How much is the grade?

By Olga Bregvadze

Despite its wealth generated by rich natural resources, mild climate and even favourable conditions for tourism, Azerbaijan, is still on the list of countries with a transition economy. While there could be a myriad of other reasons for this, one of the main problems in transitioning from its current status towards more sustainable development is high level of corruption that exists on all levels of the society. According to Transparency International reports, despite well-crafted legislation in both judiciary and public sector, these laws are not implemented properly.

Almost every single field in the public sector affected by bribery and fraud, which as a result carries negative consequences for the overall development of the country. Some extreme cases of corruption and bribery, that have consequential effects on the long-term development of the country, are visible in the area of education as well.

Learning your A,B, and C or?

Corruption in education is a process every student goes through and it starts way before entering an educational institution. In order to get a child enrolled at the specific pre- school, kindergarten or prestigious elementary school, the parents need to pay an advance or provide “shirinlik”, kind of gratitude for letting their child to attend that particular institution. And such expressions of “symbolic” gratitude are done even at times when that child, is eligible to attend that school or kindergarten due to its close location to the family’s residence or other legal reasons.

Once at school, bribery becomes more systematic. For each holiday, celebration, concert and other events held at the school (which might also include classroom and school renovation work) the students are instructed to collect money. The school administration justifies such periodic collections by the lack of proper public funding to maintain the classrooms, or organize such ceremonies as graduation and prom.

No pay, no gain

More serious implications especially for students come around exam time. If the students don’t gain teacher’s favour by paying the negotiated amount, the results of the exams won’t be positive regardless of the abilities and performance of the students. The administration of the schools and universities obviously gets its share from the teachers. Another way of getting good grades in public schools is indirect bribing. The teachers force children to pay them for private tutoring outside and sometimes even within the school. No matter how well the class is instructed and how well the student is doing (because he/she could still be failing the class) as the result of private lessons, the child miraculously starts getting higher grades in school for this class.

But most of the drama happens at the universities. Besides the common practice of guaranteeing a spot at the university without exams but for just a good, round sum, the university administration offers undergrads another set of services, one of which is to be lenient to the absences during the course or facilitate the exams. Whereas participation in the classes is flexible in most of the universities with Bologna System, the administration of those universities still makes regular attendance checks in the auditoriums. If a student exceeds a limit of “allowed” absences, in order to avoid problems with the dean’s office or in the worst case expulsion, he/she needs to pay a corresponding rate.

In fact, during the exam period some universities resemble a market. Each professor has a defined rate for the grade in his/her class: the higher the grade, the higher is the price. Students are usually aware of the prices and prepare financially for the examination period in advance. Those who pay a tuition fee or study on scholarship should also plan additional payments at the end of each semester.  This practice is so absurd that in one of the public universities, students have a saying: “Studying in this university with a scholarship is just studying with a discount, only subtracting the tuition fees”. The ones that refuse to pay either fail their exams or after several attempts accompanied by the insults from their professors get lowest passing grades. When departments/ faculties require compulsory internships, students pay their academic advisers in order to get a volunteer/unpaid work at the ministries or prestigious organizations with their help. Internships, found by the students at the international organizations or private companies that could really add practical experience to students’ academic knowledge are not recognized by the university. The grade buying process continues in the final year too, during the thesis preparation. It is necessary to contribute to the thesis commission, in order to get a good mark for the thesis work or the final exam.

It is obvious that the above- mentioned violations have a negative impact both on the overall education and the country’s image on the world arena. The majority of students graduate with purchased certificates and diplomas lacking any knowledge. As a result, a nation once known for its educated people during the Soviets, possessing outlook and diverse knowledge in different fields is now suffering from lack of proper education and locally trained specialists. The paradox in this situation is that while in most of the countries, people pay to get educated, in Azerbaijan; people pay to avoid studying. Those, who are willing to study, get very quickly disappointed in the system and choose to spend their money on education abroad. Not surprising that Azerbaijani universities are not ranked among top institutions and their diplomas are not praised anywhere.

Other former socialist republics like Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary, Russia and Georgia partly solved this problem by inviting foreign teachers, and opening branches of American universities in their countries and most importantly fighting corruption. It has become prestigious to graduate from American University in Bulgaria, CEU or Moscow State University, but nobody can say the same about Azerbaijani Universities.

My dream is to meet the generation of Azerbaijani graduates who would be proud to hold a degree from a university in Azerbaijan, gained through knowledge. I believe by joint efforts of the government and the people in my country it will be possible one day.

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