Russia is so long-standing that it would be hard to dislodge quickly, even in this time of crisis. But agents also said that some students are questioning whether a Russian education, “usually possessing a solid reputation, will become increasingly isolated.”
As a result, some students are “familiarising themselves with alternatives” including the UK, US, and Canada, but also:
And of course, China – but then China is already a preferred destination, hosting a reported 15,000 Kazakh students in 2020.
In 2018, UNESCO counted 90,333 Kazakh students abroad, 71,368 of them in Russia. If Kazakh students become more hesitant to choose Russia as a result of geo-political tensions, that leaves a lot of demand on the table for educators in Asia, Europe, and North America. Many Kazakh students can study abroad thanks to the government-funded Bolashak International Scholarship, which the British Council has called “the best scholarship in the world.” Many others are self-funded. Demand is strong for both undergraduate and graduate study. 
With this question in mind, we’ve compiled this market briefing on Kazakhstan – including highlights on the economy, education system, and scholarships.
Geography: Kazakhstan is a large, landlocked country situated almost entirely in Central Asia except for a fragment of land along the Ural River in Eastern Europe. It shares borders with two world superpowers: Russia (north and east) and China (east). Otherwise, neighbouring countries are Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country in the world.
Official languages: Kazakh and Russian. Russian is more widely spoken. English is becoming more prevalent as well.
Language of instruction: Kazakh, Russian, or both. English is a compulsory subject in the national curriculum and there are several Kazakh universities where English is the main language of instruction. However, English-language proficiency remains very low in the country. Kazakhstan places #99 of 111 countries on the EF English proficiency index.
Population: 19.4 million – very low given Kazakhstan’s large land mass. Close to 60% of the population lives in urban areas, including the three largest cities: Astana, Almaty, and Shymkent. Disparities between urban and rural regions are significant, including in education: PISA test results indicate that rural students are about one year behind their urban Kazakh peers in terms of their education, despite the large number of schools operating in the country’s rural regions (70% of all schools). Youth represent 22% of the population and most live in urban areas.
Religion: Muslim-majority (70% Muslim, 17% Christian)
Main student cities: Astana, Almaty, Shymkent
Academic year: September to July
Economy: Kazakhstan is an upper middle-income economy that has performed well since the 2000s, averaging about 8% GDP growth per year. It has earned a reputation as “the most stable, modernising and reform-oriented country in Eurasia,” and is the second strongest in the region after Russia.
The official strategic goal of Kazakhstan is to become one of the top 30 global economies by 2050. Diversifying the economy goes hand in hand with that goal. As it stands, nearly three-quarters of Kazakhstan’s exports are oil or oil-related.
Kazakhstan has strategic global importance, especially to countries looking to buy from alternative oil producers and/or who have nuclear programmes : it has 15% of the world’s uranium resources, making it the top uranium producer, and 3.2% of the world’s petroleum reserves, putting it in the top 10 for this resource.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine slowed the Kazakh economy in 2022 to about 3%, dragging it down in several ways, including:
Kazakhstan is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and has extensive trade relations with Russia. But its main trading partner is the EU.
A country under pressure: Increased prices due to the war represent a dangerous trend for the Kazakh government, which just over a year ago (January 2022) – before the invasion of Ukraine – faced violent public protests spurred by fuel price increases. That unrest was quelled when the Kazakh government invited the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) to send in troops for support. Just weeks later, Russia invaded Ukraine.
The Kazakh government is naturally less keen to rely again on Russian military assistance any time soon – especially since ethnic Russians make up a significant proportion of the population in some regions. Russian President Putin justified illegally annexing Crimea in 2014 by saying that his country would “actively defend the rights of Russians, our compatriots abroad, using the entire range of available means.”
Some pro-Putin political pundits in Russia have even mused about whether Kazakhstan will be the next Ukraine due to its “Nazi” elements (the same pretense used, in part, for the invasion of Ukraine). In November 2022, following Kazakh President Tokayev’s refusal to recognise the newly annexed territories in Ukraine, political analyst Dmitry Drobnitsky, a guest on the Russian state-owned political talk show an “An Evening with Vladimir Solovyov,” said:
“Let’s note that the next problem [after Ukraine] is Kazakhstan because the same Nazi processes that were happening in Ukraine could begin there.”
He pointedly reminded listeners that “there are also many [ethnic] Russians in Kazakhstan.”
Study abroad initiatives: Kazakh students are encouraged to study abroad – and to return home with their degrees and knowledge. For example, the very generous government-funded Bolashak Scholarships come with a condition that students return to work in Kazakhstan for at least five years.
This scholarship programme covers the full cost of master’s and PhD students’ time abroad – as well as some residents and interns – at top 200 universities in 33 countries, and it also pays for pre-degree English-language training if necessary. It is limited to certain degree majors that correspond with priority fields and sectors determined by the Kazakh government. More than 11,000 Kazakh scholars have gone abroad since the beginning of the programme (1993) on these scholarships. Currently 1,055 Bolashak students are studying in elite foreign universities, according to the following breakdown:
Recent amendments to the Bolashak Scholarship programme reflect the Kazakh government’s increasing emphasis on adding more IT-skilled graduates to the workforce. The Asana Times reports that last year “the number of students enrolling to technical and IT programs increased from 36 percent to 60 percent” and that “40 new specialties in the fields of innovation, new technologies and industrial engineering, and natural science are considered as priority.” Twenty-three top-ranked universities (e.g., by QS and Times Higher Education) have been added to the list of eligible institutions, and all are focused on “technical degree programmes.” 
Another priority for the government is international partnerships. WENR reports that the government requires all universities to establish international partnerships, and that:
“By the 2020/21 academic year, Kazakhstani universities had signed nearly 6,800 agreements with international partners in 85 countries. The vast majority of these agreements were signed with institutions in other European Higher Education Area (EHEA) member states.”
Up to 70% of Kazakh students return home immediately after their studies abroad.
Russia hosts at least 61,000 Kazakh students right now – which may be down from 2018, when UNESCO data showed over 71,000. Statista data indicate that Russia hosts about as many Kazakh as Uzbeki students, while other data put Kazakhstan as the #1 source market. Various sources indicate that Kazakh students make up anywhere from 17% to 25% of Russia’s entire international student population. Russia pays for the tuition of some of these students, and the Russian government says that medicine is the most popular field of study for Kazakh and Uzbeki students.
China welcomed about 12,000 Kazakh students in 2018, according to China’s Ministry of Education, making Kazakhstan the 10th largest sender of international students in the country. Global Voices reports that the Chinese government provided at least 2,500 scholarships for Kazakh students in 2019. There are also five Confucius Institutes for promoting Chinese culture and language in Kazakhstan – a fact that underlines China’s keen interest in the country.
Turkey, Kyrgyzstan, and Czechia host over 2,000 Kazakh students, and the US hosted about 2,000 in 2021 (down 12.5% from 2020). About 1,300 Kazakh students are in the UK, Poland, and Germany, and just under 1,000 are in Canada and South Korea.
In addition to sending students out, Kazakhstan attracts more international students from around the world than any other country in Central Asia, according to WENR
Education system: There are 106 higher education institutions enrolling nearly 630,000 students in Kazakhstan. The higher education system is aligned with the Bologna Process that standardises what it takes to earn a degree at the bachelor, master’s, and PhD levels across Europe.
To be eligible for entry into higher education, Kazakh students sit for a national exam, the UNT, which tests them on Kazakh/Russian, math, history of Kazakhstan, and an elective.
While the enrolment rate is high in the country across levels, foreign educators must know that many Kazakh students will require a foundation programme or English-language training before being able to succeed in a degree programme. Apart from low levels of English proficiency, Kazakh students perform relatively poorly on international student assessment tests such as PISA, and school facilities and resources are often underfunded.
Six higher education institutions in Kazakhstan are in the top 200 Asia rankings compiled by QS for 2023:
For additional background, please see:


Scroll to Top
best ai toolss for students|छात्रों की बल्ले बल्ले Top 10 Mistakes to Avoid During RBSE Board Exams: Expert Tips for Success Mastering RBSE 10th English Exam 2024: Top 10 Tips and Tricks” RPSC LATEST JOBS ASSITANT PROFESSOR Hrithik Roshan fitness