By Anush Dashtents
The Armenian ministry of education has set out to overhaul one of its divisions in charge of licensing private universities after it was rocked by a bribery scandal last year, officials said on Saturday.
The former chief of the ministry’s Licensing and Accreditation Service, Robert Gabrielian, reportedly fled the country in August in the face of criminal proceedings launched by state prosecutors. They claim that Gabrielian, still on the run, and two of his employees accepted thousands of dollars in bribes in return for registering private universities.
Their registration with the education authorities is mandatory under a new law that came into effect last year. Universities that fail to meet minimum government standards are subject to liquidation.
The law provides that a university or college “accredited” by the government will have a status equal to one enjoyed by state-run institutions of higher education. Academic degrees bestowed on graduates will carry the same weight. A mere “license,” by contrast, will simply allow a private university to exist, with the state taking no responsibility for the quality of its education.
The new head of the licensing service, Robert Poladian, told RFE/RL that the education ministry plans to work out new procedures and tighten the oversight of the registration process. He said that “within a short period of time” his agency will be given specific criteria for assessing the academic level of universities. Decisions to approve or deny registration will not be taken by a single person as has been the case until now, Poladian said.
“Otherwise, the whole thing – both licensing and accreditation – would make no sense,” he argued.
Fifty-one of more than 70 private colleges across the country have already received operating licenses. Nine others have been granted accreditation.