Issue 5, 2012. October-November

   

GEORGIA SEEKING ITS NICHE AS REGIONAL EDUCATION HUB

New universities, new international partnerships, and new programs are bolstering hope that Georgia can become a regional hub for education.

Maia Edilashvili


Education can play a critical role in Georgia's economic growth - particularly as a hub for regional students, according to education specialists.

The number of foreign students at Georgia's higher education institutions in the 2000-2001 academic year was just 420, according to GeoStat, the state statistics office. Ten years later, there are more than 1,700 -- 408 of whom come from India, 337 from Russia, and 336 from Azerbaijan. In addition, 297 Turkish students, 24 Ukrainians, 20 Greeks, nine Americans, and six Germans registered, according to official data.

"Georgia's geographical location is a big plus and can attract students from both the East and West," says Michael Cowgill, the president and co-founder of the Georgian American University (GAU), which opened in Tbilisi in 2005. Each year, GAU has five to 10 non-Georgian students out the 1,000 registered full time students at the university. ISET has a steady number of foreign students, as well.

Tbilisi State Medical University (TSMU) gets the biggest share of non-Georgian students,1,000 from more than 30 countries this year. TSMU stands out not only in the Caucasus region, but also as a leader in the entire Eastern European region and in post-Soviet countries for its westernized teaching system and traditions, says Giorgi Giorgobiani, head of the Department for Foreign Students.

Degree programs at TMSU last for six years. The annual tuition fee for the English-language faculty is $3,500, about twice what it would cost for similar course work at a Georgian-language faculty. "Tuition rates in Georgian institutions are lower than most other countries and Georgia has excellent western-based programs that have room for regional students," said Cowgill, who is also the vice-president of AmCham Georgia. "The visa regime is very student friendly as well. Further, Georgian students benefit from the exposure to students from other countries and gain a better understanding of their cultures and ideologies, which is invaluable in a global economy."

GAU (Georgian-American University) new campus interior

More universities, more students?

Ideas for increasing Georgia's potential as a regional education hub have taken root in the government. President Mikheil Saakashvili announced this summer that the European Commission may open a University in Georgia, similar to the College of Europe in Belgium. Consultations are ongoing in Brussels, according to the Delegation of the European Union.

Other new universities in Georgia are also planned. Construction of the new American IT University in Batumi was opened on September 22. The Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia has issued a tender to select a partner university from the United States. The list of bidders includes Michigan State University, University of Missouri, New York Institute for Technology, and Texas International Education Consortium, among others.

The new university, which is expected to meet Georgia's growing demand for qualified personnel in IT, engineering, and natural sciences, will offer bachelor's, master's and possibly doctoral degrees in these fields. It will target students from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Turkey, Iran and Central Asia, according to the ministry.

The new Multimedia Education Center (MEC) is also set to serve as a hub to educate future journalists. Students come from countries throughout the region.The project was developed as part of the USAID-funded and IREX implemented G-MEDIA program (Georgian Media Enhance Democracy, Informed Citizenry and Accountability), which focuses on media development in Georgia. The estimated cost for building renovation, equipment, software and furnishings was about $600,000.

Currently, along with Georgian peers, Azeri and Armenian students from the Tbilisi-based Caucasus School of Journalism and Media Management (GIPA) are studying at the MEC.

"We know there is a high demand for professional journalism training throughout the region and we are confident the MEC will attract additional users as more people become aware of its capabilities and availability," said Matt Shelley, chief of party at IREX G-MEDIA, said.

Iv. Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University (TSU) is also a favorite of foreign students, both for humanitarian studies and economics. For the 2011-2012 years, the total number of non-local students at TSU is 233 in bachelor's programs and 50 studying in master's programs. "The highest demand is for social and political sciences - in particular for the Russian faculty of Journalism, as well as English-language classes for MA studies in economics at International School of Economics at TSU," said Nana Mamagulishvili, head of public relations at TSU.

Zeeshan Arshad, 25, coming from Pakistan's city of Jhelum, arrived in Tbilisi in 2006 and is studying at Medical University to become a physician. He picked Georgia on the advice of his friends who had been studying here. Zeeshan, who plans to return to Pakistan after graduation, is happy with his decision and appreciates the "good professors, security and friendly people." However he would like to get more practical knowledge in clinical skills.