TBY talks to Prof. Dr. Ahmet Sanic, Rector of Qafqaz University, on implementing ECTS, developing international ties, and the future of e-learning.
TBY What role has Qafqaz University played in developing the tertiary education sector in Azerbaijan since it was established in 1993?
AHMET SANIC Qafqaz University’s main aim has always been to introduce innovations and reforms to Azerbaijan’s university system in order to bring the country’s tertiary education sector closer to Western standards. For example, we implemented the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) when the country signed the Bologna Process in 2005, and over the last five years Qafqaz has become the most successful university in the country in terms of applying that system. Also, we have successfully introduced new teaching technology in the Economics, Pedagogy, and Engineering departments. New technologies have always been key to our teaching programs, and our students have been using computers since we were established in 1993. The university campus system, dormitories, and some other facilities that contribute to improving the quality of our services also represent innovations. They were not traditionally common in Azerbaijan, and we were successful in changing that. Also, we are the first university in the country to implement the ISO 9001 quality standard, and we have contributed to introducing English as a secondary language, as well as Russian. We currently have 21 programs, both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, taught in English. Overall, these past few years have been very successful for us and we have achieved the targets we initially set. We currently have 2,700 students, and about 500 students graduate every year. The university has worked intensively to establish and promote social clubs and cultural activities such as debate meetings among students; some 60% of our student body belongs to a social club, which highlights the importance of the work we are doing from an academic and cultural perspective.
How has implementing the ECTS contributed to the development of Qafqaz University?
We started using the ECTS in 2006, and it has definitely helped to bring Azerbaijan’s university system closer to European standards. We have significantly developed our international connections since 2006, for example by joining the Magna Charta Observatory of Fundamental University Values and Rights in 2011, which is also part of the Bologna Process. Recently we have been awarded four Tempus grant projects and an Erasmus Mundus student exchange program, which has encouraged us to keep up our internationalization process, establishing and developing the International Relations Office, and promoting opportunities for Azerbaijani students to study abroad and for foreign students to study in Azerbaijan. The number of Azerbaijani students applying for international grants has considerably increased in recent years. The recent awards we have received speak volumes for the importance of Azerbaijan within the region and its potential in
What ties have you developed with international universities over the years?
We have established joint collaboration in research and a wide student exchange program with a number of Turkish universities. We are rapidly expanding our partnerships with European universities, since many Western countries are targeting our region, and in particular Azerbaijan. Over the years, we have developed ties with around 70 European universities and we are promoting student exchanges with most of them. In addition, Qafqaz University has close ties, joint degree agreements, and exchange programs with some universities in the US, and we are steadily building relationships with more universities. We are consolidating Qafqaz’s position at the international level and are aiming to develop more partnerships to include Master’s and PhD students. At the moment we have 30 students studying toward their bachelor’s programs abroad, and our main goal is to increase that figure and attract more foreign students to Azerbaijan. One of the things I would like to add is that our students are the best promotional tool we have, and now former Qafqaz students are working and studying in 51 different countries around the world.
How much importance do you put on research and e-learning?
At the moment, we have 10 research centers including energy and security, economics and social sciences, IT, and languages. As a young university we are working toward emphasizing research as a key factor in our programs. We also aim to develop closer ties with the industrial and business world and other companies operating in Azerbaijan. For example, BP recently invested $2.7 million in a new facility for chemical engineering students. That is the sort of relationship we are trying to establish by forming closer relationships with industries that benefit all parties: the company, the university, and above all the students. Regarding e-learning, we currently have four courses that combine face-to-face and online teaching. However, the country needs to implement some legal reforms to establish the basis for this type of education—a law that would provide a framework for universities. Nevertheless, there is huge potential for e-learning in Azerbaijan, and we are currently training members of our staff in Germany to implement further strategies in this field.
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