Note of Comment on the Address of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan to the Oliy Majlis

Note of Comment on the Address of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan to the Oliy Majlis

 

As has been common practice during the last few years, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev delivered his annual state of the nation address to the Oliy Majlis on December 29, in order to review the results of 2020 and setting new aims and targets for next year which was designated as the Year of Supporting Youth and Improving Population Health.

His message was certainly influenced by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the need for an inclusive, sustainable and people-centred recovery process, with a particular emphasis on two (related) pillars which will play a key role in this recovery: Education & Youth. This note of comment further elaborates on these two pillars.

On the importance of education, President Mirziyoyev noted that “New Uzbekistan beings from the threshold of a school, education system”. Indeed, education is a powerful tool to combat structural poverty. Ensuring quality education for all is central to the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

Poverty cannot be solved alone with monetary incentives such as loans, social benefits or housing provision. While these are necessary to strengthening the social safety net of citizens particularly in times of crisis, poverty in parallel requires actives investments in a country’s education system, from pre-school/early childhood education all the way up to tertiary and higher education.

Taking also into the account the need to narrow the urban-rural divide in Uzbekistan, President Mirziyoyev offered substantial incentives for teachers (and other professions such as medical doctors) to move to rural areas to ensure the best quality education is offered more evenly across the Uzbek territory, and particularly to achieve greater parity between rural and urban areas.

Concerning tertiary and higher education, Uzbekistan is undergoing a process of internationalisation, which will be accelerated next year as elaborated by President Mirziyoyev in his address. In recent years, we have observed the early stages of Uzbekistan’s internationalization of higher education, such as the increasing number of foreign universities and branch campuses which have been opened in Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan has also started to pay serious attention to increase the international prestige and international rankings of its higher education institutions.

Study abroad programmes such as El-Yurt Umidi will be given a significant boost to give a new impetus for graduate and postgraduate students at top international schools. The aim is that these highly educated youngsters, on their return to Uzbekistan, are placed in government institutions to enhance the quality and speed of the reform process, or alternatively in the private sector.

Concerning youth, allow me to open with a quote from UN Secretary General Antonion Guterres which dates from August 2018: “Peace, economic dynamism, social justice, tolerance – all this and more, today and tomorrow, depends on tapping into the power of youth.”

Youth is Uzbekistan’s biggest asset. Uzbekistan currently faces a demographic dividend with approximately 60 percent of its population under the age of 30. Uzbekistan’s young people are gradually moving into the labour force, making it the largest Uzbekistan ever had. This is why President Mirziyoyev is right to emphasise that with the right human resource investments now, today’s bulging youth population can be the generation that takes Uzbekistan to the next level of socio-economic development.

This includes ensuring that the education system can equip the young Uzbeks entering the workforce with the skills needed for today’s labour market which is increasingly characterised by digitalisation, automatization and innovation. A successful strategy in this regard will also reduce the need for Uzbek citizens to migrate to other countries in search of work.

Furthermore, the projected growth of the size of the labour market of Uzbekistan in the years to come will help and will increase the appeal of Uzbekistan as an investment destination and a consumer market. Alternatively, failure to do so may lead to disenfranchisement, radicalisation and higher levels of youth unemployment, and accelerate labour migration and brain drain.

As has been the case during the years of President Mirziyoyev, high-level discussions with international partners and international forums on these themes under the auspices of the United Nations are expected to be organised next year, for example on human rights education and a world youth forum devoted to youth rights. These are expected to be a good opportunity to learn best practices from the international community and incorporate lessons learnt into Uzbekistan’s reform process.

 

Alberto Turkstra, Project Manager, Diplomatic World Institute