UW-Madison begins fourth agreement with Kazakhstan university

The University of Wisconsin–Madison has signed its fourth – and most extensive – agreement with Nazarbayev University (NU) in Astana, Kazakhstan, which will lead to more faculty and staff collaborations between the two universities and summer study at UW–Madison for NU undergraduates.

UW–Madison is among a group of leading international institutions enlisted in an ambitious effort to create a world-class, English-language, research institution designed to serve Kazakhstani students in their home country.

The fourth UW-NU agreement covers a broad range of activities over the next two years and involves increasing interactions between the universities.

Supported by NU at a total cost of $4.3 million over two years, these activities include administrative training, scholarly collaborations and exchanges, capacity-building, organizational and program development, and curriculum development.

In addition, 60 of the best undergraduates from NU – half from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences and half from the School of Science and Technology – will come to Madison for an eight-week summer session under the Visiting International Student Program (VISP) through the Division of Continuing Studies.  Each student will enroll in two classes – including a specially developed research-focused course. This marks the beginning of plans to send groups of NU students to UW–Madison over the next few years.

Emphasis on peer-to-peer connections

“The UW-NU Project is an innovative and sustainable approach to global higher education, and a concrete example of the Wisconsin idea, globally applied,” says Yoshiko Herrera, professor in UW–Madison’s Department of Political Science and director of the Center for Russia, East Europe and Central Asia (CREECA). Herrera is the faculty principal investigator for this project.

“It is a sustainable way to share the expertise and knowledge of UW–Madison faculty, staff, and students with peers in Kazakhstan, and it allows our colleagues from Nazarbayev University to share their experiences with the UW community,” Herrera says.  “Given differences across many countries of the world, this kind of agreement, which is founded on peer-to-peer professional linkages, is a way to allow the UW–Madison to responsibly pursue global partnerships.”

“The interaction between NU and UW–Madison is quite positive and one we wish to continue for many years,” says Kadisha Dairova, NU’s vice president of student affairs, international cooperation, and government relations. “The knowledge and training derived from UW–Madison has allowed NU to advance at a much more rapid pace than would otherwise be possible.  In combination with our other partners from a variety of leading universities, NU is well on its way to becoming a world-class research university.”

The project involves more than 20 UW–Madison faculty and nearly as many academic staff members. Under the agreement, as many as 15 academic departments and other administrative units at UW–Madison will host visiting scholars and staff from NU for consultations, collaborative work and professional development and training. Meanwhile, the agreement also provides opportunities for another 15 UW–Madison faculty members to go to NU as visiting scholars.

The leaders of Nazarbayev University have committed to integrating the best of international research and education practice into Kazakhstan’s educational system. Toward this goal, the university has partnered with several foreign institutions, including University College London, Cambridge and the National University of Singapore, and such leading U.S. universities as Duke, Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, and UW–Madison.

UW–Madison became involved in March 2010, with an agreement to conduct a feasibility study and make recommendations for the structure and curriculum of NU’s School of Humanities and Social Sciences (SHSS).

“Nazarbayev University is both an example of global developments in higher education as well as a unique experiment,” says Uli Schamiloglu, professor in UW–Madison’s Department of Languages and Cultures of Asia. “Rather than simply adopting one or more Western models, in Kazakhstan they would like to create their own vision of an internationally-inspired university.”

“I was struck by the audacity of it – the idea of creating an American-style research university high in the steppes,” says Charles Cohen, professor in UW–Madison’s Departments of History and Religious Studies and director of the Lubar Institute for the Study of Abrahamic Religions,

Both Schamiloglu and Cohen have been part of the UW-NU Project from the start.

They are among a dozen or so UW–Madison faculty and staff who worked with NU administrators to create proposals for an undergraduate liberal arts curriculum, the development of the library’s collection, and facilities and support services.

Global application of Wisconsin Idea

The UW–Madison team has based its work on the idea that a liberal arts education enables young people to acquire the communication, critical thinking, and analytical skills essential for success in today’s world.

“This is a wonderful project for getting our values into a region of the world that is not familiar with those values,” says Cohen. He and others point to this as a global application of the Wisconsin Idea.

NU opened in the fall of 2011 with more than 480 Kazakhstani undergraduates enrolled in courses in three schools—SHSS, Engineering, and Science and Technology—each developed with assistance from a foreign institution.

Under the second agreement, the UW–Madison team worked during the 2011-12 academic year to develop recommendations for refining NU’s curriculum and hiring plans and to address needs in such areas as registrar and admissions procedures, co-curricular activities, and library development.

Under the just-completed third agreement with NU, the UW–Madison team focused on language instruction, support of language learning, quality assurance and assessment, professional development, career and advising services, student affairs, library development, and collaboration and exchanges of faculty and staff between the two institutions.

“The NU project has been a fascinating and intellectually rewarding experience for members of the Kazakh language team,” says Karen Evans-Romaine, professor and chair UW–Madison’s Department of Slavic Languages and Literature. “We have learned a great deal from our NU colleagues about teaching in a bilingual environment, and about the interaction of languages in this rapidly changing country.”

Evans-Romaine adds, “The students have taught us a great deal about the role of language in society, and about the role and interaction of multiple languages in their futures, which in many ways reflect the present and future of Kazakhstan.”

“In my understanding, the students at Nazarbayev University have grown to value the courses in the humanities and social sciences which they are being offered, as they might at a university in the United States,” says Schamiloglu. “It allows them to view not only their own country and its history in a new way, it allows them to view the world in a new way.”

He adds, “I hope that such engagement will help to contribute to the development of a new kind of civil society in Kazakhstan and that it will lead to greater political innovation, too.”

For more information, go the UW-NU Project website (http://international.wisc.edu/nuproject/), or contact project coordinator Virginia Martin (vmartin2@wisc.edu) or project manager Cynthia Williams (cwilliam@wisc.edu).

– by Kerry G. Hill