The following blog provides a summary of our recent project meeting in Armenia and some reflections on an emerging country, by our regional specialist Arseny Kruglov.
We have recently completed a country visit to Armenia. The main purpose of our trip was to hold a workshop with our colleagues from ArmENIC within the framework of a joint Capacity Building project. The Centre is the main national point of contact for recognition of foreign qualifications and carries out a number of other functions including the promotion of the Bologna process in Armenia, dissemination of the Diploma Supplement, involvement in the development of the NQF and the NQF-EQF referencing. This meeting helped us to better understand the principles of the organisation, and issues that occur in their daily work. In addition, we gathered first-hand information about the system of education in the country and the direction of development of the sector. All the information gathered will be used for the next update of the International Comparisons database and in our day-to-day work.
In 2011, there were approximately 2000 foreign students in Armenia. The statistics show that the number of enquires completed by ArmENIC in 2011 has doubled since 2007. The most significant growth took place in the first few years of operation (2005-2008) and the number of enquiries has since remained stable. Interestingly, most of the enquiries in ArmENIC are related to Iranian documents. The reason is quite simple: having completed an education in Armenia and received an Armenian qualification, it is easier to get to Europe and America than with an Iranian one. The main reasons for this are more open policies towards Armenia and its participation in the Bologna process. The rest of applicants arrive after completing their education in Russia (13%), Georgia (7%), and because of the recent events in Syria and Lebanon, many ethnic Armenians are considering returning.
To provide some background, Armenia is one of the oldest countries in the world, once covering a wide geographical area, but for many centuries essentially lost its influence in the region. To typify this, the world-famous Mount Ararat (still piously revered by Armenians) now sits in modern-day Turkey.
Armenia was the first country to officially adopt Christianity in 301 AD as the state religion. That is why a lot of preserved monasteries, whose construction dates back to the period from the 6th to the 15th century, are located across the country.
It must be noted that all four ArmENIC employees, with inherent Armenian hospitality, gave us a very warm welcome in their cozy office.
Generally, Armenia is a very hospitable country with lots of attractions and its national colour; the best proof of this – quite a large number of tourists from all over the world. We had the opportunity to go on a one-day bus tour to the south of the country. In a group of 15 people there were Russians, ethnic Armenians (who came to visit their homeland from the U.S. and Australia), Italians and Poles. On the plane on the way back there were tourists groups from Belgium, Germany and France.
Armenia is a country of contrasts. The capital, Yerevan (one of the oldest cities in the world, 29 years older than Rome) already has shades and colours of the East. The central square, where all the government buildings are located, and a recently created pedestrian street with newly built apartment blocks in which no one lives, contrast with housing showing significant structural damage in which most people live.
The driving style is very different from that in the UK. There are plenty of vehicles on the streets (of various ages, sometimes you wonder how some of them are still functioning) and everyone constantly uses their horn for no apparent need, to the extent that all the sounds merge into a constant hum. However, after a couple of days you get used to it.
Minibuses are very popular amongst commuters. Buses are so overcrowded that sometimes it is difficult to get off them. Armenians themselves laugh about it: “These buses are like the mafia – it is difficult to get in, and even harder to get out.”
It is impossible to describe everything. Definitely it is necessary to visit a market, where you need to bargain, and where you can buy everything that grows in the country from aubergines (which lie on the ground just like the grass) to the apricots (the national symbol of Armenia). Talking of food, it is worth mentioning that the Caucasian cuisine is very diverse and delicious. In Armenia there are many national dishes, vegetables and herbs, fine wines and the famous cognac (the only beverage in the world, which has the right from French to be called as cognac, not brandy, due to its quality).
But the economic state of the country is a little disheartening; beautiful nature, a variety of landscapes and monuments contrast with poor housing, bad quality roads, abandoned factories, empty railway stations. Being in a blockade (for political reasons), the country survives; but the question is how? Where is the income from tourism business? Knowing Armenian patriotism and the size of Armenian diaspora across the world, we can assume that substantial financial assistance is being received, but what happens to it?
However, in spite of all the difficulties, the country is developing, moving forward. A good example is the fact that Armenia is currently hosting a Bologna secretariat, which gives the country’s education sector not only an additional burden, but also the potential benefits in the future.
Looking also at UK NARIC statistics, we can see that the amount of database views and member enquiries for Armenia have risen since last year. ArmENIC has a strong desire to promote their country through representation at international conferences, seminars and workshops; to play a greater role in supporting internationalisation of Armenian universities by enhancing mobility and attending international fairs. The visit to ArmENIC strengthened the cooperation between our centres and enabled the partners to identify several areas for further collaboration in order to support the growing potential of the Centre and position it more firmly as an important player in the Armenian national education system.
Arseny Kruglov, November 2012