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Rugged, mountainous, and culturally complex, Uzbekistan is a fascinating country at the heart of Central Asia. Among its neighbors –which include Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan – Uzbekistan is the most populous and the most powerful in terms of military force. It has a large but unstable economy based largely on mining and cotton production, which is a risky basis for an economy in an arid region ill-suited to this kind of intensive monoculture. As a result, the Uzbekistani economy fluctuates fairly widely based on crop yields and prices of natural resources such as petroleum and natural gas. Culturally, it is heavily influenced by Islamic art and architecture and its historical place at the center of the Turkic empire under the famous conqueror Timur or Tamerlane.
Living and studying in Uzbekistan is an experience unlike any in the world. Beautiful, ancient mosques of staggering size and complexity can be found in the capital city, Tashkent, while the sparsely-populated north is dominated by red sand deserts. As one of the main stops on the Silk Road, Uzbekistan has a rich history and many ancient cities, as well as archaeological sites that draw scholars and excavators from many countries. Many people in Uzbekistan’s larger cities and towns have studied in Western countries and are eager to converse with foreigners, learn about other cultures, and improve their English.
Independence was a contentious question for the country throughout the late 20th century, and Uzbekistan has seen many problems since the fall of the Soviet Union. Anti-Russian sentiment led to a mass exodus of millions of ethnic Russians from the country. Corruption, terrorist attacks, crackdowns on civil liberty, and ethnic tensions caused many problems through the early 2000s, although some signs of recovery can be seen in Uzbekistani society today.
Under the Societ Union, education in Uzbekistan proliferated widely, and the nation achieved a 99.3% literacy rate that it has maintained down to the present day. Mandatory schooling starts at age seven and continues for eleven years, comprising four years of primary school and two stages of secondary school totaling seven years. Since independence, education has suffered under the Uzbekistani government, which has struggled to find funding and staff adequate for the ever-increasing numbers of young people that put pressure on the school system. In addition, government spending on education has been decreased, especially at the primary and secondary levels, which are seen as less important by the government. Unfortunately, college and university attendance has fallen as well.
In an effort to reverse these negative trends, the Republic of Uzbekistan has been reaching out to foreign universities to undertake collaborative projects that will help to shore up their education sector. One of the early fruits of this labor, the 2002 founding of Westminster International University in Tashkent, is he first Western-style university in all of Central Asia, and in only 10 years of operation it has already gained a reputation as one of Uzbekistan’s most prestigious educational institutions. Westminster International University (known by the acronym WIUT) brings European standards of excellence and an internationally-recognized degree system to the eager students of Tashkent. Building on the strength of WIUT, several similar projects are being considered for European- and American-style universities, as well as possible student-exchange programs with countries around the world.