Youth and higher education
Youths constitute a significant share of the Central Asian population both in numbers and in potential for the economic, social and political development of the region. Half of the region’s 50 million population is under 30, with 16 million – almost one in three Central Asians – aged between 15 and 29. In Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, youth (those aged 15 to 29) represent around 25 per cent of the population, a figure predicted to remain stable for 20 years. In Tajikistan, the youth population is well over 30 per cent and will almost double by 2025, to three million. In Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, youth also account for over 30 per cent of the population (International Crisis Group 2003). Therefore, the region needs sound economic and social policies that would open up the potential for the younger generation. In this regard, the role of higher education, which stands at the centre of modern society and state, for its important role in the human, social, economic and political development, is crucial because what happens in education affects the rest of the society (Altbach 1991). In Central Asia, as elsewhere around the world, education is a key mechanism permitting people to get out of poverty, with lower poverty rates among those with tertiary education than those at other educational levels. For example, in 2003 in Kyrgyzstan 41 per cent of those with tertiary education lived on less than $2.15 per day, while 92 per cent of those with no education or unfinished primary education had to do so (Brunner and Tillett 2007: 59). The current chapter discusses the problems and prospects of the Central Asian youth through the prism of higher education and in light of the 2007 European Union’s (EU) Strategy for a New Partnership (Council of the European Union 2007).