Institutional logic meets global imagining: Kazakhstan’s engagement with China’s Belt and Road Initiative

Jack T Lee (Lead Author), William Lo, Dana Abdrasheva

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Theoretical ideas about globalization and internationalization of higher education emphasize the tension among different ideologies of higher education. According to literature, a competition among states, economy, knowledge, and status generates this tension to drive higher education development. This theoretical understanding not only shapes our global imaginations but also permeates the organizational behavior of universities. In this paper, we focus on the institutional logics that motivate universities in Kazakhstan to engage with China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). We investigate the ways that Kazakhstani higher education interprets and responds to China’s vision of a global order. Based on interviews conducted at 10 higher education institutions (HEIs) in Kazakhstan, we argue that Kazakhstan’s engagement with the BRI circumvents the cultural connectivity and global cooperation that are embraced by Chinese policy discourse and perpetuated by academic literature. Rather, institutional leaders in Kazakhstan operate with a utilitarian logic that seeks revenue generation, links with industry, and opportunities for students in employment and further education. The pursuit of these strategic outcomes demonstrates a bilateral engagement with China rather than the multilateral cooperation envisioned by policymakers. In a higher education system dominated by the state, the institutions in our study exhibit partial agency to accrue pragmatic benefits rather than concede to isomorphic pressures or mimic internationalization from neoliberal contexts. The discrepancy between policy discourse from China and policy reception in Kazakhstan raises questions about the rhetoric of a multipolar global order and the realities of international cooperation in higher education.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages17
JournalHigher Education
Early online date3 Nov 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 3 Nov 2020


  • China
  • Kazakhstan
  • internationalization
  • globalization
  • institutional logics
  • neo-institutional theory
  • organizational behavior
  • Belt and Road Initiative


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