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Government Still Mulling Response To University Brain Drain


Armenia - The main building of Yerevan State University, 9Oct2014.

Armenia - The main building of Yerevan State University, 9Oct2014.

The Armenian government has still not acted to stop scores of young specialists from leaving state-run universities and research institutes because of a controversial pension reform implemented by it.

The new system requires workers born after 1973 to earn most of their future pensions by contributing sums equivalent to 10 percent of their gross wages to private pension funds until their retirement. The reform, initially introduced in January, met with fierce resistance from many affected Armenians, most of them employed by private firms, and was effectively blocked by the Constitutional Court in April.

The government responded by making the reform mandatory only for 65,000 or so public sector employees. A government bill approved by parliament in June allowed people working for private entities not to be covered by the new retirement plan until July 2017.

The vast majority of private sector employees are believed to have opted for the three-year deferment. But those of them who also have part-time public sector jobs are denied such a choice, with tax authorities also making the sizable deductions from their wages paid by private employers.

Among them are young academics and scientists. Several dozen of them have quit state-run universities and research centers that are part of the Armenian National Academy of Sciences to avoid the extra tax.

Yerevan State University (YSU), the largest in the country, alone has lost 33 such scholars to date. Officials there fear that dozens of others will follow suits soon.

At least 9 lecturers aged 40 and younger have quit the State Engineering University of Armenia (SEUA). Its rector, Hovannes Tokmajian, said on Thursday that the outflow is undermining the SEUA’s “strategic plan” to hire more young staff with the aim of boosting its educational standards.

Tokmajian and other state university chiefs already conveyed their serious concerns to the government last month. Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian responded by instructing the Finance Ministry to consider proposing amendments to a law regulating the contentious pension reform.

A ministry spokesperson told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that the issue is still “in a discussion phase.” Science and Education Minister Armen Ashotian, who shares the university concerns, said he too is awaiting government action on the brain drain.

Ashotian and the university rectors proposed recently that tax authorities make deductions only from scholars’ wages paid by state institutions.

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