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Fuqua to partner with Kazakhstan business school

The Fuqua School of Business is once again expanding its horizons—this time to Kazakhstan.

Fuqua—whose presence extends from Durham to China, India, Russia and several other nations­—recently entered into an agreement with Nazarbayev University in Astana, Kazakhstan. Through the partnership, Fuqua will help NU to develop the Nazarbayev Business School and its MBA program, the partnership’s developers wrote in a combined email Monday.

Jennifer Francis, senior associate dean for programs and Douglas and Josie Breeden professor, and Valerie Hausman, assistant dean of global business development and executive education, are the Fuqua administrators developing the program.

“Fuqua believes that in order to effect change in the world, it is important to actively engage in the regions of the world that matter,” Francis and Hausman said. “We will be involved to the extent that we can help promote innovation and critical thinking around global business issues. This is consistent with our global strategy.”

Fuqua administrators anticipate that the NU MBA program will begin September 2012.

Graduates of the Nazarbayev Business School will be granted an NU degree—not a Duke or a joint degree, Francis and Hausman said.

Fuqua will be appropriately compensated for its role with NU, Francis and Hausman said, though they declined to comment further.

The partnership grew out of Fuqua’s existing relationship with Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States—a regional group of former Soviet countries, of which Kazakhstan is the largest. Fuqua has been developing its relationship with the country since 2009, and the agreement went into effect in July.

A unique opportunity

Francis and Hausman said Kazakhstan could be a major player in the world economy because of its wealth of natural resources, including oil. An educational relationship between Fuqua and a country of such growing importance would be beneficial for both Duke and NU.

“Fuqua has an opportunity to inform the educational model of the 9th largest nation in the world, in geographic size,” they said. “Our faculty gain access to data, organizations and opportunities that are likely to impact their own research and consequently the student experience, both at NU and here at Fuqua.”

Duke faculty members will also likely teach in the program.

“We have spoken in broad terms to some of our faculty members but we are still in the very early stages of designing and recommending the NU MBA program calendar and course offerings,” Hausman wrote in an email Tuesday. “It will be impossible for faculty to make firm commitments until these details are worked out.”

For this reason, Hausman added that the program was not yet comfortable with releasing the names of faculty likely headed for Kazakhstan.

Fuqua currently has faculty members in several countries including India, China and South Africa. As of June, the school was having difficulty organizing and finding incentives for core Fuqua faculty to teach at the developing Duke Kunshan University in Kunshan, China.

“Many are likely to find the opportunity exciting, unique and a way to gain a different perspective,” Francis and Hausman said. “It is not often that a faculty member has a chance to be part of such an ambitious academic undertaking, in a way that will impact generations of global business leaders to come.”

Political challenges

One of the primary challenges of the program is working in a political environment so different than that of the United States, Francis and Hausman said.

There have been claims that Kazakhstan’s president Nursultan Nazarbayev, who built the University in his name, has limited political freedom, freedom of speech and feigned national success in order to boost Kazakhstan’s image. Some news outlets have also deemed Nazarbayev a dictator.

Francis and Hausman noted, however, that Fuqua would not have entered this partnership if they were unsure that Kazakhstan would make education and academic freedom top priorities. Kazakhstan has also sought partnerships with several of Duke’s peer institutions including the University of Pennsylvania and Carnegie Mellon University.

Kazakhstan could surely benefit from a partnership with an American institution, said Dr. Michael Merson, director of the Duke Global Health Institute and interim vice president and vice provost for global strategy and programs. Merson also said that he understands why some consider the Kazakh government to be controversial.

“It’s an interesting program because it is in a region of the world that has been a bit turbulent and its trying to invest in terms of human capital,” he said.

Merson, who has no technical oversight over the program since it does not offer a Duke degree, added that academic freedom is one of NU’s primary concerns, though he noted that he has only heard this from Fuqua administrators.

The University has, however, had prior experience with Kazakhstan and its students.

Bruce Kuniholm, dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy, has worked with Kazakh scholars in recent years through Sanford’s Duke Center for International Development that focuses on international mid-career and post-graduate education. The individuals he has worked with seem dedicated to improving their nation’s outlook despite the government’s sometimes unfavorable reputation.

“They’ve invested a lot in education because what they want to do is educate their people and their elite to better their community,” Kuniholm said.

Duke Medicine Global has also worked in Kazakhstan, performing hospital assessments in Astana—the nation’s capital and where NU is located.

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