Kazakhstan: Trouble Brewing in Cutthroat World of Academia

    By Joanna Lillis
    As one of Central Asia's most prestigious universities runs into trouble, conspiracy theorists are wondering if the Almaty-based establishment's problems could be linked to a rivalry with a new university that’s opened in Astana – and just happens to bear the name of President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
    The Education and Science Ministry has suspended the license of the Kazakhstan Institute of Management, Economics and Strategic Research (KIMEP) for six months and warned that it could face closure, ministry official Nayman Kalabayev said in an interview with the Vremya tabloid.
    The Almaty prosecutor’s office found several violations at the university, he told the newspaper. “One of the most serious observations is that KIMEP does not issue diplomas of the state standard, although every higher education establishment that has a license is obliged to award students this sort of diploma,” Kalabayev said.
    “As a result KIMEP graduates going abroad to other countries cannot prove that this higher education establishment exists.”
    Some observers are questioning the sudden emergence of this problem for a university that’s been legally operating in Kazakhstan since 1992, but Kalabayev insisted the government had been pointing to it for a decade. He said there were also health and safety issues at KIMEP, and that the student-teacher ratio was too high at 20 to 1 and should be 8 to 1.
    “KIMEP categorically does not agree with this decision and this week is going to appeal these decisions in court,” KIMEP said in remarks e-mailed to EurasiaNet.org. The university added that it was “working closely with the Ministry to rectify this situation.”
    If it doesn’t manage to do so, the decree suspending its license will come into force on September 26, but there’s still a glimmer of hope: Kalabayev said all the points could be put right.
    KIMEP – which is currently seeking accreditation in the United States – is run by Dr. Chan Young Bang, a Korean-American professor who acted as an adviser to Nazarbayev in the early years of independence. It has long enjoyed the support of the president, who’s visited the university many times over the years.
    KIMEP’s still faced its fair share of troubles, though: last year it made staff cuts in the face of a $6 million budget shortfall, and it’s also been splashed over the media with allegations of mismanagement, questionable decisions in the awarding of tenders, and sexual harassment. KIMEP denies any wrongdoing; university insiders point to disgruntled former staff members behind what they see as a smear campaign, according to Eurasianet.