Focus on Central Asia
Central Asia is a vast region stretching from the Caspian Sea in the west, to the Chinese border in the east, and from Iran and Afghanistan to the south to Russia in the north. A region of high mountains, dry steppe and desert watered by the great rivers, Central Asia has throughout history been the strategic gateway between Europe and Asia. Staging posts on the fabled silk roads brought goods, ideas and technology from East to West. Now the talk is of new silk roads, with renewed interest in overland links between the Far East and Europe, including through the EU’s New EU Strategy on Central Asia and the Connecting Europe and Asia strategy.
The five countries of Central Asia are diverse in terms of economic development, with GDP per capita (PPP) in resource rich Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan more than double the figure in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. However, they face a number of common challenges, including reliance on Russian economic fortunes, vacillating energy prices and demographic pressures.
The ETF focuses its activities on supporting the European Commission and the European External Action Service in designing and monitoring EU technical assistance and budget support in the Central Asian countries and on promoting regional cooperation. It also continues to engage Central Asia in a system-wide policy analysis and monitoring progress exercise in Vocational Education and Training (VET) via the Torino Process.
The Torino Process has shown active policy developments in VET in Kazakhstan, consolidation of reforms in Uzbekistan, and weaknesses in policy implementation in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. At the same time, VET has relatively good take up in Uzbekistan (>90%), Kazakhstan (40.5%), Kyrgyzstan (37.2%) and Turkmenistan (21.7%), while it is low in Tajikistan (6.4%, mainly boys).
As in other ETF partner countries, there are challenges of quality and relevance of VET to the needs of employers. In all Central Asian countries there is an ongoing discussion on how to strengthen education systems, reform VET and improve the interaction of VET systems with labour markets. Currently, with the exception of Kazakhstan, ministries drive curriculum with little engagement of the private sector. Enterprises and social partners need to be further involved in VET policy development and implementation both at national and regional/local levels. The improvement and expansion of work-based learning opportunities also represents a priority in this area.
Education has been identified as supporting inclusion, resilience and gender equality in Central Asia and there is renewed focus by governments on financing education to achieve these goals. All five countries are seeking to create National Qualifications Frameworks, a priority to foster employability, transparency and mobility. Further development of quality assurance lies also in training staff who are able to implement the new approaches foreseen by VET reform.
EU relations with the five countries of Central Asia have developed further since the European Council adopted New EU Strategy on Central Asia. This strategy has strengthened ties in all areas through political dialogue and cooperation on education, the rule of law, energy & transport, environment, security, trade and economic relations. The strategy is supported by a significant increase in EU assistance aimed at fostering the peaceful, prosperous, sustainable and stable socio-economic development of the Central Asian region in line with the EU Global Strategy and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.