Welcome to the new frontier – Central Asia - Higher - Education - The Independent

Welcome to the new frontier – Central Asia

UCL is setting up shop in Kazakhstan but critics are worried about that nation's human rights record. Lucy Hodges reports

Fresh from setting up a campus in Australia, one of Britain's top higher education institutions, University College London, is turning its attention to Kazakhstan, a vast country bordered by Russia, Uzbekistan and China and made famous by Ali G's Borat.

But there is nothing remotely silly or satirical about UCL's foray into Central Asia. The university is planning to help the Kazakh government establish an international university in Astana, the new capital of the country. Specifically, it is assisting on a one-year foundation programme to get science and engineering students up to the right level for university degree programmes to be taught in English.

The new University of Astana will start in autumn 2009 as a high-quality, research-led, global institution. UCL will teach maths and physics to up to 120 students to prepare them for a four-year BSc in information and computer technology.

"Kazakhstan is emerging as a key strategic partner for the UK," says Professor Michael Worton, UCL's vice- provost who has been brokering the deal. "It is also a country which is committed to modernisation and internationalism and it has enormous natural resources. It believes that education is one of the key ways of mobilising its resources, both human and natural."

Not everyone is happy with the move because of Kazakhstan's human rights record. Several opposition leaders and journalists have been killed recently, and Western observers do not consider the country's elections to be free and fair. But Kazakhstan, rich in oil and gas, has been booming economically and is now considered to the dominant state in central Asia.

UCL clearly believes that a university can do more to change attitudes by engaging with a country than by remaining aloof. Moreover Worton suggests that Kazakhstan is no more to be criticised than China or countries in South America and the Middle East. "We can't play our part in making the world a more liberal place by doing it from the outside in a neo-colonial way, saying we have the answers," he says. "We have to get in there." The move shows the extent to which British universities are now seeing themselves as global players, not only taking students from all over the world but reaching out to help overseas universities build up their capacity. In the Middle East, UCL is also active and is expected to announce shortly that it is creating a small campus to teach archaeology and cultural heritage.

The aim in Kazakhstan is to create a university that will become an education hub for central Asia. The country has plenty of other universities but they are not world class and the Kazakhs want a Westernised curriculum with a year's study abroad as part of the undergraduate programme.

"But this has got to be a Kazakh university," says Worton. "The Kazakhs have to build it. I told them it would take a lot longer than they thought but they would get a real university of their own making embedded in central Asia."

This philosophy may be one reason why UCL won the contract in competition with the Universities of Cambridge in Britain, Stanford and Carnegie Mellon in the USA, and the National University of Singapore.

UCL's adventures abroad are just one aspect of its internationalism. Branded "London's global university", UCL has a high proportion of foreign students (30 per cent) and deliberately tailors its courses to reflect that. To that end, it has produced a booklet on the kind of students it hopes to produce and what it means to be educated as a global citizen.

It has even persuaded its academics to agree on what characteristics it hopes to produce in its graduates. There are six of these. UCL wants to produce critical and creative thinkers who are ambitious as well as idealistic, and sensitive to cultural difference. It wants its graduates to be entrepreneurs and prepared to assume leadership roles – and to be highly employable.

The issue that provoked most controversy among the academics in the arts and humanities faculty was the point about producing leaders out of its graduates. "People said 'oh gosh, you want to turn them into little Mussolinis'," Worton explains. The word remained in the booklet, partly because the students value it. They asked in their job interviews to provide examples of leadership at university.

UCL is keen for students to develop a global perspective on the subjects they are studying as well as take part in extracurricular activities. Examples are given in the booklet.

Emily Read, 23, an American studying for an MSc, says that UCL is a brilliant place to study because there is such an international mix. "They were so helpful when I applied and gave me so much support in getting to Britain."

News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Nursery Manager

£22000 - £23000 per annum: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recrui...

Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Year 5 Teacher RequiredThis temporar...

Deputy Education Manager

Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: Deputy Education ManagerLocation: HMP Lin...

Teacher of PE

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education are curren...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week