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Autonomy for Change: Risks and Opportunities

Tbilisi, June 2006


In November 2005, Tbilisi State University decided to invite a delegation of the Magna Charta Observatory to discuss with academic leaders and key stakeholders of Georgian higher education (Rectors, Ministry and Parliament mainly) about the risks and opportunities linked to changed conditions for university autonomy - as they had been re-defined by the December 2004 Law on higher education. After a reorganising period of two years, that law was to be fully applied from 1 February 2007. In 2005 and 2006, all academic staff – from assistants to full professors – were ‘fired’ to be ‘re-hired’ after new competitions, many remaining on the wayside; universities were streamlined into fewer faculties to allow for synergies, staff reallocations and interdisciplinary work; deans and heads of departments were re-appointed and academic councils set anew; statutes redrafted so that, by early 2007, new rectors and administrators could be elected – ready to take over a ‘fully revamped system of higher education’. The choice of the dates of the seminar – beginning of June 2006 – was to allow for mid-term stock-taking of incurred changes, a possibility being left to rethink the last steps of the transformation before passing final decisions. From the Observatory, Ken Edwards, Hélène Lamicq, Andrei Marga and the Secretary General offered to take part in the two day meeting and join delegates from five local universities – public and private -, members of Parliament and of the Ministry - as well as top administrators from TSU mainly – some 20 people all in all. The discussions were held at the rectorate of Tbilisi State University, the host of the seminar. The programme was built around four main themes, the definition of university autonomy (what are the social expectations universities should meet in Georgia) , the devolution of responsibilities to institutional sub-units (how to be responsive to and/or responsible for social change), the modernisation of university organisation (developing a quality culture) & internationalisation (the steps towards European convergence, in particular). – each theme being introduced by panels of Georgian leaders with introductions and comments presented by Magna Charta delegates. The idea was thus to ‘hold a mirror’ reflecting the fast-changing situation of Georgian higher education as a system – no judgement being given by Observatory members.



Discussions were often heated proving that the idea of providing an outsiders’ viewpoint coming from experimented academic leaders was a welcome change in the local debate. Magna Charta delegates wondered in particular if the decision to reduce staff drastically – keeping the best qualified only – was rather precocious considering that academic institutions had had no time to imagine their long term future, thus could not steer the ‘weeding out process’ by answering the question ‘keeping the best, for what?’ Obviously, time deadlines – also linked to the next elections in 2008 when results would need to be shown by politicians asking for a renewed mandate – had made more humane strategies rather irrelevant. But this could have a cost since the risks taken amount to turning tomorrow’s universities in Georgia into banal institutions – since drastic staff reduction would protect the obvious – at the expense of the specific (English against Assyriology, for instance, even if the Tbilisi School of Archaeology is well known around the world). Other consequence of this ‘revolutionary approach’ very much guided from the top, the risk of being unable to nurture the conditions and synergies that make a given university a leader in given areas of national or international interest (for lack of scientific support). The bet was the following: since the system needed complete overhaul, it was better to impose change fast and have the system start a new life in new conditions as soon as possible. In 2007, once the process completed, democracy would be real, staff motivated and universities lean and agile.

The conversation concluded on a sharp focus on complexity that could help prepare further discussions, the third session of the taskforce being asked to discuss in 2007 ‘The multidimensional university in a multidimensional society’. The narrative of that rich meeting – heavily influenced by the techniques of future oriented thought as they have been developed by Sohail Inayatullah (2000) in ‘The University in Transformation’, a book that was also used as reference material in Iceland in 2005.



From Tbilisi State University:

1. Giorgi KHUBUA, Rector

2. Ivane BOKERIA, Vice-Rector


4. David APRASIDZE, Dean of the Dep of Social and Political Sciences

5. Nino CHIKOVANI, Dean of the Dep of Humanities

6. David KERESELIDZE, Dean of the Dep of Law

7. Mikheil UGULAVA, Dean of the Dep of Exact and Natural Sciences

8. Mikheil JIBUTI, Dean of the Dep of Economy and Business

9. Sandro TSISKARIDZE, Dean of the Dep of Medicine

10. Marine CHITASHVILI, Director of the Center for Social Sciences

11. Tea GERGEDAVA, Director of the Dep of Foreign Relations

12. Leaders of student self-governance (we have elections on the 19th of May, thus the name will be clarified after the results)

13. Marine BERIASHVILI, Assistant to the Vice Rector of TSU

Others Universities:

14. Giorgi MENABDE, Rector for Tbilisi State Medical University

15. Gigi TEVZADZE, Rector of newly merged Tbilisi State Pedagogical University

16. Kakha SHENGELIA, Rector of Caucasian School of Business

Public authorities:

18. Guguli MAGHRADZE, Parliament, Committee of education

19. Zurab DAVITASHVILI, Parliament, Committee of education

20. Bela TSIPURIA, Deputy Minister of Education and Science

Magna Charta Observatory:

21. Prof. Kenneth EDWARDS, Chair of the Board

22. Prof. Hélène LAMICQ, Member of the Board

23. Prof. Andrei MARGA, Member of the Collegium

24. Dr. Andris BARBLAN, Secretary General





Wednesday 31 May

(Day of arrival (for Western Europeans, that is during the night of 30/31 May)

Early afternoon

Treasures of Georgia:

Visit of the Archaeological Museum (foreign guests)

State University of Tbilisi


17.00 - 18.00

Get together, participants’ expectations and presentation of the programme

18.00 - 19.00

Panel of three Georgian university leaders moderated by a MC member


The main objectives of higher

20.00 - 22.30

Welcome dinner





Thursday 1 June




A - Which institutional autonomy for whom – what does it mean in terms of teaching, research and scholarship? How to balance teaching and research?

09.00 - 10.30

Society’s needs and university responsibilities, general references for discussion by Andris Barblan, MC Secretary General


Counterpoints by a member of the Ministry and then by a Georgian Rector followed by general discussion

10.30 - 11.00

Coffee break

11.00 - 12.30

Group work based on Georgian examples ‘mirrored’ by MC members


a) Risks and opportunities for teaching – curricular content and pedagogy

b) Risks and opportunities for innovation – research or/and scholarship


13.00 - 14.00


B – Devolution and institutional identity: responsiveness or responsibilities

14.30 - 15.30

Allegiances to an academic community, trust in an institutional project, views from earlier group discussions by MC members followed by a presentation of the new law agenda for university autonomy by a Georgian politician

15.30 - 16.00

Coffee break

16.00 - 17.30

General discussion on Empowering universities and/or academics for social change: responsiveness and responsibilities introduced by brief examples on ‘staff development choices’ and on ‘institutional differentiation’ (branches)

18.00 - 20.00

Treasures of Georgia: Visit of National Museum (foreign guests)

21.00 - 23.00

Treasures of Georgia: Concert of traditional polyphonies and buffet dinner



Friday 2 June




C - Modernisation of university organisation: transparency and quality culture

09.00 - 10.30

Administering, managing or governing? A change of perspectives, references for discussion by a MC member and counterpoints by a Rector and a Head of administration, followed by general discussion

10.30 - 11.00

Coffee break

11.00 - 12.30

Quality culture, the risks and opportunities of transparency, a panel of three Georgian university leaders moderated by a MC member followed by general discussion

13.00 - 14.00


D - International recognition and European convergence

14.30 - 16.00

US models and the European Higher Education Area: higher education as a private good and/or a public service, a panel of three Georgian university leaders moderated by a MC member followed by general discussion

16.00 - 16.30

Coffee break

16.30 - 17.30

Steps to a transformed higher education system, lessons from the encounter by a Georgian rector and a MC member, followed by general discussion

17.30 - 18.00

Closing session: debriefing, evaluation and eventual follow-up

20.30 - 23.00

Gala dinner



Possible early departure for MC guests with night flights arriving on 3 June round 6 a.m in Western Europe



Saturday 3 June and/or Sunday 4 June
As normal flights to the West usually leave in the night, a one day or two day excursion to sites of interest surrounding Tbilisi or, further away (for  instance, Gori or Telavi for the two day excursion), could be arranged for foreign guests wishing to put the discussions in their geographical context.