Georgia is over-educated

March 17, 2000

TBILISI

State university rectors in Georgia are seeking tighter laws on higher education accreditation in the wake of a boom in private colleges since the collapse of communism.

Since 1991, more than 200 new degree-offering institutions have entered the country's historically strong university sector.

More than half of all school-leavers in Georgia go into higher education, and a third opt for tertiary vocational training, often with the hope of using it as a back door into university later on.

But with half the registered adult unemployed holding higher education degrees, the relevance of much of Georgia's higher education curriculum and teaching is now being questioned.

Roin Metreveli, rector of Tbilisi State University and head of the national council of rectors, says that during nine years of independence Georgia has failed to tackle a system still rooted in communist-era practices.

"The challenge is to reform the old Soviet system, taking the positive features and finding new ways forward. We've taken the first step in giving universities self-government and independence, but we also need to create a new concept of university activity, bringing us closer to western standards with four-year bachelors and two-year masters programmes," Professor Metreveli said.

Creating new standards is the keystone of a new law on higher education that should be presented to parliament by the end of the year. Accreditation and entitlement criteria for universities, academies and institutes will be established under the new law.

Professor Metreveli acknowledges that private colleges have a place in Georgia's post-Soviet higher education system, but argues that there are too many and the value of their degrees is at times questionable.

"We agree that private schools should exist, but Georgia cannot afford to have 200. Every school needs its own building, staff and equipment. We think that about 20 private institutions would be enough for us. Our neighbour Turkey, for example, is ten times bigger than Georgia but has only 50 private higher education institutions. We're worried that students at private schools suffer from lower standards."

But some in Georgian higher education accuse state university rectors of blatant self-interest in seeking to cut the private sector down to size. Corruption is said to be rife in state universities, where students can expect to pay between a few hundred lari (one lari equals 30 pence) and several thousand to pass entrance exams.

Alexander Rondeli, a former Tbilisi State University chair who now heads an independent foreign policy think-tank that advises the Georgian government, said that many of the "biggest bandits" were to be found in top university positions.

Georgia's education minister, Alexander Kartozia, acknowledges that corruption is present but is determined to push forward the drive for higher standards at the same time as seeking to eradicate illicit practices. "We must all work together to tackle corruption and improve standards," he said.

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