Azerbaijan International

Winter 1999 (7.4)
Page 77

Full Speed Ahead
Education at Baku State University

by Abel Maharramov, Rector

Abel Maharramov - Rector of Baku State UniversityBack in 1995, while doing scientific research at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, I made a presentation about Azerbaijan and showed slides of our university. One of the photos showed a secretary typing on an old classic typewriter. My speech was a scientific one, so I hadn't really paid much attention to that photo, but one of the professors interrupted me as he wanted a closer look at that typewriter. He said that when he was a kid, his grandfather used to have one of those typewriters. That's when I began to understand just how far we were behind.

Education during the Soviet period can be likened to a ship. Azerbaijan had its own little cabin on that sailing vessel. The captains were all Russians; the ship's course was always determined by Moscow. Our task was simply to follow it. Today Azerbaijan has its own ship and Azerbaijanis are at the helm. We have just embarked on a new journey.

Of course, we can't deny having benefited from being part of the Soviet Union. Russian education was strong and had a great history, producing some brilliant scientists. Thanks to the influence of Russia, Azerbaijan's educational system also grew stronger, enhancing the intellectual potential of the Republic.
Before that, Azerbaijan itself had a long history of educational development. For example, there was a university in Tabriz as far back as 600 years ago. Here in Baku, the birthplace of formal education was at our university, which in 1999 celebrated its 80th Jubilee.

New Demands
Once Azerbaijan gained its independence, our educational system came up against some serious challenges. For the first few years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, we were in a very difficult situation. We lost our lands. We failed to balance the diplomatic relations between Azerbaijan and other countries. Here at the university, it was so bad that there were no students who even applied for post-graduate study despite the fact that Azerbaijanis highly value education (1 out of every 1,000 has at least a master's degree).

Abel Maharramov - Rector of Baku State UniversitySuddenly people had no use for education as they thought it was more important to go into business. After 1993, however, things began to stabilize in Azerbaijan and there has been more interest in education.

Back to the ship metaphor. The languages on that ship used to be Russian and Azeri. We thought that the doors of that vesse l- the Soviet Union - would never open to the world. We thought it was sufficient for students to learn Russian.

Photo: In Rector Maharramov's office. These days in official offices, you can witness a new trend of putting photos of grandchildren and family members on desks, a practice unheard of during Soviet times. Photo: Blair.

In the past, if someone had spoken Azeri at a national meeting or conference, people would have wondered: "Why isn't he making his speech in Russian?" It didn't matter that most people in our country, especially those from rural areas, couldn't speak Russian. Now the youth must know English. Why English? Because the rest of the world isn't going to bother to learn Azeri. We have to integrate ourselves into the larger picture.

Another serious problem related to education and which impacts the university is the large number of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in our country. Many of them are enrolled in our university, which offers free instruction to them. But the refugee problem impacts all aspects of our society-education, production and economy.

Baku State UniversityThere's also the question of Section 907, the restriction that the U.S. Congress has placed on giving grants to our government. Back in 1995, I myself felt its effects while doing research in Minnesota. I had won a $15,000 grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation.

Still to this day, four years later, I have yet to receive those funds. Instead, I received a letter apologizing that the grant could not be given to me because of Section 907. Out of the 15 republics that made up the Soviet Union, only scientists from Azerbaijan were denied those grants. So this problem of Section 907 is very personal for me.

Photo: Baku State University celebrated its 80th Jubilee this year. The university was established the year prior to the Soviet takeover in 1920. This year under the leadership of Rector Abel Maharramov, the university has undertaken many repairs and renovations.

Recent Improvements
I've been working as Rector of Baku State University since January 11, 1999. It's hard work trying to make up for all those "lost" years. I start work each day at 9 a.m. and finish at midnight. The most satisfying thing about my job is seeing progress-so many of the plans that I wanted to implement are starting to come to life now.

In these few months, we've totally renovated the classrooms-new paint, new white boards with markers to replace black boards with chalk, new construction, new bathrooms. We've gotten rid of those old typewriters and installed computers instead-so far, 150 of them. We're trying to equip every department with its own computer lab and to computerize the library as well. We're connected to the Internet, and we hope that in the not-too-distant future we will be able to use foreign libraries and that they can benefit from our research as well.

A New Breed of Student
Today's students are willing to take on more initiative and responsibility. Recently, some of our students found a map of Azerbaijan on UNESCO's Web site that was grossly inaccurate-it had excluded Karabakh and all of the lands of Azerbaijan that are occupied by Armenia. The students took it upon themselves to contact UNESCO, whose officials apologized and corrected the information right away so that the map identified Karabakh as being part of Azerbaijan. This kind of student initiative would never have happened during the Soviet period.

A student today may become a professor tomorrow. Our future presidents and ministers are the youth of today. In this way, the future development of our society depends on the intellectual level of students. We have to convince the youth that they need to develop. It's important for a student to learn something new every day at the university. I'm always telling them: "Make the most of each moment."

There are many other plans to be implemented here. To bring our education up to world standards, we need a strong financial-technical basis. Teachers' salaries need be higher. Conditions for students must be improved. Textbooks that used to be in Russian need to be published in our own language.

We're trying very hard to strengthen our international relations. This year we concluded that every student who graduates must be computer literate and able to speak at least one foreign language fluently. Only in this way can we enhance the international image of our university and strengthen its international relations. Both teachers and students support this decision.

Steering the Boat
We want our university to be known on an international level. If Azerbaijan itself is integrating into the world union, its education and its science must do the same. Education must serve as a lighthouse for the ship. This education can be carried out in two directions: first, holding on to the valuable things of the past; second, making bold, new steps forward to the future.

A country can only be judged according to its intellectual resources. Natural resources are simply means, not goals. The intellectual level of Azerbaijan contributes to the country's development and prosperity. In all these processes, education must take the lead. The university, its student population and teaching staff serve as a mirror of Azerbaijani statehood. We understand this responsibility. We must be out in front to lead society.

Azerbaijan International (7.4) Winter 1999.
© Azerbaijan International 1999. All rights reserved.

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