Aigerim Mussabalinova

Dr Aigerim Mussabalinova (Law PhD 2016) provides consultancy on childcare reforms and international practice to the Kazakhstan Government and Parliament, UNICEF and local NGOs.

Alumna Dr Aigerim Mussabalinova being presented with her finalist's certificate by the UK Ambassador to Kazakhstan

Aigerim's story

As a young journalist in Kazakhstan, Aigerim met many young orphans and later on, when she joined the Rebenok Dolzhen Zhit v Semye /The child must live in the family social movement, realised there was a lack of knowledge around how to prevent social orphanhood (where children are without adult carers while one or both parents are still living).

After studying at Sussex, Aigerim returned home to work with UNICEF and the Kazakhstani government to transform orphanages into support centres for children. In 2024, Aigerim’s work to radically reduce the number of children in care was recognised in the national final of the Study UK Alumni Awards in Kazakhstan, where she was a finalist in the Social Action Award category.    

What led you to study for a PhD at Sussex?

When I did my Masters degree in 2004, Kazakhstan had just joined the Bologna Process, a series of agreements between European countries to ensure comparability in higher education standards, which enabled me to apply for a PhD.

In 2013 I joined a social movement – and it was then that I realised that nobody knows how to replace institutional care with family-based care, and how to prevent social orphanhood. So, I decided I wanted to conduct research and find out how our country can do that.

What help did you receive?

Kazakhstan is a relatively a new country, but it has provided scholarships for its citizens to study abroad for more than 20 years, and they have a list of recommended universities.
I studied English in London in 2014 on my own money, and then after I passed IELTS, I applied for the scholarship, choosing Sussex where I found a supervisor with whom I felt comfortable conducting my research.

What has inspired your passion for improving childcare in Kazakhstan?

In my childhood I was a young journalist and met with orphans a lot. They never looked happy, and they weren’t. I found out later that UNICEF conducted research in 2011 on violence in the orphanages which revealed horrible findings.

Which parts of your career journey have you found most challenging and how have you overcome them?

On my return to Kazakhstan, I could not find a job as a teacher or a researcher. I had a contract-based job that paid a little and unstably. Because of that, I was working with several companies at the same time keeping myself within the scope of my interests: research, vulnerable children, inclusive education, and children’s rights.

Due to this I expanded my network and built up a reputation as a hard worker. Now, I am an assistant professor at KIMEP University, thanks to great recommendation letters, my rich experience, and my wide network.    

Which achievements are you most proud and why?

The completion of my PhD: It was not easy, but a great environment, supervisors, and the support of my family, friends, and fellow students helped a lot.

Aigerim Mussabalinova and her PhD supervisors Craig Lind and Prof Richard Vogler seated at a table

Aigerim Mussabalinova and her PhD supervisors Craig Lind and Prof Richard Vogler

In spite of all difficulties my parents invested and believed in me and that strengthened my personality.”

How have you been able to use your research on UK child welfare for initiatives in Kazakhstan?

I provide consultancy to the Government, Parliament, UNICEF, and local NGOs on all childcare reforms. International practice and theoretical frameworks from the UK inform and back up my consultancy.

Do you have any advice for other students embarking on a doctoral degree?

  • Conduct doctoral research only if you are passionate about the research question.
  • Be flexible and be able to focus at the same time.
  • Change your supervisor if you feel the need to do so, it is your right. 

What do you love most about your current role?

I continue developing, and I help others to develop themselves and the state.

Who or what has influenced your life most, and why?

When the Soviet Union collapsed, there followed political, economic, and social crises. I was a nine-year-old girl and I saw all the unjust things that our society had to pass through. In spite of all difficulties my parents invested and believed in me and that strengthened my personality.

What was your biggest takeaway from studying at Sussex?

There is more than one thing and all of them are big: my learning experience, the teaching experience, writing and reading skills, my network, my friends and personal changes.

What is your favourite place on campus? And in the world?

The Doctoral space in the Library. Geneva – the UN Committee of the Rights of the Child.

Aigerim Mussabalinova and three friends stand in Library Square with the Library behind them

What are you currently reading?

Lots of academic literature that I need for publication, for example: Fraser, Nancy. 1995. “From Redistribution to Recognition? Dilemmas of Justice in a ‘Post-Socialist’ Age.” 

What’s the soundtrack to your time at Sussex?

Yiruma (South Korean pianist and composer), River flows in you and all songs from Ed Sheeran and Adele.

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