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Europeanization in the “Wild East”? Analyzing higher education governance reform in Georgia and Armenia


The authors examine higher education developments in two peripheral post-communist countries—Georgia and Armenia, whose education systems have previously received little attention in the literature. They focus on how both countries’ models of higher education governance have evolved through the phase of political transformation and recent period of geopolitical tensions and more intense Europeanization and internationalization. Based on a series of empirical indicators for three ideal-types of higher governance derived from the previous literature, the authors assess the transformed relationship between the state and higher education institutions. Specifically, they focus on the extent to which both systems have converged on a market-oriented model of Anglo-American inspiration. The empirical analysis shows that following western practices has become a common leitmotiv of policy-makers in both countries and that new forms of “co-governance” between the state and university management have emerged. However, the authors argue that policy learning from the West has taken place in a very selective and tactical manner, as market-oriented steering instruments are only being adopted to the extent that they do not undermine the state’s means for political control over higher education.

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  1. TEMPUS: Trans-European Mobility Programme for University Studies.

  2. They argue that countries which were more deeply entrenched in the Humboldtian model of governance (e.g. Poland and the Czech Republic) have only sluggishly followed this trend, while countries with stronger state-centered traditions (e.g. Romania) have moved more swiftly towards market-oriented steering.

  3. e.g. Tbilisi State University 1918, Yerevan State University 1919.

  4. The War in Abkhazia (1992–1993) was fought between Georgian government forces and Abkhaz separatist forces. The Abkhaz separatists were supported by Russian armed forces and hired North Caucasian fighters. Most ethnic Georgians were expelled from Abkhazia, while Georgia lost control over the breakaway region. It is now a non-recognized independent territory and de facto Russian protectorate. The Nagorno-Karabakh War was waged between the late 1980s and 1994 between Armenia and Azerbaijan in an enclave in southwestern Azerbaijan inhabited primarily by the ethnic Armenian majority. Like the Abkhazian War, it led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of persons and is considered a frozen conflict up to the present day. Like in the case of Abkhazia, Russia is widely perceived as capitalizing on the conflict to advance its interests in the region.

  5. For the case of Russia, see Bain et al. (1998).

  6. For a more thorough description and explanation of the indicators, see Dobbins et al. (2011).

  7. According to the education law, the selection of the legal form of private HE institutions was left up to the institutions themselves (Art. 27). As a result, many private institutions functioned as limited liability companies or foundations. The teaching offer of the private schools primarily covered previously underrepresented subjects such as management, marketing, banking and financing.

  8. Two major programs were the Open Society Institute’s Higher Education Support Program, which focused on policy development, upgrading and enhancing the quality of HE content, and the professional development of faculty (see, and the EU’s TEMPUS program, which aimed to facilitate the transfer of credits with Western Europe.

  9. European Credit Transfer System.

  10. Website of the agency:

  11. Currently plans are being devised for a new accreditation procedure, which will be headed by the Agency in cooperation with the Ministry. By the year 2015 the Agency is expected to be able to carry out institutional audits and the voluntary program accreditation of HE institutions. A so-called pilot accreditation with funds from the World Bank will be carried in 2013 at 14 selected (7 public and 7 private) universities (World Bank 2013).

  12. In the first step, the state evaluates ex ante whether a university has the institutional, material and spatial capacity to carry out a study program. In a second step, research performance (e.g. research projects, publications) and courses offered during the past few years are assessed.

  13. As a result of these reforms, approx. 25 % of all students receive competitive scholarships (so-called grants), which cover their entire tuition fees.

  14. For example, the frosty relations between Georgia and Russia were reflected in the fact that not one single Georgian student was sent to study in the Russian Federation between 2006 and 2008 (Center for East European Policy Studies 2009, 139).


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Dobbins, M., Khachatryan, S. Europeanization in the “Wild East”? Analyzing higher education governance reform in Georgia and Armenia. High Educ 69, 189–207 (2015).

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