Azerbaijan can be forgiven for wanting its human resources to be as lucrative as its natural resources, and it is this philosophy that is driving the country to break away from its Soviet past and develop an education system fit for its aspirations on the world stage.
“Our aim is to convert black gold into human gold,” President Ilham Aliyev commented at the Baku International Humanitarian Forum in 2011. In this vein, the Ministry of Education has embarked on implanting wide-ranging and systematic reforms in the national education system. Investment is aimed at implementing active learning practices and developing large-scale construction and upgrade projects while promoting the further integration of the country’s higher education sector into the international system.
The Ministry’s strategies already look to be paying off; 969 of every 1,000 Azerbaijanis in the 15+ age category have now completed or are in the process of completing secondary, higher, or vocational education. Furthermore, 164 schools and 67 kindergartens were built and repaired in Azerbaijan in 2011 as part of a state program of socio-economic development in the regions and, as of today, for every 20 students there is one computer and over one-quarter of the country’s schools have high-speed internet access.
The government has shown no signs of slowing down, however, with it set to provide $2.16 billion for the development of the education and science sectors in 2012, of which $138.68 million will exclusively be allocated to higher education, a segment of the education system that has considerably improved in quality over the last few years thanks, partly, to the growth of private institutions.
Azerbaijan currently has 51 higher education institutions; 36 state universities and 15 private institutions, which run Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in 139 different specialties.
The reforms carried out in the education system in the last decade have contributed to a 20% increase in the higher education rate, and the Ministry of Education aims to bring the figure up to 30% in the near future. In order to facilitate both the entry and specialization of students, university admission procedures have recently been changed. According to the State Commission on Student Admission, 31,419 students are to enroll at university in the 2012/13 academic year; 26,384 at state institutions and 5,035 at private universities.
Over the last decade, Azerbaijani universities have stepped up efforts to integrate their curriculums into the international higher education system through partnerships and agreements with both European and US institutions, and further increase the volume of student and staff exchange in the future. In this regard, the government is determined to increase the number of Azerbaijani graduates and postgraduates continuing their studies abroad. “We have strengthened our confidence in the field of education thanks to the international success achieved by our institutions and the integration of our education system into the international arena,” Misir Mardanov, Minister of Education, told TBY.
According to the latest numbers released by the Ministry in 2011, 1,600 Azerbaijanis are currently studying abroad, 836 of which are doing so within the framework of the “State Program on Education of Azerbaijani Youth Abroad 2007-2015.” Under the scheme, sponsored by the Ministry of Economic Development, students have the opportunity to study abroad on the condition they return to develop their professional careers in Azerbaijan. Monthly scholarships have also been raised by 10%, and institutions like the State Oil Fund of Azerbaijan (SOFAZ), which allocated $25.4 million in 2011,
up $6.35 million from 2010 to the state program, are also fully committed to ensuring a competent workforce for the future.
State universities in Azerbaijan have a long tradition, with most public institutions established in the 1920s and 1930s. In the last five-year period, state universities have gone about upgrading facilities and prioritizing their international integration by adopting curricula and expanding agreements with international counterparts, which has boosted their international reputation amongst the international higher education community.
The Azerbaijan State Oil Academy (ASOA) is one of the leading public education institutions. ASOA trains students in more than 50 fields, and over recent years it has expanded its research capacity. Baku State University has also achieved wide international recognition of late, with the institution celebrating its first inclusion in the QS World University Rankings 2011. The institution offers a wide range of programs in fields such as physics, biology, chemistry, mathematics, history, philosophy, law, and journalism. Additionally, the Azerbaijan State Economic University, with its 14 faculties and 16,000 students, is one of the biggest institutions in the South Caucasus. The center offers 57 specialties that are taught by more than 1,000 teachers and professors. Azerbaijan Medical University (AMU), which is currently developing new facilities, has 8,000 students, including 1,000 foreign students, and has established over 40 agreements with international institutions. The rector of AMU told TBY that more than 10,000 of its graduated specialists work in 28 different countries, and that the institution is prioritizing its further integration into the international system.
Private higher education institutions have played a key role in the development of the higher education system in Azerbaijan, contributing to “leverage both quality and capacity,” Minister Mardanov told TBY.
Institutions like Qafqaz University and Khazar University have led the way over the years, playing a significant role in developing curricula of European standards. In fact, Qafqaz University, which has a student body of 2,700 people, currently offers 21 programs in English, aside from programs in Azeri and Russian. The institution has recently been recognized at the international level with its inclusion in the prestigious QS World University Rankings in 2011, and is putting into practice a pioneer program with the industrial and business sectors of Azerbaijan to boost its research departments. For example, BP has invested $2.7 million in a new facility for chemical engineering students and the university has, at the moment, 10 research centers including energy and security, economics, IT, and social sciences, Professor Doctor Ahmet Sanic, rector of Qafqaz University, told TBY.
Khazar University, with a current student body of 1,800 graduates, is another of the leading institutions in the private sphere. Having developed strong ties with European and US universities, the institution is now looking to its Asian counterparts in order to attract foreign students, the rector told TBY. Indeed, attracting foreign students seems to be a priority in
The Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy (ADA) also has wide appeal to foreigners, with 40% of its students non-Azerbaijanis. It is also planning to move into a new campus with a significant program and facilities expansion. In 2011, the academy joined the educational program Erasmus Mundus to facilitate the movement of students in and out of the country. In its only five years of existence, ADA has become a leading institution in the country and is also planning to launch a School of Business.
In 2007, the Azerbaijani government passed legislation to boost the vocational education sector in the country, and a total of $2.16 million has been allocated to the development of vocational education in Azerbaijan in 2012 alone.
As of today, there are 109 vocational establishments, including 47 vocational lyceums and 59 vocational schools subordinate to the Ministry of Education, which is working on upgrading and building new facilities to improve workforce skills and abilities, with special focus on the tourism and agriculture sectors.
In January 2012, the Ministry inaugurated the new Baku Vocational Tourism School, at which the first 200 students have already been enrolled. The center offers up to 10 specialties including tour operator, travel agent, ski mountaineering tour guide, and ecotourism guide. It also expects 350 more students in summer 2012. The center is to play a key role within the development of the tourism sector in the country, since many five-star hotels and complementary facilities are setting up in Baku and the regions of Azerbaijan, and a specialized workforce is in high demand.
In addition, a new Agriculture Vocational School was opened in the Ismayilli region in 2011 within the framework of an agreement with the EU, which provided more than $3.15 million of technical assistance to the project. Other international institutions such as the British Council and UNESCO are also promoting the development of vocational education in Azerbaijan, a segment of the national education system in which the private sector is also actively contributing to leverage the country’s workforce capacities and skills by providing employees with international training courses at international standards.
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