ESU bringing Armenia in from the cold
ESU is continuing to strengthen its links further east in Europe with a second visit to Armenia to assess the student movement on the ground and the key challenges which it is currently facing. After a successful research visit to the capital, Yerevan, in June this year, ESU representatives returned from 18th-21st September to conduct a follow-up session with Armenian students. Having gathered comprehensive baseline information in June, the purpose of this visit was for ESU to present its report, discuss key issues with students themselves, and to provide joint training for students and staff together with Education International.
The discussions provided important insight into the problems experienced by Armenian students in their higher education studies. In particular, the following points were highlighted:
- Teachers get low salaries, and consequently seek to ‘top-up’ their income by raising grades in exchange for payment from students, creating a culture of being able to ‘buy’ qualifications. Corruption is a bring problem, according to the students.
- While national procedures and policies do exist for the representation of students, they only apply to the local level and for public universities – private universities, which account for 25% of Armenia’s students, are not regulated and are not required to have student representation mechanisms in place. Crucially, there is no representative NUS in Armenia.
- The Armenian higher education system is still characterised by Soviet-style thinking. The mentality still persists that all that matters is to get a diploma; the rest is irrelevant. Students generally are not being taught how to learn, but just what it takes to get a diploma. This means that students are failing to get the best out of their higher education.
- Student councils, which represent students within the public higher education sector, also suffer from a severe lack of independence and autonomy. Most of them routinely experience interference from university administrations in terms of their affairs and priorities.
- Most of them are also dependent on the goodwill of rectors for funding, which makes it difficult for them to freely express their opinion, particularly where that opinion could be critical of those supplying the funding.
On the basis of these discussions, ESU is able to make a number of important recommendations for improvements to the higher education system in Armenia:
- Student councils need to reach out to students and involve them to a greater extent in the day-to-day affairs of the university. At the moment, they can often been perceived as remote and elitist, and such a move would serve to build links between students and student councils.
- Financial independence for student councils is essential. Only in this way will they be able to be truly representative and democratic, rather than functioning as a thinly disguised instrument of the state.
Full details of ESU’s research and recommendations can be found in the report here:
‘We hope that this report will provide food for thought and promote discussion about the role of the student movement in Armenia, taking into account the European experience,’ said Sven Holdar, Democratization Officer at the OSCE Office, in a press release. One thing is clear; there are a large number of challenges ahead in terms of helping Armenia’s student movement to become a fully representative, democratic and effective force in the higher education system. But with these two visits, ESU has kickstarted the transition process to a much better future for all those studying in this part of the former Soviet bloc.