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Students’ protest at Georgia’s oldest university

By Tea Mariamidze
Wednesday, November 30
A group of students from Tbilisi State University (TSU), calling themselves Auditorium 115, continue their protest with the demand of systemic reforms in the oldest university of Georgia, refusing to leave the 6th building of TSU which they occupied on November 25.

The students say they will stay in the building until the sitting of Parliament’s Education, Science and Culture Committee, scheduled for December 5. Auditorium 115 is going to present their positions to the committee and hope that their demands will be met.

The group started their protest on Friday, when the TSU was holding students’ self-government (Tvitmmartveloba) elections. Members of Auditorium 115 broke into the 6th building of TSU and occupied it. They claimed TSU self-government was politicized and called on the parliament and the government to abolish the existing system and reorganize it.

Auditorium 115 also says that the rule of direct election of students for the councils of faculties should be implemented, a lower limit for the funding of education and science should be defined in the Constitution and funds should be allocated for the rehabilitation of students’ dorms. Moreover, the group of students called on TSU Rector Giorgi Sharvashidze to keep his promise and introduce an external referral mechanism.

On Monday, Auditorium 115 had a meeting with the Education, Science and Culture Committee Chai,r Mariam Jashi, and the university's Rector. They listened to the students and offered them to set up a special Education Committee working group that would work specifically on this issue.

Mariam Jashi called on the students to stop their protest and empty the building, in order to continue their studies in a normal manner.

“I agree with two basic principles that all students should have equal access to financial resources and all students should have equal opportunities. Broader format of discussions is necessary and I am ready to be a mediator,” she told the students and added that the government has already implemented an action plan that envisages implementation of some reforms.

TSU Rector Sharvashidze said that the sides discussed not only TSU issues but the main problems in terms of education. He agreed that the changes should be made to the education law and that reforms were necessary.

“We all agree that student's rights should be fully protected and every student should have equal rights,” he added.

Despite the given promises at the meeting, Auditorium 115 believes these are just words and are going to continue their protest until they see real changes.

“Based on the past experience, we doubt that given promises are aimed at defusing the current situation and do not serve implementation of reforms. We are going to stay in the building at least until December 5,” the statement of the students reads.

The first protest of TSU students took place in early March when then-Rector Vladimer Papava confirmed the existence of so-called ODRs ( spies) affiliated with the Ministry of Internal Affairs at TSU. The students demanded an immediate investigation, the autonomy of the University and a reorganization of the students’ self-government, accusing them of misspending the university budget.

Since then, Auditorium 115 has held protests many times, but the students claim their negotiations with the rector and the government officials have so far been unsuccessful.