ASTANA -- Military academies in Kazakhstan will be teaching four new majors this autumn, the Defence Ministry announced recently.
"When the academic year begins, military academies will teach new concentrations -- military logistics, military radio electronics and engineering, military management and military jurisprudence," the ministry's press office told Caravanserai. "The Military Institute of Air Defence Forces is establishing a department of military medicine too."
The military academies will be introducing some new courses too, like military ethics.
The reforms come as Kazakhstan ponders ways to ensure its national security at a time when hundreds of radicalised citizens are fighting alongside militants in Syria and Iraq.
About 1,000 of the country's high-school graduates -- who totalled about 121,000 in 2016 -- enter military academies yearly, according to the Defence Ministry.
Academies and other military schools
The Defence Ministry operates four academies: one in Astana (Kazakhstan National Defence University), one in Aktobe (Military Institute of Air Defence Forces) and two in Almaty (Military Institute of Land Forces and Military Institute of Radio Electronics and Communication).
The academies consider scores from the Unified National Test that all schoolchildren trying to finish high school must take, as well as physical and psychological health and the results of fitness tests.
This year's deadline for applying to military academies was June 15.
"I graduated from high school this year and want to enroll in the Military Institute of the Ground Forces in Almaty," Taraz resident Almas Yeskarayev told Caravanserai. "All last year I prepared for my entrance exams."
The admissions department of his dream school requires candidates to pass a fitness test including chin-ups, 100m dash and a 3km run, he said.
He chose military translation as his field because he knows English well, he said.
"Earlier, we were encouraged to apply to military school," he said. "I decided to become a soldier ... If war breaks out, we'll defend our country. And soldiers can be certain they'll never be out of work."
Traditionally, some entering military academy students come from Jas Ulan Military School in Astana, which bears the name of the late general Sagadat Nurmagambetov. The military school takes high-school students after ninth grade and trains them for two years.
"Jas Ulan graduated its 15th class -- 74 members -- this year," the school administration told Caravanserai. "Many will continue studying in military academies."
A member of the Jas Ulan class of 2016, Yuri Garanin, shared his plans with Caravanserai.
"I come ... from North Kazakhstan Province," he said. "I ... achieved my dream -- I'm entering the Military Institute of Radio Electronics and Communication."
"Ever since I was a child I dreamed of becoming a soldier," he said. "Not everybody can do military service. But I can."
An open door for capable candidates
The Cadet Corps in Shchuchinsk is one place that offers a military future to high-school graduates who might not be a good fit for a civilian university.
The school has a two-year training programme for future sergeants. They graduate with a diploma in military administration.
The Cadet Corps "considers Unified National Test scores but has a lower bar than universities do", Aigul Tulembayeva, head of the Defence Ministry Education and Science Department, told Caravanserai.
That said, the Cadet Corps evaluates two factors that civilian universities do not -- the future cadet's physical fitness and psychological health -- Tulembayeva added.
In another reform, starting with the 2015-2016 academic year, military departments in civilian universities have been accepting female candidates.
The women undergo a modified fitness exam and must pass a medical evaluation as well.
"After graduating from a military department, women receive the title of 'reserve lieutenant'," according to the Defence Ministry Education and Science Department. "They may serve in the army if they wish."
"As soon as the opportunity opened up, I immediately applied for the military department," Aigul Koshymova of Shymkent, a student at M. O. Auezov South Kazakhstan State University in the same city, told Caravanserai. "Maybe ... I'll serve in the army, but I haven't made up my mind."