Merge: Combining universities raises concerns among Gyumri educators, students

The new government project being discussed now of merging several institutions of higher education in Gyumri and Vanadzor has stirred discontent among students and teaching personnel.

The plan is to merge Gyumri affiliates of Komitas Yerevan State Conservatory, State Theatre and Cinematography Institute and State Academy of Fine Arts, into one university, namely Gyumri Academy of Arts. The same would apply to the Vanadzor branches of State Engineering and Pedagogical Universities of Armenia – they would be joined under Vanadzor State University.

Gyumri branch director of the Academy of Fine Arts Hambartsum Ghukasyan says the merging of universities of different directions seems unfeasible: “It would throw us ten steps back. Starting from scratch again is unreasonable.”

Gohar Smoyan, professor of the same academy, told ArmeniaNow that the “teaching staff would change by all means”.

“This is a disgrace. What is it they are trying to achieve? Provide living for a few more people at our expense? And doing this especially to Gyumri means killing Gyumri, and this is probably retaliation for the fact that Gyumri did not support the authorities in the elections,” she says.

Another professor, painter Sargis Hovhannisyan complains that the government has not ever visited to hold public discussions with them and just made the decision.

“The government is aiming at destroying culture. The point should have been in identifying the fine arts academy’s challenges and finding possible solutions, rather than merging,” he told ArmeniaNow.

In Vanadzor the Pedagogical institute is for the merging, while the Polytechnic Institute objects. During this week’s meeting with students and teaching personnel of the listed universities, education and science minister Armen Ashotyn said that “public discussions” do not imply talking it over with each separately. It means only that the document should be available and open to public, which has been done.

“I’d like to stress that this decision was not made on the spur of the moment. It has been maturing for a long time, has been discussed several times with the current and former rectors of the state engineering university, as well as the branch director. The concerns connected with the future of the teaching personnel are fully understandable, however, I must assure you, ungrounded. Yes, there will be expansion of the administrative staff, economic, technical, service staffs, but never the professorial,” said the minister.

The students and the teaching staff spoke against the merger, saying that technical and engineering professions would suffer and lose their priority with each year, and that the issue of maintenance of the university’s material-technical base and the premises would be controversial as well.

Minister Ashotyan says they will try to listen and make a decision that would be beneficial for the majority of all interested parties, rather than one individual, be it a rector, director or dean.