23 December 2010

Education in Armenia & its Region: Facebook page

Dear reader,

Due to work overload, I haven’t had the opportunity to update this blog for a while. Regretfully, since my last post, several major developments have taken place that needed proper coverage. These included:

The reintroduction of foreign language schools in Armenia

The education sector being designated as the most corrupt sector in Armenia by Transparency International

The McKinsey report praising Armenian education reforms (sic)

The ongoing deliberations on a new Law on Science in Armenia

The closure of several private HEIs in Armenia by the government

The ongoing debate in Turkey on the authorization of Kurdish in schools

The ban of headscarf in schools in Azerbaijan

Meanwhile, I have continued to follow-up these developments and have created a Facebook page called “Education in Armenia & its Region” where I post a selection of important and interesting news and articles concerning the education and science sectors in Armenia , Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Iraq, Russia and Turkey, as well as the European Higher Education Area.

I update the page on daily basis and most of the material is in English.

If you have a Facebook account, you can join me on this new page. You do not need to add me as “friend,” you just have to “like” the page and will automatically receive all the posts as long as you wish. You can also post comments or share articles, news and links.

To join, please click here.

03 July 2010

The First Armenian IT Award

The first Armenian state award for contribution to the development of information technology was given to Mr. Craig Barrett, the former Chairman and Chief Executive of Intel Corporation, the world’s leading producer of microprocessors. The idea of the award came from the Armenian branch of Synopsis, the global IT company, and this year’s award was financed by Vivacell MTS, the leading mobile phone operator in Armenia.

In the awarding ceremony that took place in the presidential palace on 28June 2010, President Serge Sargsian said, “This Award is Armenia’s modest contribution to the global development of information technologies,” and expressed hope that it will also “attract attention of the Armenian youth toward information technologies.”

“We will encourage their studies and work in this area, we will search for and find new ways and means to do it,” he said. “Today, in the presence of Mr. Barrett I am sending a message to our youth: The future belongs to those who are endowed with knowledge, kindness and creativity, who rely on intellectual powers and possess the art of finding solutions,” Sargsian added.

Armenian students were not, however, the only group who were invited to be inspired by Mr. Barrett’s achievements. “This is my idea of the modern businessman,” Mr. Sargsian said. “I want the Armenian businessmen to consider this example. I want all our entrepreneurs to be like that … It’s not about benevolence; it is about the ability to assume responsibility, about the ability to refrain from short-lived and momentary profit if in the long-run it can jeopardize the well-being of the society. It is about not surrendering to the temptations of big money – greed and arrogance.”

Teachers, not Computers, are Magic

Azatutyun.am online news agency reports that, in a news conference the following day, Mr. Barrett emphasized the importance of good education for the development of IT in Armenia which has been declared a top economic priority by the government.

“Computers are not magic in the classroom,” he said. “Teachers are magic in the classroom.”

“I think obviously there is the opportunity to grow the IT industry on the basis of the educational background,” Barrett said when asked about the future of the Armenian IT sector.

News.am online news agency reports that when he was asked about Armenia’s education, he responded that he had met with students of the State Engineering University of Armenia and got an impression that Armenian students are “bright, aggressive and attentive. In short, they do not differ from students in other countries.”

He also said that he is aware of Intel Corporation’s interest in investing in Armenia’s education system and organizing trainings for teachers. “Intel always tries to employ the cleverest and brightest people,” he added.

The former Intel chief described as “very refreshing” his conversations with President Sargsian and other senior officials. As far as IT is concerned, they are all “speaking the same language,” he said.

Educational Profile of Ministers in Georgia & Armenia

An interesting article by Kate Chkhikvadze in the Financial, a Georgian online magazine, discusses the educational background of Georgian ministers. This inspired me to do a similar study of the Armenian cabinet of ministers.

According to the Financial article, Tbilisi State University (TSU) seems to be the institution where most Georgian cabinet members completed their first degree: Out of the 19 ministers, including the PM, 10 have graduated from TSU, 5 from the Georgian Technical University, 2 from foreign universities, 1 from Rustaveli State Cinema and Theatre University, and 1 from the Holy Seminary of Tbilisi.

A Master’s Degree is possessed by 13 ministers but in contrast with the case with the first degree, the majority holds a Master’s Degree from foreign HEIs in the USA, followed by Germany, the Netherlands and Russia.

Western Touch

As mentioned, the Georgian cabinet includes a significant number of western educated ministers.

Nikoloz Gilauri, the Prime Minister, graduated from TSU, obtaining a Bachelor of Arts in International Economics. He pursued his education at the University of Limerick, Ireland, where he studied Economics and Finances and gained a Master’s Degree in International Business Management from Temple University, USA.

Nikoloz Rurua, Minister of Culture, Monuments Protection and Sports, graduated from Rustaveli State Cinema and Theatre University and continued his studies in the USA. He graduated from the State University of Georgia, USA, with a Doctor of Jurisprudence degree.

The only female minister, Khatuna Kalmakhelidze, Minister of Corrections and Legal Assistance, is one of the two cabinet members who have done both their Bachelor’s and Master’s studies abroad. She graduated from Hunter College with a Bachelor Degree in Political Science. Then she was enrolled in Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University, USA.

Kakha Baindurashvili, Minister of Finance, is one of the other western educated ministers. He received a Master’s of Arts degree in Economics from TSU and Master’s Degree in Economic Development from Williams College, USA.

Zurab Pololikashvili, Ministry of Economic Development, received a Bachelor’s degree from Georgian Technical University with specialization in International Banking and later studied at the Instituto de Empresa, Spain (degree unkown).

Aleksandre Kvitashvili, Minister of Labor, Health and Social Affairs, has a degree of Master of Public Studies from the the New-York University.

Davit Tkeshelashvili who is Minister for Infrastructural and Regional Development graduated from Emory University, USA, with a degree of Master of Law (LLM).

In Love with Law

According to the Financial, the majority of ‘the influential ministers’ has done their Master’s studies in Law.

In addition to Davit Tkeshelashvili and Nikoloz Rurua, and, obviously, the Minister of Justice, Zurab Adeishvili, who graduated from the Royal University of Groningen, the Netherlands, this is the case with the ministers of Defense, Education and Foreign Affairs:

Bachana Akhalaia, Minister of Defense, holds a Master’s Degree in Law from TSU. Dimitri Shashkin, Minister of Education and Science, has a Master’s Degree in Government, Tax and Criminal Law, again from TSU, and Grigol Vashadze, Minister of Foreign Affairs, received his Master’s degree in International Law from Moscow State Institute of International Relations.

Armenian Contrasts

The Armenian ministers have a very different educational profile. All except 3 have completed their higher education in the late Soviet period and half of them have studied in Russia. Unlike in Georgia, no discipline seems to be favored in Armenia.

Based on the information available on the official website of the Armenian government, I examined 18 out of 19 members of the cabinet as the profile of the newly appointed Minister of Labor, Arthur Grigorian, is not available at this time.

It is important to note that most educational backgrounds of the ministers are poorly written and therefore this review may be inaccurate. For instance, for the Minister of Economy it is written: “1993-1995, Yerevan State Institute of National Economy, post-graduate student at the Macroeconomics Department.” Being a student doesn’t necessarily mean that the person completed the program. The official website of the Ministry of Economy does not offer further clarifications.

Or, for the Minister of Justice it is indicated “1975-1983, Yerevan State University, Law Department.” It is unclear what degree the person earned at the end of 8 years of study, if he studied full-time and without interruption.

Out of the 18 members, including the PM, 4 have completed their first degree (5-year specialized degree program that was the norm before the adoption of the Bologna structure) at State Engineering University of Armenia (SEUA-Polytechnic), 3 have graduated from Yerevan State University (YSU), 2 from Yerevan State Medical University (YSMU), 2 from Institute of National Economy, and the rest at various HEIs.

It is interesting to note that 6 ministers have conducted their higher education entirely or mainly (except the first 1-2 years) in Russia. These are: Tigran Sargsyan, Prime Minister; Armen Gevorgyan, Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Territorial Administration; Armen Yeritzian, Minister of Emergency Situations; Tigran Davtian, Minister of Finance; Edward Nalbandian, Minister of Foreign Affairs; and Manuk Vardanian, Minister of Transport and Communication.

Those who have completed their 5-year degree program in Armenia and then have studied for a post-graduate degree outside Armenia (cannot say abroad as at the time Armenia and Russia were parts of the USSR) number 3. All these ministers have studied in Russia. They are:

Armen Ashotian, Minister of Education and Science, who after completing his studies in Medicine continued at the Moscow School of Political Sciences.

Armen Movsissian, Minister of Energy and Natural Resources. After graduating from SEUA, he completed his postgraduate degree at the USSR Institute of Light Industry.

Gevorg Danielian, Minister of Justice, who earned his first degree in Law at YSU and then a Master’s degree from Institute of State and Law in Moscow, affiliated to the USSR Academy of Sciences.

One minister has studied in Azerbaijan: A native of Karabakh, Seyran Ohanian, Minister of Defense, studied at Baku Military Academy.

Interestingly, 8 ministers have done their entire higher education in Armenia. The most prominent among this group are: Nerses Yeritsian, Minister of Economy; and Haroutioun Koushkian, Minister of Healthcare.

Only one minister has had some western experience. This is, of course, if we ignore that Gevorg Danielian, Minister of Justice, has served in the Soviet Army stationed in the former German Democratic Republic for 2 years and has strangely included this in his educational profile.

So the only exception to the rule is Armen Gevorgian, Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Territorial Administration, who simultaneous to his post-graduate studies at St Petersburg's Gertzen All-Russian Teacher Training University, completed a Master's degree in Programming of Educational and Training Systems at Twente University, the Netherlands.

Relevant Education

Most Armenian ministers seem to be involved in a field that is relevant to their educational background. There are, however, some interesting exceptions.

Hasmik Poghosian, Minister of Culture, for instance, has no academic background in arts and culture; she has studied Biology at YSU. The official website of the Ministry of Culture adds that she took piano lessons at school.

Hranoush Hakobian, Minister of Diaspora and the only other female minister, has studied Mathematics.

And more: Gerasim Alaverdian, Minister of Agriculture, has graduated from SEUA-Polytechnic whereas Vardan Vardanian, Minister of Urban Development, has studied at the Armenian State University of Agriculture.

Science in Turkey for More Autonomy

The debate on the need and the ways to restructure the science system is currently taking place not only in the post-Soviet countries of our region (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Russia) but also in Turkey. For a decade, Turkish authorities have tried, with limited success, to improve the effectiveness and the efficiency of the country’s science system.

According to a report based on extensive interviews with 135 scientists, via Turkish Hurriyet Daily News, Turkey has not been able to achieve the status of a “scientific society” mainly due to the system’s heavy dependence on the state and political interference.

The 2009 Science Report by the Turkish Academy of Sciences, or TÜBA, states that Turkish universities and scientific research and development centers are lacking, and support for scientific initiatives is insufficient.

Citing data from the Turkish Statistical Institute, or TurkStat, the report notes that out of the total 6.89 billion Turkish Liras (4.4 billion USD) spent on R&D in Turkey, industry contributes 43.8 percent whereas the state contributes 52.2 percent. According to TÜBA, the private sector should ideally contribute 3–4 times as much as the government to R&D.

In addition, the fact that only 338 domestic patents, out of 2,268 applications, were accepted in 2008 means “there is a big gap to cover,” according to the report.

Lack of University Autonomy

“One of the most fundamental functions of the university culture being formed is, without question, independence and autonomy,” TÜBA notes in its report, adding that there is an insufficient level of autonomy at Turkish universities and within the Higher Education Board, or YÖK, which is the governing and regulating body.

According to the report, Turkey gets just three 0.5 points, for a total of 1.5 points, on the 8 criteria for university autonomy identified by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in its 2003 Education Policy Evaluation.

These 8 criteria are:
- owning its buildings and facilities
- having the freedom to get resources
- using its budget for self-determined goals
- using its own initiative to build its academic structure and programs
- having the authority to hire and fire academic personnel
- determining the salaries of its personnel
- determining the number of students it will accept to its programs
- independently determining student tuition fees

For each of these criteria implemented in full, a country receives 1 point, while it gets 0.5 point for partial implementation.

Mexico, Holland and Australia topped the OECD’s list of 14 countries with 7 points each, while Turkey came in second to last with 1.5 points. Japan received just 1 point, putting it at the bottom of the list.

Waste of Resources

According to the TÜBA report, the science system in Turkey – which is largely affected by the country’s universities and the Scientific and Technical Research Council of Turkey, or TÜBİTAK, with TÜBA itself playing “a small but important” role – “does not have the authority to govern itself.”

“The decision-makers in power generally make decisions that determine the scientific activity in Turkey, such as the governing of the universities and the founding of new universities,” the report notes, adding that the resources dedicated to scientific activities are often allocated based on political calculations rather than need.

This leads, according to TÜBA, to situations where “expensive scientific equipment or infrastructure items may remain idle at units lacking the ability to use them.”

TÜBA plans to release a report on the state of science in Turkey on an annual basis. We hope that this initiative will be contagious to other academies of science in the region.

A Well-deserved Promotion of an Institute

According to a government decision dated 17 June 2010, the Alikhanian Yerevan Physics Institute, better known as YerPhl, was granted the status of national research laboratory.

Following a report by an international commission of experts that was formed last year, the strategic development plan of YerPhl, including the issue of its renaming, was approved. Professor Yuri Hovannisian headed the international commission composed of world-famous scientists and experts.

According to the official Armenian government website, Prime Minister Tigran Sargsian thanked the commission for having exercised huge efforts to meet the task set before them. “We will continue consulting renowned scientists to get professional advice on important issues,” he said.

Noting that the program had some opponents, the head of government said that the commission members were confident that, if provided with consecutive approaches, the NRL might well turn into a truly unique center of excellence.

This does not seem impossible or difficult to achieve for an institution that has successfully preserved a significant part of its Soviet-era scientific excellence and capacity, and has been able to attract and integrate some young and talented research staff into its activities over recent years.

For background information on the Alikhanian National Research Laboratory, please click here.

Keeping the Academy Intact despite Changes in Science Funding

One of the main themes of the ongoing debate on the reorganization of the science system in post-Soviet transition countries is the role that the national academy of science should play in the future configuration.

Here, we would like to present excerpts from an interview that News.az Azerbaijani news agency has conducted with Mr. Asef Hajiyev, member of the Azerbaijani parliament (Milli Majlis) from the ruling New Azerbaijan Party, member of the parliamentary committee for science and education, and a correspondent member of the National Academy of Sciences of Azerbaijan.

Mr. Hajiyev represents the conservative side of the debate as he argues for preserving the academy’s preeminent position in planning and conducting research despite the advent of new funding mechanisms. In line with like-minded people in Armenia, Russia and elsewhere, he even favors allowing the academy to carry out post-graduate education.

News.Az: What are the amendments to the Law on Education planned by the Milli Majlis?

AH: A bill regulating the funding of scientific research at private universities has been presented to the Azerbaijani parliament for discussion and approval. Under the amendments, private universities will have to spend at least 2 percent of their revenue on scientific research in their institutions. This expenditure should mostly be made in the form of grants.

Ten years ago we discussed the need for the private sector to allocate 0.5 or 1 percent of its revenue to scientific research. At that time, the proposal was put for public discussion. Now, the proposal has been integrated into the new bill.

These are very positive amendments according to which grant competitions will be declared by private universities. These grants may be won either by the private universities holding the contests or by other educational institutions. This system will lead to competition among scientists.

The amount of funds allocated to scientific research will not be limited by the amendments to the legislation since the state will also provide grants. The state grants will take the form of orders. For example, the state will declare that it is interested in scientific research in a specific field and hold a grant contest.

A scientist will win the grant on the basis of competition. Meanwhile, the state will receive reports on the work done by the scientist. If a scientist fails to do the work … they may be punished or not allowed to receive grants in future.…

... This system is applied throughout the world and now it will be used in Azerbaijan. In other words, the Soviet era slogan 'Science is the meeting of people’s interests at state expense' no longer applies in Azerbaijan.

What path should Azerbaijan take, that is, should it fund scientists working in universities or those working at the National Academy of Sciences?

This was set out in the decree of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev dated 21 October 2009 on the creation of the Science Development Foundation.

Under this decree, state grants can be provided to scientists at the academy and scientists working in universities. I think the Academy of Sciences and universities should not provide grants only to their own scientists; all scientists should be involved in the process.

Will the allocation of 2 percent of the income of universities and other educational institutions be enough for scientific research?

Certainly, these funds are not sufficient but this is a first step. The obligation that the bill puts on educational facilities to spend at least 2 percent of revenue on scientific work comes from the established concept that if 2 percent of the state budget is allocated to scientific development, science will start to make itself pay. For example, Russia has adopted this practice in its state budget.

Research work in the West is done in universities while in Azerbaijan it is done in the institutes of the National Academy of Sciences. May parallels be created with scientists engaged in research in the academy system and universities?

Every country has developed historically in its own way. The history of science in Azerbaijan is linked to the Academy of Sciences. Reform of the organizations involved in research work should not mean the dismissal of the 9,000 people working at the National Academy of Sciences only in order to comply with the Western system for science funding.

How will Azerbaijan benefit from the transfer of the functions of the Academy of Sciences to the universities? Today, it is impossible to compare the research done in the Academy of Sciences with the work done at universities since the level of research at the Academy of Sciences is very high.

There is no need to turn scientists into university instructors. Instead, the academy should be allowed to train staff. The Academy of Sciences can train people for bachelors' and masters' degrees....

A growing number of people are calling for the Academy of Sciences to be shut down.

How will Azerbaijan benefit from the destruction of such a body as the Academy of Sciences and the transfer of its structure to the universities? No one knows the implications of this step though I am sure it would have a negative impact since the people working at the academy are involved only in science, while those who teach at universities are involved in the educational process.

There is no need to share out institutes of the Academy of Sciences among the universities. It is at the least surprising that people speak in favor of shutting down the Academy of Sciences.

They say that the number of people who have a scientific degree in the universities is higher than in the Academy of Sciences. However, the scientific level must never be measured by the number of scientific degrees.

The same people explain … that the National Academy of Sciences of the United States is separate from the state and is a club. I would like to say that the National Academy of the United States is financed from the state budget. If the U.S. National Academy was a club, President Barack Obama would not have visited it.…

To read the interview in full, please click here.

Turkish Education: A Disturbing Picture

The 3rd issue of ‘Education Monitoring Report’ concerning the state of the secondary education in Turkey was recently published. Based on data from the Ministry for National Education, data collected in household surveys and interviews with 138 students, the report indicates fundamental and alarming dysfunctions in Turkey’s education system.

The Education Monitoring Report aims to monitor government reforms dealing with the educational system and inform policy-makers and the public about the current state of education in Turkey. It is prepared by the Education Reform Movement that was founded by Sabancı University’s Istanbul Policy Center in 2003.

More than 2,000 per Day

According to the 2009 report, the dropout rate in Turkey is extremely high: On average, almost 2,000 students leave school each day. Students drop out of school mainly due to a lack of qualified teachers, low family incomes, and pessimism about their higher-education prospects.

The report estimates that more than 360,000 students dropped out of school during the 2008-2009 school year. The report shows that out of 50 percent of the country’s boys and girls aged 15 to 19 who do not go to secondary school, 26 percent of the boys and 50 percent of the girls do not work either. The respective average rates for Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries are 8 and 9 percent.

Bia Turkish news agency summarizes the other main findings of the report as follows:

- Access to secondary education is dependent on significant regional disparities. 78 percent of the 14-17-year-olds are enrolled in secondary school in the Southern Marmara region, whereas this ratio reaches a mere 44 percent only in the South-East of the country.

- The parents' education level is an important influence: 17 percent of daughters of illiterate fathers and 94 percent of the daughters of university graduates go to a secondary school.

- 15 percent of all male secondary school students enrolled in 2008-2009 school year dropped out of school. The proportion rises to 23 percent at vocational schools.

- In 2009, the per capita expenditure for secondary education amounted to TL 2,273 (1,136 USD), the figure for vocational and technical schools lay at TL 2,937 (1,558 USD) per student.

- Per capita expenditures for students significantly vary among different provinces: Public spending on secondary education per student in 2009 amounted to TL 1,379 (690 USD) in Istanbul and TL 3,508 (1,754 USD) in Amasya (northern Anatolia).

- In comparison to the previous year, 175,000 more children benefited from pre-school education in 2010. Three out of five 20-72-month-old children were enrolled.


In order to address this shocking situation, the relevant authorities must bring a new vision to secondary school education that focuses on students, Mr. Aytuğ Şaşmaz, one of the experts who assisted in preparing the report, told Turkish Hurriyet Daily News (the article has somehow disappeared from the website).

According to Şaşmaz, the number of siblings the student has is another key factor in whether or not students continue with schooling, especially for girls.

The findings show that there is a need for immediate action to conduct an overall review of the school curricula and improve the quality of teacher training.

“Let the graduates from teaching faculties be fewer in number, but more qualified,” Nebat Bukrek, the chairperson of the educational trade union Eğitim Sen’s Istanbul branch, told Hurriyet.

According to Şaşmaz, face-to-face interviews have shown that teachers are not motivated to attend retraining programs to improve their performance. He said teacher training has to be more interactive and that a long-term strategy must be drafted and implemented by the Education Ministry.

The report also reveals that many young people are not motivated to continue with their secondary school education because they do not believe they will be able to enter university, because the educational system is based on rote learning and exams and because they do not feel secure in the school environment. 75 percent of students who drop out of secondary school do so after the first year.

According to the report, currently around 4 percent of the state’s budget goes to education, a figure they say must be increased to 6 percent.

The report also indentifies that the expectations of the students differ due to their social and ethnic origin, gender or regional disparities. "Efforts should be taken to take these differences into account in order to strengthen the young people's participation in social life during secondary school. One of the reasons for the high number of students dropping out of school is the fact that these differences are not being considered. This reinforces social exclusion", the report argues.

More Open Ears in the Ministry

Strong political will and the consensus to transcend party politics is needed to undertake major reforms in Turkey’s education system in order to improve the current situation, according to the Education Reform Movement coordinator Ms. Berktay.

According to her, public servants working in the Education Ministry must adopt a more child-oriented mentality. “This requires a shift in the ministry’s paradigm, which is not easily achieved,” she said, though she noted that the group’s previous reports have gotten good feedback from the ministry.

“We are seeing more and more open ears in the ministry taking what we say seriously,” Berktay said.

Ms. Berktay also believes that policies in education must be based on statistical data analysis and be flexible and open to new data and trends, both national and global. “We must equip ourselves with the needed skills and qualifications to adapt to the challenges in this fast-changing world,” she told Hurriyet, adding that students in Turkey should receive an education that allows them to enter both national and international labor markets.

Graph via Hurriyet.