Very little is known about the Republic of Kazakhstan but it is actually the ninth largest and also the largest landlocked country in the world. It was the last Soviet republic to declare independence in 1991 and is a multinational state inhabited with representatives of more than 120 nationalities. It is also considered the region’s most important emerging economy having enjoyed significant economic growth since 2000 due to its large oil, gas and mineral reserves.
The landscape of Kazakhstan is diverse. The northern forest-steppe stretches all the way to Siberia and turns into steppe, half-deserts and deserts in the South.
Situated in the middle of the steppe is Astana, which became the capital city in 1997. Since acquiring this status a rapid construction boom has taken place. Architects and builders have created wonderful buildings which harmoniously combine modern design and oriental colour. These include the Baiterek Tower - which at 105 metres has become the city’s symbol - and the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation (a 62m pyramid with stained glass apex) – built to withstand expansion and contraction of up to 30 metres due to temperature variations of over 80 degrees, from minus 40 to over 40 degrees!
Since 1994, the Ministry of Science and Education has administered the Bolashak scholarship, which fully supports the scholar’s education in overseas institutions. The list of subjects covered by the Bolashak scholarships is drawn up annually based on Kazakhstan’s development priorities and covers all levels of studies from undergraduate to Masters and research level. In return, all scholars must return to Kazakhstan and work for a minimum of five years within the country.
The first exploratory visit Aston University made was in 2004 which involved meetings and presentations at the local British Council office and local institutions. This was a significant profile raising exercise by the University. A year later it was announced that the Bolashak scholarship would be significantly increased. Between 1994 and 2004, there were just 785 Bolashak scholars. For the academic year 2008/9 alone, the number of new Bolashak scholars stands at 886.
Following this initial visit, in 2005 the International Office visited Kazakh State Ablai Khan University of International Relations & World Languages and following a visit by their Vice-Rector for International Relations to Aston in 2007, Professor Christina Schaeffner (LSS) visited Kazakhstan last year to discuss collaboration on a joint MA in Translation Studies.
We currently have 51 Kazakh students – of which 23 are Bolashak scholars. If you are lucky enough to know any of our Kazakh students, then you will know that they are immensely proud of their country!
If you would like to know more about our activities in Kazakhstan, please contact Wendy Yip.
Words by Wendy Yip