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Controversies over the pending amendments to the Law of Georgia on Higher Education continue

By Ana Robakidze
Friday, June 14
Tbilisi State University (TSU) Rector Aleksander Kvitashvili has resigned. On June 12th the Academic Council of the University approved Kvitaishvili’s resignation. Later, commenting on his decision Kvitashvili said that his resignation is related with the recent changes to the Law for Higher Education.

According to amendments proposed by the government, rectors are required to hold an academic degree to be eligible for their position. Also, the authority of appointing a state university rector will be given to the Prime Minister. The amendments have yet to be approved by Parliament, but Kvitaishvili thinks the proposal will definitely become law and he will not be eligible to hold his post as he does not have a PhD or an equivalent academic degree. The new rector will be appointed by August 16th.

The proposed law has caused controversy among politicians as well as universities and students. Many oppose it, saying it is an attempt by the government to intervene in the independence of state universities and gain control over them.

President Mikheil Saakashvili has commented on the planned amendments saying the government is making efforts to restore "a corrupt post-Soviet system". If the amendments are approved Saakashvili fears it will be a huge step back for the country.

The President hopes Parliament will carefully study the drafted law before approving it. He acknowledges that the current system is not perfect and has many flaws, but Saakashvili says the system ensures independence for universities.

The proposed law is strongly opposed by the United National Movement (UNM) and presumably opposition MPs will not support the proposed changes. UNM member Giorgi Kandelaki addressed Deputy Minister of Education Tamar Sanikidze at the most recent parliamentary session, and asked her to explain whether the amendments would violate the independence of state universities.

In response Sanikidze said that the government does not intend to intervene in the autonomy of universities and in fact comprehensive reforms planned for the autumn will ensure even larger autonomy for state universities.

Giorgi Machabeli, head of the International Institute for Education, Policy, Planning and Management, is cautious about the amendments and say there is a risk of the government establishing political influence over state universities. According to Machabeli, considering that rector of a university is not only a manager of an organization, but also the head of the academic staff, it would be preferable if the future rector holds an academic degree.

The Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA) finds it troublesome that the government is trying to approve amendments to education laws so quickly. According to the organization, the education system is very important and thus serious changes in the system should be discussed with the civil sector. GYLA has already addressed Parliament on this matter. "We believe that amendments of such importance should not have been initiated without consulting with stakeholders, including academic personnel of higher education institutions; further, the decision of expediting the review of the proposed law made by Parliament is utterly unacceptable.” the official statement of the organization reads.

GYLA calls on the “Parliament of Georgia to refrain from reviewing the foregoing draft in an expedited manner, allow participation of all stakeholders and listen to their opinions."