By Irina Hovannisian
The law school of Armenia’s biggest and most prestigious university remains exceedingly popular with teenage children of senior government officials and other influential individuals, education officials said on Tuesday.
According to the Education Ministry, more than 12,400 young people have been vying this summer for about 10,000 places available at the state-run Armenian universities. The winners will be chosen on the basis of admission examinations that are administered by a high-level commission formed by the ministry. The process began late last month and will end on Wednesday.
As always, competition is particularly tight for 120 places at the Law Department of Yerevan State University (YSU). Only 20 of its first-year students, to be selected later this month , will study there free of charge. The others will have to pay an annual tuition fee of 660,000 drams ($1,700), a hefty sum which is beyond the purse of most Armenian parents.
That is a reason why Armenian law students come from well-heeled families that can not foot the bill. Quite a few of them also have influential parents who hold senior positions in government. YSU officials confirmed that the pool of Law Department applicants this year includes the offspring of Armenian customs chief Armen Avetisian, Environment Minister Vartan Ayvazian, police General Hovannes Varian and Deputy Minister for Local Government Vache Terterian.
Education Minister Levon Mkrtchian denied a widespread perception that their enrollment is a forgone conclusion, saying that he instructed university officials handling the exams to be particularly “strict” towards such applicants. He also insisted that their parents have not attempted to influence the selection process.
“Officials in the Republic of Armenia are citizens of our country and their children too have the right to receive higher education,” Mkrtchian told RFE/RL.
“I don’t want to pretend that we don’t know in advance about applicants whose parents are senior officials,” said Edik Gevorgian, a YSU professor who oversees exams on Armenian history which prospective lawyers have to pass. “There were officials who informed us in advance, but not in order to give their kids preferential treatment.”
Gevorgian also insisted that many of those young people are gifted individuals who deserve to study at YSU and work as lawyers, prosecutors or judges after graduation. “For example, parliament deputy Hakob Hakobian’s daughter and nephew passed their history exams brilliantly,” he said. “The daughter of [former Karabakh army commander] General Samvel Babayan also did well. Just because she is a former official’s daughter doesn’t mean she can’t be bright.”
Paying bribes for enrolling in prestigious programs of state universities has long been commonplace in Armenia, a problem acknowledged by Mkrtchian. Speaking to journalists last month, he pledged to take anti-corruption measures that will significantly scale down the practice.