Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Higher Education

First Advisor's Name

Emily Anderson

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member

Second Advisor's Name

Benjamin Baez

Second Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member

Third Advisor's Name

James Burns

Third Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Douglas L. Robertson

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee chair


Neoliberalism, Kazakhstan, developing countries, knowledge-based economy, privatization, nationalism, globalization, higher education

Date of Defense



The Republic of Kazakhstan is one of the Central Asian countries of the former Soviet Union (USSR). The Kazakh Social Soviet Republic's Supreme Court declared the transition from a planned economy to a market economy in the early 1990s. The new market model in Kazakhstan has had a significant impact on its evolving higher education system. Less government spending and the creation of private universities in Kazakhstan were the core strategies that have been implemented under the neoliberal policies (Sabzalieva, 2017; Sagintayeva & Kurakbayev, 2015; Smirnova, 2014; Smolentseva, 2012; Smolentseva, Huisman, & Froumin, 2018). This study’s central question is how neoliberal educational policies have transformed the emerging higher education system since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

By applying grounded theory as a methodological tool and using higher education policy documents and the speeches of the former president of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev (1991-2019), I examined the changes that occurred in the higher education system in Kazakhstan based on neoliberalism. Kazakhstan has transitioned to higher education policies based upon core neoliberal ideas, such as privatization, meritocracy, individualism, self-reliance, and competition. However, neoliberal policies in Kazakhstan have been influenced by the local political and governance system. Specifically, as it was found, the first president of the Republic of Kazakhstan has maintained a crucial position in shaping contemporary higher education policies. With Nazarbayev’s initiative, significant educational projects that meet core neoliberal ideas have been introduced and financially and politically prioritized despite the lack of evidence of their effectiveness. The analysis of the policy documents has revealed that higher education policy changes were informed by autocratic and leader-centric neoliberal systems.






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