March 21, 2016 Izidor Bjelopoljak

Mina Scholarship

Mina scholarship program enables access to higher education to students from extremely disadvantaged backgrounds across the country for students by target students who exhibit hard work and a strong dedication to succeed, but cannot afford paying for their studies.

Objectives of the Intervention

The main objective of Mina scholarship program is to give access to higher education to students from extremely disadvantaged backgrounds across the country. For example, in the past three years 20 full orphans (having lost both parents) completed NGA and were admitted to universities, including AUCA. In total, in three years 208 Mina scholarship students, who come from the most remote regions of the country, graduated from NGA and 151 were admitted to AUCA, which is the best university in the entire region. It is very challenging even for students from cities to be admitted to AUCA because of its high admission and education standards.

In selecting candidates for the Mina scholarship program, we target students who exhibit hard work and a strong dedication to succeed, but cannot afford paying for their studies. We recruit students from the most remote regions of the country who are less likely to enter higher education, as the quality of education in the regions is very low in comparison to schools in big cities. At NGA, students complete a rigorous program in the English language and College Mathematics, as well as in Kyrgyz and Russian languages. During the prep year, students gain knowledge and skills that are necessary for students to succeed in their undergraduate studies. To help students in deciding on their future departments and professions, we organize guest lectures and a peer mentoring program. One of the favourite activities of our students is a tour to the Parliament of Kyrgyz Republic, where they also meet deputies.

Students on Mina grant receive full scholarship from the donor and the university. In total, 5000 USD is spent for one student’s study at NGA, of which 3 300 covers the tuition fee and the rest is given to students for housing expenses and as a monthly stipend. As the average monthly salary in Kyrgyzstan is about 200 USD, most of the families would not afford paying for their children’s higher education.

The students’ costs are shared – the university covers tuition, the donor covers housing and stipend; the administrative costs are also shared – e.g. the university covers the teaching, but materials, books etc are funded by the donor. The donor is an international energy services and infrastructure company.

Re-cap: the stated targets are 70 students each year, not less or more; it is now implemented for a fourth year; the size/scope – students with disadvantaged backgrounds from rural schools in each of the 7 regions are eligible and invited to apply. Out of 140 NGA alumni, 30 students were chosen to study at AUCA’s undergrad program with a full scholarship from Mina grant. The first two cohort of students, in total 30 students, are studying now at AUCA on a full scholarship from Mina Corp.

Origins and rationale of this initiative

The project is initiated by AUCA president, Andrew Wachtel. He wanted the talented students from low-income families across the country to improve their knowledge and skills at NGA and then be prepared to enter higher education institutions. Without this scholarship, these students would not even dream of studying in AUCA and other top universities in Bishkek because of their low financial stand and lack of knowledge to study at a university setting.

The scholarship is conceived as a combined merit- and need-based opportunity that prioritises the geographical representation. By supporting high schools kids in the villages, the president also wanted to have more students to apply for undergraduate level programs, because recently there are fewer students who are applying to universities. The preparatory programme is not mandatory at the university, it is offered just to those who need it. However, the focus of the scholarship is on increasing opportunities in the villages.

The donor, on the other hand, wanted to help develop education in Kyrgyzstan as a part of its Corporate Social Responsibility programme. Their assumption is that the best way to invest is in education through supporting talented students to study at AUCA.

There is no particular theoretical framework, but the University had had experiences implementing similar scholarship projects, so MINA is based on past experience and the needs above.

Target groups intended as beneficiaries of this initiative

MINA scholarship project works with high school graduates. 70 high school graduates are recruited every year from the 7 regions of the country, seeking a geographical representation.

The objective is to give a chance for graduates from rural areas to get high quality education which they wouldn’t get otherwise. There is a huge gap between the quality of life and education between the schools in cities and remote villages, and the chances of students from rural areas to be accepted in universities are very low. The main objective is to get them accepted in any good university not only AUCA.

The project is implemented with students, no other levels.

Only country nationals are accepted. When selecting them, the project looks at students’ socio-economic profile and seeks gender balance. They do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, religion, beliefs, but look at good academic record, and aim at regions with even representation of schools and villages. No particular schools are targeted. Some of the students would also come from orphanages.

Political and socio-economic factors that you believe have been important enablers for your initiative

The project does not have a political support, for sure not from political parties. The program works to engage local authorities. They meet with representatives of local administration. They meet with the higher level local administrations to promote the idea of supporting talented kids from the regions (basically, fundraising), but this approach did not work out. However, local authorities help to introduce the scholarship and to distribute information and promote the programme. They are very helpful. There is no good internet connection in villages, people often do not have TVs, so the main way to reach out is through LAs (but it is the university responsibility to do the recruitment and tests).

There are governmental policies, some probably relate, but the project does not work in alliance with them and is not motivated/framed by such policies.

 

The context changed the last 5-10 years in the sense that the quality of education is decreasing. Consequently, students are not prepared for university-level entry, and as a result there are less students entering universities. Instead, young people go to work to Russia, Kazakhstan and other places.

The institute is private.  Students pay (not part of governmental funding schemes) the tuition. The university promotes equity and gives opportunities, aims to get also students from other countries, commits to not having discriminating policies on the basis of say ethnicity.

The support (and stakeholders) is mostly school-based support, not that much the community, which is very strong in some parts of the country. Other stakeholders who support are teachers, parents, youth organisations (who also help to promote and recruit), and as described earlier, local authorities - especially in remote areas because they are the only structures in some places.

Overall Programme design and the methods and tools used to reach the goals

In addition to the courses in English and Maths, there is mentoring programme; peer mentoring that helps to share experience. There are also social skills provisions - guest lectures; advice on how to choose your future profession and what do you do to get there; time and stress management programmes, delivered by the project staff and the university advise service; training and opportunities for public speaking; other opportunities to become more confident, including in their own skills and to use them in different settings. The students are also offered extra-curricular activities to broaden their scope of interest, e.g. tour to the Parliament, visits to historical museum, cultural events and activities.

The key roles, in addition to 14 Academy teachers, include 1 Administrative Director (responsible for budgeting, financing, recruitment, marketing and promotion, student selection, etc) and 1 Academic Director who is responsible for the curricula and teaching staff. We also have an academic/administrative assistant and Housing coordinator.

The key outputs are that, as a result, the students are accepted to universities, but then also achieve success.

Describe if the project ensured its sustainability

The sustainability is a big challenge. They are constantly trying to find new donors who would continue supporting students; look at international and local actors. This is done on an ongoing basis by a separate Development Office (and by the President), which specifically looks for money from different actors. Because the Mina scholarship has been a resounding success, other companies like Kumtor Gold Mining company and local businessmen are sponsoring kids from villages to study at NGA.

Now we are in the process of starting an endowment fund, which will be specifically used to support kids from low-income families from remote regions of the country to study at NGA and further at AUCA. We believe it will ensure the Program sustainability. We plan to sponsor 40

Resources used in the initiative

Financial contribution from outside the institution (donation)

  • For 280 NGA students (70 students in four years), the Mina grant spent 946 680 USD for housing and stipend. AUCA covered students tuition fees, 3 300 USD for 280 students.
  • For 30 AUCA students, the donor spends 997 560 USD to cover their tuition fee at AUCA for all four years, and students housing expenses and a monthly stipend.
  • Mina grant contributed 50 000 USD for purchasing textbooks and other teaching and learning materials for Academy students.

Financial contribution institution

  • 24 000 USD was spent by AUCA to cover students tuition fees.

Both financial resources are sufficient to cover all costs for students to participate.

Volunteers

The volunteers are very important. We try to engage all of our alumni in different NGA promotional activities and other social events. In terms of an NGA Peer Mentoring Program, there are about 15 core members that help with exams, TOEFL, handle stress, support in choosing a profession. One mentor spends about 5 hours per week to help NGA students with preparation to TOEFL exam and other related activities. It is great that we have mentors who are not only from among NGA alumni.

Public opinion

Students think it’s unbelievable, as it is such a generous support. The public also appreciates that kids receive such a generous opportunity, especially for those who are most disadvantaged, e.g. orphans.

Did the intervention reach its objectives?

Evidence

In total, in three years 208 Mina scholarship students graduated from NGA and 151 were admitted to AUCA. In addition, 27 students from the first two cohorts chose to study at other universities in Kyrgyzstan and three are pursuing their studies abroad. It is worth pointing out that over the past three years 20 full orphans (having lost both parents) completed NGA and were admitted to universities, including AUCA.  In terms of geographical representation, we have reached out to some of the most disadvantaged parts of Kyrgyzstan such as Leilek in Batken, Chon Alay in Osh, Chaktal in Jalal-Abad, and Lahol in Naryn.  Thus, given that the basic goal of the New Generation Academy is to identify students from disadvantaged backgrounds who would otherwise not have the opportunity to get higher education and prepare them to study at AUCA or other universities, we believe the program has been a resounding success.

In terms of NGA alumni at AUCA, the Mina graduates of 2013 and 2014 studying at AUCA have shown excellent academic results. The overall GPA for the class of 2013 is 3.12 and for the class of 2014 is 2.94 (this compares well with the overall AUCA average GPA which is around 3.05). Nine students from the first cohort were placed on AUCA Dean’s List for excellent academic performance. Even more important, the retention rate for Mina graduates is significantly better than for AUCA students as a whole: so far 96% of the students who began studying at AUCA are still enrolled, compared to the school wide average of 80%. A number of NGA graduates are participating in competitive international exchange programs; so far, three students have gone to South Korea, USA, and Poland on such programs. In the summer, six students travelled to USA on the Work and Travel program and eight attended summer schools in countries such as Turkey, Latvia, Spain, Germany, and Georgia. One of NGA alumni travelled to Antarctica, as part of a photo contest that he won.

Unintended outcomes

They did not expect that they would prepare students to go abroad, it wasn’t planned – Mexico, Germany, China and they do full time programmes there: Shirin Zamirbekova is studying International Trade in Guilin, China, Syrgak Elamanov is studying at the Universidad Tesmilenio in Mexico, and Bermet Toigulova is studying languages in Germany on a full scholarship.

Evaluation and monitoring

Main indicator is whether the student entered any university, and then look at average score, succeeding in other university settings, how many went abroad for conferences, exchange programmes, etc

We are planning to look at mentors benefits, and may be to support them further.