Accepted paper:

Understanding female higher education students' experiences in STEM education in Kazakhstan: Challenges and opportunities for retention and progression


Olga Bainova (Nazarbayev University)
Ainur Almukhambetova (Nazarbayev University)
Aliya Kuzhabekova (Nazarbayev University)

Paper abstract:

The purpose of this research is to analyze the experiences of female higher education students currently enrolled in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines in universities in Kazakhstan. More specifically, this study uses a qualitative research design to explore the experiences (i.e., challenges and opportunities) of female students in STEM in Kazakhstan and the factors related to their retention and progression. Five universities were chosen for conducting the study. Around 25 female undergraduate students were interviewed with the size determined by both representative variability and saturation point. The participants vary on several characteristics, such as year of study, disciplinary affiliation, school background (STEM school/non-STEM school), university type, etc. One of the reasons for the underrepresentation of women in high paying STEM fields lies at higher education level. The patterns of labor market segregation in Kazakhstan in STEM industries correspond closely to the patterns of educational enrolment (ADB, 2013). Kazakhstani women tend to have lower enrolment rates in STEM disciplines at universities and also are more likely to "leak" from the STEM educational pipeline as they advance in their education. The most recent data from UNESCO Institute of Statistics (2016) suggests that engineering, manufacturing and construction disciplines in Kazakhstan are male-dominated and female students make up only 31.88% of the overall population of undergraduate students in these fields. It is important to address this disparity as Kazakhstan is striving to build qualified workforce capacity and emphasizing STEM-focused education within the framework of State Program for Education and Science development for 2016-2019. Consistently with Western research, the factors related to young women's progression and retention in STEM in Kazakhstan fall into three major categories: individual, institutional and contextual. Although girls in Kazakhstan demonstrate high performance in STEM and are supported well at secondary education level, the HE environments seem to be less welcoming for them. On the institutional level, such factors as a lack of support and mentorship to female students and lack of female faculty, who could serve as role models, were identified as influencing the female students' retention and progression in STEM. On individual level, such factors as a lack of confidence and lack of experience in STEM are influencing the dropout of female students. Being enrolled in STEM, female students receive subtle messages that they do not fit this track and they usually choose careers outside STEM and leave STEM education as they advance.

panel GEN-03
Women, Agency and Identity in Central Asia