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New Uzbekistan, New Universities, New Problems

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New Uzbekistan, New Universities, New Problems

Reforms in tertiary education have made university degrees more attainable in Uzbekistan, but less valued.

New Uzbekistan, New Universities, New Problems
Credit: Depositphotos

For decades, having a tertiary degree was a dream for millions of Uzbek citizens. Not everyone could pass entrance exams or afford study fees to become a university student. This has changed – higher education is now more affordable, but also, unfortunately, less valued.

When President Shavkat Mirziyoyev came to power in 2016, one of his promises was to improve the education system in Uzbekistan. Reforms over  the last few years in the higher education system in “New Uzbekistan” targeted three main aims: to revamp the university admission system; to increase the number of higher education institutions (HEIs); and to improve the quality of higher education. 

Legal Pay-offs at University Admissions

On June 9, 2023, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Ibrahim Abdurahmanov, announced that 381,000 new students will be admitted to HEIs for the 2023-2024 academic year. Only 15.7 percent of them reportedly will be funded by the state, while other students have to pay study fees ( $550-$750 per year on average). Regardless, this is a big increase in admission quotas. To compare, in 2016, the admission quota for bachelor’s and master’s degree studies was 62,900 combined, with 32.8 percent of places funded by the state.

The trend is in line with the 2019 presidential degree “On the concept of development of the higher education system of the Republic of Uzbekistan until 2030.” Among others, the concept is envisioned to increase the share of the population with tertiary education to over 50 percent (the law does not specify, but most interpret it as meaning 50 percent of the youth). 

Not only has the admissions quota increased, allowing more young people to become students, but the admissions procedure has also been altered. It is now less competitive and presents more options for applicants. 

Admissions exams for entrance into state universities in Uzbekistan used to be highly competitive. Every summer, one applicant (locally known as an abiturient) could apply to one state university, for one major, only. If they could not get a good enough score on the admissions exams, they had to wait for the next year’s round.  In 2015, for example, the admission rate was 9.5 percent – 57,800 out of 605,836 abiturients could secure a place at HEIs. From 2019 onward, however, abiturients were allowed to apply to multiple universities and choose based on their scores in the admissions exams and their preferences. 

A bigger change took place earlier. From 2017 onward, university applicants who can not get a high enough score in the admissions exams were allowed to pay an increased university fee and still become a student. Locally, the system is known as a “super-contract” and is divided into three categories. First are applicants who were close, earning up to 4 points less than the entry score; second are applicants who scored more than the 56.7 minimum passing score, but were more than 4 points short of the entry score; and finally, applicants who scored less than the minimum passing score – 56.7 points. 

Based on which category prospective students fall into, and just how many points away from entrance they were, they can pay from 1.5 to 25 times more than the base university fee for the first year of studies. For example, for the 2018-2019 academic year, university fees for students on super-contract ranged from 82 million Uzbek som ($7,100) up to 276 million Uzbek som ($24,000) for the first year of studies. 

This system in theory allows the government to cut corruption at universities at the admissions level. Earlier, wealthy families would pay up to $10,000 for their child to get into a university. Now, instead of bribing a third party (such as university rectors, deans, or other faculty members), they directly (and legally) pay in the form of university fees when their abiturient son or daughter does not have enough knowledge to pass the entrance exams. However, corruption and bribery at the admission level still takes place. Last year, for example, exam scores of 117 abiturients at 10 HEIs were found to be forged to reduce their super-contract fees. “Cases of corruption have been detected in the ‘super-contract’ system itself, which was introduced for the purpose of preventing corruption at admission to HEIs,” explained a local official. 

The super-contract system created a wave of criticism on the grounds that now anyone with enough money can get into a HEI and obtain a degree, an opportunity not afforded to those without funds. Studying at and graduating from Uzbek state universities is notoriously easy. Systemic bribery and corruption reportedly allow students to easily pass courses, to buy anything from exam answers to essays and more. 

The introduction of the super-contract system became especially worrisome in the fields of medicine and architecture. Addressing criticisms, last year Abduqadir Tashkulov, then the minister of higher and secondary special education, said that education at universities is now harder and corruption or bribery is not allowed. Students can get into university by paying a super-contract, but there is no guarantee that they will graduate if they do not study hard enough. “That’s why I appeal to parents today to pay a super-contract if you believe your child will be able to study tomorrow. In the credit module (system), you cannot ‘move’ your child from course to course by calling and through (your) networks as (it used to be) before,” reiterated the minister. 

New Uzbekistan – New Universities 

Currently, there are three forms of higher education institutions in Uzbekistan – universities, academies, and institutions. The number of HEIs, especially private ones and foreign universities and their branches, skyrocketed in just a couple of years. The above mentioned 2019 concept envisioned “development of public-private partnership in the field of higher education, organization of activities of state and non-state higher education institutions in the regions.” As a result, there are now 210 HEIs operating across the country – a 172 percent increase from only 77 in 2016.


Source: Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Innovation of the Republic of Uzbekistan, n.d.

This number was achieved in three main ways: via the opening of new universities, the opening of new branches of existing universities, and the opening of non-state HEIs. Between 2016 and 2022, 122 new HEIs were launched. The number of non-state HEIs increased from four in 2016 to 65 as of 2023. 

For example, Sharda-Uzbekistan university was launched in 2021 as the first independent, private university in Uzbekistan. The same year, Profi University started operating as the first private pedagogical university in the country. 

Tashkent also allowed many more foreign universities and their branches to be opened in the country. In 2016, there were only seven of them. By now, 30 foreign HEI and their branches operate in Uzbekistan. Most foreign HEIs and their branches are Russian, but not all. In 2018, an agreement between the Ministry of Higher and Secondary Specialized Education of Uzbekistan and the Ministry of Science and Higher Education of Russia was reached. This agreement provided Russian universities operating in Uzbekistan with advantages such as “tax benefits, simplified registration procedure, and more.” The number of Russian HEIs rose from four in 2018 to 14 in 2022 and nine more are reportedly underway.

Sources:, 2023; Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Innovation of the Republic of Uzbekistan, n.d.;, 2016.

Homeless Students

The increase in the number of universities exacerbated the problem of accommodation. As of 2022, there are 91,000  places at HEI student dormitories, but 120,000 more students need a roof over their heads. Last year, the Ministry of Higher and Secondary Special Education said that only 47 percent of HEI students are provided with dormitory rooms. “When I studied the world’s higher education system, I witnessed one thing – there is not a single country that provides 100 percent of student accommodation,” said Minister Tashqulov, as he justified the lack of accommodations for students with the growing number of universities and students in the country.

The problem is especially prevalent in Tashkent as most universities (88 HEIs) are located there. Of 257 dormitories in the country, 95 (37 percent) are in Tashkent, but those cannot accommodate even half of the students who need a place. 

Sources: Number of university and university branches: Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Innovation of the Republic of Uzbekistan, (n.d.). Number of Student Dormitories: A’zam, Madina (2022),

Every September, thousands of students travel from Uzbekistan’s many regions to the capital and seek a place to rent. Unlike in many communities in the West, in Uzbekistan, children generally live under with their parents until they get married and buy a house in their late 20s. The youngest sons live with their parents even after marriage. Parents feel responsible to provide for their children, even when they legally become adults. Naturally, it is parents who are the most frustrated with the university housing issue – not only are rental apartments expensive, but many also feel unsafe to let their teenagers live in apartments without adult supervision.  

“Two years ago, my daughter also started studying under a contract. Because they did not give [her] a room at the student’s dormitory, I could not afford her to study, so we married her off,” said Alijon Ghofurov in an interview with local news outlet His son was a first-year student at a university in Tashkent and was desperate to get a dormitory room at the time of the interview. “If they do not give a room for my son either, I will take him back (to our region) and marry him off as well.” 

According to Momin Ibodov, press secretary of the Ministry of Higher and Secondary Special Education, priorities in allocating dormitory rooms are given to orphans, students with disabilities, and students from poor families. 

The government has taken certain measures to address the situation. In 2021, Tashkent announced that students residing in one region but studying in another region and renting an apartment would be provided with a small amount of financial support – in Tashkent, it is up to $30, while in regions no more than half of that sum. But this is a miserable aid given how expensive rental apartments are in Tashkent.

Soon after, in 2022, Tashkent adopted a decree to build 228 student dormitories by 2025, which would accommodate over 91,000 students. How effective these measures are is yet to be seen as September 2023 comes closer day by day. 


Increases in admissions quotas and the launch of new HEIs have created new opportunities for Uzbekistan’s youth. More and more young people now have access to tertiary education. Tashkent is also supporting girls, in particular, to obtain higher education both at home and abroad to curb the gender imbalance at HEIs by creating additional quotas and providing financial help. 

The efforts, however, have cheapened the value of a tertiary education among the public. University spots used to be difficult to obtain and abiturients used to study very hard to get a place at local HEIs. Having a degree is also used to essentially ensure that the  diploma holder would have access to a job, although not always a well-paying one. Now the labor market is becoming more and more competitive. Eventually this might result in a layer of educated, but unemployed, youth.