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New rector at Tbilisi State University

By Tea Mariamidze
Tuesday, September 27
The protest rallies of students have begun again at Tbilisi State University (TSU) after Gia Sharvashidze, the former Deputy Education Minister, was elected as the new rector of the University.

Sharvashidze’s candidacy was supported by 21 members of the Academic Council of TSU on September 23 and his appointment lead to dissatisfaction of a group of students calling themselves Auditorium 115.

The group of students disrupted an event dedicated to the beginning of studies held at the university yard on September 26, demanding the resignation of the new rector and accusing the government of interfering in the rector’s election process.

After the protest rally, the participants of the event, rector and the ministers moved inside the university in order to address the freshmen and welcome them to the university. The members of Auditorium 115 tried to enter the building, but security guards closed the main entrance which lead to several clashes between them and the students.

Sharvashidze commented on the developments, saying that Auditorium 115 was an unregistered Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO). He said their protest serves certain political interests.

However, the rector called on the students to start a dialogue and a meeting was arranged between them yesterday, wherein members of Auditorium 115 voiced their six demands. These are: high quality and affordable education, autonomy for the university, the implementation of external reforms, reforming of students’ self-government (the Tvitmmartveloba), allocating funds from the university budget for improving conditions in students’ dormitories, and allowing registration for students who cannot reach the registration base because of unpaid fees.

Auditorium 115 calls on students, lecturers and civil society representatives to actively participate in the processes and fight together for high quality, affordable education and the autonomy of the University. They also requested that the rector apologize for calling them “unregistered NGO” and accusing them of having political interests.

Sharvashidze promised the students to elaborate a strategic plan for the university's development in the near future, which would be made up by active participation of students and members of the Auditorium 115 as well. He also said all the problems would be thoroughly discussed with the students and the Academic Council in order to solve current problems that exist in the university.

“The fact that everything is not well at the university is clear but we all have to find the way out together,” said Shervashidze.

The first protest of TSU students started in early March, when then-Rector Vladimer Papava confirmed the existence of so-called ODRs affiliated with the Ministry of Internal Affairs at TSU, the Ministry spies at the University.

The students demanded an immediate investigation, saying it threatened the autonomy of the university and indicates towards interference from the government. They also asked for the reorganization of the student government, saying they are misspending the budget of the university.

On the other hand, members of the Tvitmmartveloba formed another group opposing Auditorium 115.

The existence of two opposing groups increased the tension of the situation in TSU in March, and Rector Vladimer Papava resigned in consequence. The active involvement of the Ministry of Education also helped to defuse the unrest and studies were resumed.

However, the students decided to return to their protest in April, claiming that their demands had not been fully met.

Yesterday, the students reminded Sharvashidze of the unfulfilled promises he gave to them while serving as the Deputy Education Minister this spring. He promised once again that he would do his utmost to meet all their demands during the following three months.

The Rector added that the university administration is always open for negotiations and dialogue with the students.