|09ASTANA1339||2009-08-05 07:55:00||UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY||Embassy Astana|
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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ASTANA 001339
1. (U) Sensitive but unclassified. Not for public Internet.
2. (SBU) SUMMARY: In an on-line article appearing August 1,
"Newsweek" magazine accused the Kazakhstani government of
suppressing Western-oriented education at what is arguably the
country's most prestigious university. The article reports that
governments in Russia, Belarus, and Central Asia have cracked down
on Western-educated professors and the spread of their "dangerous
ideas," like democracy and freedom of speech. About Kazakhstan,
"Newsweek" got it wrong. While there remain problems in the areas
of democracy and human rights, Kazakhstan's admirable record in
promoting Western education among its young people is not one of
those areas. END SUMMARY.
3. (SBU) "Beware of Big Ideas" in the August 17 issue of "Newsweek"
(published August 1) took aim at governments in the New Independent
States (NIS), which reportedly have pressured Western-style
universities that they accuse of imparting "dangerous ideas" to
students who might lead so-called color revolutions similar to those
that occurred in Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan. Some of these
governments are indeed suppressing Western-style universities in the
NIS, but the article, covering universities in Central Asia, Russia,
and Belarus, undermined its overall credibility when it went after
Kazakhstan on this score.
4. (U) "The situation is probably worst at KIMEP" (the Kazakhstan
Institute of Management, Economics and Strategic Research), the
article averred, "which has laid off 30 Western professors and axed
an EU-funded program on local government and political science."
Quoting professors who allege they were fired for speaking out
against the university's corrupt practices, the article dismissed
KIMEP's claim that the professors were let go for financial reasons
by noting the university "did manage to find $10 million for a new
building this year." KIMEP students, writes "Newsweek," know what
really happened. Says one, "We were taught Western values of
democracy and the meaning of freedom of speech. That doesn't fit
the Soviet mentality of Kazakhstan."
5. (SBU) If "Newsweek" had done more research and fact-checking, it
would have learned that KIMEP was started in Almaty by Kazakhstan's
President Nursultan Nazarbayev in 1992 with the express purpose of
exposing Kazakhstani students to Western-educated professors. When
the government-run university was approaching bankruptcy in 1997, it
was turned into a private joint-stock company, owned 60 percent by
its current president, Korean-American economist Chang Young Bang,
and 40 percent by individuals in the government. (The university's
funding comes from private sources, 90 percent from tuition.) When
KIMEP earlier this year faced the possibility that Nazarbaev's own
minister of education, Zhanseit Tuymebaev, would stand in the way of
the university's reaccrediation, Nazarbaev himself intervened to
maintain KIMEP's standing.
6. (SBU) For more than three years, KIMEP has been working closely
with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC),
which accredits such institutions as Harvard and MIT, to gain the
prestigious association's accreditation of KIMEP. NEASC, which
conducts annual, on-site reviews of KIMEP's progress, has
recommended that the university, as one of the conditions for
accreditation, sell all shares of the university and put the
proceeds into an endowment. KIMEP is working towards this goal.
After she visited KIMEP in 2008, Louise Zaks, NEASC's associate
director, said, "I am impressed by [KIMEP's] accomplishments of the
last two years. There's always room for improvement, naturally. . .
. I engaged in some lively and . . . productive discussions all
week. The faculty and students were vocal in their support of the
institution and its vision."
7. (SBU) As to the charges leveled against KIMEP in "Beware the Big
Idea," the biggest idea with which KIMEP was wrestling last year was
a possible $7 million shortfall due to projected declines in
enrollment, rising salaries, and possibly losing two tax cases
brought against the university by the government. The university
won its cases in court and radically restructured its budget, laying
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off professors with the highest salaries and lowest number of
students. Most of the 33 educators let go had Western degrees.
Still, the university retains some 300 faculty, about a third of
them with Western degrees.
8. (U) The $10 million mentioned in the "Newsweek" article for a
new structure was not "found" this year. It has been obligated in
tranches over three and a half years under capital expenditures in
KIMEP's budget, available online, for its new academic building.
9. (U) And the EU program that "Newsweek" reported KIMEP had axed?
The university's public administration department currently teaches
a local government course, which is not EU-funded. The only EU
program KIMEP administrators can find in the institution's history
is a course on local government funded through TACIS in 1999-2000 at
KIMEP's College of Continuing Education. The course ran for one
year and ended.
10. (SBU) None of this is to say that KIMEP, like most
universities, does not experience bouts of internecine faculty
warfare, questionable management, and student unhappiness over
tuition hikes. Nor is Kazakhstan's overall education system free
from serious corruption. But that's a far cry from alleging in
"Newsweek," as does Alexei Malyshenko from Moscow's Carnegie Center,
that "Nazarbayev . . . is afraid that 'KIMEP graduates [will] join
the opposition, and that is the reason behind the [firing of]
11. (U) President Nazarbayev has no history of opposing
Western-educated professors; on the contrary, he has always been
strongly in favor of Western education. In addition to founding
KIMEP, Nazarbayev in 1993 initiated the "Bolashak" ("Future")
Program that seeks to place 3,000 Kazakhstani students at any given
time at universities abroad, primarily in the United States and
Europe, at government expense to prepare a new generation of
non-Soviet leaders. Currently, 3,034 students are studying abroad
on the program, according to its administrators. Since the program
began, 1,514 students have graduated from U.S. programs, and 871
students are currently enrolled at American universities. In
privately funded education, Kazakhstani enrollments at American
universities have risen steeply.
12. (U) President Nazarbayev also has appointed a more progressive
rector at Kazakhstan National University in Almaty, and the Ministry
of Education and Science is building the Astana New University,
scheduled to open this fall, which will employ Western professors to
teach engineering and technology solely in English. Further,
Nazarbayev stood behind recent legislation that makes it easier for
foreign professors to teach in Kazakhstan by eliminating the need
for work permits in the field of education. (Stemming from the WTO
negotiations, the new legislation still needs to be vetted by the
Ministry of Education and Science.)
13. (SBU) We know from private conversations with senior U.S.
journalists that there is a degree of dismay about the "new
Newsweek" that has chosen "big-picture" articles over traditional
reporting of the news. We would wish "Newsweek" hadn't thrown out
the baby of fact-checking with the bathwater of traditional
on-the-ground reporting. The problem with this article is that too
many who read it without inside knowledge will accept it as
accurate. It is not. "Newsweek" got it badly wrong about