About 9,000 foreign citizens from 110 countries are studying in Azerbaijani universities in the 2022-2023 academic year.
“I am 22 years old. I am studying at Azerbaijan State Pedagogical University, majoring in social psychological service in education. Those who study this specialty in Türkiye hold the position of leading teacher, that is, both a teacher and a social-psychological assistant. I am making plans in this area and want to research the psychology and social life of children in schools both in Azerbaijan and Türkiye.”
Irem Nur Aktash, a third-year student of ASPU, is from Aydin, Türkiye. She currently lives in Baku with her brother: “I came to Azerbaijan to visit my brother, then I wanted to get my higher education here. That’s why I participated in the admission interviews at ASPU and was accepted.”
Irem used one of the rules for foreign citizens’ admission to Azerbaijani universities, independently participated in the admission interviews, and gained the right to study at ASPU.
She had no difficulty choosing the university: “What I like in Azerbaijan is that the universities are specialized. For example, medicine and medical majors are combined in one university, and arts and arts majors in another. I also wanted to connect my future professional life with school; my university is the best place to train teachers.”
Irem is one of around 9,000 international students currently studying in our country. She got a chance to study in Azerbaijan through one of the preferred methods of admission for foreign citizens. According to the latest published figures, about 9,000 foreigners and stateless persons from 110 countries are studying in our country’s higher and secondary educational institutions for the 2022-2023 academic year. It means a 20% increase compared to last year (7332 people) and a 103 % increase compared to the 2015/2016 academic year (4326 people).
An employee of the newspaper “Azərbaycan müəllimi” met with international students who came to our country to study and got to know their opinions. She asked students who came to study from abroad the reasons behind the increase.
Who chooses the university?
First, it is worth noting that the education process of foreigners in Azerbaijan is regulated by the rules established by the Cabinet of Ministers and effective since 2015. Those rules allow young people who are citizens of other countries to study at Azerbaijani universities. One of the available ways for this is to join admissions carried out by universities. A citizen of a foreign country goes through an interview on the subject or subjects determined by the university according to the specialty he wants to study. Each university decides on the subject of the exam and the requirements for passing.
Foreigners’ choice of university
Which university attracts the attention of foreign citizens who choose Azerbaijan to study?
Statistical analysis proves that Azerbaijan Medical University is the most visited educational institution among universities by international students. On the one hand, this is related to interest in medicine. On the other hand, it is explained by the relatively cheap cost of medical education in our country compared to other countries.
In general, work with foreigners is well organized in our universities. For example, at Baku State University (BSU), as in all higher education institutions, citizens’ admission and data collection on international students in our country are carried out through portal.edu.az and atis.edu.az. According to Kamala Guliyeva, the press secretary of the educational institution, many applications for studying at BSU are received from Türkiye, Iran, Russia, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Bangladesh, Chad, Ukraine, Georgia, China, Nigeria, Kuwait, and other countries: “We would like to note that in this academic year alone, 127 foreign citizens were admitted to Baku State University at the bachelor’s level, 18 at the master’s level, 7 at the doctoral level, and 51 at the preparatory courses. It is a great indicator compared to previous years.”
Let’s pay attention to the figures given by Bahruz Nazarov, the head of the press service of Azerbaijan State Oil and Industry University. Currently, 545 students from 29 countries study at the university. One of them is Zabiholda Gambari. He introduces himself as “Zabi,” as his Azerbaijani friends call him: “I am originally from Afghanistan, even though they don’t look like it. My family and relatives live in Germany. I came to Baku with my family, and we welcomed the new year of 2020 here.”
The family, which could not leave our country due to the pandemic, decided to live here: “Even if I can’t go, I will study here,” said Zabi. “First, I learned to speak Azerbaijani, and then I appreciated the opportunity to study in Azerbaijan.”
Zabi is already a second-year student studying at ASOIU, majoring in Management. He is happy to be in Azerbaijan: “I can live here. After completing my education, I am considering staying and doing business in Azerbaijan. Wherever I go, all my work will be here. This place is like my home, my homeland. I have friends who are engaged in important work, working for the development of society. I join them and become useful both to myself and to Azerbaijan.”
As can be seen from the words of the Afghan student, there are suitable conditions for studying in Azerbaijan. Many are aware of this. For example, there has been an increase in students from Turkmenistan, Georgia, and Arab countries choosing ASOIU in recent years. Let’s look at the comparison of the last few years: there were 355 in the 2014/2015 academic year, 399 in the 2016/2017 academic year, 476 in the 2017/2018 academic year, 521 in the 2018/2019, 544 international students in the 2019/2020 academic year. The growing dynamics stopped in 2020. As in the case of world universities, the number of international students of ASOIU decreased by half that year: 260 students in the 2020/2021 academic year and 281 students in the 2021/2022 academic year. But those days are over. After the pandemic, the university, as they say, regrouped and reached the number of students it had a few years ago. According to B. Nazarov, the number of students from Türkiye, Iran, Georgia, and Arab countries is increasing at ASOIU: “We cooperate with China, India, and Bangladesh. We will develop our cooperation bilaterally. We expected hundreds of students due to these cooperations established before the pandemic. According to our calculations, sub-bachelors from those countries should have come to our university for studies at bachelor and other levels of education. But the pandemic created problems in the implementation of these agreements. The agreements mentioned above are on our agenda again. As a result, we expect an increase in the number of international students from the next academic year. We have plans for joint education with Türkiye.”
Economics, engineering, and architecture specialties are the most preferred specialties nowadays. Therefore, it should not be surprising that UNEC, Azerbaijan Technical University (ATU), and Azerbaijan University of Architecture and Construction (AUAC) have many international students. For example, Yohana Emmanuel Kitima said that he chose UNEC because it is a prestigious university, and he is the first student from Tanzania to come to Azerbaijan. He is a 4th-year student majoring in accounting and auditing: “I came to Baku to watch the Chelsea-Arsenal game for the first time, and I really liked Baku. That’s why I chose the university where I would study. I became aware of the grant program the Republic of Azerbaijan allocated through the Embassy of Azerbaijan in Ethiopia. It was also my first chance to live abroad. Yet I didn’t believe that I could be admitted to UNEC.”
He was lucky enough to be accepted and has been in Baku since September 16, 2019: “I will apply what I learned in my country.”
He learned a lot not only about his specialty but also about our country and food: “I learned how to cook plov and dolma. People here are hospitable and friendly, and I feel at home. My biggest challenge is the language barrier. I want to talk to people more, to connect, but I can’t because we don’t know each other’s language. Nevertheless, I recommend Azerbaijan to everyone who wants to study. Even my brother came here for education after me. In general, I can say that thanks to what I said about Azerbaijan, two people decided to study in Azerbaijan and are still here.”
Three hundred eighty-six students who are citizens of foreign countries study at AUAC. The number of students, which was more than 700 before the pandemic, has started to increase again. According to Nijat Abdullayev, the head of the university’s press service, architecture is the most expensive among the specialties currently being taught at the educational institution - $2,500. Tuition for other majors is $2,000. N. Abdullayev says that this price is almost the same compared to universities that teach technical training.
What about private universities? Among the private universities, foreigners mostly choose Baku Eurasia, “Odlar Yurdu,” and Khazar universities. It is primarily related to the organization of teaching in English in those universities.
In general, the application of citizens of foreign countries to universities depends on the quality of education in educational institutions and the organization of teaching in English. According to Mujdat Hasanov, the unit head in the International Cooperation Department of the Ministry of Science and Education, education is available in 4 languages in our country, and this is one of the crucial factors that attracts students from many countries to our universities. He noted that educational institutions in the regions have provided these opportunities in recent years and, as a result, their reputation has increased: “It is gratifying that the number of international students in the regional universities is also growing. For example, Azerbaijan State Agriculture University operating in Ganja has increased the number of foreigners among its students this year.
It is also related to the projects implemented by the government. The head of the unit, who drew attention to the activities of the government and the Ministry of Science and Education in attracting foreigners to education in Azerbaijan, spoke about the “Study in Azerbaijan” project. The project presents educational opportunities in Azerbaijan in the best way: “For the first time, the electronic format of admission to all universities has been successfully implemented within the project. Thus, an international student enters the website, registers, chooses one of the universities, and sends his electronic application. According to the evaluation tools and the quality of the application, the universities evaluate and respond to the application. At the end of the process, the student’s information is uploaded to the ministry’s portal.
According to M. Hasanov, although the establishment of a single platform is supported, universities are entirely independent in decision-making, and the ministry does not interfere in their decisions.
The head of the unit added that the project has social media accounts, a website, and a centralized electronic application system: Work is underway on the optimal way of transferring the project to the management level. Currently, the organization of the process is being carried out at the technical level.
Such a format is being considered that instead of universities, work will be done abroad, exhibitions will be participated in, students will be brought, and they will be placed in educational institutions according to their choices. In short, the project will also represent universities. The project, which has already become a working mechanism in other countries, means fewer costs for promoting universities in this version.”
Apisada Laowattanabhongse, one of those who studied in our country with this project, says that she passed the process easily. She got information from the “Study in Azerbaijan” page and was accepted to Khazar University to continue her studies at the doctoral level. The doctoral student will return to her country and job after completing her studies here: “For a successful career in international trade, I chose my diploma thesis in this field. I want to get an education and contribute the best to this region and my country.”
The Thai citizen explained the reason for choosing Azerbaijan: “In 2019, I had the chance to get to know this country personally. At that time, my team and I came here on behalf of Thailand to receive the winner's prize for "UNPSA-2019". We all had a precious time here. Everything was so good and well organized. Since then, I have fallen in love with this country. Then while I was considering pursuing my study, I was concerned not only with the study itself but also the environment. It sounded amazing. What I heard and learned motivated me to come here. What has been said is absolutely true: very warm and welcoming people, deeply rooted cultural traditions, nice climate, beautiful scenery, including an affordable price for being well. Everything is just perfect suited for me.”
But there is a point that worries her. Apisada concerns about three years from now: “I heard that most students were worried about the Azerbaijani language, and this issue will be officially changed soon.”
M. Hasanov, the unit head at the International Cooperation Department of the Ministry of Science and Education, said that this issue, which worries many international students like Apisada, has already been resolved: “Until now, international students defending their dissertations in a foreign language were required to successfully pass the Azerbaijani language exam conducted by the State Examination Center. Analyzing the applications received from students studying in our country with an education grant, we found that it is not fair to require knowledge of the Azerbaijani language for a foreigner studying in English. An exam in the Azerbaijani language is required from an international student studying for a doctoral degree in the Azerbaijani language. This requirement is no longer imposed on foreign countries’ citizens studying in a foreign language. We believe this factor will positively affect the number of foreigners who want to study at the doctoral level in our country.”
Projects that finance the education of international students
“In legislation, we are putting forward initiatives that can support growth. We are working with relevant institutions to implement changes,” said the head of the unit, saying that as a result of the work done, the number of international students in universities is increasing. Those from Türkiye, Iran, Georgia, Pakistan, Russia, Nigeria, India, Sri Lanka, Iraq, Syria, and other countries prevail. It is also possible based on intergovernmental agreements. Thus, projects that finance the education of international students are implemented in Azerbaijan. For example, for 2018-2022, the education of about 200 international students at different levels of education is organized within the framework of the scholarship program allocated to the citizens of the member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Non-Aligned Movement. Within the framework of those programs, foreigners have the right to study at the bachelor’s degree, basic higher medical education, master’s degree, residency, and doctorate levels in local educational institutions. Currently, 130 people are receiving education grants, and 88 people are receiving education within our country’s framework of intergovernmental programs. In other words, a total of 220 people study under governmental programs. Our potential allows us to attract more students.”
It should be noted that the education grant covers tuition fees, visa, registration, monthly stipend, medical assistance, and international transportation costs paid at the state’s expense.
Hamza Nacer is one of the 130 students who received education grants. He studied in Algeria at the bachelor’s and master’s levels and is in Azerbaijan for the second year. He is studying Ph.D. at ASOIU. He researches the topic of fire and industrial safety. He is indeed in Azerbaijan because he won a scholarship. However, this is not the only reason for being in our country: “I was also accepted to the university in Seville, Spain. I got a recommendation from my teachers at university to choose between the two. One of our professors in Algeria studied in Azerbaijan in 1990. I came to Azerbaijan on his recommendation.”
Satisfied with the quality of the education provided here, the Algerian citizen emphasized that Azerbaijani universities are better equipped than his country’s universities.
The largest number in the history of education
About 9,000 foreign citizens from 110 countries are studying in Azerbaijani universities in the 2022-2023 academic year. It is the largest number in the history of education and should be considered an indicator of the growing interest in our universities. M. Hasanov announced the next goal of our country in terms of growth: “We are trying to increase the number of international students in Azerbaijan to more than 10,000. We encourage universities to increase the number of international students each year. If we compare the results of the last two years, there is an increase of 20 percent. We will encourage universities to achieve 15-20 percent growth for the following years.”
©Ruhiyya DASHSALAHLI, “Azərbaycan müəllimi” newspaper