Education Choices for Central Asian Students Looking to Study Abroad

By Mansur Islamov; Skokie, Illinois

In the heart of the Eurasia continent lies Central Asia, a region rich in history and culture. This region benefits from a blend of national identities that have been cultivated through centuries. Central Asia, as it is defined today, is comprised of five former Soviet republics: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. All these countries speak Turkic language with exception of Tajikistan. Central Asian countries were under the influence of Russia for the last 120 years. Map of Central Asia

Education System in Central Asian countries

The combination of rich, deep history and culture, made this region one of the most educated in the world, despite the government’s limited education budget (Table 1).

Table 1 Countries GDP on Education (2017) (All amounts in billion USD)* Countries GDP on Education (2017) Moreover, these countries have an even higher literacy rate compared to European countries as well as the rest of the world. (Table 2). However, despite the high level of public education and increasing number of higher education institutions being established each year, (Table 3) Central Asian countries are lacking in noticeable scientific impact. Youth in the region are looking for more contemporary education from advanced countries who have major scientific and academic impact in the modern era.

Table 2 Youth Literacy Rate (15-24 years) Youth Literacy Rate (15-24 years) Table 3 Number of Higher Education Institutions (1991-2010) Number of Higher Education Institutions

International Education for Central Asian Students

As mentioned above, Russia’s impact on Central Asian countries has significantly influenced the local education systems and education policies. Students receive massive educational support from Russian universities, both during the Soviet era and after. There are still large number of international students, in particular Central Asian students, all across Russia today. However, in the past decade, Central Asian students who are studying in major cities of Russia, triggered rising xenophobia from local residents.

Central Asia shares the same education system with Russia, which is not being dynamic nor productive in the modern scientific field. According to, the best ranked school of Russia is Lomonosov Moscow State University and which is ranked #267 among Best Global Universities (April 2018).

Because of these two major factors above, rising xenophobia and declining educational standards, Central Asians are looking for better options, outside of Russia for their higher education needs. At the same time, and partly as a consequence, the pathway of studying in Western countries, on top of them the United States, has become increasingly attractive.

The Benefit of US Education for Central Asian Students

First, students who study in the US make positive economic and social connections as well as other forms of network ties with the Western world. These interactions will help contribute to their own countries’ integration into the global economy. Most Central Asian economies heavily rely on natural resources. International students with advanced knowledge returning home will help their country to build more diversified economies, so that the next generation will not sorely rely on their “God given” recourses.

Second, students can benefit from America’s open society. International students who attend US schools tend to be more open to universal values, including democracy, rule of law, etc. These values can be very helpful for international students in their future business life on a global stage.

Third, the increasing international student flow will stimulate local authorities back at home to take new actions on improving their own education standards. There are already clear signals of positive reforms on-going that governments in this region have begun to increase their education funding. Russia has taken new actions to attract foreign students in the region and around globe. Moreover, these actions followed by the economic benefits will in return help combat the xenophobia among local residents and foreign students.

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