“Inflation exists not only in finances”
Smbat Gogyan

“Inflation exists not only in finances”

In June, the Supreme Certifying Committee of Armenia, which issues all the academic degrees, got its new chairman: mathematician, senior researcher, university professor and school teacher Smbat Gogyan. Young, active scientist with informal image, Gogyan appears to be an unusual figure for the Committee, whose top managers almost always used to be Soviet-era science bureaucrats. Regional Post discussed with Gogyan the Soviet legacy, modern-day scientific potential of Armenia and the need to revise the government’s approach to education.

 

Interview : Karine Ghazaryan
Photo: Boon TV

 

Conventional wisdom states that Armenia has a valuable Soviet legacy in science, and it is due to that legacy that our science was able to survive the 1990s at all. Do you think this basis is indeed so important?

— The legacy is for sure important because whole scientific groups and institutes were formed on Soviet scientific demand. But after the independence, it seems we did not understand the real scale of our capabilities. We overestimated our role on global science scene and did not struggle to grab our piece of pie. Anything can be lost if one does not make enough effort to preserve and develop it: inflation exists not only in finances. It is important to clearly see where the field heads to, or to move it in your direction. If a country does neither of these, it eventually isolates itself and is able to conduct only the bare minimum.

Armenia has significant scientific equipment: a collider, for example. Simply maintaining it can cost quite a lot of money. Do we manage to keep or use the capacities of all the equipment?

— The collider physically exists but it does not operate very effectively. In general, we failed to realise the potential of applied science. Take the well-known case of drone production. People say we could produce thousands of drones if we wanted. But no one can say for sure whether this is true or not until we actually manufacture them. The fact is there is no drone production in Armenia. Maybe there are good scientific grounds for it, but turning this potential into products requires a long-term strategy and good management.

Do you think there exists a problem of aging scientific community, and that there is no one to replace Soviet-generation researchers?

— We work on the respective statistics. At this moment, I cannot say for sure but I assume such statement is justified. There is a big gap between generations of scientists, and young researchers often have to deal with tasks set by scientists over 60 who often do not really understand the modern challenges. Loosely speaking, no one needs a study on CRT television when digital technologies are in their 4th or 5th generation.

The infrastructure left after the collapse of the USSR largely predetermined the way of development of our science. Do you think the European model of development could be more suitable for the field?

— The Soviet and European models do not differ that much. The difference is in the aim of the outcome of scientific work. In USSR, the government planned the results institutes had to produce, while in Europe they were a bit more independent. This approach made Armenia able to accomplish certain goals. For example, Nairit Chemical Plant supplied the whole Union. But once there was no Union and no ties between manufacturers, Nairit lost its market and faced the need to find a new one. The latter was not successful, and the factory closed down. The same happened with many institutes where research areas were designed according to the needs of certain production in, for instance, Russia. And when the production stopped in Russia, the work of these institutes became useless.

Nowadays, we have the Science Committee which distributes funding for institutes and research groups. So the process goes on, but there is no universal strategy of where the field goes to. This looks more like a mechanism to fight unemployment rather than an engine for encouraging innovation.

Does the country have enough resources to invest in science? Applied fields, like IT or engineering, can be tied to businesses and thus go forward. But what about fields like mathematics or theoretical physics?

— There is a big delusion concerning IT. When they say IT is growing and developing rapidly in Armenia, they do not take into consideration that this development is mostly just about the qualified and cheap labor force that exists here. Many European countries use this labor force, but this cannot be regarded as scientific development. Very little research is done in the field. Of course, there are innovative projects but much fewer than we are used to think. It’s like saying that Armenian migrants working at construction sites in Russia make their contribution to the cultural and historical development of Russian architecture.

But IT still gets funding easier than theoretical sciences. Where should the latter find financial resources? Is the government able to provide it?

— I think the researchers should work closely with HEIs. Universities, in their turn, should be interested in attracting highly qualified specialists. To some extent, we have had monopoly in universities, so they were not concentrating much on staff policy. As a result, the American University of Armenia, for example, hunted all the best researchers and professors, while Yerevan State University has serious troubles with attracting students for over three years now. They say students have no money to pay for education, but the fact is people prefer to pay more to the AUA as they give some credit of trust to it. Yerevan State University will have to work very hard on creating competitive curriculum and research groups to change this.

As a scientist you accepted a fully administrative position of the Chairman of Supreme Certifying Committee, so, I assume you give importance to the Committee. How can it contribute to the rise of trust towards degrees issued in Armenia?

— If the Committee supervises the educational and issuing processes properly, the value of Armenian degrees will rise over time. I completed my postdoctoral studies in Poland, and the institute there considered my candidacy based not on my certificate but on the content of my thesis. And my goal as a Chairman is to make the Armenian certificate a criterion for evaluating the content of a dissertation. This is a problem typical for the entire system, and the Committee alone cannot solve it; we should cultivate the right attitude towards knowledge from the preschool age.

What should be done to make the 12-year schooling system more effective?

— If a person graduates in 18, it does not matter whether he went to school at 5, 6 or 7. What matters is the content and quality of the education he or she received. Yes, our high school is not very effective, and the concept of education should be revised. When I was taking my school students to olympiads, I tried to encourage them not to go for the medal only, but to try to discover the new and to realize their potential. It is them who will form the generation of scientists who do not compete to prove who is smarter, but stand side by side to move the field forward.