TBY talks to Ahmet Sanic, Rector of Qafqaz University, on academic programs, the ECTS system, and international cooperation.
TBY What were the main targets when Qafqaz University opened its doors in 1993?
AHMET SANIC Qafqaz University was an initiative of a group of Turkish investors, and the decision to establish this institution was taken shortly after independence. Turkey has a very emotional connection to Azerbaijan and investors saw a chance to do business and also contribute to the development of the Azerbaijani education sector. A lot of students have graduated from this institution, and they are now helping the development of the economy here. A great number of students also began to go abroad to attain skills and bring back Western standards to Azerbaijan. In effect, a bridge has been created between Turkey and Azerbaijan, with many partnerships and internships helping the development of this institution and the Azerbaijani economy.
How has the university developed in terms of the number of programs it offers?
We have a very strong Faculty of Economics, and within this faculty there are studies pertaining to business administration, banking, and general economy. We are also a member of the Azerbaijan International Society of Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen (TÜSİAB), which advises investors to hire our students based on their high level of education and intimate knowledge of Turkey. Our professors here also write books on the Azerbaijani economy, and these are beneficial to Turkish investors. As a result, whenever there are any Turkish investors who want to do business in Azerbaijan, they contact us with their human resources needs, and we can provide them with graduates who know the ins and outs of both the Azerbaijani and Turkish economies.
What was behind the decision to use the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) at the university?
When the university was established the decision was taken to use the credit point system in the Western sense. For this reason, the Ministry of Education gave us a special “Pilot University” status, in order for us to be able to apply and use this system effectively. In 2005, Azerbaijan signed the Bologna Process, according to which all universities have to apply the ECTS, the core of which relies on the system we had already been using. Qafqaz University has continuously been shown as an example to the rest of the educational sector. To stay ahead, we continuously work to utilize our close ties with Turkey, and recently arranged a conference with a Turkish educational institution, for instance, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, and brought in speakers from Turkey. Such close ties to Turkey are what set us apart. We have also published reports on the Bologna Process and the ECTS in order to help their better establishment across Azerbaijan.
What other ties have you developed to afford your students the best international exposure?
We are involved in the Erasmus Mundus and Tempus programs. We have been recruiting students mainly from Turkey because it has a natural connection with our university. We haven’t yet opened our doors to the full extent partly because of state policy. Now, things have changed and the government is starting to show more support for international students, because the number of students is decreasing across higher-education institutions as there are more and more universities opening in Turkey. We believe we will have no real trouble in attracting foreign students, as we have existing programs taught in English, such as international relations, international literature, business administration, computer engineering, and many more.
What is the university doing to attract the best possible staff?
We offer a lot of incentives for professors to come here. Plus, we organize many conferences with international professors. Each of our four faculties organizes at least one international conference per year. In 2005, a record seven were organized, but we had to slow it down as it was taking too much time and energy. Around 10 centers work to organize smaller-scale conferences. The Conflict Research Center, for example, has so far organized six international conferences since September 2010. Building these bridges with other institutions allows us to attract the very best academic staff and establish partnerships with foreign universities.
How many international students are there at Qafqaz University?
There are from between 350 and 400, as the number changes year-on-year. Around 300 of them are from Turkey, with almost 60 from Russia, Georgia, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and India. At the same time, we have students from African countries like Nigeria, Malawi, and Ethiopia. Our professors, on the other hand, are generally from Turkey, Russia, and Azerbaijan. We hire professors with Master’s or Doctorate degrees from abroad, generally the US, Turkey, and other European countries. Our staff who studied locally are then generally sent to the US or Europe on a regular basis for a year’s training.
How much of an importance do you put on language learning, such as in English?
Previously, each student studied five years at university, with the first year dedicated to English language preparation. The system has now changed, inserting English language instruction across all four years at university. We currently have 14 educational programs in the English language. We have also started to offer Russian, French, and German as elective classes.
What role have private universities played in the development of the Azerbaijani higher education system?
There are 36 governmental and 14 private universities in Azerbaijan. Qafqaz University plays a big role in the development of private education as it instilled trust amongst the population in private education after the collapse of the Soviet Union. We are now proud to have the third highest entrance threshold in the country’s central exam, right behind Azerbaijan Medical University. We believe this has gone a long way to convince the population that private education doesn’t just mean a diploma in exchange for a certain amount of money. This can be verified by looking at our list of students, four of who attained full marks in the central exam, with only a total seven attaining such a mark in the entire country. We also have a further 25 students who were ranked in the top 100 enrolled, and these students receive tuition support from the government.
What targets do you have for the future of Qafqaz University?
Our main goal over the last few years has been to give our students the best possible education. We now feel that this target has been met, and we are moving onto new targets. The first is to establish more links with international schools worldwide, and secondly to connect more efficiently with the private sector. Finally, we would like to produce more academic studies and
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