The upcoming abolition of most remaining military draft deferments enjoyed by university students is fair and will not harm higher education in Armenia, Education Minister Levon Mkrtchian said on Monday.
Mkrtchian said the measure will also reduce corruption among officials in and outside state-run universities who are in a position to make male students eligible for government scholarships.
Such students have until now been allowed to perform two-year military service, compulsory in Armenia, after completing their undergraduate, graduate or post-graduate studies.
A government bill passed by the Armenian parliament in the first reading late last month will largely scrap these temporary exemptions. It will grant draft deferments only to those students who will agree to undergo parallel military training and serve in the army as officers for three years after graduation.
The measure was strongly criticized by the opposition Yelk alliance. Lawmakers representing the bloc claimed that it will prevent many students from becoming scientists or scholars. They said it will also not stop the sons of many senior government officials, pro-government politicians and wealthy businesspeople from dodging military service.
The main official rationale for the bill drafted by the Armenian Defense Ministry is that it will close a key loophole for evading military service and reduce “corruption risks” among military and university officials.
“This law will greatly eliminate the risk of corruption,” agreed Mkrtchian.
Mkrtchian also insisted that it will not hamper the development of science and scholarship in the country. In an apparent reference to Israel, he argued that science and technology has “peaked” in other countries that have not had draft deferments.
Besides, he told reporters, “if we look at who has pursued and obtained doctoral degrees [in Armenia] and how many of them have stayed in science, we won’t see a nice picture.”
The minister also asserted that drafting some students and letting others continue their studies uninterrupted is inherently unfair. He argued that more than 80 percent of 18-year-old Armenian men enrolled in state universities are already drafted to the armed forces just because they have to pay tuition fees.
Critics say that students who have wealthy or influential parents will find other ways of evading draft.
The bill will likely be debated in the second and final reading next week. If passed, it will come into effect in January 2021, meaning that it will not apply to students who have already been granted deferments.