Education Ministry calls on Tbilisi State University to complete academic year with hybrid classes following student protest

The Georgian Education Ministry on Wednesday called on the administration of the Tbilisi State University to complete the ongoing academic year in a hybrid format, following a two-week-long protest of students against the educational institution’s decision to eliminate the online format of teaching starting May 2.

The intervention comes after the student protest and a statement by the Democracy Research Institute, a Georgian based non-governmental organisation, on Wednesday, which said the basis behind the TSU decision to fully switch to in-person studies was “not clear”.

Resuming fully in-person studies two months before the end of the current academic year could not have a “significant positive impact” on the quality of teaching, the NGO said. It also pointed out the difficulty for students from Georgian regions to afford accommodation in Tbilisi due to the rising cost of rent caused by increased inflation and an influx of Russian citizens seeking a stay in Georgia since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that started in February.

The rents have been the central issue in the protest of the students of the University, organisers of which claimed “thousands” of students from countryside and smaller cities could not attend classes in the capital since the resumption of studies this month due to accommodation costs.

The University responded to the demands by saying it did not have necessary funds to ensure continuation of hybrid classes allowing students to attend them in person or follow them from home. The argument saw reaction from students who pointed to the institution’s promotion of upcoming entertainment events paid for from its budget, and took other issues with the reasoning.

In their demands, the protesting group also demanded the University solve issues with accommodation in its dormitories, with some students telling TSU administration representatives in a meeting on Tuesday the University’s online system had failed to register them for spaces designated in the dorms.

In its statement, the Ministry urged the University to ensure use of the vacant spaces in the dormitories.

In addition to its principal criticism, the DRI also pointed to the “absence of an extensive discussion” between the TSU and students prior to the announcement of the decision to curtail online studies by the former. The NGO said the institution had “avoided holding an open dialogue” with the students on the issue.

The organization has called on the University to return to hybrid classes before the end of the current academic year and address other “systemic issues” accumulated at the institution.

Student entertainment have frequently been held at the TSU over the last decade, aiming at issues ranging from a lack of the internationally adopted peer review system for its teachers, to use of the Student Self-Government body budget for events on the backdrop of a perceived lack of funds for translation and printing of academic material, and more.

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