Successful AccelEd Strategic Project Enhances LSMU’s Position Internationally

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The Faculty of Nursing at the Lithuanian University of Health Sciences (LSMU) has recently completed a large-scale strategic project “Accelerating Master and PhD level Nursing Education Development in the Higher Education System in Kazakhstan – AccelEd”.

The European Commission-funded structured Capacity Building in Higher Education (CBHE) project involved 11 partners from the European Union (4 universities) and Kazakhstan (5 universities and 2 ministries). The project was coordinated by the LSMU Faculty of Nursing.

Despite global disruptions, all project commitments have been fully implemented: the CBHE targets have not only been met but also surpassed, with AccelEd steps, activities, and events fully implemented to a high-quality standard.

The project activities involved over 1,000 participants (more than 200 students, 200 teachers, 500 non-academic staff, 100 administrative staff), 5 training courses, 9 workshops, 3 international conferences, 2 types of internships, 7 sets of documents including recommendations, guidelines, and reports, and 14 articles, publications, and conference resolutions.

The merger of Kazakhstan’s universities has led to the accreditation of the Joan Briggs Institute (JBI) Collaborating Centre, which will continue to develop and deploy evidence-based health services. A sustainability plan has been developed to maintain and ensure the continuity of the results achieved, with significant input from stakeholders in Kazakhstan.

According to Prof. Jūratė Macijauskienė, Dean of the LSMU Faculty of Nursing, the project has encountered a number of global challenges. In 2020-2021, the global pandemic led to the transfer of activities to virtual platforms and the cancellation of trips. In 2022, political unrest in Kazakhstan required the relocation of training activities. Furthermore, in the same year, the outbreak of war in Ukraine complicated travel arrangements, increased travel costs, and caused general uncertainty.

“However, none of the activities planned under AccelEd were cancelled; all commitments were fully implemented, albeit some later than planned, leading to particularly busy schedules for the staff. The professionalism of the leading EU partner scientists and researchers, along with the effective involvement of partners from Kazakhstan ensured the success of this multidimensional project,” emphasised Prof. J. Macijauskienė.

Kazakhstan’s leadership: encouraged and supported

Kazakhstan was represented by Astana Medical University (Astana), Asfendiyarov Kazakh National Medical University (Almaty), Nazarbayev University School of Medicine (Astana), Karaganda Medical University (Karaganda), and South Kazakhstan Medical Academy (Shymkent).

The involvement of representatives from two Kazakh ministries – Health, and Education and Science – was pivotal in ensuring structural changes. The working groups consisted of pairs of institutions, with a European University working together with its counterpart in Kazakhstan. Throughout the project, the Kazakh partners played a crucial role, their leadership not only strongly encouraged but fully supported by EU experts. Leadership was progressively transferred to the Kazakh representatives as the project gained momentum.

The AccelEd project facilitated the active participation of universities from Kazakhstan’s remote regions in its activities. For example, the South Kazakhstan Medical Academy took part in the EC-supported project

for the first time. Representatives of other universities not directly involved in the project, health authorities, and professional organisations also actively participated in conferences and roundtables in the country. This practice was perceived as immensely valuable and beneficial for the further development of nursing education not only within individual institutions, but also in the region.

Developing a community of high-level nursing professionals

According to the Dean of the LSMU Faculty of Nursing, to address the need to boost the development of second- and third-cycle nursing education in Kazakhstan, the Government of Kazakhstan prioritises mitigating the shortage of qualified healthcare professionals. This is to be achieved through capacity building for nurses and reinforcing their role in the healthcare system.

This requires a substantial community of doctoral students and high-level academic staff. However, few Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) had the resources necessary to deliver the required education, including nursing-focused Master’s programmes and advanced modules in qualitative/quantitative science studies. The shortage of trained expert nurses and limited access to international knowledge used to impede progress in education, clinical practice, and research. Undergraduate and postgraduate nursing programmes in Kazakhstan’s universities were scarce, so the training of suitable potential teachers and researchers required considerable time and input.

“Nevertheless, the project partners engaged in the project activities with great enthusiasm. We could feel great support from the administration and top management at some universities, and we witnessed the academic growth of young specialists in their pursuit of a career as a teaching researcher,” said Prof. J. Macijauskienė.

LSMU nursing specialists possess strong expertise

Prof. J. Macijauskienė highlighted that LSMU is the sole university in Lithuania offering a Master’s degree programme designed for current and future nursing leaders. The Master’s degree programme “Nursing Leadership” encompasses a broad spectrum of research methodologies, with a focus on healthcare and nursing quality as well as patient safety. It also delves into policy implications, quality assessment methodologies, and patient safety models and programmes.

The Master’s programme in “Advanced Nursing Practice” is unique: graduates obtain a separate Advanced Practice Nurse licence and work independently in a variety of healthcare settings, managing and leading in an evolving multiprofessional environment. These nursing professionals are competent to make independent decisions in primary care, emergency care, anaesthesia, and intensive care.

LSMU offers the sole doctoral programme in the field of Nursing in our country, where doctoral students undertake their own research and gain educational and research experience from their supervisors and departmental staff. In the educational process, doctoral students serve as teachers, internship supervisors, supervisors of final Bachelor’s theses, and members of the defence boards.

Master’s theses and dissertations are subject to stringent quality requirements, and the students’ work is therefore subsequently eligible to be published in prestigious nursing journals. Both Master’s and doctoral programmes boast an international dimension: visiting lecturers from abroad regularly conduct workshops and provide guidance on thesis topics. A majority of doctoral students have chosen renowned researchers from foreign universities as their advisors, thereby broadening their research opportunities significantly.

All this expertise has been instrumental in the AccelEd project to boost the development of Master’s and doctoral education in Nursing in Kazakhstan.

New opportunities and growing role of LSMU

Nursing leaders, including nurses and other professionals/leaders, and stakeholders described participation in the AccelEd project a pivotal moment for further successful collaboration with EU and global researchers. It is seen as an opportunity to establish a productive network, contribute to greater international collaboration, and marks a significant step in reinforcing academic direction. This is also considered to be an opportunity to broaden the scope of the nursing profession and as a catalyst to the academic development of the nursing profession.

Summarising the experience of this important strategic project, Prof. J. Macijauskienė emphasised its importance and benefits, not only for Kazakhstan and our University. According to the Dean, securing the funding was an achievement in itself, given that only approximately 15% of the applications for that call received funding. According to the Educational Exchanges Support Foundation, only one centralised project coordinated by a Lithuanian HEI was funded in the period 2021–2023.

“It is crucial to recognise that becoming a coordinator of the European Commission’s Capacity Building for Higher Education (CBHE) project encompasses more than merely executing tasks and managing risks. It involves leadership, strategic planning, organising, and coordinating the communication processes. The coordinator plays a key role in ensuring the success, quality, and sustainability of the project, and is therefore essential both for the overall project objectives and for the development of the chosen field of study (in this particular case, Nursing).

We are honoured to have been trusted by our European partners, as well as by universities and ministries in Kazakhstan. Our history of fruitful cooperation with Kazakh health authorities and higher education institutions is long-standing, and this project has built upon our previous endeavours. However, until now, our joint projects, contracts, and activities have predominantly concentrated on clinical and educational dimensions. What distinguished this project was its emphasis on advancing the scientific competencies of Kazakh nurses.

LSMU is the sole university in the Baltics authorised to conduct doctoral studies in the scientific field of Nursing. Sharing our expertise has enabled our nursing researchers to contribute to the development of nursing science in another country. The central function of the LSMU Faculty of Nursing in the implementation of the AccelEd project once again demonstrates the growing role of our University on the international stage,” emphasised Prof. J. Macijauskienė, Dean of the LSMU Faculty of Nursing.