Kazakhstan invests in human capital to avoid brain drain

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This article is part of our special report A busy EU-Kazakhstan agenda.

Kazakhstan continues to rejuvenate its public administration in a drive to keep talented youth at home and achieve two major goals: modernising the Central Asian country and avoiding brain drain.

Kazakhstan’s capital Nur-Sultan prepares for the second round of selection for the president’s elite programme designed to inject fresh talent into public administration as the country presses on with reforms despite the pandemic.

The second intake of the Presidential Youth Personnel Reserve should address Kazakhstan’s emigration problem. According to the Central Asian Bureau for Analytical Reporting, 366,000 people have left the 19-million post-Soviet country in the past ten years, most of them educated professionals.

The number may appear high, but it is much lower than in countries in Eastern Europe such as Bulgaria or Romania, which have lost millions of people, mostly young and educated.

To avoid such trends, Kazakhstan banks on reforming administration and getting young talent into decision-making positions, which may alleviate pressure at the root of the migration flows.

Reforming the administration is indeed key. Of young Kazakhs living abroad, 51.3% mentioned “corruption, bureaucracy at all levels, impunity and irresponsibility of officials, and inefficient government” as reasons for leaving, while 31.3% said it was “professional lack of demand, lack of prospects for self-realisation and career,” according to an online survey by the International Organisation for Migration.

During the first intake back in 2019, only 300 of the more than 13,000 citizens who showed interest were selected, about a third of the people from the presidential reserve coming from the private sector. By the end of 2020, 166 were employed.

Offered employment covers a wide range of positions, including very top public sector jobs, such deputy ministerial and head of stock exchange posts.

With an average age of 31, the members of the presidential reserve are required to have a higher degree, as well as at least five years of work experience.

The second intake, scheduled to start before summer 2021, will be more competitive and targeted, according to Anar Zhailganova, chair of the reformed Civil Service Affairs Agency, appointed by Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

“It will be focused on the real needs of government agencies. At the same time, for the purpose of high-quality implementation of the [president’s] order, it is proposed to involve government agencies themselves in the selection process, which have needs for industry specialists,” Zhailganova said last fall.

The reforms may be working: In 2020 only 21,000 people, a 49% drop compared to the same period the previous year, according to a report of the Eurasian economic committee, though the change could be attributed to the global health crisis. 

“The process of renewal is one of the priorities of my domestic policy,” Tokayev said at the beginning of last year.

“We need a team of managers of a new formation in different areas, who are not afraid to take responsibility and make innovative and effective decisions,” he added.

Recent EU enlargement led to brain drain in new members

Instead of increasing cross-border cooperation, the enlargement of the European Union has resulted in an exodus of human capital from the eastern member states to the west of the continent, according to a new study. EURACTIV Spain reports.

The problem of brain drain from Central and Eastern Europe to the West has been a challenge within the EU as well and has recently become an important feature in the bloc’s policy towards its eastern neighbours.

Commissioner Várhelyi: Youth to become new 'focal point' in Eastern Partnership

In one of his first public appearances, Olivér Várhelyi, Commissioner for neighbourhood and enlargement, said on Thursday (4 December) reviving civil society and economy by reaching out to youth would be his priority in the context of Eastern Partnership.


At home, the EU has also been pushing to provide more opportunities for young people through initiatives like the Youth Guarantee, a commitment by all member states to ensure that everyone under 30 receives a good quality offer of employment, continued education, apprenticeship or a traineeship within four months of becoming unemployed or leaving education.

Porto EU social summit expected to focus on youth

The European Commission wants to promote a “strong social dimension” at the May summit in Porto, as part of the Portuguese EU Council presidency, advocating a focus on young people who are facing a “difficult period” due to the COVID-19 crisis​​​​​​​.

In Kazakhstan, the presidential candidate pool is part of a wider push to include more young people and women in governance.

Before the parliamentary elections at the beginning of the year, the constitution and party laws were amended to mandate a 30% quota for women and youth representatives on electoral party lists.

Kazakhstan elections

Kazakhstan is to hold parliamentary elections for the Majilis, the lower chamber of the Kazakh parliament, on 10 January 2021. Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the Central Asian country is inviting observers and journalists and is hoping to attract international attention.

On January 15, 2021, President Tokayev announced a third package of political reforms, which will include the introduction of the Youth Development Index supposed to help authorities assess the activities of local executive bodies in the youth policy implementation.

At the same time, Tokayev has pushed to cut redundant staff, mandating to reduction the number of civil servants by a quarter. By the end of last year, 10% have been cut, the remaining 15% reduction foreseen by the end of this year.

Meanwhile, the administration is pushing for upping the qualification of public sector employees, through the introduction of policies such as civil servants’ internships in international organisations.

However, commentators such as Daniyar Ashim point out it is too early to tell whether the reforms will bear fruit.

”The way these people show themselves will be an indicator of the programme’s performance,” the analyst told Turan press.

“If in the next three to five years none of them get caught on corruption offences, [and] they will cope with leadership work with dignity – this will be an indicator of the programme,” he added.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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