This is the opinion of education experts attending the discussion at the Media Center on September 14, entitled “What does a Student Pay for in Armenia? Systemic Problems of Higher Education”.
The discussion was organized jointly with JAMnews website. Before that, JAMnews published articles about developments in the university system. And our joint event was to address all the issues that were discussed in these publications. The speakers of the discussion were Serob Khachatryan, Education Expert, Arevik Anapiosyan, Executive Director at Institute of Public Policy, Robert Sukiasyan, Head of the Department of Higher and Postgraduate Professional Education of the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Armenia, Aram Pakhchanyan, Director of “Ayb” School, Robert Khachatryan, Head of the Chair on Education Management and Planning for Yerevan State Linguistic University (YSLU) in the Republic of Armenia.
The academic year has already started, and 8,266 freshmen have set foot in the Armenian universities this year. However, more than 50 percent of the proposed seats were vacant in the university system this year due to the drop in the number of applicants.
This year, universities offered 20,000 paid and free of charge vacancies and 11,375 vacancies were left. We had 9737 applicants, which is fewer than last year by 1500. As Levon Mkrtchyan, Education and Science Minister announced this year. “Next year there will be a worse situation and we will have fewer applicants. It will be a very difficult period for our universities, as they have to find ways to keep their positions and survive.”
Serob Khachatryan explains the vacancies in the universities by several reasons.
The first reason is the change to a 12-year school system that resulted in the fact that in 2006, two first year classes were accepted, and the number of students was split into two parts.
“The first high grade classes were more that had to study for 11 years, and less students went to the junior high school because most of them preferred to go to the 11th grade. That is why there is an objective decline in the number of applicants. Next year there will also be decrease, and after that it will increase a little and the number of graduates will be much higher starting the year of 2020,” Khachatryan said.
The next reason, according to the education expert, is that the BA has been opened in the American University of Armenia and today there are other international programs in Armenia the graduates of which have the opportunity to apply to foreign universities and several hundred graduates apply to international universities or American University.
“The next reason is related to emigration. Over the last 5 years, we have had 18,000 pupils who have left Armenia, and naturally this number has somewhat reflected on graduate applicants. But in general, there are also quality issues. Now, university education is of less interest to graduates than before. Perhaps, as the university proposals were so many, it was so easy to become admitted to the university, and the quality of control failed to be kept that many now prefer secondary vocational education or do not continue at all. There were complex reasons that accumulated,” Serob Khachatryan said.
As a practitioner, he emphasizes that the number of applicants in higher education institutions is already significant in terms of lowering the hours.
“My hours in the University have dropped by 0.25. And for many teachers next year, the situation will be much worse, the burden will be reduced, some will lose the job, and the effects are already felt today,” Khachatryan said.
Robert Khachatryan responded to Serob Khachatryan and underlined that it is not risky for the lecturers in terms of hours.
“This year, our University has conducted the plan by 70% and we focus on the current students. It is not so risky in terms of load because every university has a positional staff and contractual staff. Apparently, because of the decline in the number of students, the contractual staff, of course, diminishes. But it does not have such extreme impact on the positional staff, it usually serves up to 75%,” Khachatryan said.
Robert Sukiasyan says that if we only had 20,000 graduates this year, next year it will be shared straight and become 11,000.
“If we work directly with the labor market and provide specialists for a certain field, I think we will have very limited professions. The question here is what kind of policy we are pursuing. Our policy and the policy of the European countries, where the same picture can be seen, aim at increasing the accessibility and enrollment in the higher education system,” Sukiasyan said.
Since 2013, tuition fees have increased by more than 50 percent in 11 Armenian universities, and so far the majority of the university budgets is comprised of tuition fees by 60 or 70 percent. As a reply to the question if the quality of higher education in Armenia rose along with the fees, experts give alarming responses.
Arevik Anapiosyan says that the quality of higher education is one of the most important issues.
“Besides all of these problems, I would like to add the lack of faith to higher education, because today higher education does not give it the quality, the skill and the capacities acquired for graduates to find themselves in the labor market and not only in the domestic but also in the foreign labor market,” Anapiosyan said.
She underlines that the Armenian higher education system has a problem with content modernization and methodology.
“One of the most important issues is the development of critical thinking. And the critical thinking skills can be achieved through the active teaching methodology. Today, a student does not need to get information, today the student needs guidance, what information he / she takes, what to leave and what to do with that information,” Anapiosyan said.
Aram Pakhchanyan says that in this sense some developments and drastic changes are taking place in the world.
“The format of lecturing is already outdated, the same format is accessible by technical means, and the best professors in the world can lecture you... They still do present and absent in the university. It is simply impossible to imagine that a mature person who has chosen to go to the university to study and pays for that education may be absent from the class,” Pakhchanyan said.
He underlines that in Armenia, cultural and formative changes are needed, a student must be responsible for his education, not the university or the society.
“A person who is forced to learn is not necessary for the society. All of this requires a very serious mentality change in all circles, starting from the propaganda aimed at students, ending with the attitude of the universities. We are a bit stereotyped, thinking within the old model, and the models are changing rapidly,” Pakhchanyan added.
In the end of the discussion, Robert Sukiasyan underlined that they started a phase of deep content changes.
“Reforms are interconnected. If we are to lead the system to development, we have a change in content, structure, funding mechanisms, and changing social policies, changing labor market requirements, and bringing them together. We will give you more details on Armenia's vision in these 5 directions by the end of the year,” Sukiasyan said.
To watch the video, follow the link.
Lilit Arakelyan, editor/events coordinator at “Media Center”
To contact the author please send an email to [email protected].