TBY talks to Shamsaddin Hajiev, Rector of Azerbaijan State Economic University and Head of the Committee on Science and Education at the National Assembly of the Republic of Azerbaijan, on educational reform, world integration, and challenges to the sector.
TBY What were the aims of reforms carried out in the education sector after 1991?
MISIR MARDANOV After the collapse of the USSR, Azerbaijan implemented important measures in all spheres, and took serious steps toward the improvement of the people’s welfare and the realization of new reform strategies. The broad progress made in education, and especially in secondary education, owes much to the direction of the national leader, Heydar Aliyev. During this period, the country developed socially and economically over a golden period. The progress made includes the transformation from eight-year compulsory education into compulsory secondary education, the construction of 680 new schools for more than 250,000 pupils, the strengthening of teacher training, and the greatly improved supply of educational materials. This substantial reform process in the education system, initiated by the founder of the national education strategy, Heydar Aliyev, is today being successfully continued and developed by President Ilham Aliyev, and has become irreversible, with significant measures still being taken toward developing the strategic structure and management of education, its content, the modernization of its infrastructure, the strengthening of its material and technical basis, and the integration of the national education system into the international education system. The government understands the role of education in developing strong human capital, and the desire to see this develop has never been more real than it is today. Azerbaijan also works hard to reward pioneers in the education sector, and has initiated innovative schemes in order to create competitiveness between schools and teachers. Further state programs for the development of the sector have had many successful results. In addition to the modernization of educational materials, more focus has been put on training personnel in accordance with the demands of the labor market and the development of pre-school, vocational, higher education, foreign study, and special needs programs. For the past 20 years there has been a lack of pre-school construction, but for the first time 31 new kindergartens have been built over the last two years, 37 pre-school institutions have been reconstructed, and 134 education institutions have been provided with modern equipment. Furthermore, 14 new teaching aids and more than 40,000 copies of such teaching aids have been prepared and delivered to pre-school institutions. In regards to vocational training, institutions have been established to serve various sectors and eight textbooks have been prepared and printed over the last 20 years. A new portal for vocational training has also been established, and it includes many electronic resources.
How significant is scientific research as a part of the education system in Azerbaijan?
Higher educational institutions conduct fundamental and applied scientific research works and prepare scientific-pedagogical personnel. There are 128 faculties and 682 departments at 20 state-run universities under the Ministry of Education, four state-financed scientific research institutes, four scientific centers, 92 scientific research laboratories, and one scientific research institute under the Azerbaijan State Oil Academy in Azerbaijan at present. In addition one scientific research center and one scientific research laboratory were established and provided with modern equipment in 2010 as a result of measures taken to target the development of scientific infrastructure in the university sector. In 2010 overall, research works on 2,436 topics covering 587 scientific challenges were conducted by universities under the Ministry of Education, and 2,097 research programs were concluded. Eight of these finished works were applied in production processes, 2,089 were applied in teaching processes, and 1,249 were considered as significant scientific results. All research works, developed with significant financial investment, were conducted to meet modern standards. In 2007, AZN1.27 million was allocated to high education institutions, excluding self-supporting universities. In 2010 this figure increased to AZN2.5 million. As a result of these efforts, the number of patent applications has increased, and 48 were issued in 2010, compared with only 12 in 1998. Furthermore, 436 monographs, 338 textbooks, 620 examples of educational material, and 1,421 programs and methodical literature were published in 2010. The number of articles written by Azerbaijanis published in foreign journals also increased to 2,036, well above the 794 published in 2009. The Ministry of Education is also committed to representing Azerbaijan at scientific events and international and local conferences, as well as organizing many events itself.
What strategies is the Ministry of Education implementing in order to further integrate the country’s education system into the international education system?
Azerbaijan joined the Bologna Process in 2005 and outlined future reforms to be carried out in the field of education. The appropriate Action Plan for 2006-2010 was prepared and approved in order to implement the principles of the Bologna Declaration. The expansion of cooperation in the education sector with international organizations and the realization of joint projects with the EU, the Council of Europe, the British Council, UNICEF, UNESCO, and ISESCO play an important role in the integration of Azerbaijan’s education system into the international network. The execution of agreements and protocols signed with foreign countries and international organizations and the preparation of such agreements and projects with other countries can also be considered as successful steps taken in this direction. Additionally, Azerbaijan joined three international conventions, as well as the Lisbon Recognition Convention in 1997 for the recognition of its diplomas, and this is an important legal base for recognition in other countries. The Ministry of Education is active in organizing joint conferences and seminars with international organizations, and our scientists participate in events held in foreign countries. In that way, foreign institutions and international organizations are well informed of the progress being made in the Azerbaijani education sector. Higher education facilities are also increasingly taking steps in the preparation of personnel in various specialties from foreign countries. Students from Asia, Africa, and South America have studied various professions at several education institutions in Azerbaijan. Such institutions attracting foreign students include Baku State University, Azerbaijan Medical University, Azerbaijan State Oil Academy, Azerbaijan Technical University, Azerbaijan Architecture and Construction University, Azerbaijan State University of Culture and Art, and Baku Musical Academy.
What is the role of private universities in the development of higher education in Azerbaijan?
One of the innovations of international experience and a new economic-political system in the Azerbaijani education system is the establishment of private universities. We can see from international experience that the establishment of the private sector along with the public sector has stimulated competition and progress. The creation of a private university network has had many other significant effects. It has widened people’s choice and increased opportunities. There are 15 private universities in our country at present. Their activities are controlled by the Ministry, and their teaching and standards are regulated. Among private universities, Qafqaz University possesses the highest rating, and its graduates are distinguished by their professionalism and competitiveness.
The government outlined plans for higher education reform over 2009-2013. How is this initiative developing?
In recent years significant progress has been achieved in the development of higher education. As we noted, Azerbaijan joined the Bologna Process and took some important measures on integration into the European educational space. The main purposes of the state program on higher educational reforms for 2009-2013 are to integrate the national education system into the European one, to establish its content in accordance with the principles of the Bologna Process, to ensure competitiveness, and to respond to the demand for educated personnel in accordance with the requirements for the development of the country’s economy. Additionally, in accordance with the documents of UNESCO and other international organizations, an international classification structure for bachelors degrees has been approved by the government. So far, 26 higher education institutions have been accredited and the credit system has been applied at 29 education institutions under the Ministry and at all private universities.
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