On February 8 Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University (abbr. TSU or Tbilisi State University) marked its 100th anniversary under the patronage of UNESCO. The National Bank of Georgia even issued a collector coin in denomination of 5 GEL to mark the event. Georgia’s highest officials as well as prominent local and foreign figures praised Tbilisi State University for its history and contribution. On the other hand, some of the university’s current students and alumnus criticized the anniversary ceremony as a huge waste of money for an institution facing serious challenges. The negative backlash was so strong, especially in social media, that some representatives of TSU’s academic staff expressed their disappointment and confusion.
And while we should definitely celebrate the 100-year achievement, the criticism is not entirely baseless.
The Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University, the first-ever national university in the Caucasus, was established on February 8, 1918. The university’s founding fathers were prominent Georgian scientists who had the aspiration to found a European-type higher school in Georgia, based on Georgian educational traditions. The Council of Professors appointed Petre Melikishvili, a Georgian chemist, as the first rector. Tbilisi State University has changed its official name two times: Comrade Stalin Tbilisi State University (from June 9, 1938 to June 7, 1989) and Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University (from June 7, 1989 to present). Currently, TSU is the leading research university in the Caucasus.
Times Higher Education data shows that TSU is the only Georgian university to have been included in the TOP 1000 best universities in the world. In 2017 it was ranked as >800, in 2018 – 1001+. TSU’s full data is following (from 100): teaching score – 16.2%, research – 8.7%, citations – 2.7, industry income – 32.3, international outlook – 40.9.
According to QS World University Rankings, no Georgian university has ever been included in the TOP 959.
The beginning of the twentieth century was full of turbulent political events and it was an outstanding achievement for any country to be able to establish a university. So far, it has been a pleasure for Georgia to host the oldest academic/research institution in the Caucasian region. At the same time, it is important to ensure that not only history makes it special but also a strong academic profile and the capability to move the country’s science forward. And here is the main reason for the abovementioned backlash.
Let’s outline at least a few critical flaws of Tbilisi State University that are causing sincere confusion, anger and aggression from its current students and alumnus.
There is no doubt that Tbilisi State University is a leading institution in the Caucasus. Furthermore, it is the most respected and recognized research university abroad in the region. It attracts Georgia’s brightest minds and hosts plenty of foreign researchers working on various topics. All in all, graduating from TSU is a great honor for the representatives of each generation in the country. But, paradoxically, these facts are not reflected in its mostly low, according to statistics, academic profile. There are all necessary variables in place to make the university internationally competitive, but somehow it fails to do so. The question is raised as to why? We may openly argue that there are well-known internal systemic gaps that, unfortunately, some of TSU’s current students and graduates think are not respectively challenged by the university’s administration and academic staff for objective and, frequently, subjective/mercantile reasons.
TSU might be the best example of a research university without actual research. When we speak about “research” we mean coming in accordance with existing international standards. These standards have evolved over the years and currently, inevitably, demand respective financial resources to be allocated. Simply, you cannot conduct high-level academic projects if you do not have money to pay staff and undertake at least a minimum amount of so-called field works. But Tbilisi State University is out of money. It is a paradox that the leading research institution in the Caucasus does not have even scientific grant schemes to finance research projects. It is totally dependent on external support from, for example, the Shota Rustaveli National Science Foundation, SOROS Foundation Georgia, various embassies and other agencies. At present, we have a research university without the ability (or, maybe the willingness) to accumulate internal financial resources to support its postgraduate students (especially, PhD) and, thus, execute the institution’s highest goal – promoting science in the country. A research university without finances does not exist as well as, generally, science. As a result, students applying to Tbilisi State University hoping to become scientist-researchers are often disappointed.
Students coming to TSU will be surprised not only to find that the university is actually out of money but also by existing attitudes among administration members and academic staff. These attitudes can be clearly defined as negligence. It is no secret that representatives of the university have serious issues with motivation to support and guide students. And this feeling only grows over years. By the end of studies, the only thing a TSU student is sure of is that neither the university nor his/her lecturers care about future perspectives of their alumnus. There is serious lack of understanding among them, especially academic staff, that students represent, first of all, the institution itself. We may argue that this is the reason behind the financial negligence, too. Tbilisi State University is trying hard to avoid investing in its own students and graduates. Probably, that is why TSU’s prominent alumnus were so angered by the fact that the university administration decided to pay more than 60,000 GEL to the Public Broadcaster for advertisement rather than finance student-oriented activities, especially in research areas.
Probably the most sensitive and painful issue is related to TSU’s academic staff. In theory, these people should lecture and guide students, but in fact we often see the opposite. There is no sense among TSU’s students that their lecturers really care. Moreover, once you face the challenge of writing a Master’s paper, you realize that there is pretty low motivation among academic staff members to supervise and guide you. This is even more evident if you apply for a PhD program. Once you are enrolled, you might find that your supervisor is often keep exceedingly busy by activities that have nothing to do with university or science at all. The lion’s share of TSU’s academic staff members are also active members or even founders of other research institutions, NGOs and movements. Working at TSU is not a full-time job for them but rather a source of secured minimum financial income and high social status.
All in all, it is a significant achievement to have a century-old university that is highly praised by the international academic society. But TSU in practice does not satisfy the international standards to be a globally competitive research institution. Moreover, it does not generally provide its own students and graduates with respective financial and academic support. These challenges must be faced and dealt with to ensure that history is not the only thing that we can be proud of with regards to Tbilisi State University.