“Solutions may ‘hurt’, but the long-term impact will be tangible”
Arevik Anapiosyan

“Solutions may ‘hurt’, but the long-term impact will be tangible”

Deputy Minister of Science and Education Arevik Anapiosyan has studied and developed some ways to make the field function more effectively in Armenia for years. We spoke to her about the problems distinguished by the new government and solutions which might be deployed in the nearest future

 

Interview : Arshak Tovmasyan   
Photo : Arevik Anapiosyan Archive

 

It has been three months since you started to serve as Deputy Minister at the Ministry of Education and Science. Did your understanding of the field coincide with the real situation?

— Pretty much it did, but I have always been optimistic, and I believe we can perform rapid changes if there is political will. However, I see now that we have a serious problem of human resources for conducting reforms. This problem is not one you can solve quickly. Another issue is the extremely intricate regulations and laws, and addressing it also requires human resources, as there is a need to calendar the problems and develop proposals for directional changes. I would highlight these two issues as the most important ones because if we discuss, for example, availability or scarcity of finances I must note that there is enough room for optimization within our current budget.

Not once has the Minister stated that there is a lot of inefficient spending in the field of education. Could the same be said about science?

— The state and the economy should define and set certain tasks for science: I don’t think simple increase in wages would be efficient. There are two types of scientific activity: one is for development of economy and the other is for the sake of science itself. I believe we are not effective enough in both of those fields. We must definitely raise the funding of science, but we also must give reasons for doing so. So, if we raise salaries – and we actually plan to do so – we should introduce some tasks of new kind and character.

The Republic of Armenia inherited multiple scientific institutions from the Soviet Union: various academies, unions, etc. Do you investigate the effectiveness of their work?

— In general, there is a big gap separating science and education. I think science must serve as basis for education, which is not how things are now, and that is a problem. We are now working on the new law for the field and will try to make it comprehensive enough to regulate both sectors. We have MA and PhD programs both in scientific institutes and in universities, and a scientific institute basically functions as a HEI. Why do we then have to segregate these two? Presently, we work to unite them, to establish a university system which has science as its constituent part. We have developed certain solutions which may ‘hurt’ a bit at the beginning, but their long-term impact will be very tangible.

Former Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan used to note quite often that science should create products, sell them and self-finance. Many scientists, on the other hand, say one should demand that science create commercial value. What is your opinion on this matter?

— Very often in the field of science and innovation we need to ensure incubator conditions. And, of course, it is wrong to demand a product from an initiative still at its seed stage: the result may be seen in 10 years. But we are for sure going to apply in science the approaches and techniques from the world of startups and innovations, be it acceleration labs or incubators. We are already partnering with public and private organizations here in Armenia over specific models and projects which will help to contribute to the development of science. And yes, we also have in mind that in a long-term perspective science should provide concrete results and create value. By the way, there is an important issue where the government can have its positive impact: it can either purchase or help to purchase scientific equipment. This also implies formation of a respective tax field so that the equipment can be transported to Armenia in the best and cheapest way.

It is known that we have outflow of young scientists. This is not a solely Armenian issue, but here the immigration is significant. How are you going to address this?

— A couple of days ago we were looking into statistics, and it turned out that about 10% of young scientists leave the country. Some believe that if the wages rise a bit, we may keep about 24% of that number in Armenia. But I am not inclined to think the wages can solve the problem. You see, scientists in Europe or in the US earn money by seeking and applying for various grant opportunities for their research. The universities, in their turn, provide facilities, exclude corruption, etc. So, now I want to understand why we don’t use this system. Having worked as a researcher myself, I understand that it is not easy to write a proposal, to calculate a budget, but one can learn all that.

Doing only scientific work and not dealing with the administrative side is not good; we should be more flexible and practical.

Arevik Anapiosyan with Minister Arayik Harutyunyan

While working on this issue of Regional Post, we discovered multiple outstanding Armenian scientists who live in various countries. Do you plan to work with this network?

— We cooperate closely with the Ministry of Diaspora and have a number of projects here at the Ministry of Education and Science. One of them is a conference with Diaspora specialists in the field of education which gathers brilliant professionals in Armenia once every two years. I believe we have a tremendous potential in Diaspora which the government is not always able to use in the right way.

Do you think that women and girls should be encouraged to build a career in science?

— We do not have a separate positive discrimination initiative, and I do believe we should not push women into science but rather provide equal opportunities for everyone and eliminate gender-based discrimination. There are many women deputy ministers, and they got positions not because they are women but because they are strong professionals. It would be better to have more women at the top positions as well, but many assume the society is not ready for it yet. So, I think we should promote those role models of women who are successful because of being good at their job. Two years ago, there was a research on school textbooks which showed that we teach leadership to male students and tolerance to female students. That is why reforming educational materials is one of our primary goals, and we are going to use gender mainstreaming strategy.

Many educational projects like FAST, Tumo, AYB, etc., operate outside of general public education system. How are you going to cooperate with them?

— Because the government hadn’t had a clear vision and strategy in education, many side projects – including good projects – had entered the field. We have now developed a precise policy on education, and can see, analyze and value the work Tumo, Armat Labs, FAST or Araratian Baccalaureate do. I think we should learn from all those projects see how we can work with them staying faithful to the values of our current government which include equity and accessibility of high-quality education for everyone, enforcement of integrity within the system which implies elimination of corruption, as well as depoliticizing of education.

What is your opinion of Araratian Baccalaureate, particularly taking into account the conflict between them and Minister Harutyunyan?

— I cannot express any grounded statement regarding the overall content of the project, since I have not studied the content as such,, but I am very much impressed by the work the AB examination center did: these are excellent specialists who have developed a whole new approach to evaluating knowledge. For now, the contract with AB is being terminated, but we work with them to discuss different aspects which should be under the state supervision. We need to align the academic programs with the development perspective of our country, thus the content of the 4 subjects that has been accredited by UK NARIC and serve as key openers for the international recognition, should also be studied. Since these are STEM subjects I think we won’t have any major alignment needs, but the process has to be performed. I believe if there is a decision to introduce AB system in all high schools, it is a long-term process, and we need to conduct expert examination and understand how it should be conducted.