The Condition of Higher Education in Azerbaijan

In the late 90’s, shortly after the split from the USSR and while new systems were being put in place, and changes to existing infrastructure were being implemented the Azerbaijan education system became very shaky. The education budget was awarded dramatically less funding and this had a knock-on effect across the system. Teacher’s salaries were slashed giving rise to poor morale and potential corruption; there was a lack of transparency and clarity which allowed wealthier students to ‘buy’ their grades, while brighter, but poorer, students were not awarded deserved results. With some teachers having a hostile attitude to children from poorer families, who could sometimes not bring the appropriate equipment or wear the correct clothing to school, a high rate of absenteeism ensued, or children were simply not enrolled at all when they came of age.

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This situation became so bad that many institutes of higher learning were forced into holding entrance exams where students had to prove that they had attained a standard suitable for tertiary education. The country was not the worst off in regards to educational standards, but it was not far from the bottom of the tables. The difficulty of gaining a solid education from the very building blocks provided by primary school upwards meant that Azerbaijan was heading into a situation where it would not have been able to internally produce the skills required for a successful 21st century economy.

The Azerbaijan government realised that this trend needed to be sharply reversed and began a program, in partnership with the World Bank, of reforming and improving education in the country.

The World Bank has a stated aim of helping developing countries to educate their children as a good education is a great force in the fight against inequality and poverty. With Azerbaijan having 60% of the population described as ‘poor’ and a further 20% as ‘very poor’ there is a clear need for development in this area. Azerbaijan joined the World Bank and has worked through 2 stages of a 3 stage reform package; the final stage is live at the moment. In July 2011 President Ilham Aliyev signed an order preparing for ‘National Education Development Strategy 2011 -2021’ which hopes to bring the countries education system up to an internationally recognised standard within the next decade.

At present attendance at school until the 8th grade is required; the countries 500-strong school libraries are being renewed and updated. Overall the system has had a massive financial boost; US$25 million from the World Bank; US$ 1.5 million from UNICEF and an internal input of US$20.4 from the government – although there is perhaps room for a higher percentage of the GDP to be allocated to education. An air of transparency is being introduced and the winds of change are sweeping from the very lowest levels, all the way to the top. Teacher training is thorough and morale is improving; teaching methods are being updated and enrolment is slowly creeping up. Educational websites have been launched, using the internal country domain, allowing schools all over the country to offer the same standardised methods and systems of teaching and learning.

Taken as a whole the Azerbaijan education system has shown itself to be adaptable and resourceful; having changed its whole alphabet from Perso-Arabic to Roman/Latin, then again to Cyrillic, the comparatively high levels of literacy are a testament to the willingness of the people to learn. While standards are not quite as good yet as they could be and no measureable statistics on the success of the measures so far taken are available at present; they are moving in the right direction and if the government continues to support the education of its youngest citizens the future is bright for Azerbaijan education.

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