Armenia: they want younger specialists, but less autonomy for universities
Armenian experts are unanimous in the opinion that the recently proposed bill on higher education is extremely controversial and ambiguous. However, the initiators of the bill are satisfied saying they have accomplished the objective set before them which was to develop general principles for governing higher education institutions and academies.
The bill was published on the e-draft website so that all individuals concerned, including experts and ordinary citizens showing an interest in the issue, can familiarise themselves with the document, but the National Assembly members sharply criticized the bill. Preliminary debates held in parliament on the issue lasted for four hours, during which the Minister of Education and Science of Armenia Levon Mkrtchyan put forward the rhetorical question of whether Armenia needed the bill at all.
The Minister stressed that this law wouldn’t solve all the problems in the higher education sphere at once. Yet, in his words, many questions will be answered. In particular, he touched upon the ‘excessive humanitarization’ of higher education.
“Humanitarian specialties make up 70% of our professional education. Exact sciences practically aren’t represented within the scope of higher education. We are facing a problem of preserving the natural sciences, and for that purpose it’s necessary to change the school system. This law will certainly help resolve this issue,” he said.
The possible ‘rejuvenation’ of the sphere was also discussed.
““If in a certain country 6% of people aged 35-55 and 30% of people over 60 are involved in the science sphere, then there’s a problem. A person turning 40 realizes that he has no chance of becoming the head of a lab or a department. These young people put their potential in some other areas, in other countries. There are many countries that have no science and that live at the expense of the service sector. We have no right to do so, we have no right to lose our scientific potential,” the minister stressed.
Sergey Bagratyan, an MP from the Tsarukyan opposition faction, believes that if a lecturer or a head of department performs their duties in a professional manner, it doesn’t matter how old they are:
“It’s a violation of human rights to set age limits and claim that a 70-year-old man can’t work.”
Experts note that the bill has some serious drawbacks: it doesn’t solve the three main problems existing in this field:
- autonomy of higher education institutions,
- academic freedom,
- actual depoliticizing of higher education institutions.
In their opinion, this bill will further restrict the universities’ ‘freedom of action’ because the right to approve the university board composition will be transferred to the country’s Prime Minister.
Mkrtchyan says that the state university board should be approved by their founder, which in this case happens to be the Prime Minister. But experts including the opposition has expressed their concern as universities will thus be deprived of the right to make independent decisions.
“The goal of the political majority is quite clear. However, it directly contradicts the objective set by the Education Minister: to depoliticize the management of higher education institutions and expand their autonomy. The self-government won’t be free if the board composition is approved by the Prime Minister,” said Anahit Bakhshyan, a member of the Yelk opposition bloc.
The bill is subject to revision. It’s still unclear how exactly the Ministry of Education and Science may change it.