The FINANCIAL — The constant turbulences of global and local economies have proved that investing in bonds, oil, or even keeping deposits, carries a high level of risk, causing investors at times to lose billions in the matter of mere seconds. Investing in education seems to be one of the safest courses of action meanwhile; it has not managed to ‘bankrupt’ anyone yet in the way that other sources of investment can. Investing in human capital therefore would appear to be the right choice for Georgian students deciding to study abroad. Despite the dramatic devaluation of the Georgian Lari from 1.75 in 2014 to 2.40 as of 2015, the number of students willing to invest in education abroad remains on the climb.
“Despite the devaluation of the Georgian Lari, the demand for studying abroad has almost doubled during the current academic year, in comparison with the previous one. 31 students have already been sent abroad so far this year. And we still have the enrolment process of January, language and professional programmes ahead of us. Last year was quite bad in this regard however. We only managed to send off 23 students,” Maia Kvirkvelia, Director of the international education agency Universal I.C., told The FINANCIAL.
As Kvirkvelia explained, the highly competitive environment abroad and in Georgia has contributed to this growth. “The overall economic situation has led to a demand for highly qualified staff,” she added.
The growing demand for a foreign education among Georgians has been witnessed by another education agency – Prime Study. “This year students faced an extra unexpected obstacle. Significant devaluation of the Georgian Lari reduced the financial ability of many students to cover their tuition and accommodation fees in USD or EUR. However, despite this, the number of students sent abroad during the 2015-2016 academic year was 25, up from 20 from the previous year’s data,” said Davit Mikeladze, Founder of Prime Study.
According to Mikeladze, the growing reputation of their agency is the main contributor to this growth. “In just the second year of our existence we already have stability and growth. With the consultation of our agency our students have 100% results. All of them have been accepted by their desired universities. Some of them have received a Chevening Scholarship issued by the British Government; others, a Stipendium Hungaricum – from the Hungarian Government; a scholarship from the Georgian Minister of Science and Education; as well as other internal scholarships offered by universities,” he said.
“Studying abroad is an effective opportunity for the further personal and professional development of Georgian students. There are two distinguished groups of students that decide to study abroad. The first is those who plan to stay abroad and build careers for themselves there after graduation. And the second – those that plan to return to their homeland due to different factors. With those in this second group planning to use their foreign education to their advantage locally and achieve success in Georgia,” Mikeladze said.
For the 2015-2016 academic year the number of applicants at the American-Georgian Education Center LEAF increased by 75% in comparison with the prior-year period. LEAF was established six years ago. Since then, demand has been growing annually. “The highest demand we have seen was during the 2014-2015 academic year. These are applicants that will start studying in the 2015-2016 academic year,” said Giorgi Chavleishvili, Founder and Director of the American-Georgian Education Center LEAF.
The service that LEAF provides is not limited to specific universities or countries. However, the centre only works with English-speaking programmes. “Basically, the applicants with whom we work will tend to continue their studies at either U.S. or European universities,” said Chavleishvili.
In Chavleishvili’s words, demand has increased significantly for Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian and Polish universities during the past two years. As he said, LEAF does not provide any exchange programmes. The Centre assists those applicants who want to get their Bachelor’s, Master’s or PhD degrees abroad.
There are various factors due to which applicants choose a university abroad. As Mikeladze, Prime Study, explained, prestige is an important driver of student choice. It is also about location (country, city), and prospects of employment after graduation, which is linked to the location and tuition fee and opportunities of getting a scholarship.
“High level of teaching; programme syllabuses in line with modern market demands; recognized degrees from recognized universities; employment-oriented universities; feeling of independence and acquiring time management skills – are the main factors why Georgians choose an alma mater abroad,” said Kvirkvelia, Universal I.C.
In Kvirkvelias’s words, awareness, tuition fee and rate are the main drivers for students when choosing a university.
Universities offering English language programmes are the ones most highly in demand among Georgian students applying to foreign universities. “Traditionally the demand is quite high for U.S. and Western European universities. In particular, Hult Business School, London School of Economics, and King’s College. Its high quality of education and big financial benefits are what contribute to the high popularity of Central European University among Georgian applicants. There is a growing demand for IESEG (France), Maastricht School of Management, and WU Executive Academy,” said Mikeladze.
In Mikeladze’s words, MBA is the most in-demand academic programme among Georgian students. It is followed by Social Science (Political Science, IR, Public Management). “Recently, we have seen a growing demand for the Agro Business direction,” he added.
The business schools of the French Grandes Ecoles are some of the top most popular universities among the applicants of the agency Universal I.C. for the 2015-2016 academic year. Various fields of business are the most highly demanded studying programmes accordingly.
Not becoming aware of the rules of the admission processes and accurately following them is the main mistake made by Georgian candidates when applying to foreign universities.
“Quite often applicants do not learn the admission rules. They do not pay attention to the admission deadline, do not edit their motivation letter and instead send it in its initial draft. It is important to get accurate information regarding tuition fees and scholarship opportunities. Applicants quite often diligently prepare for admission processes, pass all the steps, spending lots of time and energy on the process. Then finally, they ‘suddenly find’ that their financial capabilities do not meet the required fee by the university. In such cases the applicant has run out of time to apply to another university which might be more financially suitable for them. When this happens the result is that the student has wasted a year with no results,” said Mikeladze, Prime Study.
As Kvirkvelia, Universal I.C. said, she herself is working on enrolment procedures, and if applicants meet the admission criteria, they are accepted. However, there is one substantial factor she added – delayed appeal. “Applicants usually start working on that too late. They miss acquiring any relevant language certificate until all the deadlines have passed.”
“One’s GPA grade is an important factor for universities. For Master’s programmes universities’ administrations pay great attention to work experience as well,” Kvirkvelia said.
“Work experience and professional achievements, GPA, the results of required tests (TOEFL, IELTS, GMAT, GRE), public activities (volunteering, leadership, participation in public projects), and proper structuring of motivation – are the top criteria for university administrations when selecting applicants. Recommendation letters are also important, as well as the impression left by a candidate during an interview,” Mikeladze, Prime Study, told The FINANCIAL.
According to yell.ge, the online Georgian business contacts directory, there are 40 centres offering study abroad services. In addition, various scholarships are offered by the Ministry of Science and Education of Georgia, embassies and other international funds. Local universities mostly offer exchange programmes.