By Ruzanna Stepanian
Senior academics running Armenia’s leading state-run universities criticized on Monday government plants to strip their graduate and post-graduate male students of their military service deferments.
They warned that the measure, contained in a new government bill on compulsory military service, would discourage many young men from pursuing an academic carrier and undermine universities’ ability to train new personnel.
“The best students must stay on [in college] to do their doctoral studies so that we can reproduce our staff,” said Grigor Kirakosian, rector of Armenia’s State Economics University.
“In my opinion, every [male] citizen of the Republic of Armenia must serve in the army. But let us think about when he must serve,” agreed Aram Simonian, deputy rector of Yerevan State University. “I think this issue must be publicly discussed before being included on the National Assembly agenda.”
Male students have until now been able to put off their two-year service in the Armenian armed forces until after obtaining a master’s or doctoral degree. Those who are awarded a doctorate are exempted altogether from the duty. Under the bill approved by ministers last week they would be drafted immediately after completing their four-year undergraduate studies.
Government officials say that the existing privileges are a breeding ground for bribery and nepotism among university authorities in charge of graduate admissions. Many of the graduate students, they say, are draft-dodgers who will leave college after securing service exemptions.
The university rectors denied the corruption charges, challenging the government to come up with concrete facts. “Let those who talk about corruption come and talk to my doctoral students and see if there is corruption,” Kirakosian said.
Simonian, for his part, argued Armenia’s system of higher education is no more corrupt that any government ministry, insisting that most of his doctoral students are bent on making a scientific career. They would risk losing touch with science after spending two years in a military unit, he warned.
The objections are unlikely to force the government to reconsider the planned change which is said to have been suggested by President Robert Kocharian. Kocharian’s powerful defense minister, Serzh Sarkisian, also supports it.