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Kazakhstan University Autonomy and Governance Reform Collaboration

Jan 2009 to Present

Penn AHEAD faculty have been working in Kazakhstan since 2009 on a set of interrelated projects with Nazarbayev University (NU), the republic’s new, autonomous research university, and the Ministry of Science and Education.

Collaborative Research

Penn AHEAD has conducted and continues to conduct numerous research projects on policy, administration, and governance jointly with Kazakhstani colleagues. Such research has specifically addressed forms and models of institutional autonomy, quality assurance, university governance, and access and funding.

Among these efforts, the most robust has focused on advancing models of best practice in academic governance and management in higher education as the country moves intentionally toward increased institutional autonomy. This five-year project has included comparative research on policy frameworks and statutes shaping governance, case studies of management and governance innovation, and policy briefs.

Nazarbayev University Capacity Building Partnership

Penn AHEAD has been partnering with Cambridge University to develop the NU Graduate School of Education (NUGSE). Nazarbayev University was created in 2010 as a bold effort to forge a new model for the country’s university sector. Given unprecedented autonomy, NU seeks to become a major international research university with an international impact while concurrently serving the nation’s educational and research needs.

Each of NU’s various schools has an international partner (for example, the School of Engineering is partnering with University College London and the School of Humanities and Social Sciences is partnering with the University of Wisconsin-Madison). Penn and Cambridge have been collaborating with NU administrators and faculty to develop degree programs and curricula; support the dean and senior administrative team and develop the school’s administrative capacity; support faculty and student recruitment; provide faculty and professional development; and conduct quality assurance reviews. Penn and Cambridge faculty also are involved in co-advising NUGSE doctoral dissertations and providing them with research mentorships. This partnership work also has included advising the senior university leadership regarding the direction and strategy of the university.

Leadership and Governance Training

Penn AHEAD has conducted several leadership development programs for rectors, senior university administrators, and board members of universities in Kazakhstan that are transitioning into new models of autonomous governance. The workshops ranged from day-long engagements to week-long programs.

School Innovation

Penn AHEAD has been involved in designing and supporting innovation in the secondary education sector in Kazakhstan. This work focuses on developing a set of nationally innovative schools and has included identifying strategic international partners; supporting, advising, and training senior staff and school leaders; and creating key policy documents and governance principles.


This research is supported by Nazarbayev University with funds from the Republic of Kazakhstan Ministry of Education and Science.


Matt Hartley, Penn GSE; Peter Eckel, Penn GSE; Alan Ruby, Penn GSE; and Aida Sagintayeva, Nazarbayev University GSE

Research Team 

Darkhan Bilyalov; Dilrabo Jonbekova; Rita Kasa; Aisi (Iris) Li; Ali Ait Si Mhamed


Hartley, M., Gopaul, B., Sagintayeva, A., & Apergenova, R. (2013). Learning Autonomy: Higher Education Reform in Kazakhstan. Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE). St. Louis, MO.

Hartley, M., Gopaul, B. & Saginatayeva, A., & Apergenova, R. (2013). The Challenges and Possibilities of Advancing University Autonomy. European Conference on Educational Research (ECER), Istanbul, Turkey.


Hartley, M., Ruby, A. (2017). Higher education reform and development: The case for Kazakhstan. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Hartley, M., Gopaul, P., Sagintayeva, A., & Apergenova, R. (2015). Learning autonomy: Higher education reform in Kazakhstan. Higher Education, 72(3), 277–289.