By Irina Hovannisian
The English language programs of Armenia’s leading state-run universities have attracted this year the strongest interest from thousands of high school graduates seeking to continue their studies, education officials said on Monday.
Figures released by them show that the English Language Department of Yerevan State Pedagogical Institute (YSPI) will see the tightest competition during the upcoming admission examinations, with as many as 28 applicants vying for one department place exempt from tuition fees.
Yerevan State University (YSU) and Yerevan State Linguistics University have also received a large number applications for their programs designed to train teachers and other specialists of the English language. Their relevant departments have reported 25 and 18 applications per place respectively.
Both institutions have traditionally been considered more prestigious than YSPI. Officials handling the admission process suggested that the latter attracted more applications because it has lower tuition fees for those students who do not qualify for a limited number of state scholarships.
Education experts doubt that most of the English-language program graduates will ever work as schoolteachers or university lecturers. They argue that knowledge of English is increasingly seen by young Armenians as a key requirement for getting a well-paid white-collar job.
The official figures also reveal a surprise increase in the number of university hopefuls seeking a degree in international relations, political science and sociology. YSU’s corresponding programs have received more than 20 applications per place this summer. Competition there will be even tighter than at the university’s prestigious and expensive Law Department.
According to Vachagan Galstian, a YSU official in charge of the admissions, many of the applicants, usually aged under 18, have a scant idea of social sciences. “It would be good if 30 percent of them knew what political science or international relations is all about,” he told RFE/RL. “Many of them want to study social sciences just because this is becoming fashionable.”
Conversely, youth interest in engineering, mathematics and other natural sciences -- specialties that offer bleak employment prospects in modern-day Armenia -- continues to dwindle, with the number of university applications 20 percent down from last year. Sasun Melikian, an Education Ministry official overseeing the process, insisted that the existence of these programs has a long-term significance for the country despite its post-Soviet deindustrialization.
“We have to preserve those specialties because it would be wrong to think only about today’s needs,” said Melikian. “Otherwise, science would one day disappear in Armenia.”