Vol. 4, No. 6 (March 15, 2011)

Human capital development in Azerbaijan: The role of ASAIF

Elkin Nurmammadov
Assistant Professor, Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy
Co-founder, ASAIF

ASAIF, the Azerbaijani Students and Alumni International Forum, was established in 2010 to provide opportunities for interaction among and resources for support of young Azerbaijanis planning to study abroad, already doing or having already done so.  By pooling knowledge and efforts of these students and alumni, the organization aims to enhance networking among foreign-educated Azerbaijani youth, promote public diplomacy, and contribute to human capital development in Azerbaijan.  The last is especially important because human capital, the accumulation of knowledge and skills as a result of education, on-the-job training and/or life experiences, plays a primary role in increasing productivity. 

Human capital can better explain why economies are able to grow over the long term because human capital, unlike physical capital, is not subject to the law of diminishing returns, i.e. higher amount of human capital does not imply lower contribution to growth in productivity.  That is because it creates positive externalities to society by contributing to its common pool of knowledge, thereby providing opportunities for others to reap benefits without incurring costs. 

In recent years, Azerbaijan has experienced spectacular growth, but because this has been based primarily on hydrocarbon sales, this boom may prove short-lived absent important economic diversification, and that will be impossible without an adequate supply of highly skilled workers.  Unfortunately, the level of human capital now fails to meet even the demand of the currently small non-energy sector, let alone those of a largely diversified economy.  As a World Bank study notes, the current state of the educational system, particularly at the tertiary level, is poor, and at the same time, there is a serious mismatch between degrees granted by local universities and skills demanded by the changing economy (World Bank 2009). 

The government of Azerbaijan has acknowledged the need for human capital development.  Over the past few years, it has built or renovated more than 1200 schools, it has invested in the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy, and it has created a Science Development Foundation.  Another important effort was begun in 2007 with the adoption of the State Program on Education of Azerbaijani Youth Abroad.  It funds training of Azerbaijani students in the leading world universities.  As of the end of 2009, the number of Azerbaijani young people receiving such support totaled 483 persons, [1] a number slated to reach 5000 by 2015. 
So what is ASAIF’s role in human capital development in Azerbaijan?  ASAIF was created by and aims to work with foreign-educated Azerbaijanis.  In broadest terms, the organization serves as a facilitator, organizer and catalyst in attracting foreign-educated Azerbaijanis to engage in human capital development issues in Azerbaijan, among other goals.  It works to facilitate technological transfer by providing medium of communication and interaction both within professions and among them. 

A forthcoming forum for medical students and alumni in Mannheim, Germany is a case in point to explain the interaction at the “within profession” level.  There are hundreds of Azerbaijanis who have graduated from medical schools in Turkey, Germany and other countries and are pursuing their professional careers in those countries.  This ASAIF forum will provide an opportunity for them to hear about the developments in medical sphere in Azerbaijan and thus help encourage them to return to their homeland.  But even if they do not come back, they can serve as “voluntary ambassadors” of Azerbaijan in their respective workplaces and facilitate the cooperation with doctors and medical workers from Azerbaijan, thus contributing toward their professional development.  At the same time, the ASAIF forum held in Strasbourg earlier this month is a case in point to explain the interaction at the “between professions” level.  There is a growing importance of networking and collaboration between representatives of different professions. 

ASAIF can also contribute toward the goal of reversing the brain drain.  Foreign-educated young people are often skeptical about developments in Azerbaijan.  They think there are few employment opportunities in the country and that jobs there offer low salaries.  Many of these assumptions are simply wrong, the product of an information gap.  While the overall unemployment picture may be bleak, the demand for high-skilled specialists is considerable, and ASAIF forums and other activities can help close this information gap. 

ASAIF, which plans to hold two forums every year, also serves as a bridge between foreign-educated Azerbaijani youth and government institutions.  Although a purely student and alumni initiative, ASAIF has benefited from strong government support.  During the Strasbourg forum, students had the chance not only to network with their peers but also to interact with senior Azerbaijani officials.  Both sides benefit from such interaction and consequently, Azerbaijan does as a whole.


World Bank (2009) A New Silk Road: Export-Led Diversification, Azerbaijan Country Economic Memorandum, Report No. 44365-AZ.


[1] Information derived from the State Oil Fund of Azerbaijan.  This number should, in fact, have exceeded 1000 by the end of 2010.  However, there does not seem to be any reliable online source to confirm the number.  According to the late 2009 numbers, most of the students study in Great Britain (24.6%), Turkey (15.5%), Germany (13.3%), and France (12.4%).