New Gelati Academy at Grigol Robakidze University is designed to re-inspire the intellectual tradition of Georgia. The programme was developed in partnership with a highly respected American college — St. John’s College in Annapolis. The curriculum comprises the study of works by the greatest authors and thinkers in the history of the world.
Mr. Lancelot Fletcher, Deputy Rector of Grigol Robakidze University established and developed the entire curriculum at New Gelati Academy. He came to Georgia first in 1999 together with his wife Carolyn Clark Campbelland. Since then he founded Junior Achievement Georgia (in 2003). In 2005 he was an advisor to the President of Georgia on economic development issues. Also he was chairman of the tax and economy committee of the Georgian Business Confederation.
Q. How does a Liberal education differ from the one that we’ve inherited from being post Soviet Union?
A. The Soviet-style undergraduate education contrasts sharply with the American model of undergraduate study, which emphasizes the liberal arts and sciences. Rather than focusing on giving students specific vocational skills or bodies of expertise, the vast majority of American undergraduate institutions focus on ensuring that their students continually appraise and evaluate, not simply answers, but questions and the context within which both questions and answers occur. Students are seen, not merely as parking places for information in between a professor’s lecture or a textbook and a final exam, but as real people who ask questions in the first place and who think carefully about how they might have asked different questions. As a result, students of liberal education develop the ability to think logically, to write and to speak with accuracy and clarity, to make intelligent judgements, to understand the principles of not only their particular specialties but of broad subjects in the fields of natural and social sciences, philosophy, languages, theology and the arts.
Q. How do you see the future development of liberal arts education in Georgia?
A. We see an amazingly bright future for liberal arts education in Georgia. Once Georgians come to understand that liberal arts education is not merely academic or “humanistic” education and grasp that liberal arts education unites the intellectual and the practical, that it is education for freedom and that it is the original and most effective form of education for leaders and managers. There is no country in the world whose people exceed Georgia in their love of education. For at least two thousand years Georgia has had one of the world’s great intellectual traditions. And what is most impressive is that the great Georgian poets and writers were so often men of practical affairs, men who did things that made a difference in the world. And these great Georgian thinkers, writers and poets — men like Ioane Petritsi, Shota Rustaveli, Sulkhan Saba Orbeliani, Ilia Chavchavadze — were not products of the Soviet education system. They were the products of liberal arts education! The curriculum in Gelati and Ikalto Academies was the classical liberal arts curriculum. The education that Davit Guramishvili talks about in his poem of advice to scholars that every Georgian schoolchild learns to recite was in the spirit of liberal arts education.
Q. As you know there is the Bologna process (internationalization of higher educational institutions) going on, how do you see Axali Gelati’s role in this regard?
A. New Gelati is creating in Georgia a programme that is modelled on the dominant form of baccalaureate education in the US. Because of this similarity to American models we expect that the graduates of New Gelati Academy will find it easier than graduates of other Georgian educational institutions to gain acceptance to American universities for graduate study. In the short run, because some features of the New Gelati programme may be unfamiliar to those who are managing the Bologna process in Georgia, we may be challenged to explain how our programme can satisfy the Bologna process requirements. But we are confident that we all share a commitment to provide educational excellence for Georgian students, so we do not expect serious problems — and in fact we look forward to the possibility that we may be able to help to infuse the Bologna process with a forward-looking spirit of excellence.
Q. Please name the universities/non-profit organizations and the people you’ve contacted in the US for support and cooperation?
A. About 75% of our curriculum is modelled on that of St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, and St. John’s is our most important American partner institution. Recently we have been developing a very promising relationship with West Chester University in Pennsylvania — one of the parts of the Pennsylvania state university system — in which we are looking to establish a two-way student exchange programme which will allow New Gelati to study for a semester in the US while students from West Chester University will study at New Gelati Academy. As for NGOs, we have had some conversations with the education arm of the Open Society Foundation, and, of course, our main NGO partner is OLEG — the Organization for Liberal Education in Georgia — an organization of students, alumni and faculty from St. John’s College that was originally conceived by Nini Aduashvili, one of two Georgians who are now students at St. John’s.
In another year or two, New Gelati Academy will apply to the American Academy for Liberal Education (AALE) for accreditation. AALE is an American accrediting body which specializes in accrediting liberal arts institutions. (In the US, accreditation of higher education institutions is not done by the government, but by private associations of existing institutions.) St. John’s College in Annapolis is accredited by the AALE. Such accreditation would not replace Georgian accreditation but would be helpful in allowing New Gelati students to be accepted in American institutions and in making it possible for American students to receive credit for studies completed at New Gelati Academy.
Q. Could you tell us what the programme’s means of finance are?
A. Because of the reason that New Gelati Academy has been organized as a new college within an existing university — Grigol Robakidze University (formerly known as Alma Mater) — we were fortunate to be able to start operations without incurring new capital costs and our start-up operating costs were largely defrayed from the operating budget of Robakidze University. Once we have a full complement of students, our present scale of operating costs can be largely covered by tuition payments. However, that scale of costs will not be sufficient to achieve the kind of educational excellence to which we are committed. We need to be able to increase faculty salaries considerably above the normal scale of teacher compensation in Georgia so that we can have most of the teaching done by full-time teachers who are devoting most of their efforts to our students of New Gelati. In addition, we recognize that there are many students in Georgia who would love to attend New Gelati Academy and who would truly benefit from it, but whose families absolutely cannot afford to pay our tuition. So, to make the benefits of liberal arts education more broadly available we need to develop a good scholarship programme, and in the near future we will be inviting members of the business community in Georgia to share with us their thoughts about how they might like to participate in making the educational excellence of New Gelati Academy available to students whose parents cannot afford our tuition.
In the near future New Gelati Academy will establish an endowment fund. This is a practice that is well-established among American universities, where universities such as Yale and Harvard have endowments of tens of billions of dollars, most of whose funds originally came from donations by alumni. We look forward to working with student’s families, alumni, business leaders and donor organizations to begin to create in Georgia the culture of educational philanthropy which is responsible in large measure for the internationally recognized excellence of American higher education.
Q. What can you tell us about New Gelati Academy’s expansion to other universities and its relationship with the business community?
A. Our intention is to limit the size of New Gelati to no more than about 400 students. As demand grows, therefore, we intend to increase the availability of liberal arts education by cloning New Gelati Academy to form new branches in other existing universities or, in some cases, new, free-standing colleges. Even before that happens, we are looking to generate an active public conversation among academics and leaders of all kinds in Georgia about the future of liberal arts education in Georgia. As the idea of liberal arts education becomes known in Georgia, we anticipate that other models besides that of New Gelati will be developed.
As for the business community, there are two aspects of the New Gelati curriculum that require us to have a very active engagement with the business community: The first is our entrepreneurship programme: All students in New Gelati Academy are required to participate in a programme in which they learn how to start their own businesses by actually starting a real small business. This programme is implemented in partnership with Junior Achievement Georgia, an NGO founded in 2003 by me. Junior Achievement Georgia is the largest provider of economic education for young people in Georgia — more than 100,000 Georgian high school students have completed its programmes during the last 6 years — and the implementation of its entrepreneurship programme requires the active participation of volunteer consultants from the business community.
The second area of intense collaboration with the business community — as well as with government and NGOs — is our internship programme. As a way of educating New Gelati students about how the real world works, all students are required, during certain periods in the third and fourth years of study, to work as interns in business, NGOs or governmental offices.
Q. Do you plan to bring students/lecturers from St. John’s College or from any other US based universities?
A. As you know since the establishment of our academy we have brought a number of students from OLEG and they are going to come in the summer of 2010 with another group, we also plan to bring exchange students from West Chester University who hopefully will come in the spring of 2011. In our conversations with officials of West Chester University we have agreed that ultimately we want to create a genuine exchange programme in which Georgian students from New Gelati Academy will be able to spend a semester at West Chester University while an equal number of American students from West Chester University will spend a semester studying at New Gelati Academy. However, since it is likely to take some time to arrange for that sort of programme, we have agreed that for the first year we will aim to arrange a briefer visit — perhaps two or three weeks. We have also agreed that we should start by sending our Georgian students – and some faculty – to the US, and only after that contact has been made would we bring the American students to Georgia. At the same time, our American partners are very interested in having institution-to-institution relationships. They recognize that on both sides our institutions are engaged in an active and possibly very fruitful process of inventing a new future for liberal arts education, and we see big opportunities for benefit on both sides of this equation. Finally, enabling our faculty members to visit our partner institutions in the US is extremely important.
Q. Lastly tell us about tuition fees and possible financial aid that will facilitate access for Georgian student to your programmes?
A. Grigol Robakidze has the practice of matching the government stipend that any student receives. So, if a student receives a stipend of 1,500 GEL, the university will discount the tuition by another 1,500 GEL, making a total reduction of tuition of 3,000 GEL. Unfortunately, the availability of this type of scholarship is not well advertised, and we need to make sure that potential students are aware of this possibility when they are registering for the national exams. In addition, on a case-by-case basis, for needy students who present exceptional ability, we can sometimes make much larger discounts in order to make it possible for especially worthy students to attend. However, at this time that programme is very discretionary and not yet formalized.