On February 21, 2018, the RA National Assembly held discussions on the draft “Law on Higher Education”, which, we may notice, were held in strict confidence.
Before referring to the draft law and its controversial provisions, it should be noted, that the pre-final draft version of the law was posted on the edraft.am website on December 1, 2017, while the recommendations were required to be submitted by December 21, 2017.
Forty-one (41) recommendations in total were submitted on the draft law: the Open Society Foundations Armenia (OSF-Armenia) made 25 recommendations, the Disability Info NGO made 15 recommendations, and 1 individual made one recommendation.
However, neither Open Society Foundations Armenia nor Disability Info NGO were invited to participate in the parliamentary hearings. In fact, Disability Info NGO learned about the hearings accidentally and participated in them with the mediation of the “Yelk” (“Exit”) faction, whereas the Open Society Foundations Armenia did not even know about the hearings.
This is indeed amusing (or inexplicable) taking into consideration that on January 29, 2018, OSF-Armenia organized a discussion meeting on the draft law, which was attended by the Chairman of the NA Standing Committee on Science and Education Vardan Bostanjyan and a member of the same committee Ararat Mirzoyan. During the meeting, the representatives of the OSF-Armenia emphasized their wish to be given the opportunity to express themselves during the parliamentary discussions.
Moreover, OSF-Armenia sent inquiries to NA Speaker Ara Babloyan and to the leaders of all factions calling upon organizing parliamentary hearings. Nevertheless, instead of inviting OSF-Armenia to the hearings- the author of 60% of the submitted recommendations on the draft law- other organizations were invited, while the relevance of most of them to the higher education sector is indeed unclear.
However, this was not the only surprise connected with the draft law. As stated by the Ministry of Education and Science Levon Mkrtchyan in his speech at the National Assembly, the government-approved draft contains provisions that were not included at all in the version of the draft law published on edraft.am.
In particular, according to the new amendments (Article 18, Part 3), from now on the Prime Minister, upon the recommendation of the Ministry of Education and Science, will approve the composition of the Governing Councils of Higher Education Insinuations (HEIs). This means that all governing bodies of the HEIs will be dependent on the prime minister and other branches of executive power. Whereas, neither the Government nor the Prime Minister nor the President currently have the power to approve the members of the Governing Councils of Higher Education Institutions.
We will further elaborate on the issue of the dependence of the HEIs on the executive power (the illusion of independence).