Delegation Trip to Kazakhstan: DFG Strengthens Its Commitment in Central Asia

(24.07.23) As part of the expansion of scientific cooperation with the Central Asian region, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) took part in a delegation trip to Kazakhstan organised by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) from 12 to 16 June 2023. The objective was to establish contacts with institutions of science and the humanities and research and explore fresh potential for cooperation with Germany. The German delegation visited Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Education and Science as well as the country’s leading universities and research institutes to find out about bilateral cooperation projects.

Visit to the Ministry of Science and Higher Education of the Republic of Kazakhstan on 14 June 2023.

© Jörg Schneider

As a funding organisation for science-driven basic research, the DFG typically responds to needs from the scientific community in Germany, in particular in the international context so as to establish framework conditions that enable researchers from Germany to cooperate directly with partners worldwide. The DFG has also been increasing its involvement in Central Asia for some time in order to tap into new cooperation potential for science and the humanities in Germany. Kazakhstan has a particularly important role to play in this region. In addition to its own activities in recent years, therefore, the DFG was happy to join delegation trips organised by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

As a continuation of a BMBF delegation trip to Almaty in autumn 2022, a second trip to Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, was planned for June 2023. Delegation members from the BMBF, the DAAD, the Helmholtz Association and the DFG, represented by the Head of International Affairs Jörg Schneider, along with researchers from Dresden and Halle, visited the Ministry of Science and Higher Education as well as several universities and research institutes. Furthermore, they found out about German-Kazakh research projects and held background talks with the German Embassy in Kazakhstan and locally based German institutions.

The visit to the Ministry of Science and Higher Education was aimed at expanding and strengthening bilateral science cooperation at the institutional level. The BMBF, represented by Frithjof A. Maennel, Head of the Sub-Department “International Cooperation in Education and Research” and Minister Sayasat Nurbek signed a joint declaration on cooperation in the field of research and innovation. The long-standing academic dialogue between the two countries was highlighted. On this occasion, the Ministry organised a hybrid information event involving more than 100 stakeholders from all over Kazakhstan at which the German delegation was able to present its institutions and get to know potential partner institutions.

Participants also identified possible thematic focus areas for future cooperation: these also serve to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals and are named as priority research areas in the EU-Central Asia Strategy (energy security, climate protection, environment, health and digitisation). The DFG is already funding research projects in these areas with cooperation partners from Kazakhstan. One example is the DFG project on the “Hydrological Cycle of Central Asia under Climate and Land Use Changes” being conducted by the University of Würzburg, which involved Kazakhstan’s Sultangazin Space Research Institute, the research institute Khorezm Rural Advisory Support Service (KRASS) in Uzbekistan and the Central-Asian Institute for Applied Geosciences (CAIAG) in Kyrgyzstan.

Nazarbayev University invited the German delegation to present the BMBF-funded TERESA project. The university is regarded as the country’s strongest and most internationally oriented higher education institution. Thanks to significant financial contributions from the state, it is excellently equipped technically, and a large proportion of the lecturers come from abroad. Working on the project “TERESA Urban Water Management: German Expertise for Kazakh Cities”, the Kazakh side included Nazarbayev University and the company Astana Innovations, with TU Dresden involved on the German side.

Visit to the Ministry of Science and Higher Education of the Republic of Kazakhstan on 14 June 2023.

© Jörg Schneider

The delegation also visited Gumilyov Eurasian National University, one of the country’s nine national universities that receive special support from the government as research universities. Vice Rector Zhanna Kurmangaliyeva provided information about the research focus of the university and emphasised that its international orientation with the involvement of foreign cooperation partners was particularly important in terms of boosting the university’s research performance.

On their visit to the National Centre for Biotechnology, delegation members gained an insight into the research performance of a government-run research institute which is the country’s leading biological centre and implements government policy to support and develop the biotech industry.

The trip to Kazakhstan further illuminates the scientific and research potential of the Central Asian region. In addition to Kazakhstan, the DFG is also focusing on Uzbekistan, as these two countries offer particularly favourable conditions for cooperation in terms of their scientific research and economic innovation potential: they are now investing more in science and the humanities, research and technology and seeking to connect with the international scientific community. In the last five years, the DFG has already been able to fund 35 projects involving partners in Kazakhstan, with the areas of classical studies, the humanities and the natural sciences being of particular interest for cooperation.

Due to the tense political situation, Central Asia is currently gaining in importance worldwide in terms of geopolitical significance and energy strategy. Kazakhstan is Germany’s most important economic partner in Central Asia. There is also a special link between the two countries because of the large German minority and the almost one million Russian-German immigrants from Kazakhstan. Through the Kazakh-German University (DKU) in Almaty – the only German university in Central Asia – Germany also supports relations in the field of science and the humanities and education in particular. The DFG has been increasing its involvement in the region for several years: for example, DFG delegations visited Kazakhstan in 2017 and 2018, while in 2019 there were trips to Uzbekistan, including one with the then DFG President in connection with a trip by German Federal President Steinmeier.