Georgia: Interview with Mamuka Tavkhelidze

Mamuka Tavkhelidze

Rector (Grigol Robakidze University)

Mamuka Tavkhelidze

“Grigol Robakidze University gives the opportunity of studying in European and US prestigious institutions”

“The level of Grigol Robakidze University is much higher than of any state higher educational institutions of Georgia. I was greatly impressed by the material-technical base of the University. I do not think that such equipment can be seen anywhere else. I think that many higher educational institutions cannot catch up with the level of Grigol Robakidze University." – This is how President Saakashvili assessed the University that in 2004 successfully passed the state accreditation with the highest estimation. It 13,6 times exceeds the established standards with all parameters.

Besides as a result of European Union project monitoring implemented in 2003 the University received the grade A and Grigol Robakidze University first time in Georgia completely transformed into the European system of teaching and learning and implemented the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS). According to the research of the UNESCO International Institute of Education Planning Grigol Robakidze University is among the top five higher educational institutions in Georgia in terms of the employment of graduates.

Q: Could you speak about the history of the University?
A: The University was founded in 1992, a year later when the parliament adopted a law that gave right of operation to the private educational institutions. For this year interval we got deeply acquainted with the American and European educational systems and worked our concept of it. Surely it was chaotic situation at the beginning but we were oriented on the quality of the education right from the start.

Q: However, the Soviet educational system had its advantages, hadn’t it?
A: Yes, but due to the conservative political rule at that time the educational system was also conserved. Right after development on informational technologies in Georgia like internet, we created a good base for using it and soon we acquired good contacts with the leading universities of the world. And those facts contributed to out winning in the 2001 – Tempus TACIS project of the European Union that envisaged reconstruction of the teaching and learning system according to the European standard.

Q: Could you speak about this project in details?
A: In March 2001, a Tempus TACIS Project entitled "The Establishment of Academic Quality Assurance Centre in Grigol Robakidze University and Batumi State University" began its implementation at Grigol Robakidze University, which was accomplished in June 2003. Within the scope of this project, the partners of Grigol Robakidze University were Nottingham Trent University (Great Britain), Lund University (Sweden) and Batumi State University (Georgia). The Director of this project was Mr. Colin Love (Nottingham Trent University), the Experts were Dr. Trevor Cartledge, Ms. Jackie Stephens (Nottingham Trent University), and Mr. Jan Hellberg (Lund University).

Q: How important is this project for Robakidze University?
A: Implementation of this project has been of significant importance not only for Grigol Robakidze University, but also for the entire educational system of Georgia. Through this project new approaches, new learning and teaching techniques, new grading systems and a new system for teachers' professional development were implemented at Grigol Robakidze University. Grigol Robakidze University has contributed a great deal to informing the public about this project and its importance through Mass Media. This has generated a great deal of interest within other higher educational institutions and they have received relevant consultations in the Academic Quality Assurance Centre of the University.

Q: In the 90’s there was a “boom” of private universities. After 10 years, there is just few of them. How did you manage to success?
A: Having no private sector right after the collapse of the Soviet Union the most population of Georgia was in a hardship, like myself so I had to take a debt from my close friend as the banking system was not working properly as well but after Rose Revolution it had considerably developed and we can take bank credits now. Developed banking system contributes to the development of the private sector very much. We took a credit to buy a building that the university is in now.

Q: International exchange program is one of the main characteristics of Robakidze University. What type of relationship do you have with your partners?
A: Grigol Robakidze University has close contacts with higher educational institutions and centers of Europe and the USA. We cooperate with Harvard, Nottingham, Cambridge universities. A lot of international programs have been implemented and are underway at the University that considers sending students abroad to study as well as for practice and work.

Q: Robakidze University also provides distance learning and research with the cooperation of international agencies…
A: Yes, in 2003 the University was involved the international research project of the Economic Forum and Harvard University 2005 – The University received the letter from His Excellency the US President Mr. George Bush in which he expresses his gratitude towards Grigol Robakidze University for publishing the book “Ten Federalist Papers in Georgian” which was presented to him on his visit to Georgia. Besides the University received the letter from the Secretary of States Ms Condoleezza Rice in which she greatly appreciates the book “Ten Federalist Papers in Georgian” published by the University and expresses her gratitude towards the Rector and the editors for presenting this book to her on her visit to Georgia.

Q: What is the strategy to attract investors?
A: Notwithstanding the fact that Georgian business if quickly developing it is still hard to attract investors to put money in the educational system

Q: I would like to have a better picture of your University. Could you tell me what is your annual turnover?
A: Our budget per year is about 700.000GEL and it is really low for Georgia as our students come from middle class.

Q: In addition, there are students that they cannot afford the tuition. What are the sources that Robakidze provides to those students that want to get education in your university?
A: According to the new law on Education adopted in Georgia in 2005 students pass national exams and certain number of them gets the education funded through the state budget and student is free in choice, he can take this grant in the university he wants. I thins it is really effective system and for example last year we had 40% of students studding here funded through this state grant.

Q: You have mentioned the advantages of the Soviet educational system, have you maintained them? What modern standards have you followed?
A: In Soviet Times students used to get fundamental education and consequently Soviet school science was world known. Fundamental education is good but not everybody has ability to get it. Those who were able to get that became famous scientists but the rest had of average or bad knowledge. And the university failed to give practical skills of the theories it used to teach. So the western system with its bachelor, master and doctor degrees prevailed the soviet one.
Grigol Robakidze University gives students all kinds of opportunities to study in prestigious institutions in different European and USA countries, share the experience of these institutions, and raise their qualification.

Q: Since you graduated from the university, you have worked as a teacher, but could you tell me about your career up to your promotion to rector of Grigol Robakidze University?
A: When I graduated the university I went to the region to work as a teacher. Then I went to the army and then I started to work in a school again. After that I started my scientific work. Then I was Assistant to the Rector of the university and afterwards I was Deputy Educational minister.