Reflections: Georgia

In May, the final meeting of the Capacity Building project for the Caucasus was held, involving representatives of the United Kingdom, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. It was organised by our Georgian colleagues and held in the office of the National Centre for Educational Quality Enhancement (NCEQE) in Tbilisi.

The purpose of this meeting was not only to become familiar with the functions, policies and procedures of the Georgian centre, but also to provide the necessary support and to increase further cooperation between the organisations involved in this project. The director of the NCEQE, Ms Elene Jibladze, emphasised that the objectives of the meeting were to summarise the outcomes of the project between the UK and the countries of the Caucasus region and to expand the cooperation between the centres. She also noted the importance of cooperation with colleagues from the UK for further development of the Georgian centre, as well as the participation of representatives from other centres of the Caucasus region. The project presents an opportunity not only to strengthen communication, but also to develop a unified system of recognition for educational programmes across the region.

During the workshop, participants noted the invaluable benefits of this project and outlined the possibilities for future collaboration. UK NARIC, as organisers, summarised the results of the work for each centre and identified priority areas for further development.

Major changes have occurred in the Georgian education sector since the year 2000.

Institutional accreditation was launched in 2004. Before that time, only private institutions, which began to grow in number from 1991 onwards, had to go through the accreditation procedure. Between 2005 and 2010, institutions had to be licensed followed by accreditation to be fully recognised. The NCEQE was created in 2010, and it is the legal successor of the National Centre for Educational Accreditation. In that same year, mandatory licensing and institutional accreditation were replaced by an authorisation procedure. Standards of authorisation consist of three components: human resources, material resources and educational resources, which are measured every five years by NCEQE.

The Georgian National Qualifications Framework was also introduced in 2010. It consists of eight levels in line with the European Qualifications Framework. Basic education is at the first level, completed general secondary education is at level three, and the last three levels relate to the main higher education qualifications. Compulsory studies are until year 9, but the majority of pupils stay at school up until year 12. Bachelor and Master’s programmes were officially introduced in 2003, totally replacing specialist programmes from Soviet period.

Georgia is one of the states in the Caucasus region that gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Since then, the country has experienced a series of political and military conflicts. At present, the situation is more or less stabilised, and a slow recovery of the relationship with its key neighbour – Russia, both at the political and economic level, is occurring. During his presidency, the current leader of Georgia; Mikheil Saakashvili, has managed within the space of a few years, to almost completely eliminate corruption in the country where the practice flourished for decades. Now, attempts to bribe a police officer were they to stop your car for instance, would be pointless. Local people have certainly appreciated both this and likewise the simplification and acceleration of various administrative procedures, which used to take months to complete.

However, the economic situation of the local population remains very difficult. On the streets there are many poor people begging. As there is only a small industrial sector, there is a corresponding lack of employment opportunities and people are finding employment where they can. In the centre of the city for example, all parking spaces are supervised by a ‘traffic marshal’, a person who helps you to park and looks after your car. You are expected to remunerate the worker before you leave. It would be seem ideal for Georgia to become a major tourist destination since it has so much to offer: the nature and climate, exceptional cuisine and the wine… However, the Georgians may not yet be willing to accept that.

The capital of Georgia, Tbilisi, was founded in the 5th century and is an important transit point for international energy and trade projects. The city certainly has its own colour and characteristic details. On the peripheral streets, mostly just beyond the centre of the city, lots of small shops offer products to suit every taste from fruits and vegetables to clothes. These shops are located mostly in the apartments of the seller, windows or doors of which face the street. There is also a large number of bakeries and take-away points, where different national pastries and quick meals are being prepared and sold. The famous pie with cheese – hachapuri, the so-called ‘Georgian pizza’, can be enjoyed straight from the oven.

From conversations with locals, it became clear that the infrastructure of the city has dramatically improved in recent times: new roads and new buildings have been constructed; some of the old ones have been renovated. This surge of activity after years of stagnation has been well received, but unfortunately did not last long. Now, for various reasons the development has halted again. Testament to this, there remains a large number of old buildings in the city that need major repair work or complete demolition due to unsuitability for living. For instance, most conspicuous in the centre of city, is not the new presidential palace and the monumental building of the Trinity Cathedral but the fact that it is surrounded by the houses that are almost falling apart.

The local people however, are wonderfully welcoming and friendly. Most Georgians are religious and respectfully adhere to the Orthodox faith and church. Passing the church, many cross themselves, both old and young people.

Georgians are very musical people. Live bands play at many restaurants and the guests themselves quite frequently get involved and sing national songs. To appreciate it fully, it is necessary to listen to the manner in which Georgians sing. The national music is not very familiar to European ears, but it is nonetheless simply fascinating and it can be listened to for hours. It is usually men who sing and do so without any advance preparation, dividing into polyphony.

We also had a chance to visit the old capital of Georgia – Mtskheta, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, located at the confluence of the Aragvi and Kura rivers. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In Mtskheta the main interest is Svetitskhoveli Cathedral which had been the focal church in Georgia for a millennium until the new main cathedral was built in Tbilisi. It contains Christian relics from different periods. Opposite the city, across the river and on a mountain, one of the oldest churches in Georgia is located. Founded in the year 545 this remote church is currently a male monastery. From there you can admire the beautiful view of the city as well as the contrast in the colours of the two rivers.

To sum up our project in the Caucasus, whilst the countries remain diverse, there is plenty of potential for further development across the region. It would be nice to witness a more active participation of these countries in the global education market, and likewise to see international higher education providers using the opportunities that the region has to offer. Staff at all three centres strongly advocate the development and promotion of education and academic mobility. All have made substantial legislative changes and are ready to cooperate with global partners. We look forward to engaging more frequently with our counterparts on the global stage, wishing them every success and will continue to support their efforts to collaborate more fully with international partners.


Arseny Kruglov, July 2013

Reflections: Armenia

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