Higher Education Admission Reforms to Provide Greater Opportunity and Equity for Tajikistan’s Youth

May 4, 2015


  • Tajikistan’s higher education admission system has faced issues of corruption, inadequate testing, and lack of transparency in the past – stifling opportunities for many young people, especially girls.
  • The country’s National Testing Center (NTC) and new Unified Entrance Examination (UEE) aim to standardize testing practices, reduce corruption and make higher education admission more user friendly, providing Tajik students with more equitable access to higher education.
  • The Government has started a phased expansion of the UEE to other levels of professional education. The NTC is planning to administer other large-scale national and international student learning assessments in order to identify areas for improvement and provide information for policy makers and citizens alike.

Tajikistan has the youngest and fastest-growing population in Europe and Central Asia, with more than half its citizens under the age of 24 years. Equitable access to high quality education, therefore, is critical to ensuring that these young people have the opportunities to gain meaningful employment – and contribute to overall economic growth, productivity, and poverty reduction.

As in many other countries, young people in Tajikistan who have a university education are more likely to participate in the labor market, find employment in the formal economy, and earn higher and stable incomes – compared to those with less education. Tajikistan’s education sector, however, has not always adequately served the needs of its youth.

Prior to 2014, higher education institutions (HEIs) in the country selected their students through exams that were internally designed, administered and scored. Corruption and personal biases existed on a large scale, impairing equality of access and fair competition for students. It was widely acknowledged that the admission system needed radical reform.

To this end, the Government of Tajikistan, founded the National Testing Center (NTC) in 2008 as a first step towards establishing a national education assessment system that would contribute to improved access to and quality of education. The World Bank, the Russian Government and the Open Society Institute supported the NTC operationalization and capacity building, and assisted in designing and implementing a new higher education admission system - UEE.

In July 2014, the UEE was implemented for the first time, ensuring another important step in enhancing transparency in higher education.

New registration procedures in 2014 allowed 52,500 applicants, including 17,500 females, to register for the UEE exam – 30 percent more than in 2013. Around 30,000 of those who set both exam sessions passed the minimum score needed to participate in the competition.  Forty one percent of those who enrolled in 2014 were girls, compared with 34 percent in 2013.

According to Parvina Sharopova, Chief Specialist on Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation in the National Testing Center, working with the public – including students and their parents – was key to ensuring that people were aware of the new system and how it operates. Unlike before, students do not have to come to the capital city now to apply for university – they can register for the UEE and take the exam in their home regions. They can also apply to different universities.

“When we visited remote districts in eastern Tajikistan, we were thanked by many parents for the opportunity to register and take the exam remotely. They said it allowed more young people from their regions to become students,” says Sharopova.

The National Testing Center and the new Unified Entrance Examination aim to standardize testing practices and procedures, give students more equitable access to higher education. But, just like any other large scale reform, the process takes time and needs to be managed correctly.

Ismoilov Kosimjon is a student who recently took the new exam and enrolled in the Tajik National University, the largest and the oldest institution in Tajikistan. “Having no intermediaries and relying on your knowledge only” is the most important benefit of the new system, says Kosimion. “However, more work is needed to inform the public on the new system, through television, radio, newspapers and other media on how the system works and what the benefits are.”

The Russia Education Aid for Development Project (READ), financed by the Russian Federation and administered by the World Bank, has provided US$4.1 million to build the institutional capacity of the National Testing Center (NTC) and support design and introduction of the Unified University Entrance Examinations.

In addition to the READ grant, the World Bank has supported the NTC through the Education Modernization Project, with a US$2 million International Development Association (IDA) grant for the construction of the NTC building and provision of furniture and equipment. The Open Society Foundation provided US$1.5 million for capacity building of national experts and NTC staff in the area of assessment.

41 percent
of the enrolled students in 2014 were girls compared to 34 percent in 2013.