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."

Arts and Entertainment
TVShow's twee, safe facade smashed by ice cream melting scandal
newsVideo for No campaign was meant to get women voting
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

DT & Science Technician

£65 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Randstad Education are looking ...

Music Teacher

£110 - £150 per day + Mileage and Expenses: Randstad Education Leeds: We are l...

A Level Chemistry Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Part-time A Level Chemist...

Teaching Assistant

£12000 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Secondary Teaching ...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?