A. Kuzhabekova

Nazarbayev University (KAZAKHSTAN)
Post-Soviet countries are often criticized for their weak university research capacity. The quality of research published locally is arguably low and the use of locally published research is limited. While existing literature addresses the issues of conducting research in post-Soviet countries and issues of fieldwork risks, research on the environment, barriers, and opportunities for university research, and the strategies that local faculty use remains scarce. Our study aimed to fill this gap using data from Kazakhstan.

A conventional and somewhat limiting approach to framing studies on and faculty research capacity contexts is to use a structural framework, whereby the research environment is frequently described in terms of constraints, barriers, and deficiencies. In contrast, the novelty of the study is that it was framed largely from an agency perspective.

To assess the structure we looked at:
(a) the extent to which faculty are engaged in research,
(b) the type of research and collaborations faculty are involved in,
(c) the factors that faculty perceive as impeding or facilitating research. To assess the extent of agency of individual researchers, we explored
(d) the importance that faculty assign to research, as well as
(e) the specific actions they take to maintain an active research agenda.

The study used a sequential mixed-methods explanatory design. The purpose of the quantitative stage was to generate better understanding of the common trends characterizing the research environment in various university.

Participants of the survey were randomly selected from representative disciplines from four types of institutions:
(1) national level public research-intensive universities;
(2) regional level public comprehensive universities;
(3) city-level teaching-oriented private universities;
(4) Western-style private universities, which emphasize research.

Each of the types of institutions is hypothesized to have a different priorities in terms or research, the target student, research users, and partners markets, as well as different financial and human resources.

The survey was conducted in Qualtrics and included the following types of questions:
(1) questions about demographic characteristics of the faculty;
(2) questions about research productivity;
(3) questions about the factors impeding or facilitating research;
(4) questions about faculty perceptions about the importance of research in their environment.

The data for the qualitative stage of the study was collected with the help of semi-structured face-to-face interviews. The participants of the study were identified with maximal-variation sampling out of self-identified volunteers from the survey. The following criteria were used to achieve the variation:
(1) rank/experience;
(2) gender;
(3) discipline;
(4) type of university of affiliation;
(5) type of PhD training;
(6) local or international publication profile.

The interviews included the following questions:
(1) background questions;
(2) questions about the individual views about importance of research for their professional life;
(3) questions about challenges and opportunities they face in conducting research in their particular environments;
(4) questions about actions they take to maintain active research agenda within the constraints of their contexts.