Kazakh Minister of Higher Education Signs MoU with Wolfson College and Oxford Birsöz Initiative

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On 25th January, the Kazakh Minister of Higher Education, Sayasat Nurbek, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Wolfson College and Oxford Birsöz Initative  in support of furthering the study of Kazakh language, culture, and history at the University of Oxford.

Ambassador Magzhan Ilyasssov, as well as other educational leaders from Kazakhstan were in attendance where Sir Tim Hitchens signed the memorandum on behalf of Wolfson College, and Leyla Najafzada on behalf of Birsöz.

This historic occasion underscores the University’s dedication to expanding its academic repertoire in Central Asian studies and has been met with great excitement in the Oxford academic community, as well as among linguists and scholars in Kazakhstan.

The Oxford Birsöz Initiative is a self-governed community interest company that fosters connections and partnerships in Turkic and Central Asian Studies for the benefit of students, staff and the wider Oxford community. Birsöz works in collaboration with members of the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, benefitting from their expertise and making their research accessible to wider audiences.

Building on this promising foundation, Birsöz was delighted to receive a delegation from the Baitursunuly Institute of Linguistics of Kazakhstan led by Professor Anar Fazyljan between 20–26 February 2024. The delegation also included Kyzdarkhan Rysbergen, Sarsenbay Kurbanov, Elmira Utebayeva, Madina Abayeva, Meruert Imangazina, and Didar Sadyk. The delegation held meetings with key figures and professors scholars within the University, including: Alexander Morrison (Professor in Modern Central Asian History), Zbig Wojnowski (Professor in Modern Central Asian History), Michael Shenkar (Associate Professor of Pre-Islamic Iranian Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Honorary Affiliate of the Oxford Nizami Ganjavi Centre), Emine Çakır (Senior Lecturer in Turkic Languages), Nicholas Kontovas (Bodleian Curator for the Caucasus, Central Asia and Ottoman Turkish), and Huw David (Wolfson College Development Director).

In addition to visiting the university museums, libraries, and colleges, the Kazakh delegation attended lectures at the university and engaged in a formal seminar with academic colleagues. On 22 February, they presented the fascinating work and research of the Baitursunuly Institute of Linguistics to an interested group of scholars and graduate and undergraduate students of the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, introducing them to the National Corpus of the Kazakh Language.

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Following the success of this exchange, the Central Asian and Turkish Studies cluster at Wolfson plans to host linguists from Baitursunuly in partnership with the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. This will bring Oxford’s leading linguists together with their Kazakh counterparts to jointly develop a suite of educational materials tailored for the Kazakh language program. The collaboration is envisioned to not only foster the growth of Central Asian linguistic and cultural studies at Oxford but also to create a platform for shared academic excellence and cultural insights between the United Kingdom and Kazakhstan. This initiative is a significant step towards cultivating a global academic community, with the University of Oxford at its nexus, promoting diversity, inclusion, and intercultural dialogue through education.

During his official visit to Astana on 24 April, HM Ambassador to Astana, Kathy Leach, informed British Foreign Secretary David Cameron about the Kazakh language initiative at the University of Oxford. Lord Cameron congratulated both sides for a unique achievement that will make Oxford the first university in the UK to teach the Kazakh language.