Higher Education Reform in Georgia: Challenges and Opportunities
Tuesday, 27 March, 2018

On 27 March 2018, the ISET Policy Institute in partnership with the World Bank and UNICEF hosted a high-level policy discussion, “Higher Education Reform in Georgia: Challenges and Opportunities”, which was the fourth in a series of education policy dialogues focused on higher education.

A policy paper was presented by ISET Professor Norberto Pigniatti, the purpose of which was to identify the existing challenges facing the Government’s strategic objectives in close dialogue with a broad set of stakeholders and provide a set of recommendations based on the analysis of the nature of the challenges and on the best international practices needed to address them.

Higher education can contribute significantly to economic development and to the creation of jobs. For this to happen, the higher education system must become a well-functioning and fully integrated part of the modern economy. Therefore, the quality of education must be relevant to modern labor market requirements, but business representatives often complain about the relevance and quality of education received by graduates. As a result, unemployment and inactivity (for women) have remained relatively high in the Georgian labor market in recent years.

Low quality of higher education is partially determined by the low average quality of enrolled students at higher education institutions – chiefly these are gaps in knowledge, and a lack of competence and skills from their general education. However, higher education institutions have an incentive to maximize the total number of students, and do not closely consider their low average performance in national admission tests because of the current funding system; usually, students are the only source of revenue for the university.

However, constrained funding can give incentives to the universities to minimize their expenses in hiring, retaining, training, and developing their teaching bodies, focus on less expensive programs, and develop teaching infrastructure and modern laboratories.

Providing access to quality education to all Georgian citizens is a priority of the Government of Georgia. However, this is not a factor to be taken for granted. The current admission system to higher education studies indirectly discriminates against individuals coming from disadvantaged groups and areas (e.g. tutoring for national admission exams, Georgian language, and literature tests also for enrollment in foreign language HE programs, and additional costs to study away from home not being covered). Such inequality sets people from vulnerable families at a disadvantage in the labor market because, as the data shows, having a higher education diploma is associated with higher labor market participation, employment rates, and salaries.

The international standing of Georgian universities in academic research is another important aspect of the higher education sector of Georgia. Some Georgian universities are achieving results comparable to those of universities in other transition and post-transition countries, mostly thanks to a few “traditional” fields, such as physics and mathematics. However, the majority of Georgian universities are quite weak in terms of research output. Only one university out of 30 appears consistently in the selected international rankings (between the 20th and 30th percentiles depending on the rankings). According to the World Competitiveness Index, in terms of the quality of scientific research institutions, Georgia is 127th (out of 137), and in terms of university-industry collaboration in R&D, Georgian universities 116th (out of 137). The existing limited funding of higher education institutions (and the funding is not tied to research performance) does not encourage institutions to invest in research infrastructure or recruit active researchers and pay for their research time.

The presentation was followed by a panel discussion moderated by Eric Livny, President of ISET and ISET-PI. The outcomes of the discussion will be incorporated into the policy paper that will be one of the major results of the Education Policy Forum project.