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Variations on Communiqué of Higher Education and Science Reform

Marine Chitashvili

I have read the communiqué for several times and tried to write my opinion on it, though got something else to do every time I tried. Not because I did not like anything or disagree principally with it, but because it is hard to write comments about the university space; and one tries to get rid of difficulties - a typical behavior in a critical situation. Though, it is also a fact that we, psychologists call this behavior inadequate and believe that the only right solution to the problem is facing it [contrary to running and searching for social support]. Besides, other things aside, I am a bit ashamed, since I made a promise to one of the authors sending me the communiqué one day prior to publishing that I would share my opinion, which I never did. Academic space is particularly sensitive to ethical norms, and set of behaviors is absolutely unacceptable. Obviously, this rule works there where academia exists [I will use term "academia" with the same meaning the authors do] and ethical standards are due. And the principles of academia established there are being introduced by the concept here and now. I think that's exactly the problem for not being able to write anything; I don't clearly understand in what space and time I should discuss the concept. I still don't get it, though I am making two primary assumptions - discuss the concept as the document for institutional arrangement and identify what I agree and disagree with, and second, what I am going to right is not a classical example of academic argumentation, for which I will need at least a month. What I am writing here is truly a variation on the issue - for discussion with broader public and the concept authors.

Principle of institutional arrangement of new university space - Vivat Academia!

The three principles were particularly comforting - academic freedom, academic objectivity and academic quality. 

Yes, these are the main principles that keep the oldest organizations - universities - alive, make them flexible monsters, for which even the organizational theories change by the end of 70s and in the beginning of 80s [being ahead or following the famous book of B. Clark on "The Higher Education System: Academic Organization in Cross-National Perspective" [1983]]. 

So, what is a university? According to the classic definition - an entity or a corporation of professors and students, that conducts teaching and research, assigns an academic degree, serves preservation, distribution, creation of knowledge, and is based on the freedom of thought. In other words, is based on academic freedom and does not recognize any other authority but a thought. 

So, here we are! Where is a space, if any, in Georgia where such an organization can exist?! I don't know and I've never seen it, though I have been through all levels of learning and still teach myself. Moreover, I am trying to contribute to the development of universities into this type of organizations from the point of organizational arrangement for 12 years, but in fact, in vein. This can be proved by one single example - according to the decree of the Minister of Education of 2010 seminar, as method of teaching on undergraduate level, was cancelled and workshop [or just a new name!!!!] was introduced. As a result, professors were ordered to remove seminars from the syllabi and replace them with something. And the professors did. Someone may say - this is why academic freedom is necessary. My response would be - I don't argue, but do explain why a professor who is teaching and who should serve nothing but the thought is saying nothing and is not defending the thought? Do you think they can't, or their free space is bounded?

Don't think that I am making remarks to anyone. I gave a new name to seminar - homework, and got away with this little lie. I am not better than my colleagues while violating the academic ethics [no more authority but thought], though I tried to discuss this issue on faculty board and keep seminars as means of teaching, but in vein. The reason I was denied for was that the Accreditation Center would close the programs. So, there is a "monster in the closet" that does not give the universities a chance to live according to the above mentioned principles. 

A natural question comes forward - so what is the accreditation doing? [from the normative point view, the accreditation center should determine whether an organization declaring to be a university is truly a university]. Nothing but censorship and manipulation that serves a political will. In other words, it is the principle issue - determining the action space for universities by the state [1] - that will fundamentally destroy the idea of academic freedom. Nevertheless, it has been destroyed long ago despite the fact that 4 Georgian universities have signed Magna Carta Universitatum. [2]

To my mind, first of all the concept should determine the principle of space arrangement for universities that state is responsible for, and on the other hand, universities should be transparent and accountable to the state and society. I believe that this issue should occupy a separate chapter in the final version of the concept. The concept makes an assumption that such thing already exists here. Unfortunately, it is not true. The existing laws or normative acts leave nothing from the autonomy of university as an organization. Under these conditions the three principles will not and cannot work. They will work in case the state does not interfere in university issues concerning teaching, research, degree assigning and generating knowledge. However, state demands from the universities to be accountable to international academic and professional society in regards to teaching, research and quality standards. Both of them are a necessary framework for organizational functioning of a university. 

To summarize - the concept should comprise the parameters and space of organizational existence of a university; it also should comprise the interaction between the state and a university in regards to accountability and responsibility.

University and Tenure - Vivant Professores!

How can I lie and say that I am not glad of the idea of tenure? Would anyone believe me? Especially at my age when I have 10-15 years left to retirement [depends upon how may years are left till unofficial age of retirement [65] and/or when the university suggests the best option for early retirement or for letting a new cadre come through. If dreaming, let it be the dream!!!][3]

What I did not understand is the following - when this system is introduced, and according to which principles? In other words, if rules of game are changed, a person should be warned about it in advance, and what is more important, about the requirements the new rule has. The authors make an assumption that there already are candidates for tenure in Georgia. I cannot fully share this belief. It may be true for natural sciences, but I am not sure about other disciplines that simply did not exist or were not developed because of ideological pressure during the soviet period, and could not develop because of lack of finances during the independence period. 

The Bologna Process about creation of united educational space for Europe, implied several principles, and among them to equalize the quality of minimal knowledge, to create a guarantee that in case of migration and mobility everyone would have a minimal common knowledge. Bologna Process set a deadline till 2010 for creation of united European educational space, though this deadline shifted to 2020. Among other ones, the main reason for this was that the member states of the Warsaw Pact, like Spain, Italy, France and the educational institutions of other countries of European Union, could not make a huge step forward and equal Oxford and Cambridge, Lund and Munich, Stockholm and Amsterdam. And it's not surprising. Just as a reminder, after the unification of Germany, in order to enhance the quality, the professors of humanitarian, social and law sciences were completely fired in Eastern Germany [which in fact is not regarded as fully correct now] and were replaced by the professors from Western Germany. What does this say to us? Nothing else but the fact, that neither tenure nor increased funding, or principle of academic freedom will enhance the academic quality at once. 

Higher education system of Estonia, that fully satisfies the western standards among other EU states from former soviet space, started to implement simple and measurable standards in order to enhance the academic quality. It started with program accreditation and finished with institutional accreditation [4] - it means that the accreditation center is not giving permission to universities to open this or that program, but gives university professors and administration 5-7 years [differs according to countries] to manage themselves the development of their university. Besides, in order to enhance the academic quality, the Estonian Research Portal was established where 80-150 scientific journals in each discipline were enlisted; all the active professors were required to have published at least 2 articles in 5 years in these journals. The competition for selecting the academic personnel was held only after this period passed. As a result, the personnel were selected with absolutely transparent, available and public criteria. There was one more result - the universities differentiated according to their own clusters and today three universities - Tartu, Tallinn and Tallinn University of Technology occupy the "market" according to their priorities. Tenures were also selected with this principle. 

I made this example because without serious reorganization of National Center for Educational Quality Enhancement and without concrete mechanisms for enhancing academic quality, we will be still hearing that we cannot publish in Kartvelian Studies, political or law sciences and/or economics, and that's why we have change a standard. Professors should come to autonomous university which is financed by the society's taxes as public good [education], just as students come to universities as a result of meeting certain criteria. Of course, I don't mean that professors have to pass exams as revolutionary government thought 8 years ago, which they did not do because understood that it would cause serious protest, not from professors, but from students and their parents. 

I think that after we find out what does the space look like where a university should function [relationship between state and universities], and what this space requires from us as standard [reorganized accreditation principles], gives us time [period when all professors stays within the contract boundaries] and afterwards universities start competitions for attracting the best candidates for tenure positions - after all this we will have a result when the professors will have a firm objective position in regards to political or any other pressure. 

The concept is based on the assumption that this kind of academic exists here and now. I don't argue about the existing units that meat these criteria, though I argue about the existence of a system. System needs to be created and it's quite possible that there might be other better and effective ways to create it. 

To cut the long story short - I agree on the principles, but I can't see the environment where these principles could work. The concept should comprise the activity area and vision of university, how academic quality should be guaranteed. 

What I could not find, but believe the concept should comprise:

Finances - Within the existing system the only means of funding universities have is a student voucher [money comes with student as a state funding, as well as self-funding]. All other means comprise only 10-15% of university budget and are either state assistance or scientific grants. If the former is defined purely by lobbyist activities, the latter one is very scarce [maximum amount of Georgian scientific fund is 150 000 Gel for 3 years]; the both of them are the guarantee of small additional income for the personnel and not the development of university scientific potential. The concept does not say where, how and according what principles the higher education should be funded. Increase of finances does not mean effective spending, especially in current universities where the number of administrative staff exceeds the number of academic personnel. [5]

Education of Teachers - I don't argue that this should by all means be in the concept, but since the law quality of school education is one of our primary problems, and the state does not have any sense what teachers should know, according what principles they should be trained, or how the institute for their training should be arranged, I believe that this should be addressed separately in the concept. Besides, training of teachers, as representatives of the regulated profession, is a part of higher education system. 

Students - the concept says nothing about PhD students. Why exactly PhD students? The answer is simple - PhD studies are not funded in Georgia. Though, PhD studies are main source for the development of the science. It brings new human and scientific capital. It is not only about funding. It is about accessibility. In fact, the concept says nothing about how accessibility and social inequality should be overcome in educational system. The mechanisms of principles of mass education are also neglected. 

Science - Harnack principle and funding of institutes linked to one academic is interesting and possible. It reminds me of institutes of Academy of Science and dynamics of their development. This system worked more or less successfully when the science was hugely funded and schools were built around great scientists, but I don't think it right to make this system as a fundamental principle. I believe the development of academic science within university system linked to PhD studies and research is more adequate. I don't think Georgia with its scarce budget will be able to pay double in the nearest future. On the other hand, development of applied research - as a result of institutes of departmental subordination, will not be as bad. Another question is how many institutions would be willing to create their own research institutes and whether or not they would have finances for it.

And, in the end, thanks to the authors of the concept! They are the first who wrote a document giving an opportunity for discussion, and not a formal document for reforms only.

Marine Chitashvili

TSU Professor, Director of Center for Social Sciences

Tbilisi, 23 November, 2012


[1] The center of accreditation is a controlling mechanism for avoiding inappropriate use of educational finances and protecting the interests of taxpayers through accountability and transparency.

[2] http://www.magna-charta.org/cms/cmspage.aspx?pageUid={8e9114fe-86db-4d26-b9d7-167c03d479aa

[3] In western and particularly American universities where there is no age discrimination, the professor at the retirement age is offered different packages to leave the tenure position and let a young generation of perspective researchers and professors take it.

[4] In Georgian version, the institutional accreditation comes first, the name of which was changed by authorization [that better expresses its function] and means nothing but giving the label of university to an organization by measuring its formal characteristics, i.e. space, number of books, etc. In reality, the institutional accreditation [in west] means that these institutions have a right to determine the educational programs - develop new or cancelled the old ones according to the substantiated reasons.

[5] http://css.ge/files/documents/publications/Lika_Glonti,_June_2012_eng.pdf p.25