Reforming the Georgian VET system: achievements, outstanding challenges and ways forward

Reforming the Georgian VET system: achievements, outstanding challenges and ways forward

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This policy brief is a result of a joint Education Policy Forum initiative by UNICEF, the World Bank, and the International School of Economics at Tbilisi State University (ISET). It is one of a series of four papers taking stock of Georgia’s entire education system: early learning, general schooling, vocational education and training, and lastly, higher education. The purpose is to review what has been achieved so far, identify outstanding challenges, and suggest – based on a careful analysis of relevant data, incentive structures, and discussions with stakeholders – what can be done to address existing bottlenecks. As we argue, given the systemic nature of the problems, effective solutions will require a comprehensive and coordinated response involving the Georgian government, international organizations and donors, and, last but certainly not least, the country’s private sector and civil society organizations; partial responses are likely to have little impact, generating partial and easily reversible outcomes. While often overlooked, a key element of any future reform should be improved public access to information and data concerning labor market needs, on the one hand, and performance of various educational establishments and programs, on the other.

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Our focus on education is far from incidental. “Inadequately educated workforce” is the single most problematic factor for doing business in Georgia (see, for example, 2017-18 Global Competitiveness Report). Just like most other former socialist countries, Georgia’s population is highly literate, as measured e.g. by the share of those completing secondary education. Thus, the main issue for employers is not a lack of candidates with diplomas and formal certificates, but a lack of professional skills. This, in turn, is not about access to education per se, but access to the right kind of education and, most importantly, high quality Vocational Education and Training (VET). Equally alarming is the mirror image of the skills deficit problem – youth unemployment, particularly high (about 30% in 2016) among those aged 20-24.
The Georgian government is acutely aware of the critical importance of high quality education in general, and VET, in particular. Having collapsed in early 1990s, the sector started receiving attention in 2007 with the adoption of a new law on VET. This initial legislation was substantially amended in 2010, leading to the establishment of comprehensive national qualification and quality assurance frameworks, and laying the foundations for multi-stakeholder governance in the form of the National VET Council. A comprehensive upgrading of the VET system – in line with Georgia’s VET Development Strategy and Action Plan for 2013–2020 – is a key priority in the current 4-point government plan.
As a result of these positive policy developments, the VET sector is rife with change. The new Law on VET, currently under review by the Georgian parliament, embodies a more flexible regulatory approach, paving the way for greater private sector involvement and experimentation with new industry-led VET models. The PPP framework, envisaged by the new law, provides the government with a tool to encourage private sector investment in new VET programs that conform to its strategic objectives, as well as (potentially) outsource the management of existing public colleges to interested business partners. The new law also better integrates VET with other components of the education system (schools and universities), removing existing “dead ends”, and allowing students to freely transition from one type of program/qualification to another.
The government is continuously increasing the funding of VET institutions, upgrading existing infrastructure and expanding the geography of VET provision by opening new colleges in sparsely populated regions that are not of interest for private sector providers. Additionally, public universities are encouraged to venture into new VET programs, often in partnership with credible international providers. When it comes to the development of necessary bylaws and regulations, acquiring knowhow, building skills, and upgrading the physical infrastructure of public VET colleges the government is closely collaborating and coordinating with the international donor community – European Union, Germany’s GIZ and KfW, US Agency for International Development (USAID), Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), Swiss Development Cooperation, UN Development Program, and the World Bank (WB), among others.
Future reforms in the VET sector will inevitably revolve around the following: (i) getting the private sector involved in the governance of VET as part of a transition to the so-called industry-led VET model, (ii) making VET management accountable not only to the Georgian Ministry of Education and Science (as is currently the case) but also to employers and the general public, and, last but certainly not least, (iii) increasing the professional qualification of VET teachers. An additional, and particularly pernicious issue concerns the need to (iv) dramatically change public perceptions of the VET system.

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Tbilisi, Georgia
Email : advisors@tbilinomics.com

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