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Interview with XAVIER MATHEU DE CORTADA ETF Director ad interim

From Nick Holdsworth - November 18, 2022

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As DARYA – the European Union’s new project in Central Asia – that aims to bring people and ideas together to create new opportunities for young men and women in the region gets underway, the European Training Foundation is talking to key figures involved in education, training, the labour market and economic development to better understand what can best help develop skills, and key 21st century competences including green, digital and entrepreneurial aptitudes.

DARYA – Dialogue and Action for Resourceful Youth in Central Asia – will work with people across the public and private sectors in education and the labour market in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, as well as organisations and peer groups in Europe during the coming five years to support self-sustaining, long-term strategies for skills and labour market development.

Xavier Matheu is the interim director of the European Training Foundation, pending the appointment of a new director. With 18 years’ experience of working at the ETF – most recently as the Head of the Knowledge Hub Department, which “ensures co-creation, management and sharing of ETF knowledge on human capital development (HCD) in partnership with partner countries, European Commission services and international community stakeholders,” he is well placed to describe the unique contribution the ETF brings to implementing DARYA.

DARYA represents the perfect opportunity for the ETF to use its experience to further EU aims for supporting greater social and economic stability in Central Asia, Matheu notes.

“The mandate of the ETF is very much in line with the objectives of the DARYA project – to work on human capital development, in the context of EU external relations policies, which we have been doing for more than 25 years.”

With its work devoted to vocational education and training, and employment policies, the ETF has extensive familiarity with the three core themes of the project: forward-looking skills development, stakeholder-driven flexible and permeable approaches to regional and national qualifications, and the increased use of flexible and inclusive teacher and learning approaches.

The project fits perfectly with the ETF’s current objective: to “become a knowledge hub on human capital development so we can contextualise the knowledge on these different policies in education and training in a lifelong learning approach to various contexts.”

With its long experience in Central Asia, the ETF is confident that it has built the trust of stakeholders throughout the region to “help them develop their commitment and use” of DARYA.

The fact that the ETF has representatives from the European Commission, member states and even some EU parliamentary representatives on its Governing Board is also a big plus when working in Central Asia; its long contacts and collaboration with development banks and other financial institutions also gives it added value.

The success of DARYA will be measured by the “commitment of different stakeholders – notably national authorities, the private and public sector and education system – bring to the project,” Matheu adds.

The more committed local actors are, the better the project will work, he says.

“DARYA links well with national strategies, which is not always easy because not all the countries have the same strategies,” he notes.

By creating synergies between national and regional approaches DARYA offers the prospect of being more than the sum of its parts.

“The final aim is to develop better conditions for young people to have better access to the labour market and be in a better position to face the challenge of finding employment. It is important that there is also room for their views to be included.”

The ETF’s interest in implementing DARYA dovetails with the wider EU aim to support stability in its neighbouring partner countries. Although the ETF has long worked in Central Asia, the specific budget for DARYA - €10 million over five years - brings this support to a new level.

“In the past the resources the ETF could dedicate to Central Asia were limited,” Matheu emphasises. “With DARYA we can organise more activities and have a bigger impact.”

The importance of Central Asia as a strategic area – sitting between Russia to the north and China to the east – where there is a degree of wider regional instability (for example in Afghanistan and Pakistan) makes it a key strategic area for EU support.

“The latest decision to include Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia as EU candidate countries means that the borders of the EU could be extended eastwards, bringing Central Asia as a neighbour much closer.”

“It is our responsible to keep our neighbours on a developing path.”

Summing up, Matheu offered the following thought on what Central Asia needs now: “It is time to use the ETF expertise to empower young people to build their own future. “