Focus: Education

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May. 5, 2013

Azerbaijan has been reshaping and investing in its education system to get students ready for the workforce.

The total number of general education institutes in the country is 4,516, of which 18 are privately run. There are also 59 specialized secondary education institutes, of which one is private. As in many countries, when it comes to higher education, the state-run/private-run split is a little more even, with 36 state and 15 private institutes making 51 in total. There are a total of 1.69 million students in the country, with 1.29 million in secondary education, 198,993 students in primary vocational institutes, 54,485 in specialized education, and 148,946 in higher education. For those students in universities, there are 14,650 teachers, making an average of one teacher for every 10.1 students.

INTERNATIONAL STANDARDS

The government has realized that an increased budget also needs to be met with an improvement in the quality standards of the system. One of the biggest transformations was to change the secondary education curriculum. The old system was geared around students memorizing facts and figures to be reproduced in an exam. “The new curriculum stimulates the development of the logic capabilities of the child, and their critical thinking and life skills," Mardanov outlined. Azerbaijan wants to move toward a more European style of education, giving students equal footing on the world stage when it comes to vocational opportunity. In an aim to achieve the goals of “Azerbaijan 2020: The Vision of the Future" regarding IT and education, the government has invested heavily in computers in schools. When the overhaul of the education system started, there was one computer for every 1,044 children. Now, that number stands at one computer for every 20 students, with more than 50% of all teachers computer proficient after attending computer skills courses.

The largest program that the government has launched is the “Secondary Education Sector Development Project." It is in partnership with the World Bank and had an initial budget of $45 million, of which $25 million comes from the International Development Association. It was launched in 2003 and continues to run today. There are six components of the project, including teacher-training development, curriculum reform, improved student assessments, strengthen education policies, and upgraded readiness and coordination at the school level.

The partnership with the World Bank is just but one of a number of organizations the country is now working with including UNESCO, UNICEF, and UNEVOC. To help boost Azerbaijani higher education, the government entered the TEMPUS TACIS Program, run by the EU and designed to support the process of social and economic reform. It focuses on the development of the higher-education system through the cooperation of institutes within the European Community. The program is able to provide links between Azerbaijani universities and some of the best institutes in the EU. It also allows Azerbaijan to access a pool of expertise and human resources. Azerbaijan has also signed up to the Bologna Process and the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) with an aim to improve the quality of education while allowing the free movement of students between universities.

FOREIGN STUDENTS

The reason Azerbaijan is entering these programs is to make it easier to exchange students between universities, which is why it also joined the European Erasmus Program. In the school year beginning 2011, there were 4,231 foreign students in Azerbaijani universities, compared to 1,870 a decade earlier. There were 376 students from CIS countries and 3,855 from elsewhere, Turkey being the largest provider at 2,582, with Iran second at 718. According to the Ministry of Education, there are an estimated 7,000 foreign students in universities as of the start of the 2012 school year. The most popular subjects for foreign students are engineering at 33%, humanities at 19%, pedagogy at 18%, medicine at 15%, and economics and management at 11%. The Azerbaijan State Economic University is the largest in Azerbaijan, with 16,834 students in the 2010 academic year, very closely followed by Baku State University with 16,638 students. The next most popular university is the Azerbaijan State Pedagogical University (ADPU), with 8,666 students.

One of the leading engineering universities in the country is the Azerbaijan State Oil Academy (ASOA). It has links with over 40 international educational institutes for its Bachelor's and Master's programs. It also sends teachers abroad to be introduced to modern trends of higher education in the EU and US. “ASOA has trained more than 80,000 engineers, about 3,000 PhD students, and 160 Doctors of Science…as well as 4,000 engineers and hundreds of students from more than 70 countries around the world," Siyavush F. Garayev, the Rector of ASOA, told TBY. Although extra revenue is a huge drive behind attracting Erasmus students, Fariz Ismailzade, Executive Vice-Rector of Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy (ADA), believes that “if you teach students solely within one country's borders, it's nearly impossible for them to later adjust to the real world, which is highly globalized."

The main idea behind the new reforms is to create an educated workforce that is ready to play a role in the country's drive to diversify its economic base. This is not just being achieved by the education system alone, with private companies also playing their role. In 1994, an oil consortium headed by BP signed the “Deal of the Century" with the government. As a part of this deal, the oil companies committed to minimum hiring levels for Azerbaijanis that would be gradually implemented as the project matured. When the deal was signed, the government understood that the technology of the oil and gas trade had left behind the technical ability of the Azerbaijani workforce. With this contract, it would be the oil consortium that would train the workforce. Companies such as BP and Schlumberger have now set up training and development programs to improve the level of their workforce. BP has a training facility in Baku, which it has used to educate hundreds of technicians for the running of its offshore and onshore operations. In September 2012, BP started training geoscientists as well as surface and drilling engineers. “This is a multi-million dollar learning initiative called the petro-technical resource entry program, which is aimed at the capability development of national petro-technical graduates joining BP," Gordon Birrell, Regional President for Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey for BP, explained. The large majority of BP workers in Azerbaijan are local because of such initiatives and an improved education system. Schlumberger is a company that will often hire local workers and in a similar way to BP train its own staff; however, instead of building a new training center in every country it goes, Schlumberger has opted to send the workers to central training centers. “We have four major learning centers in Houston, Paris, Tyumen, and Abu Dhabi. These centers are even equipped with drilling rigs so we can provide our engineers with real hands-on training," Will Grace, General Manager of Schlumberger, told TBY.

The education system in Azerbaijan still has a long way to go; however, it has made some important steps into bringing its standards in line with those of Europe to attract an increasing number of foreign students. With the help of the private sector and a vastly improved education budget, Azerbaijanis are being given the right tools to help them succeed in developing their careers.