Monday, June 30, 2008

Funding graduate studies

The prime minister recently announced that the government will fund the education of a number of students in foreign countries. Undoubtedly this is a confirmation of the country’s dramatic need for capacity building, as well as a reflection of the slow progress in advancing the state of graduate education in the country.

In a world of unlimited resources, one would applaud the visionary outlook of the PM. But given the funding constraints that are undoubtedly at play, and the urgency of catching up with the rest of the world, one wonders if this is the best strategy for the government to pursue. Consider the following:

1. The strategy would provide training for a limited number of students, as dictated by funding limits. It may cost anywhere from $30,000 per year to cover the tuition and living expenses.
2. It takes a number of years to complete graduate degrees; 2 years for masters and an average of 5-6 years for the doctoral degrees.
3. Add to the above the time it takes to gain experience and develop the professional maturity for independent work.
4. Considerable effort is needed to build conditions (and institutions) on the ground to make it attractive for prospective grantees to return to the home country.

I would very much hope the government reconsiders its options. The limited resources should instead be employed in attracting educators to the country. Here, a much larger pool of students would get training. More importantly, current faculty would also get training, and upgrade their academic skills. Add to this the prospect of having private/public sector personnel also attending these courses, and this alternative strategy could be a win-win all around. Of course, familiarizing these professionals with local conditions may have positive spillovers in terms of shaping curricula, research and study focus, among others.

For the doctoral program in economics, Yerevan State University, for instance, could host visiting economists to provide training in advanced economic theory, and econometrics, among others. [Note that YSU training in economic theory is superior to that received by Muskie students studying in the US, where the latter government spends some $40,000 annually on their training.] This is important as advanced training, say the equivalent to that of at least second year graduate PhD programs in the US, does not exist in the country. Similarly, the American University may host visiting professors in finance. Other institutions of higher learning could play similar roles.

At the end of the day, it is the academic institutions in the country that need to be shored up. Otherwise, capacity building will continue to be a long slow process.


Anonymous said...

I will kindly disagree with you.
The closed society that we are now, self-centred and ignorant of the rest of the world, we desperately need foreig education and experience.
People we have now wont change the system. We need young people to go abroad and see how things should be done more properly to implement it at home.
Armenian higher education system is a viscious, corrupt system killing all belief and desire for progress in young people.

David said...

Your suggestion would fail every cost benefit analysis I can think of.
We are all aware of the problems. But they need to be tackled head on, and not just wished away.

nazarian said...

I remember in the early 90-s when I was studying economics at YSU, a Diaspora professor volunteered to teach a course. There was a lot of animosity among the existing staff and they chased him away.

Are foreign professors encouraged to come and volunteer their time nowadays?

David said...

There are Fulbright scholars who teach in various universities. [And of course, you have those teaching at the American university as well.] But overall, it is not enough.
I do fault the donor community more than anyone else. What kind of legacy are they leaving behind by by-passing academic institutions? What's the point of paying some foreign consultant $300,000 to write a report while professors get paid few hundred dollars a month, and students go without textbooks and the resources commonly available elsewhere in the world?
As for YSU, it has made tremendous progress, and the students are good (at least mine). But it needs tremendous support and the right set of incentives.

Katy said...

The American and European PhD programs are so different. It'd make more sense to model YSU's programs after Europe's.

American PhD programs are created to socialize people into American academia. So while YSU may have a good economics department, comparing it to an American department is tough - and in particular comparing it to ALL American departments is ridiculous.

As a Fulbrighter in Armenia now, I'd say that I am less than impressed with YSU overall. Key problems: high school ending at age 16 creates a population of undergraduates that are quite young; the purchasing of spots into particular faculties; the lack of infrastructure... I could go on and on.

If a young scholar has very good English and studies hard for his/her GREs and does well on them, s/he should have no problem getting a funding position at an American university for a PhD. My department has a number of foreign students and we're not even a hard science. The hard sciences seem to be full of foreigners.

MUSKIE is great for the MA level, i.e. terminal professional degrees and for bringing people back, and AUA's MA programs are quite good as well. But we need to separate the audiences for the terminal MAs versus the PhD level.

Katy said...

An additional comment, as far as visiting professors. And why they wouldn't want to come:

- Until Armenia gets its stuff together about IRB, why would any visiting researchers want to come? It isn't like one can easily collect data properly?

- Language barrier, obviously.

- Lack of Internet.

- Bribery.

There are dozens of visiting professors at AUA all of the time. They can teach in English there as well. It is a shame that AUA is switching to a normal F-W-Sp system rather than the Sp-Su-F system they are on now. They're going to lose a lot of visiting summer professors this way.

David said...

I think it would have been good had you read my posts of April 15 and February 15, 2007.

One has to remain focused on the big picture, namely having quality education and qualified faculty. Much of the material that I have posted on (graduate lecture notes) is not taught in the country. Indeed, very little is done for faculty training, which, coupled with low salaries, has not been very helpul in producing a skilled labor force. Add to this the shortage of textbooks (AUA is not immune from this), software, and other resources, and the picture is not a pretty one.

AUA is doing a great job. But it's mission is not to produce future educators (i.e. until it introduces DBA and PhD programs).

My interaction with the graduate students at YSU was wonderful. And their english is very good. No surprise, as most of the advanced econ literature is in English. So language is not a serious problem.

And data is not a problem either (see data page of But more can be done in making it more accessible.

With better resources things can get better. I am hoping that I can make some change from the bottom up through!

Katy said...

Data is a huge problem. YSU doesn't have an IRB!

David said...

Give me examples of where data is a problem.

Katy said...

YSU has no IRB. How is anyone supposed to try to collect data while affiliated at YSU and then try to publish it in a journal or even present it at a conference? No journal would accept a study that was collected without IRB approval.

I don't know if this is an issue in economics, but in sociology, psychology, communication, education, public health, etc. it would be completely impossible to use any data collected without IRB approval.

AUA has an IRB, thank God, but when I collected at YSU this past spring, everyone there said "Oh yeah, IRB, we know about that, but we don't have one. Go ahead and collect."

Thankfully my home institution, after I explained to them that there was no IRB at YSU, gave me approval through them. I'm 100% sure that when I start trying to publish this study though that I am going to be rejected by a number of publications and/or have a lot of explaining to do about the lack of IRB at YSU.

On a positive note, when I applied to AUA's IRB in the summer, the process went quite smoothly! I know 3 other researchers who also had a good experience with AUA's IRB.

Katy said...

Check out what Northwestern says:

8. What happens if I don't apply for IRB approval for my project before doing research?

Engaging in human subject research without IRB approval has serious ethical implications and violates university and federal policies. Students, faculty, and staff are required to submit IRB applications before embarking on any data collection. Even pilot studies must be approved by the IRB.

Any instances of non-compliance must be reported to the appropriate governing agencies. The Universityƍs policy states that non-compliance may result in, among other things, suspension or termination of the study; and/or suspension of research privileges at the University.

Ramifications for Students

* Credit may be withheld: Schools at their discretion may refuse to grant students course credit for research conducted without IRB approval.
* Dissertation or thesis work will not be accepted: Graduate students must present to the Graduate School evidence of IRB approval for their projects involving human subjects. Thesis or dissertation work will not be accepted without it. Degrees will not be awarded for work based on non-IRB reviewed projects.
* Articles may not be published: Most professional journals require evidence of IRB approval when considering articles for publication.
* Funding may be withheld: IRB approval is required if you are a participant in a grant program. These programs will not release funds without IRB approval.

Ramifications for Faculty and Staff

* Funding may be withheld: Federal sponsors, and virtually all private sponsors, require IRB approval as a condition of funding. Sponsors may postpone review of proposals for which review is not complete or pending at the time of proposal submission.
* Many sponsors will not release funds to the University for the investigator's use without IRB approval. The Office of Sponsored Research may set up an account for billing the IRB fee but the account cannot be used by the investigator until IRB approval is in place.
* The Office of Sponsored Research will not set up accounts for projects lacking necessary IRB approval.
* Articles may not be published: Most professional journals require evidence of IRB approval when considering articles for publication.
* The University will not support unapproved research: Liability issues arising from unapproved research become the responsibility of the investigator. Persons conducting unapproved research are deemed to be acting outside the scope of authority granted them by the University. The University will not, therefore, provide an investigator of an unapproved project the resources to answer a liability complaint.
* Suspension of Research: The University can suspend all research activities for a specified time frame as a disciplinary measure.

Anonymous said...

What's an IRB? (Institutional_Review_Board?)

Does that apply to research other than medicine and psychology?

I think the core academic programs that will lead to greatest change in Armenia are the economics, business administration, law, and technology fields (genetics / nanotech / robotics)...