YEREVAN -- Sweeping structural changes in Armenia's education system over the past decade will leave the country's state-run universities and colleges with barren classrooms in the fall, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.
Armenia is completing its transition from the Soviet-era system of 10-year schooling to a 12-year education cycle that will produce its first graduates next year.
That means nobody will graduate from newly established high schools during the 2010-2011 academic year, leaving profound implications for over two dozen state universities operating in Yerevan and other parts of the country.
The Education Ministry expects only 1,200 young people to apply for a total of 21,000 first-year places available in the countries universities. By comparison, the ministry reported some 17,000 applications last year.
With no graduates coming out of high schools this summer, the 2011 college applicants will mainly be those who failed entrance examinations last year as well as young men demobilized from the army.
Interestingly, admission applications are also expected from students who are already enrolled in state universities and have to pay for their studies. The lack of competition would almost certainly allow them to gain one of some of the 2,500 university places that are exempt from tuition fees.
Education Ministry officials say some students have already quit their colleges to pursue higher education anew and free of charge.
Simplified Admission Requirements
The ministry's Evaluation and Testing Center (ETC), which administers ongoing centralized entrance exams for all state universities, has made university enrollment even easier by simplifying admission requirements.
"There are applicants who can't write their names but want to go to university," ETC spokeswoman Gayane Manukian told RFE/RL on June 1. "That is their right, but the simplification of the tests is relative because if an applicant is not ready, they will have a hard time [even if they pass the entrance exams]."
Yerevan State University (YSU), the largest and oldest university in Armenia, reported that its History Department has so far received the largest number of admission applications: 40.
Some YSU departments specializing in physics, chemistry, and other natural sciences have attracted no interest at all yet.
Another major institution, the State Economics University of Armenia, had reported far less applicants as of June 1.
Not surprisingly, the head of its admissions unit, Mikael Tavadian, was unhappy with the education reform.
"This mechanism should have been devised more carefully and thoroughly before being applied," Tavadian told RFE/RL. "And this [situation] will last for six years. Our undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate [programs] will definitely suffer."