The role of education in the information society is expanded against a background of widespread globalisation, strengthening of economic competitiveness and gradual exhaustion of natural resources. It is not accidental that United Nations has proclaimed XXI century the Century of Education. The role of education, especially higher education, has never been as important as now in forming high-quality human capital, as well as in building a strong economy. Its role in the human capital formation of Azerbaijan is undeniable as in other countries.
One of the important events in the history of education of Azerbaijan was the launch of the two-tier system of higher education (baccalaureate and magistracy) in 1993. Thereafter, students have been admitted to the baccalaureate level of 23 universities on 80 directions on more than 300 specialties for the first time. Over the past years, drastic changes and progress were made in the content of baccalaureate education. As a result, existing rules have been developed, and created standards responded to requirements for the world education system. What is more, the development of the education credit system began to be applied as well.
The first graduation from the bachelor’s degree was held in 1997. Thereafter, with the consent of Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Azerbaijan, as well as in accordance with the executive order 412 of the Education Ministry of June 17, 1997, 9 private and 23 state universities were allowed to conduct the second - Masters-level training of higher education. Admission to the magistracy was held by universities until 2005.
Since 2005, admission of students to the magistracy level has been held by the State Student Admission Commission (executive order 219 of President on “Regulations of State Student Admission Commission of the Republic of Azerbaijan” of April 6, 2005). Students have been admitted to the part-time master's degree courses since 2001/02 academic year in accordance with the order of the Cabinet of Ministries of July 6, 2002.
In the early 1990s, there were organized discussions on reforms in the education system of Azerbaijan. However, the works in this direction were implemented in a haphazard and unplanned manner. In 1999, Education Reform Program of Azerbaijan was approved, and educational reforms started to be implemented. According to this programme, some changes were made in the structure of higher education, and new specialties were added to the specialist training structure.
Education institutions have received considerable freedom and broad powers. They began to establish their own scientific councils, define the content of State Attestation Commissions, as well as its internal structure, and prepare curriculum for specialties, in accordance with the State Education Standards.
Furthermore, 6 higher-education institutions received an extensive independence, and began to organise their activity under self-governing principles. They have funded by the separate state - budget lines since 2001.
Based on the Presidential Order of June 13, 2000 on ‘Development of Education System of the Republic of Azerbaijan’ the control over the quality of education was passed over to the Ministry of Education. Moreover, an education quality control mechanism was created over a short period of time after the Cabinet of Ministers has approved ‘Regulations on attestation and accreditation of higher and secondary special-education institutions.’
What is more, in 1999 the application of new students' knowledge assessment mechanism had started to be applied as an experiment. At present, almost the majority of universities are covered by this system.
The training of teaching personnel with deep thinking, pedagogical and methodical ability, who have met the latest standards, has always been at the centre of attention. Some steps were taken to improve works in this direction. Furthermore, there were prepared the professiogram to define teacher’s competencies, pedagogical practice guidelines and dual specialties were included to the list of specialties (classifier) in order to provide schools of rural areas with teachers.
The Ministry of Education in the partnership with the World Bank, (within the framework of the Education Sector Development Project, and under sub-component of “Teacher's training”) has prepared the concept and strategy of constant pedagogical education and teacher training in Azerbaijan, and completely new curriculum providing training courses for primary teachers. The documents have already been approved. Moreover, the textbook 'Basis of Education' has been prepared as well. At 3 pilot universities (Azerbaijan State Pedagogical University, Azerbaijan Institute of Teachers, and Ganja State University) has been started to use curriculum for primary teachers.
Integration into the education system of European countries and forming the European Higher Education Area has a special urgency in the modern world. From this point of view, Bologna process holds a special position. Azerbaijan joined to the Bologna process in 2005, and via this process has defined the detailed contours of reforms, which will be implemented in the higher-education field. In order to implement provisions of Bologna Declaration, as well as in accordance with the relevant action plan for 2006-1010, the Structure of minimal state demands for the content and quality preparation for entry to the bachelor degree was confirmed. Moreover, there were developed new-generation state education standards for the relevant directions. After Azerbaijan has joined to the Bologna process, there was inevitability about the use of the credit system in the higher-education field. Practices of several foreign countries have been studied within the use of this system to create the legal and normative basis. Furthermore, there was approved “Draft Regulation on the use of the credit system at higher-education institutions” and made a decision to use the credit system at some universities. By 2009/2010 academic year, the experiment started at 10 universities in 2006/2007 academic year has covered all specialities of 27 state-owned universities.
Moreover, some steps were taken to recognise diplomas of students studied abroad as well. Standing Committee and sector were established at the Ministry of Education based on the order of Cabinet of Ministers for approving rules for recognition of specialties in the higher education field of foreign countries and determining their equivalency.
Preparation of Diploma Supplement that plays a significant role in the recognition of equality and mutuality of diplomas is one of the important details attracting attention within the Bologna process. The Diploma Supplement model was developed by the joint working group, consisting of experts of the European Commission, European Council and UNESCO. Diploma Supplement simplifies the academic mobility of graduates and their labour force activity. Diploma Supplement was developed in our country as well and sent to all universities after being confirmed by the executive order 990 of the Ministry of Education of August 8, 2008.
President of the Azerbaijan Republic has signed an executive order on ‘Some measures to integrate higher education institutions of the Republic of Azerbaijan into European higher education area’ of January 31, 2008, in order to hasten the integration process of the country’s education into the world education system, especially into the European Higher Education Area, as well as expedite works to fulfil requirements of Bologna declaration. In accordance with the first section of the order, the Cabinet of Ministers has prepared and ratified “State programme on reforms in the higher education system of the Republic of Azerbaijan (2008-2012)”, and the Ministry of Education has developed an action plan to ensure the execution of the State Programme.
A certain period of time has passed since the confirmation of current higher-education specialties classification. During this period, the economic infrastructure of the country and demands for labour market has changed; Azerbaijan joined to the Bologna process and lists of bachelor’s degree specialities (programs) were coordinated with the relevant documents of UNESCO. Moreover, there was the inevitability of amendment some non – staff training specialties (from approximately 531 to 264) in this classification. What is more, the issue of updating the classification was discussed in the Education Committee, and the working group has developed “List of bachelor’s degree specialties (programmes).” After the conduction of some discussions at universities, the list was approved by the Order 8 of the Cabinet of Ministers of January 12, 2009. All specialties in the list were developed in accordance with State Education Standards, and universities have started its application.
Education Act of the Republic of Azerbaijan was approved by the Order 156 of the President of September 5, 2009. In order to fulfil this order the Ministry of Education, in accordance with the order 247 of the Cabinet of Ministers of 17 September 2009, has approved an action plan (executive order 1084 of 25 September 2009). Based on the Action Plan broad measures were taken to coordinate the normative and legal basis of the education with requirements of Education Act.
The second special education holds a special position in the solution of issues related to the social-economic development of the country, as well as in meeting the needs of individual and society for vocational education within the market relations. This stage of education plays an important role in providing different fields of the economy with qualified staff. Secondary special education solves two problems – the possession of different specialties by young people and obtainment of compulsory general education.
Moreover, secondary special education plays an important role in enhancing the prestige of the national education system and forming intellectual potential of the society in the country. It serves to improve the educational and cultural level of citizens as a mass vocational education.
Currently, the country has a large number of vocational institutions, which are located throughout the country and the training of personnel may take relatively little time and costs. This creates a great opportunity to train personnel in this field that will meet the demands of all spheres of economic and social activity of the country. There are some requirements for qualified vocational specialists within the market relations such as new professional qualities, systematic mentality, meditation, ecological, legal and informative knowledge, cultural ownership, ability to act independently in a period of abeyance and, etc.
Appropriate reforms should be implemented in the vocational education field to train such qualified specialists. Moreover, the internal structure of the system should be improved, and new institutions should be created on the base of existing secondary education establishments, as well as requirements for the content of education should be redefined.
As a result of reforms implemented by the state in the education area, there was created legal and economic ground for the independent activity and development of secondary special institutions, and their network was developed over recent years. After some state-owned institutions were subordinated to the Ministry of Education in accordance with the Presidential order on Improvement of the education system of the Republic of Azerbaijan, of 13 June 2000, the Ministry has an opportunity to make drastic changes in the content of secondary special education and improve the personnel training structure.
The important steps are taken to create new type of education institutions – colleges. The colleges are established by combining several vocational schools, their logistic base, as well as by taken into account the potential of pedagogical staff and international practice in this field. The number of these institutions is increased and now comprises more than half of the secondary special institutions.
Since 2000, some measures have done to construct education complexes. According to the Presidential Order on Improvement of the education system of the Republic of Azerbaijan, of June 13 2000, there was established Art College under National Academy of Arts and Musical College under the National Conservatory. Moreover, Construction College under Azerbaijan Architecture and Construction University was established by the order 195 of the Cabinet of Ministers of 23 December, 2004.
The personnel training structure of secondary education institutions has changed over the past years. The training of personnel in oil and energy, engineering, transport and communication, social-cultural service, economy, business organization, marketing and management specialties has been increased as well.
Moreover, the content of secondary special education has changed as well. Thus, there has started to use state standards for the secondary special education which meet the minimal demands to the content and level of personnel training, and developed appropriate new curriculum and programs.
In accordance with the requirements of ‘Basic curriculum for general education” approved by the order 72 of the Cabinet of Ministers of 26 April 1999, the sample structure of basic curriculum for secondary special education was approved by the Ministry of Education, and relevant changes were made to the curriculum and programs.
Since 2008, at the secondary special-education institutions have started to use the multi-point system for students' knowledge assessment. For this regard, a draft regulation on the multi-point system for students' knowledge assessment was developed and approved by the executive order 231 of the Ministry of Education of February 20, 2008.
The normative and legal base of the secondary special education was created over the past years. State policy implemented in this area has changed its content, and the structure of expert training was improved.