Swiss-Georgian conference on VET

Press release, 30.06.2017

On June 7, 2017, the Embassy of Switzerland in Georgia and the Georgian-Swiss Business Association organized a conference on vocational education and training (VET) in Tbilisi. The purpose of this conference was to share the Swiss experience and expertise and to assist Georgia in generalizing VET as an educational model.

Ambassador Lukas Beglinger welcomes the conference participants

There were three presentations on VET as an asset for the national economy and the employers, followed by a panel discussion on “how to generalize VET in Georgia”. The importance of organizing an interactive debate on this subject was confirmed by the interest shown by the numerous persons who attended the event. 

The first presentation was given by the Swiss expert Marc Bloch. Comparative statistical data at hand, he demonstrated the superior performance and outcomes of Switzerland’s dual system in terms of youth employment and economic competitiveness. He pointed out that countries with a dual education and training system, such Austria, Germany and Switzerland, have by far the lowest rates of youth unemployment in Europe. He added that the private sector, i.e. branch associations, and not the government, should be responsible for developing the vocational curricula and carrying out exams, because they have the necessary expertise and knowledge of sector-specific labor market requirements. As a consequence, in Switzerland, the private sector bears 60% of the overall cost of VET, whereas the government’s share is only 40%. He emphasized that in Switzerland, compared to Georgia and many other countries, VET is highly appreciated and is not considered an "inferior" type of education; in fact, two thirds of Swiss youth choose this path rather than an academic education, but they retain the option of obtaining an academic degree or other higher education diplomas during their professional career (permeability of the system). Furthermore, he quoted the interesting Swiss “paradox” – which actually is not – that despite a comparatively low academic quota, Switzerland holds a lead position in capacity for innovation in the economy. With regard to Georgia, the expert explained that one of the biggest challenges is to overcome the lack of well-trained teachers and of adequate infrastructure. In agriculture, the labor market is small, since 90% of people working in this sector are self-employed. In order to be successful, governmental reforms in education need time to be implemented and require a higher involvement of the private sector. Last but not least, the general social perception of VET as an educational model, which is traditionally considered inferior to academic education, must be changed.

Swiss expert presents the Swiss model of vocational education and training ©Swiss Embassy in Georgia

A successful case of putting VET in practice in Georgia was presented by Irakli Kervalishvili, co-founder of Blauenstein Georgia. Blauenstein Georgia, with its pilot farm, became a remarkable example of VET implementation with Swiss expertise in Georgia. Their farm is also conceived as a professional training center, where farmers and instructors are trained to maintain their farm, animals, land, machines and tools with care and competence, and in the future to instruct young farmers willing to learn this profession in Georgia. Their concept has the advantage of proposing a training center open to the public, allowing to obtain professional skills in theory and to practice them at high level in real conditions. 

Another practical case and innovative project was presented by Tinatin Makharadze from Margebeli Group. Their farm started operations in 2008 in Teleti on the remains of an old Soviet experimental farm. They invested USD 4.5 million in the project with European standards of infrastructure and have currently 158 cows. She pointed out two main factors which can explain the poor performance of the Georgian cattle breeding sector: the lack of theoretical and practical education and the low quality of livestock and infrastructure. According to her, the main required game-changer is education. Therefore, they plan to set up the Swiss Agricultural School Caucasus (SASC), a private undertaking with the highest standards in quality of teaching and infrastructure, offering vocational and professional training in cattle breeding, dairy farming and other agricultural activities, a concept  inspired by the renowned Swiss agricultural school and model farm “Plantahof”. SASC aims at enrolling 20 students per year and permanently hosting some 50 students. The school program will be based on Swiss agricultural curricula and a close partnership is planned with Swiss agricultural schools. 

The panel discussion was moderated by Eric Livny, President of the International School of Economics at Tbilisi State University (ISET). The panel comprised Revaz Asatiani (Deputy Minister of Agriculture), Tamar Samkharadze (Deputy Head of the Vocational Education Development Department of the Ministry of Education and Science), Shombi Sharp (UNDP Deputy Resident Representative) as well as the Swiss Regional Director of Cooperation Olivier Bürki and the Swiss expert Marc Bloch. The debate focused mostly on the need for a higher involvement of the private sector and for a better cooperation between the latter and the authorities. It was generally admitted that the development of an effective and sustainable VET system in Georgia would take at least ten years. Finally, the participants insisted on the "image" problem faced by VET, which in Georgia is not considered a first choice. In this context, a major challenge consists in setting up an education system corresponding to the labor market's needs and requirements and thus able to offer to the students a good access to work opportunities.