Georgia: Fighting Corruption in Higher Education

February 5, 2007

TBILISI, Georgia-– This year’s university freshmen have sent Marine Chitashvili back to the drawing board.

The dignified professor, head of the Center for Social Sciences in Tbilisi , gave them a test that was too easy – a test which only nine out of 200 first-year students failed.

Her lesson plan was also affected. “Last year I had to spend two hours explaining methodology. This year the subject was covered in 10 minutes,” she says.

The students’ improved caliber is a credit to the new unified university exam which was introduced in Georgia over the course of 10 days in July 2005. “It raised the bar,” says Roy Southworth, the World Bank’s Country Manager in Georgia . “Only 17,000 out of 31,000 applicants were accepted this year. The challenge now is to provide viable vocational training for those who didn’t make it.”

A new Law on Higher Education made the unified national examinations mandatory for all potential students seeking to enroll in a higher education institution in Georgia . This new requirement seeks to end corrupt transactions between university administrations and potential students.

“The era of corruption in the educational system of Georgia is over. The time has come when hard work and learning are the only way out,” said Georgia ’s President Michael Saakashvili on the first day of the new exams.

A more transparent process

For years, university entrance examinations represented an opportunity for bribery. The structure and subjective nature of the entrance examinations were easy to manipulate by corrupt officials. They favored candidates who either had personal connections or had bribed the members of the examination committee, creating serious equity concerns. A highly-developed tutoring system allowed well-off students who paid the right professors to get advance tips on examination topics.

Those old rules no longer apply.

In order to ensure the system works in everyone’s interest, a high level of security surrounded the testing process in July.

Candidates were identified by a barcode on each exam paper to ensure confidentiality in the grading process. Examination booklets were printed in a secure facility overseas. And each testing center was equipped with surveillance cameras and TV monitors that let students’ relatives observe the examination process.

“Young people are no longer afraid, when they take university exams, that other people will pay money and get in instead of them," says Maka Shioshvili, a third year law student in Tbilisi.

For the first time this year, students were also able to apply to faculties in several universities simultaneously. “Elitism has decreased,” notes Chitashvili. “A person who comes from a provincial city now has the same chances of being admitted to a university in the capital. In fact, provincial students got the highest scores.”

World Bank support

The new exam is just one component of the broad slate of reforms that the Georgian Ministry of Education and Science is implementing with the support of the World Bank.

Other work has focused on developing a new national curriculum, building up teacher training capacity and introducing per capita financing to schools. The World Bank has also supported efforts by the Ministry to introduce regular assessments and examinations at the school level.

The unified university entrance examinations were developed within the framework of the Education System Realignment and Strengthening Program (also known as the Ilia Chavchavadze Education Project).

“The Bank-supported project was first launched under the previous administration and is focused on primary and secondary school education. The new government identified university entrance exams as a major priority,” says Southworth. He adds that “the World Bank responded well to the government’s request,” and praises “a high level of Georgian ownership in the project.”

Initially published in December 2005