On March 16, 2018 during the Session of the Standing Committee on Science, Education, Culture, Youth and Sport of the RA Parliament the draft law on Higher Education (hereafter, Draft) was approved and suggested to include in the agenda of upcoming parliament session on March 20. The Standing Committee also decided to discuss the Draft with a special procedure, organizing the second hearings after the first hearings in 24 hours.
Since 2013 authoritative organizations, such as the World Bank, the Council of Europe, and the Open Society Foundations – Armenia, as well as many individual experts and scholars have repeatedly underlined the necessity of adopting a new law on Higher Education in their researches. This was justified in terms of a number of pressing issues in the system, such as higher education quality improvements, including through the development of effective quality assurance mechanisms, eliminating of the executive control over the higher education system, considering the issue of conflicts of interest, and enhancing academic integrity.
However, the Draft, posted on www.e-draft.am (The unified website for publication of drafts of legal acts) for a public discussion on 1 December 2017, and subsequently endorsed by the Republic of Armenia Government on 18 January 2018, does not adequately address the problems in its current form and in a way makes possible even more profound control of the system by the executive. For instance, the Draft provides for an exclusive power to the prime minister to approve the composition of governing boards of all public universities in Armenia. In that it contradicts the recommendations of the mentioned research projects, and the European Higher Education Area criteria.
Also, the member of the parliament have suggested to supplement the Draft with the new provision that allow membership of political positon holders into the governing boards of the universities (1-2 out of 10-20 members). This provision contradicts to the anti-corruption action plan provisions adopted by the RA government’s decision from January 18, No 133-N, according to which, persons with political positions cannot be a members of the governing boards of universities.
The Draft contains other problematic provisions, including a provision on having only 10% presentation of students in public university governing boards, the inadequacy of mechanisms for safeguarding students’ rights, the limitation of the authorities of university academic councils in the decision-making process, the absence of a key component of the learning process – formation of critical thinking, the vague and problematic definition of scientific, pedagogical, educational, civil position, and patriotic notions, the absence of appropriate provisions on conflicts of interest, the lack of provisions on non-discrimination on any ground, and a number of other issues. The draft does not provide the opportunity for full realization of the right to the high-quality higher education to people with different types of disabilities.
We hereby express our concern about the presented Draft and urge the National Assembly of RA not to adopt the Draft in its current form but form a commission comprising the stakeholder sector, individual experts, and organizations, in order to improve all the problematic provisions mentioned above.
The statement has been signed by the following organizations and individuals:
Open Society Foundations – Armenia
Institute of Public Policy NGO
A.D.Sakharov Armenian Human Rights Protection Center NGO
“Agate” NGO for Women with Disabilities NGO
Center for Rights Development NGO
Colorful House Social, Cultural and Human Rights NGO
“Compass” Research, Training and Consultancy Center NGO
Ejmiatsin Branch of Association of Women with University Education For Equal Rights NGO
“For Sustainable Human Development” Association
Foundation Against the Violation of Law NGO
Helsinki Association NGO
Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly Vanadzor Office NGO
Helsinki Committee of Armenia NGO
“Khazer” Environmental and Cultural NGO
My Human Rights Defender NGO New
Generation Humanitarian NGO Peace Dialogue NGO
Protection of Rights without Borders NGO
Public Information and Need of Knowledge NGO Real World,
Real People NGO Spiritual Armenia
Transparency International Anticorruption Center
Union of Informed Citizens Women’s Support Center NGO
Karen Tumanyan, Attorney