What meaning does the 2021 Year of Youth represent for young people in Uzbekistan? What are the main goals?

The Year of Support for Youth and Public Health Promotion 2021 is strategically important for Uzbekistan as over 60% of the population are young people. Uzbekistan needs to rip the demographic dividend. According to statistics of UNFPA, in 2046 in Uzbekistan, there will be around 27 million working-age population. Then the demographic dividend reaches its final destination, where it starts to decline in demographic growth. That is why Uzbekistan needs to have a clear strategy for mobilising the resources in young people.

The year of Youth holds some of such strategies that we said in this year. One of reach is to empower by law that the public and private sectors are encouraged to employ young people as much as possible. The private sector is free of taxes if the employee’s young people starting from 22 to 25. So it is a very great incentive for the private sector to hire to employ young people as much as possible. The second thing we are working on is to equip young people with needed skills. It is essential for Uzbekistan to clearly outline what skills will be in demand and the coming years. The Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations of the Republic of Uzbekistan must have a clear strategy. That is why Uzbekistan is focusing on mainly two goals: employment opportunities and educational opportunities for young people. That is why the coverage of tertiary education has risen from 9% to 28 % in the last five years, which is also planned to grow to 50 % by 2023. So it is important to outline these two crucial points: employment opportunities and educational opportunities for young people, in the Year of Support for Youth and Public Health Promotion.

Could you walk us through the main achievements during the first months of the year?

If we talk about significant tunes we have had this year’s first month, I can talk about one of the most important decisions we have made: introducing new student loans to education. It is essential for a country with a growing number of applicants to universities to tertiary education that there should be a systematic approach and systematic solution to cover the demand among young people. With the Ministry of Finance of the Republic of Uzbekistan, we have launched new educational loans for young students, which has great importance for many students coming from average families. We must keep the balance between well of and average families in terms of their educational opportunities. Education should not be only available to one in society. That is why Uzbekistan’s primary goal is to provide opportunities for young people who would like to attain tertiary education.

The second goal I can mention is that now young people can impact the governmental budget. It is essential that we also keep in mind that if the significant claims of this country are young people, we should also consider their wishes, problems, and opinions. That’s why in each region, Uzbekistan has 14 provinces and 206 growing districts now across the whole country, and this is very important that we decentralise the youth state policy across the entire country where they are NGO’s are also involved in supporting young people. At the same time, the government itself, cities and regions are also interested in helping young people. That is why the law stated and supported that now young people have the opportunity to influence a regional budget coming from average families that fall into the category of unemployed once, non-education or training need once. That is why young people must also have their opinion on the formulation of the local budget, this is very important we keep the mind. At the same time, we have now an excellent opportunity for young people who would like to study abroad. We have raised the scholarships for young people who would like to learn in the world’s top universities. Now Uzbekistan is locating a minimum of 2 million dollars on supporting the education for young people abroad. We are currently working on different programs and essential needed skills and professions worldwide, so the third thing that I can be proud of is these achievements.

The fourth thing is that I also mentioned that the private sector is mainly encouraged to employ young people, which is why focusing on making sure the private sector hires as many young people as possible. The last thing is we also have a program that is called youth social support system, where we have open access for all young people who have social problems they can approach, and they can register and have government support on different skills gaining educational opportunities and all employment opportunities that youth would like to have. Even they can get financial help from the government if they are in trouble. So, mainly these are the five crucial tools that we have. The last thing we can mention is that the government itself and the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan always have young people in our state as a priority.

The second thing I can mention for one of the achievements is that we support young entrepreneurs. Uzbekistan believes in the power of young entrepreneurs, and that’s why we have allocated 2.3 billion sums equal to over 200 million dollars for young people’s entrepreneurial activities. We need to have always in mind that young people have different ideas of start-ups, new innovative ideas, and other creative business plans that the government should support. That’s why we have supported 92000 young people’s entrepreneurial activities, and their number has risen from 100 thousand to 500 thousand 5 times growth in the number of young entrepreneurs in Uzbekistan for the last four years because of continuous programs for supporting young entrepreneurs in Uzbekistan.

One of the proposed objectives was to develop a comprehensive program to improve the effectiveness of continuing education in different spheres, for which you’ve worked with different ministries. What were the main conclusions?

This is an essential question that Uzbekistan must have a strong program for education and different spheres. For example, the introduction of a new Ministry preschool education of the Republic of Uzbekistan was the critical element in President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoev’s reform, because imagine last year we had 700 000 birth for a year 700 000 birth in a year which means there is a boom in birth rates in Uzbekistan. The country must rip the demographic dividend. At the same time, they teach and equip these kids with the needed values, knowledge, and skills they would need when they go to school. That is why President said the new strategy for preschool education and new Ministry was introduced and the coverage of the preschool-age kids from 20 % in 2017 that when he started these reforms, grew to 60% across the whole Republic, this is a significant and extensive reform in President Shavkat Mirziyoev’s presidency. This is an essential strategy. Then he started looking at education scores, where three important key goals were outlined. Firstly, the rise in the teachers’ pay, salary has significantly risen, and it is keeping to progress. Secondly, free teachers of any kind of force labor. This is one of the most importantly political wills of the President that he did, and he took this reform in the country. Now teachers cannot be forced by any means to move labour because there is a substantial punishment for any governmental official involving teachers in forced labour. This is a second meaningful reform of the President started. The third one is bureaucracy; he said teachers must be free of any bureaucracy at schools. It should be attractive not only to females but also to males. Then-President started looking at the quality of education at schools, where he said there should be 11-year systematic education. I mean compulsory education from 9 years to 11 years, which has significantly impacted on kids decide how to go above the further education, because back in the past, if we had colleges and lyceums after 9-year compulsory education now it is directly to universities, I mean tertiary education, after school education. So this has given kids the opportunity to live with their parents until they decided where to go, and then they choose to go to universities when they grow up and become already independent. However, in the previous experience, most of the kids after 9-year compulsory education have to move other regions to study colleges or lyceums which most of the time, the privet the kids of their parent’s attention, essential values and upbringing, etc. Tertiary education, as I said, the main goal was to increase the number of private universities. At the same time, increasing the coverage for students, which has risen from 9% to 28% from 60000 to 180 000 students, this mated very clear for many students that it is possible with their knowledge to enter university and most crucial fall it is transparent the exams have been already started to take place in open fields stadiums and other sites where all the cameras reset. It’s already transparent, which is very important for students because they are future leaders potential governmental personnel that is why important to provide them with transparency elements.

Learning foreign languages seems to be one of the most important objectives laid out, could you explain why and what has been done?

As I mentioned, Uzbekistan has a significant demographic dividend to rip. It is mainly associated with young people and young people keen to learn foreign languages because Uzbekistan is now setting friendly relationships with other foreign countries starting from Central Asia to other most developed countries. Uzbekistan must push forward the idea of having multiple languages in our country. That’s why many opportunities are being provided to those who know foreign languages. For example, just becoming a governmental official is also required to be fluent in at least one foreign language, and young people must have a motivation for themselves.

We must keep this in mind. At the same time, we are providing young people with different international competitions and participation in various international Olympiads. We must teach them foreign languages because most of these contests and other opportunities are available for foreign language learners. That’s why we are providing it as much as possible. Now they are giving year over year rise in their salary to different sectors including government. Now government bodies can benefit from knowing a foreign language, and they need to know a foreign language. Apart from that, Uzbekistan needs to employ these young people, and it is only possible with the knowledge of a foreign language because we potentially prepare them for different freelancing jobs, and at the same time we are paying a significant amount of attention to the IT industry.

What do you intend on doing to ensure social support and access to education for young people in the context of the 2021 Year of Youth? Could you give examples of few measures?

As I mentioned before, we have the essential strategy that educational loan has been launched with the Ministry of Finance, and now we are working on also providing social grants. There is also an existing program where 2 thousand places for young females have been providing by the President himself as a sign to empower young girls to acquire tertiary education. Apart from that, we are also working on ensuring social scholarships for families for kids who come from low-income families where they need social support and the government’s support. We are working on a new program to acquire social support by registering or accessing this social registry system for young people. Now there is a holistic system that they can call to short numbers 1093 or or where they can register and get scholarships if they come from low-income families. This is one of the crucial steps that we took in supporting young people in Uzbekistan.  

Child labor in cotton fields has been a concern for a long time, the recent reports show that there has been a very big progress in this sphere. Could you tell us about the recent development and what has been done to prevent this situation?

For sure, child labour was one of the significant problems that set back Uzbekistan from progressing and establishing close partnerships with international organisations and other international partners. But I think it is based on President’s political will that he decided that child labour is not acceptable in Uzbekistan anymore. This political will, at the same time, in parallel with this decision, Uzbekistan set several strategies to eradicate child labour in Uzbekistan. One of which was to create open access for everyone to let the government know about any child labour activities, so they had a unique short number where they could give a phone call about any incident of child labour. At the same time, President has released several decrees based on protecting the rights of children and at the same time eradicating child labour in the country. To get rid of that, we have also established close partnerships with other international parties to promote Uzbekistan’s position in terms of child labour. As a result, over these last five years, there has been a dramatic change in the attitude of government bodies that child labour is not acceptable at all, and there should be another alternative to eradicate it. This is one of the crucial reforms that the President has taken, and it is not about the only political will or any instruments that we have taken, but it is also about the growth in the economy. Because the private sector is more interested in developing themselves, the centralised governmental system has been, for the most part, the centralised and now private sector most of the time they avoid discrediting their reputation of child labour that is why we have this balance now. It is more in the hands of the private sector these days. That is why child labour, both economically and socially, has been eradicated over these years.

In your experience, what are the main difficulties that young people in both cities and rural areas face in Uzbekistan? What has been done in the last years, as well as what is being planned, to offer better quality of life to young people from different points of the country?

It is a tricky question to answer because these problems vary from region to region, but by in large, I can say there are, of course, peculiar problems to rural and urban areas. For example, in cities primarily young people have to be quick, and they have to be up to the pace of city life, and it is often associated with quality of education and at the same time most new skills that young people have to acquire. This sets in front of them a complicated problem that they should be employed in the first place. That is very hard. In rural areas, it is most problems with infrastructure or quality of education or sometimes employment opportunities. In rural areas, at least they have the land resources to yield the crops and start their farming and launch their small businesses where there is a slow and low competition grade compared to cities. But at the same time, tertiary education is mostly a big problem for rural areas, while tertiary education for young people in cities is not a problem. But most of them now see growing opportunities for both sites in towns and rural areas. In rural areas, they were focusing on more family businesses where they start their farming, start their small businesses, start different business activities, and employ themselves most of all. But cities were focusing on increasing the number of service-related companies where young people can mostly get involved. It can be in restaurants, the tourism sector, and other service-related businesses that are very popular in the cities. 

So based on these problems like land resources and cities were allocated resources found on that. For example, in Tashkent city, the capital primarily has bank loans to service-related businesses, and it specialises in each region. But in rural areas, we mainly focus on taking the land for some time on rent based program. They can rent it for ten years, and they have to yield their crops, and they have to make money for their living based on that. But at the same time, they start their small businesses where we cooperate like a cooperative where one young leader for many other entrepreneurs has to be working on the identical product to work with the client. It is also a new system that we have introduced inspired by the Chinese economic reforms and economic experience that they have had to bring people out of poverty. 

Finally, in what concerns societal relations, could you explain what has been done to empower young people – mainly young women – to take part in society on social, political, and economic spheres?

There is a significant role of the female in our society. Over the last years, a lot has been done to strike a balance between genders and mostly in governmental positions. It has been very prioritised that there should be gender balance in all the Ministries and organisations responsible for making decisions in the country. At the same time, females for actually lagging behind tertiary education President has introduced a new system where there are 2000 additional places for females based on scholarships that they have to acquire education. Apart from that, we have the highest standing organisation, the Senat of the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan, also has a special Commission and Department on Gender matters. They empower all the organisations and evaluate organisations participation in gender balance. At the same time, we must see some role models in businesses and over the last years. For example, recently President of the Republic of Uzbekistan has met with entrepreneurs where he encouraged all the females to start their businesses because it should be mutually balanced between both males and females to run business in the country. Mostly this is also one of the top priorities of Uzbekistan’s new policy. I am sure it will continue because there is a unique system for females who need social support or any entrepreneurial activities, and there is a new Ministry responsible for Families. One of the priority responsibilities is to support the empowerment of women across all areas of the country.