Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups. >
ArmenHES person of the year 2009 is Mr. Robert Quinn, the founding Executive Director of the Scholars at Risk (SAR). Prior to creating SAR, Mr. Quinn founded and directed the Institute of International Education's Scholar Rescue Fund.
SAR is an international network of institutions and individuals that defend scholars who are attacked because of their words, their ideas, and their place in society. SAR promotes academic freedom and defends the human rights of scholars and their communities against those who target scholars, restrict academic freedom and repress research, publication, teaching and learning in order to seek and maintain power and control access to information and ideas.
What SAR Does
SAR offers direct assistance to academics facing threats to their lives. The network members save lives by providing sanctuary to professors, lecturers, researchers and other intellectuals who suffer threats in their home country.
Through temporary academic positions, SAR members help scholars to escape dangerous conditions and to continue their important work. In return, scholars contribute to their host campuses through teaching, research, lectures and other activities. Many scholars return to their home countries after their visits. When safe return is not possible, SAR staff works with scholars to identify opportunities to continue their work abroad.
SAR educates the public about attacks on scholars and universities through its website, email bulletins, publications and events. The SAR Speaker Series brings threatened scholars to member campuses to engage directly with students, faculty, alumni and the community.
SAR also advocates on behalf of imprisoned scholars (Scholars in Prison program) and undertakes research aimed at promoting understanding and respect for academic freedom and related values.
Mr. Quinn founded SAR in the Human Rights Program of the University of Chicago in 1999. With seed money from the MacArthur Foundation, he officially launched SAR as a nonprofit organization with a major international conference in June 2000.
Since then, more than 200 universities worldwide have joined the network and helped to defend hundreds of scholars around the world.
In 2003, the network headquarters relocated from the University of Chicago to New York University, where it now resides within the Provost's Office.
Scholars at Risk
SAR has received more than 2000 requests for assistance from over 100 countries over the past 9 years. In total, SAR has assisted over 175 scholars directly, including hosting temporary visits. Annually, SAR member institutions assist 40-50 scholars directly and SAR provides advice, referrals, counseling and other services to 100-125 scholars each year. The largest percentage of scholars requesting assistance comes from Sub-Saharan Africa, followed by Northern Africa and the Middle East and South Asia.
In general, there are 3 categories of scholars experiencing threats:
The first category includes scholars experiencing threats because the content of their work, research or teachings is perceived as threatening by authorities or other groups.
The second group of scholars includes those targeted because of their academic status. Because of their education, frequent travel and professional standing, scholars are often prominent members of their community. This is especially true where a scholar is a member of a political, ethnic or religious minority, for female scholars and for scholars in countries where opportunities for advanced education are limited. In these circumstances, an attack on an individual scholar may be a highly visible, highly efficient means for a repressive agent to intimidate and silence an entire community of people.
The third category of cases includes scholars experiencing threats because of exercise of their fundamental rights. Academic freedom involves the right of scholars to carry out research and to disseminate and publish the results thereof, to express freely their opinion about the institution or system in which they work, to be free from institutional censorship, and to participate in professional or representative academic bodies. When authorities excessively restrict research, travel and other means of collaboration, scholars may be unable to advance their work and as a result may call for greater openness and transparency, an action that can strengthen an authority‘s resolve to restrict scholarship.
Just Helping the People Who are Helping Others
Robert Quinn and SAR activities have started to attract the mainstream media attention. For instance, in an article titled People Making a Difference dated 14 September 2009, the Christian Science Monitor, an east-coast U.S. daily, described Robert Quinn as a dynamic and determined person who is overloaded by multiple demands; "Robert Quinn has a plane to catch. He also has to write a speech for a conference in the Netherlands. But first he has to help a student from Azerbaijan get to a safe place. Because that’s what Mr. Quinn does: He saves scholars from danger. "
Mr. Quinn is a modest person and tells the journalist, “I just help the people who are helping other people.” “We’re trying to build a better world through promoting respect for knowledge and the free exchange of ideas,” he adds.
As in the case of Taslima Nasrin, who first had her life threatened in 1994 in her native Bangladesh because she had written about women’s rights. Later, in 2008, while living in her adopted country, India, she again had her life threatened by religious fanatics when she continued to write and speak about women’s freedom. She had to leave India too. Now a SAR scholar at New York University (NYU), she told the Christian Science Monitor, “SAR came to my aid by helping me to survive in a new land.”
The Christian Science Monitor has also included a testimonial by Prof. Radwan Ziadeh, a Syrian scholar at risk:
“I always say, ‘It is a big difference to be at Harvard than to be in prison in my home, Syria,’ ” says Prof. Ziadeh, now a fellow at Harvard University’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. “SAR has given me the atmosphere to continue my research. I’ve completed my book, which will be published next year. And I’ve participated in more than 25 conferences and workshops, nationally and internationally.”
If Professor Ziadeh tried to return to Syria, he would face a warrant for his arrest. “These scholars keep going when most of us wouldn’t,” Quinn says. “Which is why I think of us as people making a difference to people making a real difference. They’re courageous, extraordinary people.”
Today, even after 10 years, SAR caseload never shrinks. No sooner do Quinn and his team find placement for one scholar, when another threat or need arises.
We wish success to Mr. Quinn, his dedicated team and all the members of SAR network worlwide in their activities in coming years and hope that Armenian scholars and institutions will join the SAR network in the near future. ________________________________________ Picture: Mr. Robert Quinn by Runo Isaksen, via Vox Publica, Norway.
Deciding on the education and science flop of the year in Armenia and its neighboring region was a complicated task. Not that flops did not occur; they were unfortunately so many that made it difficult to choose one.
From many major and minor failures witnessed in 2009 one story probably stands out; the appointment of Mr. Kamran Daneshjou as Iran’s new Minister of Science. The ministry is also in charge of higher education.
Mr. Daneshjou's nomination as Minister of Science was controversial from the beginning. He was selected by Mr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and was not supported by Iranian scientists. His role in the contested presidential elections of June 2009 might explain the initial negative reaction to his nomination; he had served as the head of the interior ministry's office that oversaw the presidential elections.
However, shortly after his appointment and the hearing and confirmation by the Iranian parliament, the real scandal broke out.
Nature magazine accused Mr. Daneshjou of plagiarism (see 'Paper co-authored by Iran's science minister duplicates earlier paper'). According to Nature, Mr. Daneshjou's article in Engineering with Computers was nearly identical to one written in 2002 by some South Korean researchers.
Anthony Doyle, publishing editor for the Springer journal Engineering with Computers said the article had been "retracted" online.
The news was widely discussed inside Iran and provoked dismay among the country's researchers and reformist bloggers. The case was also reported by Iran's mainstream media, and scientists reunited to demand Daneshjou’s resignation.
An Iranian neuroscientist based at the University of Münster in Germany said the news was a bitter blow to Iranian academic society as it gave the impression that Iranian scientists are dishonest and unethical.
The 2009 paper by Messrs. Daneshjou and Majid Shahravi, from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Iran University of Science and Technology, in many places duplicated verbatim the text of the 2002 paper published by South Korean scientists in Applied Physics. A smaller number of sentences are identical to those in a paper given at a 2003 conference by other researchers.
"The introduction is copied practically word-for-word," Muhammad Sahimi, an Iranian materials scientist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles told Nature, adding that so too are large parts of the methods, results and discussion section. "The English of the paper is not uniform," he notes, "Where they have copied from other papers, it reads smoothly. Where they have tried to add things themselves, it does not read as smoothly."
Similarly, almost all the figures, and their captions, are copied from the South Korean paper, although their order is sometimes different; some are mirror images of those in the earlier paper.
Nature later discovered that another 2009 article by the same authors, published in the Taiwan-based Journal of Mechanics, contains large chunks identical to a 2006 article published by a US scientist in Elsevier's International Journal of Impact Engineering, as well as material from the paper by South Korean scientists.
So far the regime's research institutions have done little to investigate the allegations. According to a Nature editorial, this ignorance is not surprising, given the extreme political sensitivity of the accusations.
Nature reveals that one of the disputed papers was co-authored by Transport Minister Hamid Behbahani, who supervised President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's doctorate.
Leading researchers inside Iran are keeping their heads down. But many are quietly pressing for the authorities to investigate the plagiarism allegations, which, they note, would be consistent with wider demands by academics for the current regime to be more accountable and respectful of the republic's values and civil rights. They are also pushing for merit-based promotion practices, and are having some success in persuading Iran's academic institutions to emphasize ethics in the practice of research and publishing.
The Nature editorial concludes with what we would also like to wish: The actions of a few – even if they are at ministerial positions - must not be allowed to soil the reputation of the majority of Iran's scientists. Rather, the international scientific community must redouble its efforts to support and collaborate with its Iranian colleagues.
The best initiative of the year 2009 was the completion and the launch of the Armenian Education Portal. Although the portal was planned in 2006 and technically introduced in 2008, it lacked much content until this year.
The bilingual Armenian and English portal was prepared in the framework of an order placed by the World Bank’s "Education Quality and Relevance" project (phase 1) and with collaboration of Armenia’s Ministry of Education and Science.
The portal is maintained by the National Center for Educational Technologies (NCET), a state agency. Rich in information, the portal facilitates access to various online educational resources mostly in primary and secondary level. These integrate other NCET programs, including some that are still in trial phase, such as Armenian Schools’ Internet Network (ASIN), Education Management Information System, and Educational Electronic Manuals.
The portal also includes various features for educators such as virtual meeting spaces, forums, and consulting possibilities.
Let us hope that the portal will be used fully and effectively as educators in Yerevan and in provinces will integrate it in different educational processes.
The most unclassifiable and controversial event of the year was the unusual anti-corruption campaign that a youth association called Miasin staged in March.
On the morning of 11 March when people were going to work, and students and instructors hurrying to school they noticed the pictures of tens of instructors tagged “bribe taker” stuck on the walls of different buildings, parks, bus and metro stations.
The accused instructors were exclusively from public HEIs; mostly from Yerevan State University, Yerevan State University of Pedagogy, Armenian State University of Economics, and Yerevan State University of Linguistics.
A heated debate followed in the media and in the blogosphere; was such an action constructive, legal, ethical, moral, genuine, ... ? How would it affect the career of featured instructors, how would it influence the anti-corruption campaign in the country, ...? (see for instance Hetq dated 23 March)
A pro-government youth movement called Miasin, modeled on Nashi movement in Russia, took responsibility for the poster campaign. Miasin was accused of opportunism and adventurism, and of reviving Stalinist methods. The authorities or certain groups within the authorities were accused of being behind this action.
The fact that Miasin is known to be pro-government and believed to be controlled by the Armenian presidential spokesperson Mr. Samuel Farmanian led the oppositionist media to call the action to be a hoax and to condemn it.
The posters stated that the names were compiled from interviews with students and emails sent to the “Miasin” website. “The aim of the project is to do away with all manifestations of corruption in schools through the united action of the students and to publish the names of all corrupt teachers and faculty members.”
The website statement also noted that the time had come “for the students themselves to work for the establishment of the rule of law in the schools. Corruption in the education system merely serves to spawn similar practices in other sectors since it is the educational system that is churning out the corrupt leaders of tomorrow.”
Something Smells Fishy in Armenia
First accused of inaction and even collaboration with Miasin, police later pledged to launch an investigation into the affair. Major-General Nerses Nazarian, chief of the Yerevan police, declared that “we cannot support or participate in such actions … we certainly do not agree with that view. If people have any evidence of corruption they can apply to the police.”
Nazarian argued that the police cannot investigate the legality of the Miasin action without receiving a written complaint from individuals or organizations targeted by the youth group. “I am told that Yerevan State University is preparing to lodge a formal complaint,” he told in a news conference. “The police will certainly deal with that fact.”
It is unclear if YSU ever filed a formal complaint but the YSU President was quick to condemn the action. “I give the action a negative mark since you don’t fight corruption in this way. Something smells fishy... I don’t accept it either from a legal or moral point of view. Then again, no movement can assume the right of passing legal judgment, which is the purview of the legally appointed bodies,” Rector/President Simonian said in a press conference on 13 March.
“One doesn’t fight corruption using such theatrical tactics. And I’m not even addressing the moral side of it. They have dealt a heavy moral blow to these individuals, to their families, children and colleagues,” he added. (To my knowledge, none of the accused instructors have files a lawsuit against the youth movement).
While Rector Simonian didn’t deny the fact that corruption exists in our society he rhetorically asked, “From the day you are born you come into contact with bribery, handing out chocolate, taking a bottle. Why are you surprised? It’s as if you are seeing corruption for the first time in your lives. Haven’t you, your parents or friends ever given a gift, money or a bottle to someone to get your problems solved? Who is it that you want to amaze?” (to read the interview in full, please click here).
Words Remain Words
The controversy and the heated debate that followed the poster campaign indicated how much the Armenian society is sensitive to the issue of corruption in the education sector.
However, 8 months after the event, one can also conclude that the forces in favour of the status quo are equally strong. As no major (call it genuine, systematic, planned, effective, or whatever) anti-corruption campaign has been launched either at national level by the Ministry of Education or at institutional level by any HEI.
In his message at the beginning of the new academic year, President/Rector of the Armenian State University of Economics Mr. Yuri Suvarian even declared that fighting corruption would be his number one priority this year. ASUE is considered to be one of the most corrupt HEIs in Armenia. Nevertheless, 4 months have already passed by and no specific action has been taken.
The new Education Minister Mr. Ashotian seems to continue the tradition of his predecessors; making big declarations with no follow-up actions. “The problem of corruption is Armenia’s Achilles’ heel” Mr. Ashotian recently said in a meeting with Armenian youth in Russia. He was responding to a question posed by the Union of Armenians in Russia Vice-president Mr. Levon Mukanian on corruption in the education sector.
It even appears that the situation is getting worse. The Berlin-based Transparency International recently released a report that stated that, in contrast with neighboring Georgia and Azerbaijan, corruption has increased in Armenia since 2008.
In Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, Armenia slid 11 slots from 2008 to rank in 120th place out of 180 countries - alongside Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Ethiopia and Vietnam - for 2009. Georgia held 66th place while Azerbaijan rose 15 slots to 143rd.
Armenia’s score (2.7 on a 10-point scale) fell beneath Transparency International’s 3.0 threshold for 'systemic corruption'. ____________________________________ Pictures via various sources.