Vol. 6, No. 4 (February 15, 2013)
Baku expands program for Azerbaijanis to study abroad
Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy
On February 1, Baku’s education ministry announced the expansion of its highly successful program of supporting young Azerbaijanis who want to study in higher educational institutions abroad, a program that has helped the country overcome the legacy of the Soviet system in Azerbaijani schools, prompted Azerbaijani universities so that they can compete for the best students of the country, and allowed Baku to contribute to the formation of diaspora institutions that work to counter propaganda directed against Azerbaijan and to promote Azerbaijani interests abroad. 
The program, launched at the instigation of President Ilham Aliyev in 2007, has grown rapidly and now exceeds those of most of the other post-Soviet states. In 2007-2008, it supported 66 students, a number that grew to 134 in 2008-2009, 308 in 2009-2010, 275 in 2010-2011, and 433 in 2011-2012. In this year, 608 Azerbaijani students are being supported by this program. And ministry officials say that the number will only increase in the coming years.
The 1842 students who have been part of this program have studied in 27 different countries, with the largest number—419—in British higher educational institutions, followed by Turkey where 366 Azerbaijanis have studied and Germany where 355 have been enrolled in the universities and institutes of that country. This Azerbaijani program has expanded as a result of assistance from other countries. Poland, for example, has offered special stipends for Azerbaijani students for the 2013-2014 academic year.
Government stipends are given on the basis of a competitive review. Preferences are given to those who show what the ministry calls organizational work and the use of their experiences in various spheres of science or social life of Azerbaijan. That last provision is especially important. Unlike many government programs elsewhere, the Azerbaijani educational grants require that those who receive them agree to return to their homeland and work for its betterment. So far, all have done so.
Those who want to take part in this scholarship program must have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in one or another humanitarian field, be under the age of 35, and demonstrate their competence in the language of the country in whose universities they intend to enroll. Moreover, the program helps students who receive these grants to study the relevant language both before they depart for their studies and once they are there.
These students are already playing three important roles. First, they serve as cultural ambassadors for their country and often form the core of Azerbaijani diaspora organizations. Indeed, in Europe, students on this program are the leaders of the national and EU-wide Azerbaijani organizations. Without their active participation, these groups would not be playing the key role they now do in defending Azerbaijan from the attacks of other diasporas and promoting a positive image of their country.
Second, upon their return, these students form a special cadre of highly trained people, with their own organization and networks. Many of them have received better schooling than they could have at home, and because employers know this, the leaders of Azerbaijan’s educational institutions see them not as a threat, but as a challenge. Without this program, the process of transforming Soviet-era educational institutions into modern international centers would have taken far longer and been far less successful.
And third, these students provide in their persons a unique link between Azerbaijan and the countries where they have studied. The role of British, German and Turkish universities in contributing to that sense of common purpose among students has contributed to the expansion of ties between these and the 24 other countries where Azerbaijanis have studied over the past six years and Azerbaijan itself. That may be the most important contribution of what is one of the great success stories of Azerbaijani higher education.
 See http://news.day.az/society/381356.html (accessed 15 February 2013).