A new $140 million USD Georgian-American project will see Georgian students gain internationally accredited degrees in science, technology, engineering and math without having to leave their country.
Mari Totadze is a tenth-grade student at a Georgian secondary school. In two years she will graduate and be faced with a choice that will determine her future – will she go to university, and if yes, where should she go?
Biology was Totadze’s favorite subject and she had a particular interest in microbiology.
Mari Totadze; Photo by N. Alavidze / Agenda.ge
"I've been interested in chemistry and biology since childhood," she said, adding she was still searching for a university with the strongest biology and chemistry departments in the country.
She was determined to gain an internationally-recognised qualification and was keen to study abroad "only if there was a financial ability” to do this. But with a top American University coming to Georgia and opening three campuses here, Mari could gain a leading education while remaining at home.
For Mari and other Georgian students, searching for a place to pursue higher studies will become easier after a new Bachelor program was earmarked to be implemented in Georgia, offering young men and women the opportunity to earn internationally accredited degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines all right here in Georgia.
San Diego State University (SDSU), a leading public research University which ranked in the top 100 public schools in the United States, will open three campuses in Georgia’s capital Tbilisi.
Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University; Photo by N. Alavidze / Agenda.ge
SDSU is collaborating with three prominent public universities in Georgia - Tbilisi State University, Georgian Technical University and Ilia State University - to create SDSU-Georgia campuses with an emphasis on chemistry/biochemistry, computer engineering, computer science and electrical engineering. Civil engineering and construction engineering degree programs are also planned to launch once the program is up and running.
Kenneth Walsh, first interim Dean of SDSU-Georgia told Agenda.ge the programs would be taught in English and would offer curriculum identical to what was taught at SDSU in the US.
Kenneth Walsh, interim dean of SDSU-Georgia and Magda Magradze, Chief Executive Officer, Millennium Challenge Account – Georgia
"A key thing to recognise here is that we do not plan to offer a different degree program or have different standards in Georgia,” he said.
"The students at SDSU-Georgia will get the same SDSU degrees as students at our main campus. They will just be studying in their native country.”
This endeavour marked the first time when Georgian students were given an opportunity to gain internationally accredited degrees without leaving their country.
This first-of-its kind partnership between the Georgian Universities and SDSU is a key component of the US foreign aid agency Millennium Challenge Corporation’s (MCC) $140 million USD second compact for Georgia.
About $30 million of the investment is planned to be spent on this higher education project, while $76 million is meant for general education and $16 million is allocated for industry and workforce development projects.
MCC made its first-of-all-time exception when the agency approved a compact to fund these educational projects. MCC compacts are only meant to promote economic growth and reduce poverty.
However, the Georgian government argued that the training of new STEM specialists was critical to the country's economic development, and so the US foreign aid agency agreed to make this exception for Georgia, Chief Executive Officer of Millennium Challenge Account – Georgia Magda Magradze told Agenda.ge.
SDSU competed against 27 other universities to receive the MCC funding after the MCA - Georgia put a call out in 2012 seeking US universities to present plans to develop a joint educational program in Georgia.
Magradze said the partnership between local universities in Georgia and SDSU would eventually see Georgian public university programs develop knowledge, skills and expertise to receive US professional accreditation.
The classes at SDSU-Georgia are scheduled to start from autumn 2015. The campuses will accept 500 students per year.
The program will include an English language institute, allowing Georgians or other non-English speaking students to be prepared for English-language courses.
Moreover, as part of the partnership, SDSU will invite faculty from Georgian universities to visit San Diego, schedule those working within their corresponding SDSU faculty, earn doctorate degrees and co-teach classes.
Former SDSU Provost Nancy Marlin and Georgia's Minister of Education and Science, Tamar Sanikdize signing the agreement to launch SDSU-Georgia.
SDSU science and engineering students will also have study-abroad opportunities in Tbilisi, while Georgian students could be offered exchange semesters in the US.
Walsh, the SDSU-Georgia Dean, said tuition would cost $7500 USD (about 13,000 GEL) each year per student. Even though this was almost five times as much as the cost of tuition for local public universities in Georgia, Walsh believed this was still much cheaper than traveling and living in the US to receive exactly the same quality of education and diploma.
In addition, Walsh said scholarships would be available for students who gained top results in the Unified Entrance Exams.
Mari Totadze has won several chemistry and biology local Olympiads; Photo by N. Alavidze / Agenda.ge
Meanwhile Totadze’s father Paata, was a chemist who graduated from Georgia’s Technical University more than a decade ago. Even though he believed a student could gain a good education anywhere if they were eager to do so, he believed the new American-Georgian program was "worth paying a bit more for”.
"An investment in knowledge pays the best interest, you know,” he said.
"If you are searching for literature regarding a certain topic, you can find hundreds of books in English, while a maximum of two books are available in Georgian about the same topic,” Totadze said, stressing English-language courses were one of the advantages of the SDSU-Georgia programs.
When signing the partnership memorandum with SDSU this July, Prime Minister of Georgia Irakli Garibashvili said he believed "it would prove to be one of the most successful projects in the history of Georgian-American relations.”