UWC Dilijan: Western Education Brought Home

In August 2014, a new United World Colleges (UWC) campus opened its doors in Armenia’s northern city of Dilijan.

by Eliza Tayan, Guest Blogger

Dilijan The UWC Dilijan will offer post-graduate education with a range of specializations. From the start, the college has already taken 96 students from 48 countries, including Europe, North and South Americas. The curriculum is rather experimental and accommodates many aspects of human life. The college strives to reach a balance between rules and standards, between external requirements and invitations to voluntary participation. Much attention is paid to the practical way of learning, not just reading about subject matter. Students also appear to have a busy social program and follow local developments.[1]

The college offers a two year pre-university diploma, the International Baccalaureate (IB). The IB Diploma is one of the most well regarded and widely known secondary school qualifications in the world and is recognized by the world’s leading universities. In the learning process students study six subjects, three at higher level and three at standard level. Subjects are divided into groups and students choose one subject from each group. The groups are: First Language, Second Language, Individuals and Societies, Mathematics and Computer Sciences, Experimental Sciences and Arts.

The person behind this undertaking is a Russian-Armenian financier and philanthropist, Ruben Vardanyan. He graduated from Lomonosov Moscow State University, and has completed post-graduate courses and programs at INSEAD, Harvard Business School, Yale University and Stanford University. Mr. Vardanyan is an Advisor to the Chairman of the Board and CEO of Russia’s Sberbank. Prior to the closure of the deal to merge Sberbank with Troika Dialog in January 2012, he held the position of CEO, Chairman of the Board at Troika Dialog, one of the oldest and largest investment banks in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States. Mr. Vardanyan is a member of the Economic Advisory Board at the International Finance Corporation, the private sector arm of the World Bank Group. He is also a co-founder of the philanthropic foundation IDEA, committed to supporting long-term projects for Armenia’s development.[2]

Apart from being an investment in higher education, which Armenia is in need of so much, the Dilijan project also represents a shift in the way traditional Armenian Diaspora individuals have approached their benevolent giving. It represents a change from funding relatively simple “brick-and-mortar” projects (such as, construction of a road or an irrigation system, etc.) with limited long-term implications toward supporting science and education that contain a promise of much stronger long-term impact on Armenia. The benefits of the Dilijan project for Armenia could be numerous. Apart from putting Armenia on the map of foreign educators, it may encourage local students to continue their education in Armenia, much like it happened in the case of the American University of Armenia.

It remains to be seen, however, whether at times of massive migration of population from Armenia, the Dilijan center will not become a contributing factor, a stepping stone for those wishing to migrate. For this risk to be reduced and eventually eliminated, graduates form Dilijan need to have hope of finding good wage-paying jobs and future in Armenia. And while Ruben Vardanyan cannot possibly be expected to think about all these issues at the same time, I hope other Armenian Diaspora benefactors could pull their efforts together to turn Armenia into an economy that offers decent wages and economic stability, a country where people want to migrate and live happily ever after.

Eliza Tayan is an undergraduate student in journalism at the Moscow State University. She migrated to Russia from Armenia with her parents when she was 6 years old.

[1] Recently, students posted pictures of themselves on Facebook holding signs “I am Avetisyan” in several languages following the bloody events in Armenia’s second largest city of Gyumri (which led to loss of seven lives), similar to the signs “Je suis Charlie” held recently worldwide in support of the tragic events in Paris

[2] One such project was the reversible cableway Wings of Tatev, leading to the medieval Tatev Monastery in Armenia’s south, funded in 2010 by Vardanyan and his partners. Construction of the cableway is part of the Tatev Revival program, including the reconstruction of the Tatev Monastery Complex and development of local communities (job creation, fostering entrepreneurship in communities and local standards of living).

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