What is on the agenda for the Higher Education System in Armenia?

Article by Tatevik Gharibyan is a HERE, an expert at the Ministry of Education and Science of Armenia and Co-founder of the ExHEO education and career development foundation. 

*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of her organisation.

The senior administration of the authorized body of education of Armenia has changed three times during the last three years. The new administration, which is a product of the government that came into power after the Velvet Revolution in the spring of 2018, is seemingly contemporary, but it is not clear whether it will be long-lasting. Each recent Minister has had his own political commitments and a vision for education in Armenia. 

After regaining independence from Soviet Rule in 1991 and joining to the development of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) via the Bologna Process in 2005, the Armenian higher education system went through several fundamental reforms. It completely changed its structure and processes for promoting academic mobility, enhanced international cooperation in higher education and research and for improving quality of education. 

Looking at the path the system has taken during the last decade, some considerable results were achieved, such as:

  • developing a quality assurance system and an agency which was registered in the European Quality Assurance Register of Higher Education (EQAR) and became a member of the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA),
  • hosting the EHEA Ministerial conference and 4th Bologna Policy Forum in Yerevan, which resulted in the Yerevan Communiqué,
  • integrating the European credit transfer and accumulation system (ECTS)  into the national higher education system and a developing the diploma supplement to support mobility in this area,
  • implementing a number of European Union TEMPUS and Erasmus+ credit mobility and capacity building projects aimed at Bologna policy changes, and
  • joining Horizon 2020, which will create a new opportunity for Armenian researchers and institutions to participate in EU research and innovation schemes.

While these reforms are considerable, quality assurance is yet to become a culture in universities’ everyday life, and the credit system still needs to systematically be used to serve mobility within universities. Similarly, the national qualifications framework does not yet serve its main goal of transforming the system into learning outcome-oriented education. It can be assessed that many important aspects have been ignored while implementing policy changes at a rapid pace, in order to keep up with developed countries. The process seemed to focus more on implementation itself, on paper, than on the outcomes of committed reforms. The result thus far is more about generating documentation than favoring the sustainable development of the Armenian knowledgeable society.

In order to supplement ongoing reforms in line with EHEA developments, in 2015 the Ministry of Education and Science initiated a revision of the higher education law. The draft law was developed by consulting a number of experts who came to Armenia in the context of European Union projects such as Twinning, the TEMPUS-funded ATHENA project with the European University Association (EUA), and also with the Council of Europe “Strengthening integrity and combating corruption in higher education” project. The draft of the new law provides a good basis for developing a flexible system and giving wider autonomy to educational Institutions to support implementation of reforms. After lengthy and contentious discussions with the public, political institutions and other stakeholders, the draft of the law is again under discussion and revision at the Ministry. A decision was made to integrate two laws - the Law on higher education and the Law on scientific research - into one, with a focus on strengthening synergies in the system between universities and research institutions, which is obviously a pivotal decision in this new, more globalized era of innovation and research. 

As there has been much political turnover recently, it is not clear if the new law will be finalized and a common vision and strategy will be agreed upon soon. 

Where does the political will take the system?

The Velvet Revolution, which has been well publicized and discussed internationally, announced a change of political approach to the governance of Armenia, aimed at more social inclusion and participatory democracy in the country. Following the revolution, Armenia is still going through major political changes. During this transformation period, there is a need for new and thoroughly planned initiatives, and for elevating the country to a more globally favorable position in our geopolitically complicated region.

Education has to play a major role and should be a focal point of that process. The new agenda of education in Armenia is mainly focusing on anticorruption, educational ethics and inclusive education. Though these are very important issues, they cannot be treated effectively without related actions for enhancing the system. And, while Armenia is fighting against corruption, other developed economies are competing for research-based innovations, talent management, and focusing on research-integrated education.

After so many changes in the senior administration of education in the government, and the lack of a common strategy for Armenian HE reform, the higher education system has been stagnating for three years. Even though implemented reforms are not fully operational yet, they are a good foundation for further development. The biggest obstacle to integrate implemented reforms into the culture of education is the public resistance for change. Thus, comprehensive action to change a fixed mindset of the people in the country must be taken.

Hopefully, the new education administration will take advantage, and push the system further according to current global trends in higher education and research and EHEA policy goals, by translating those goals in to the national context. However, if there is not a coherent and ambitious strategy and  policy in place, the system will be pulled back substantially.

(Tatevik Gharibyan: E-mail: tatevikgharibyan@gmail.com)