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At the plenary session of the Parliament held on 12 June 2013, amendments to the Law on Vocational Education were among the topics discussed by the deputies. The draft law was presented by the Government to the Parliament for an expedited discussion. According to the draft law, following changes are being introduced into the Law on Vocational Education: 1) new regulations on financing: Instead of distributing 1000 GEL vouchers to the entrants to be used by them for a public or a private college, depending on their preferences, now the funding will be limited to the state vocational education institutions only; therefore, students wishing to acquire grant will have to choose a state institution; 2) new procedure of admissions to the vocational education institutions - as a replacement of the Unified National Examinations the draft law introduces a Vocational Skills Test.

While discussing the draft law, Sergo Ratiani, member of the United National Movement, stated that the amendments overall were not negative, except for the problem related to the financing of public colleges only. According to Ratiani, the quality is increasing through competition; if we deny the right to accept the students with state grants to the private vocational education institution, these colleges will lose the motivation of increasing the quality of education. MP outlines the advantage of giving the grant directly to the students and thus letting them to choose the best college for the profession. According to him, it creates an open competition for the colleges and at the same time provides for the increase in the quality of education.

In response to Sergo Ratiani’s statement, Tamar Sanikidze, chief presenter of the draft law and the First Deputy Minister of Education (presently the Minister of Education), stated: ”As it is demonstrated by the statistical data difference in the quality of education given by the private and public colleges does not provide for the competition between the two.”

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inquired whether or not there is a real difference between the private and public colleges in terms of the quality of vocational education and tried to acquire statistical data, which would verify this notion.

Vocational education involves five levels, which are divided into two stages: first, second and third levels are the elementary levels in the vocational education, which are designated for the students with 9 years of secondary education. After completing this level an individual acquires right to work as a regular employee in the relevant field. Afterwards, for moving on to the fourth and fifth levels, it becomes mandatory to pass General Skills Test of the Unified National Examinations. This represents the highest level of Vocational Education, after the completion of which, an individual is allowed to take up managerial position in the relevant field and perform the duties of a manager or a supervisor.

The vocational education institutions operating in Georgia are of two types:

  • Community College - a vocational education institution, which offers general preparatory education programs and/or liberal arts programs along with vocational education programs and also has the authorization to provide the Georgian language education programs.
  • Vocational College – a vocational education institution, which offers only the first three levels of the vocational education programs.

According to the existing law, the admission procedure to the vocational education institution is as follows: all the students, who have completed nine years of secondary education, are allowed to the first three levels. Passing the General Skills Test of the Unified National Examinations is a necessary precondition for moving on to the fourth level. Additionally, the students who have completed 12 years of secondary education and have passed the General skills Test are allowed to continue their studies directly from the fourth level of the vocational education institution. Admission procedures are identical for both private and state vocational education institutions.

Nowadays, following types of vocational education institutions are functioning in Georgia: 1) five authorized public community colleges; 2) nine public vocational/community colleges with an authorisation until the beginning of 2013-2014 academic year; 3) twenty-six private vocational colleges, authorization of which is being maintained until the beginning of 2013-2014 academic year; 4) fifty-one newly authorized vocational education institutions, which are the legal entities of private law.

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In order to inquire about the amendments to the Law on Vocational Education, we contacted Tamar Samkharadze, the head of the vocational education policy department in the Ministry of Education. According to her, the amendments to the law were motivated by the inefficiency of the existing legislation. In particular, the vouchers of 1000 GEL did not suffice to cover the total costs of vocational education. Due to the fact that the Ministry did not possess exact information regarding the costs of particular vocational education programs, quite often the students had to pay themselves for the additional costs above the given 1000 GEL. Moreover, students had to acquire further grants amounting to 2250 GEL for financing the fourth and fifth levels of education, which wasn’t always sufficient either. Therefore, the Ministry abolished the system of vouchering and settled on providing direct funding to the public vocational education institutions. In accordance with the aforementioned amendments, all five levels will be fully financed by the state.

As for the change in admission procedures, Tamar Samkharadze explained that General Skills Test did not offer the effective means of evaluating entrant’s readiness and capacity to acquire a specific profession. For this reason the Ministry came to the decision to introduce Vocational Skills Tests, prepared individually for each program. Additionally, these amendments intended to dispose of the superfluous barriers in the vocational educational system. A student, who was admitted to a vocational education institution after completing 9 years of secondary education, who finished three levels of college and wished to continue studies on the fourth, was faced with the obstacle of having to pass Unified National Examinations. Participation in the UNE, on its turn, required full secondary education, which, as noted above, these students did not have, so they were forced to break off their studies. New amendments plan to eradicate this obstacle and once being admitted to the vocational educational institution, the students face no additional barriers in moving up from one level to the other.

In response to our question, whether or not the new amendments would violate the rights of private vocational education institutions, Tamar Samkharadze noted, that these amendments were the best solution that the state could offer at this point of time. These amendments do not mean that the private institutions are permanently denied the state funding; they are given some time for rectifying existing shortcomings and have an additional opportunity of taking part in the trainings. Once the indicators evaluating the quality of educational institutions are created and these institutions are found to satisfy them, state funding will be directed towards the private vocational education institutions as well. According to Tamar Samkharadze, private vocational education institutions are often not up to standards in terms of the quality of education and do not provide an adequate level of education for the students. Many colleges are literally housed in two rooms and cannot offer even basic conditions necessary for an educational institution. Another problem is related to the geographical distribution of the vocational educational institutions; most of them are located in Tbilisi, that creates difficulties for the students from the regions.

The Ministry of Education informed us that those students who received 1000 GEL voucher would usually still choose the public vocational institution; therefore the current legislative change will have no major effect. Public vocational institution, even though they are outnumbered by the private ones, still have much bigger capacity to enrol students as some of them can accommodate even more than 800 students.

According to the Ministry of Education, 50% of the vocational education institutions are of a medical profile, with a primary purpose to prepare qualified nurses. These institutions are unable to prepare qualified nurses; moreover, even in this field the demand is for the workforce with undergraduate diplomas, therefore vocational college graduates are unable to compete on the nurses market. Therefore, the individuals who have completed vocational education institutions often end up being fooled.

We requested from the Ministry of Education a statistical data reflecting the quality of education in the public and private vocational education institutions, but we were told that the Ministry presently does not possess an official data of this sort. Collecting such date is only a future perspective, once the indicators evaluating the quality of education are set and according dataset is created. Neither can the quality of education be assumed based on the number of students enrolled in these institutions, as some of these vocational schools do not have a physical capacity for accommodating more than a certain number of students, thus the small number of students would not be indicative of the poor quality.

We, nonetheless, requested from the National Center for Educational Quality Enhancement (NCEQE) statistical data on the number of students registered in the vocational education institutions in 2011, 2012 and 2013. The letter from NCEQE states that the educational institution registry of the Center includes the records only for the fourth and fifth level students of vocational education institutions. In the indicated years, 936 students were admitted to the private community colleges (legal entity of the private law), while 74 have been admitted to the five public community colleges (legal entity of the public law). As for the mobility of the students from one community college to another, the process is regulated by the internal decrees of educational institutions and NCEQE does not possess statistical information on how many students moved from one college to another, or graduated from either the public or private vocational education institutions.

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also inquired and found out that there is no data available regarding the employment of the vocational education institution graduates. This information is not possessed either by the National Statistics Office, or the information centre of the vocational colleges. Considering that at present there are 91 operating vocational education institutions, it would have been impossible for us to check the information with every single institution individually.

Conclusion

As noted above, presently there is no statistical data available for evaluating the quality of education in the vocational education institutions and the competition between the public and private ones. The Ministry of Education does not possess this data either. Furthermore, no data is available on all students registered in the vocational education institutions (from the first level to the fifth) and on their future employment after the graduation from the community college. Consequently no official data can be found providing any information on the quality of education in the vocational education institutions and the competition between them.

Nevertheless, we have received the information from Tamar Samkharadze, head of the vocational education policy department in the Ministry of Education, which illustrates multiple shortcomings and faults of the existing vocational education system. However, this information is not backed up by statistical data.

Accordingly, based on the officially received information we may conclude that the statement of Tamar Sanikidze: “as it is demonstrated by the statistical data difference in the quality of education given by the private and public colleges does not provide for the competition between the two,” is HALF TRUE.