By Narek Galstian
About 200 students protested in Yerevan on Friday against a structural reform of Armenia’s system of higher education that has strengthened the government’s control over state-run universities.
A government directive approved by President Robert Kocharian this summer introduced new governing boards with sweeping powers at each of those universities. Half of their members are to be appointed by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian and Education Minister Sergo Yeritsian. University faculties and student councils will each appoint one quarter of the board members. Some of those bodies have already been formed.
The students who gathered outside Yerevan State University (YSU) condemned the structural change, threatening to boycott classes if the government does not rescind it next week. The YSU pro-rector, Sarkis Shahazizian, tried to placate the protesters. “You can appeal to the rector’s office and your demands will be considered,” he said.
It remained unclear just why the protesting students are unhappy with the government decision. Most Armenian state universities were until now governed by “scientific councils” controlled by the rectors. One third of their member were chosen by the student councils that are also overwhelmingly loyal to the university authorities.
Supporters of the reform believe that the protests were provoked and encouraged by the incumbent rectors who fear losing their powers. Some of the rectors, including YSU’s Radik Martirosian, reportedly risk losing their jobs as well.
The new boards will have the exclusive authority to elect the rectors and approve the university budgets.