Interview of with Alisher Sadullaev, Director of the Agency for Youth Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan
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 reap the demographic dividend. According to statistics of UNFPA, in 2046 in Uzbekistan, the working-age population will be around 27 million. Then, the demographic dividend reaches its peak, after which the demographic growth starts to decline. That is why Uzbekistan needs to have a clear strategy for mobilising the resources in young people.
The year of Youth is witnessing the rolling out of strategies such as empowering by law that the public and private sectors employ young people as much as possible.
The private sector is free of taxes for the employer's young people starting from 22 to 25. So it is a very great incentive for the private sector to hire 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?
I can talk about one of the most important decisions we have made: introducing new student loans. 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-off and average families in terms of their educational opportunities. Education should not be only available to one segment of 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 consider young people's wishes, problems, and opinions. It is important that we decentralise the youth state policy across the entire country. At the same time, the government itself, cities and regions are also interested in helping young people. That is why the law states and supports young people to have the opportunity to influence regional budgets 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. 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 study in the world’s top universities. Now Uzbekistan is allocating 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 (USD 200 million) 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 92,000 young people’s entrepreneurial activities, and their number has risen from 100,000 to 500,0000: a 5 times growth in the number of young entrepreneurs in Uzbekistan during 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. For example, the introduction of the new Ministry of Preschool Education of the Republic of Uzbekistan was the critical element in President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s reform. The country must reap 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. The coverage of the preschool-age kids from 20 % in 2017 has grown to 60% across the whole Republic.
Then, President Mirziyoyev started looking at education scores, where three important key goals were outlined. Firstly, the rise in the teachers’ pay. Secondly, free teachers of any kind of force labour. 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. The third one is bureaucracy; teachers must be free from any bureaucracy at schools. Our President started looking at the quality of education at schools, where he said there should be compulsory education from 9 years to 11 years, which has significantly impacted on kids decide how to go about in their paths of further education. This has given kids the opportunity to live with their parents until they decide where to go, and then they choose to go to universities when they grow up and become already independent.
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 reap. 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, to become a governmental official one is required to be fluent in at least one foreign language, and young people must have a motivation for themselves.
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. 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 loans have been launched within the Ministry of Finance, and now we are working on also providing social grants. There is also an existing program where 2,000 places for young females have been provided 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 yoshlardaftari.uz or yoshlar.gov.uz 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 phone number where they could give a call concerning any incident involving child labour. At the same time, the 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.
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, most problems are related to 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. 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-oriented 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.
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, because women lagged behind in tertiary education, the President has introduced a new system where there are 2,000 additional places for females based on scholarships. Apart from that, the highest standing organisation, the Senate 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. Recently, the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan 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.