Hunger strikes, street protests, public arrests. After nearly 15 years of inertia, education reform in Georgia is making headlines. And the changes are just beginning.
In December 2004 parliament passed a law to overhaul the country's higher education system without a hitch. Three months later, however, the reforms designed to root out pervasive corruption in universities and institutes a key target of the Saakashvili anti-corruption campaign -- are meeting with growing opposition.
Protests held by State Medical College students in mid-March outside of parliament illustrate the case in point. The education law passed last year provided for entrance exams, administered by the government, as a requirement for admission to institutes of higher learning. Under the previous system, however, 14-year-old students could pay an annual fee that would allow them to study in a three-year college that specialized in their chosen field of study. Upon graduation, those students could automatically enter Tbilisi State Medical University as third-year students.
Critics and the government call it a recipe for corruption. Colleges like the State Medical College, according to Gigi Tevzadze, director of the ministry's reform project, are nothing more than a façade. "Many higher education institutions created these so called colleges," Tevzadze said. "They are not colleges in the European or American understanding, but [are meant]
Molly Corso is a freelance journalist and photographer based in Tbilisi.