Yespolov Tlektes is the Vice President and Academic at the National Academy of Sciences in the Republic of Kazakhstan. He is also the Chairman of the Board-Rector of the Kazakh National Agrarian Research University. He is also an academic of the Russian Agricultural Academy, the National Academy of Agrarian Sciences of Ukraine. His scientific work has been recognised throughout the world with honorary professorships at no less than 14 leading agricultural universities in South Korea, China, Hungary, Russia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and others. He is a Laureate of the State Prize of the Republic of Kazakhstan in the field of science and technology named after al-Farabi and was awarded with national awards, including the orders of “Parasat” and “Barys II degree”. OCA Magazine managed to grab a few precious moments with this highly decorated academic. 

OCA: Please tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to your honorary position of rector at the University?

Yespolov Tlektes: I am a mechanical engineer in agricultural production. I graduated from postgraduate study at the AN Kostyakov All-Union Scientific Research Institute of Hydraulic Engineering and Land Reclamation in Moscow. My teachers were the great scientists, D.L. Melamut and L.I. Badaev. I performed my candidate of science thesis under the guidance of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Honored Meliorator of the RSFSR B.M. Kizyaev and Honored Scientist of the Kazakh SSR, Professor  L.Y. Tazhibaev. These people played a great role in the formation and development of me as a scientist and future leader. All my life I have been dealing with the problems of natural resources management, in particular, water and land resources in Kazakhstan.

After graduating from graduate school, I returned to the Kazakh Agricultural Institute, where I worked as the head of the branch research and production laboratory, senior lecturer, assistant professor of the Department of Hydraulics and Agricultural Water Supply. Then I headed the Almaty Industrial Academy for several years. And in 2001, by the Decree of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, I was appointed rector of the Kazakh National Agrarian University, where I still work.

OCA: What is the most difficult part of your job and how do you cope with it?

YT: Working as a first manager, I came to the conclusion that the most difficult thing is to make the right management decisions. Life experience, of course, teaches, and over time it becomes easier to make decisions, but it does not give any guarantee that all decisions, without exception, will be correct and effective.

I am constantly working on my own mistakes. In the work of the university, we carry out diagnostics in all areas of its activities. An effective model of corporate governance has been introduced: people – processes – technologies. Together with 15 foreign experts from GPI-groups, teachers were certified according to a new talent management methodology.

OCA: How has COVID 19 affected the structure of life at the university?

YT: The coronavirus pandemic has changed the world forever and posed a major challenge to education systems in all countries. Kazakh education was also forced to adapt to new realities. The crisis forced us to find quick solutions. In Kazakhstan, from March 16, all universities simultaneously switched to distance learning. In the context of distance learning, the university has completely restructured educational, scientific and socio-educational work with young people.

Innovative approaches have been applied to the implementation of academic policy, online seminars for teaching staff on the use of DOT have been organized, the work of the situational centre for the exchange of best practices has been strengthened, regular webinars are held, as well as online consulting for rural entrepreneurs in Kazakhstan. Since March this year University scientists conducted more than 60 online consultations for farmers, which were used by more than thirty thousand people.

The University has opened an International Research Centre for Vaccination. The centre, together with the National Scientific Centre for Especially Dangerous Infections named after M. Aikimbayev of the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Kazakhstan, with the support of foreign partners – Ohio State University (USA) and biotechnology company Vaxine Pty Ltd (Australia), has developed a safe nanovaccine against coronavirus, which is included in the list of vaccine candidates of the World Health Organization.

OCA: With which international universities does your institution work closely at the moment?

YT: The university cooperates with 137 leading universities and scientific centres of the world, is a member of 16 international associations and organizations for higher education and science, including the Global Consortium of Agricultural Universities of the World (GCHERA). I am the chairman of the Council of Rectors of the leading agricultural universities in the CIS.

In its innovative development, the university is guided by the experience of the Wageningen Research University (WUR, Netherlands), which is the number 1 university in the QS world ranking for agricultural specialties. An agreement was signed with WUR on joint training in two KazNARU educational programs “Veterinary and food safety and technology” and “Plant science and technology”.   

Last year, in a pilot mode, KazNAU students were trained in the discipline “Food Chemistry” online. The students received a certificate from the Wageningen University.   The same training will be conducted in four more disciplines.

The introduction of such programs will raise the quality of education in KazNAU to the world level and broadcast the experience gained to the country’s universities.

The university implements 11 double degree programs with leading partner universities from the USA, Europe, and the countries of the Pacific region.

OCA: What is the main scientific work at the university and what made it possible to increase the level of scientific research?

YT: The university has a developed scientific and educational infrastructure. There is an Agrotechnological Hub, whose mission is to search, attract and transfer the best innovative technologies and new knowledge in the agro-industrial complex. About 100 research, implementation and international projects are carried out in Agrohub. The Agrohub includes: 7 research institutes, 8 innovation centres, 31 research laboratories, which are accredited by international agencies.

An Agrotechnological Park has been created in the educational and experimental farm, where more than 100 varieties of 36 agricultural crops are studied. Scientists have developed 4 unique varieties of tomato, potato, pepper, and salad. A project to build a “smart” greenhouse is being implemented at the Kazakh-Korean Research Centre. A demonstration Smart farm is being created. With the support of ADB, a joint project is being carried out with the USDA and the University of Michigan on the assessment of pasture areas in the Akmola region. Microclonal reproduction laboratories, a reference laboratory for milk and dairy products have been created.

At the end of 2019, scientists published more than 800 articles, of which 26% are included in the databases of Thomson Reuters and Scopus. The University became the Science Leader in terms of Web of Science publication activity. The annual International Agrotechnological Summit has become a permanent dialogue platform for scientists, rural entrepreneurs, state and local executive bodies. In December 2019, 250 prominent scientists and experts from 30 countries of the world took part in this event.

OCA: We know that this year the Kazakh National Agrarian Research University celebrates its 90th anniversary. What developments did the university go through to achieve the best ranking among research universities?  

YT: KazNAU was established in 1996 by the merger of two older universities – the Almaty Zooveterinary (established in 1929) and the Kazakh Agricultural (created in 1930) institutes. In 2001, by the decree of the President of the country, the university was given a special status. This year KazNAIU celebrates its 90th anniversary.

In 2020, by a government decree, the university received the status of a national research university. This was the result of many years of systematic work. Since 2010, KazNAU began the process of transformation into a national research university based on international standards of project management with the support of 13 experts from the best foreign research centres and universities.

In 2015, KazNAU was transformed into a new organisational and legal form of a non-profit joint stock company (NAO) and transferred from the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education and Science to the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) of the Republic of Kazakhstan. It became a part of the newly created National Agrarian Research and Education Centre, which united 3 agricultural universities, 23 research institutes (SRI), experimental stations and farms. This made it possible for the university to gain academic freedom, to move to autonomy, and to implement the principles of self-financing, using the mechanisms of public-private partnership.

As a result of systematic work, the university occupies a respectable place in 9 international and national ratings. In 2018 and 2019, the university was ranked 651 in the QS World’s Best Universities Ranking. Over the past year, the university has made a big leap and moved up 60 positions, taking 591 places. The goal is to be a world-class university with a QS-400 rating by 2024.

As a result of systematic work on transformation in 2020, by the decree of the Government, the university was awarded the status of a national research university.

The research university is responsible for the development of science, therefore, the training of specialists through science and science-intensive production is strengthened.