Shigeo Katsu: «We want to equip our students with the ability and interest in staying engaged in lifelong learning»

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Nazarbayev University is a new fagship university in Kazakhstan, with ambitious aims of offering world-class education not only to Kazakh students, but also to the brightest youth from neighboring countries. One year ago Shigeo Katsu, the former vice-president of the World Bank was appointed as president of Nazarbayev University. In an exclusive interview to KAZENERGY magazine, Mr. Katsu has shared with his views on learning process.

Mr. Katsu, first of all, could you please tell us few words about yourself? How did you join the Nazarbayev University team?

I`m a Japanese national, but most of my career has been outside of Japan. I had spent 31 years, working for the World Bank. And the last 10 years of my career with the World Bank I worked in Europe and the Central Asia region, all them being transition economies - from the Baltic States to the Central Asia, Balkans and Turkey. It`s in my former job, that I got to know senior government members and, that’s how I`ve got involved in the University. In spring 2010 I started out as a member of the International Advising Council. I never thought that I would come back as President.

This year three new faculties has opened at Nazarbayev University. Could you please, tell about the education process in the university?

Last year we started with a Foundation Course. This is a one year course, that Brit-ish Universities run in particular for foreign students, from the countries, where they don`t have a 12-13 year education system.

Kazakhstan has right now an 11 year edu-cation system, so it was kindly thought, that the high school graduates should go through a one year foundation course. After the foundation program, they should be admitted to undergraduate school. Last year we`ve started with 484 students, and 470 got the certificates.

What about the other 14 people?

For some reason or other, some of them left for the health reasons, some had other opportunities to pursue, and some - did not make it. 469 moved on to our three under-graduate schools. I have to clarify that the development of our university is modeled on internationally known universities, so the foundation program has been totally out-sourced from University College of London. We have three Undergraduate Schools - the School of Engineering is in partnership with UCL, the School of Science andTechnology with Carnegie Melon University, and School of Humanity and Social Science with the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The partnership is in three big areas: one is Faculty recruitment, second is Curriculum development, third is other services like IT, libraries and so on. So, we have 469 students in the three schools. Considering the fact, that we started just last year, it`s pretty good.

The objective of our University is to be-come a world class research university. That means, we recruit faculty not just for teach-ing, but also for research. We want to expose our students early on, when they are undergraduates, to research work, so we expect our professors to lead them in that and to do research together.

As far as we know from the newsletters, last year only two of fifty five tutors were from Kazakhstan. What has changed since then in the academic staff?

Last year we only had a foundation program. And all the staff was from UCL, they were not Nazarbayev University staff, it`s a turnkey operation. Yes, indeed more than ffty people were recruited from London, and only two of the team were Kazakhstan nationals. For the undergraduate school, the situation is quite different. We have gone through an international recruitment process, assisted by our partners. We recruited in Washington DC, in Pittsburgh and in London. The good news is, I think we have 48 professors, and 11 of them Kazakhstan nationality. We would certainly like to increase this number. We will try to keep very close track of Kazakhstan citizens, who are currently teaching in the United States or Europe. And we`ll try to see how we can atract them. Also we hope to send some of our young teaching assistants for scholarships and fellowships abroad. We are just in our second year, we currently have 500 new students for the foundation program, 469 for the frst year of undergraduate. Every year we get another 500 undergraduate students. We will also start to have professional graduate schools for business, public policy, in 2013 we will have a graduate school of education, the year after - for Medicine. We will be continuing to recruit faculty, hopefully we will be able to recruit Kazakhstani researchers.

You have several research centers as The Center for Energy research, The Center for Life Sciences, The Center for Educational Policy. As an energy magazine, we are interested in the Energy research center. What kind of research have you already done?

We have a strategic partnership with Lawrence National Laboratory in Berkeley. It is a research organization, which is actually fnanced by the US Department of Energy. It is very closely located to the University of California in Berkeley, which is a fagship university of the University of California system. Our Energy research center has now

started to do about five or so projects with Berkeley lab. Right now, because of the facilities, research is carried out in Berkeley. But it`s done by sending our young researchers, they work there with our partner researchers, and then they will come back.

There are six or seven Kazakhstan researchers in Berkeley now, who are working on solar panel cells, smart bridge technology, modeling of energy needs evolution for the Caspian Sea, the Central Asia region and beyond. Now the Center for Energy Research is hosting part of the Bio-medical research as well.

In so far as we talking about research centers, don`t you think that there is a lack of young researchers in Kazakhstan?

I don`t think so. It`s a mater of young people being motivated to go into research. We are starting to see a good number of young researchers, who are very keen to be integrated with the international research community. We have seven or ten people who are carrying out their research at the University of Pitsburgh, and other places too. We recently had an international conference on biomedicine, and I had an opportunity to talk to a lot of international guests, and from our partner institutions on research, they were very, very complimentary regarding the quality of young Kazakhstani researchers. I don`t think that we have a shortage, I think they are there. The question is: How to fnd them? We have to be able to ofer places and facilities for them to do their research.

What can you say about the quality of students of Nazarbayev University?

Am I impressed by the quality of our students? – Defnitely. During the frst year 3900 high school graduators applied, we took 484. They had to meet all the requirements that University College of London and British Council had set out. We have been able to recruit the top students. I do believe that the kids are really bright. There are probably many others we missed. This year the number of applicants was 4500. The good news is that more students are interested in it. It means that competition has become tougher. But, at the same time, there might be a lot of kids, that didn`t apply for one reason – English. My feeling is that there must be quite a number of those, who may go to schools where English language was not so intensively taught, but these kids might be bright in natural sci-ences like mathematics, physics and so on. I would very much like to see, how we can atract them in the future. I know that it`s a litle bit oversensitive subject. In the long run I would like to see this university refect what Kazakhstan is. It means, the mix of urban and rural, as well as the ethnic character of the country. Diversity is important. We also hope that we fnd ways of bringing in international students, es-pecially from the neighboring countries. It would be good for Kazakhstan to merge the talents of the neighbors.

Thank you for the interesting interview.