In light of the 25th anniversary of Kazakhstan’s independence, I would define the formation of a policy for re-industrialisation as the most crucial developmental challenge for the future of the country.

Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country in the world, and in all likelihood, there is no more important area for Kazakhstan than the development of Earth sciences and research in scientific multi- and inter-disciplines. Kazakhstan is a unique country which has all the elements of the periodic table in its reserves. It is important – not only for the country itself, but for global technological development – that this research is undertaken, particularly given current calls for an industrial revolution. New properties can be found by experimenting, testing and conducting research on old materials. Kazakhstan has them all. Moreover, all of these elements, rare earth metals especially, are extremely important parts of global technological chains. Organisation of a proper research base in Kazakhstan would be a boon to development worldwide. Research in geology, physics, chemistry, mathematics and other disciplines can help form a fundamental core of modern industries for the industrial and agricultural sectors, helping to enrich and expand the social, cultural and political paradigm in the country.

Development of the social sciences and culture are also extremely important to the economy. It is the environment from whence overall development and formation of scientific culture derive. Formation of a wide-reaching philosophy is a priority for any progressive society in the modern world. Social and economic research helps create a philosophy favourable to sustainable development in science and industry. Any change comes from philosophy first. In turn, an appropriate policy and the creation of institutions, i.e. research labs surrounded by industrial clusters for technology and innovation, will drive the economy. This policy can only happen in an environment supported by social and economic research as well as culture.

Innovation comes from technology, which is defined by the development of science and culture. These two factors are the most important sources of global influence and development. The concentration of the Kazakhstani academia, society and state on organising and conducting research in many areas of rare earth metals, other elements as well as polymers, for instance, for physics, chemistry, agriculture, metallurgy and other sciences can lead to an emergence of a unique high-tech economy. Both our geography and climate make any technology transfer inefficient or uncompetitive on a global level, whereas research is a base for technology and innovation. As a rule, original high-tech production yields a significant profit margin. At the same time, the cost of transportation is not important.

One could think, for example, of conducting research into the area of energy production, transmission, storage and usage – for instance, of such phenomenon as superconductivity. Other breakthrough fields may be revealed through the development of new structures capable of revolutionising the performance of solar cells, batteries, fuel cells, lightweight structural materials, refrigeration, water purification and so on, in contrast to the existing industrial race for smaller transistors. ‘Magic’ technologies are not currently being developed on a global scale due to the lack of the materials – which are abundant in Kazakhstan – or due to the fact that global industries keep overinvesting in classical technologies. This opens a tremendous window of opportunities for Kazakhstan. EXPO-2017 in Astana is expected to be the key to this window.

Here at the Centre for Development Studies at the University of Cambridge, we keep contributing to the country’s development and expanding levels of cooperation, not only between our centres, but with other university departments as well. I should mention the Centre’s director, Prof. Peter Nolan, whose extremely important Chinese Executive Leadership Programme plans to welcome Kazakhstani and Eurasian participants in 2017. His long-term collaborator and former student, Dr. Ha-Joon Chang was a guest at the last Astana Economic Forum.

As part of the Centre, the Cambridge Central Asia Forum (CCAF) is a notable instrument in dealings with Kazakhstan, and the Forum’s activities are impossible to imagine without its chairman, Dr. Shailaja Fennell and founder, Dr. Siddharth Saxena. The Cambridge Journal of Eurasian Studies has been reborn to publish papers which will aid a better understanding of the region.

CCAF coordinates research between different departments and the region. For instance, in 2014 a feasibility study for Kazakhstan’s opportunities in the sphere of high technologies was prepared, and CCAF was actively involved in the resulting conference, ‘Earthquakes without Frontiers’ in September 2016. This project has been led by Prof. James Jackson, the head of the Earth sciences department at the University of Cambridge, and was held under the umbrella of UNESCO. Aimed at development of earthquake sciences in Kazakhstan, it included the University of Oxford amongst other British institutions, as well as scientists from Italy, Germany, Russia, China, Nepal, Iran, India and the USA, to name but a few countries.

Speaking of Cambridge’s endowment, I should like to pay tribute to the late Prof. David MacKay, without whose research for Green Economy it would have been impossible to create the current agenda for EXPO-2017 in Astana.

Partaking in research and creating culture is the peak of human intellectual activity. Our region has been facing a developmental challenge, which can be overcome only through concentration and encouragement of the best minds, as well as appropriate policy-making. Knowledge is the only game-changer. Through initiating and supporting this process, one can contribute immensely to resolving not only regional problems, but important global challenges which in so many ways at this juncture maybe beyond our imagination. Formation of an appropriate and modern policy for the re-industrialisation of Kazakhstan is a vital part of the modern global agenda.

Chokan Laumulin,
Research Fellow, Cambridge Central Asia Forum,
Centre of Development Studies,
University of Cambridge

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