Winter 1995 (3.4)
Baku State University
Celebrates 75 Years
by Dr. Murtuz Alaskarov
Baku State University (BSU) celebrated its 75th Jubilee this year. Actually, 1995 really marks our 76th year but because of the war and economic situation, we're celebrating a year late. There's a bit of irony in our delay, given the fact that the 50th Jubilee was commemorated in 1970 when Soviets deliberately postponed the celebration by a year to give the impression that the university had opened in 1920 when the Soviets came to power. The truth is that the university was established in 1919 by the first independent Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (1918-1920).
As with all new endeavors, the beginnings were difficult. There were many discussions about whether courses should be taught in Russian or Azerbaijani. We ended up with both. Some thought we should send Azerbaijani students abroad rather than set up a university. But somehow the university did open. A newspaper article dated November 17, 1919, describes the high expectations for the new institution: "The University of Athens created a new Greece, Sorbonne made France well known, Berlin and Hamburg Universities glorified Germany and played an extensive part in social progress."
Classes began on November 15, 1919. There were two faculties that first year-medical, and a combined section of literature and history. Enrollment included nearly 1,000 students with 14 teachers. Today, enrollment is 12,000 students, including 300 foreign students from 50 countries. The faculty consists of about 1,200 highly trained professionals. There are 111 departments which fall under 18 major divisions including Physics, Mechanico-mathematics, Applied Mathematics and Cybernetics, Chemistry, Biology, Geology, Geography, Law, History, Literature, Oriental Studies, Journalism, Library Science, Theology, International Law and International Relations, Social Sciences and Psychology, and Commerce (students pay).
We pride ourselves in being the first higher educational institution in the history of Azerbaijan. All major institutes trace their origins to us including the Medical University, Tusi Pedagogical University, Institute of Economy, Institute of Foreign Languages and numerous others.
These days, the University is in a transitional period just like all other institutions. We're trying to find our way through the difficulties brought on by the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Karabakh conflict, and the harsh economic conditions.
Faculty salaries are far too low. Our most experienced professors earn between $20 and $30 a month. More than 70 teachers have left to teach abroad, primarily in Turkey. We were in the process of constructing a new building but funds were cut off so we improvise for the lack of space by offering classes in three shifts from 8:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Labs and classrooms are in bad condition. There's a desperate need for equipment, even items as fundamental as computers. So many avenues and resources could be at the fingertips of our serious scholars via computers and the Internet. One of our immediate concerns is to computerize our library which has 2.5 million books. The refugee problem further complicates our situation; 3,000 of them are housed in eight of the nine dormitories.
But a new day is upon us. Many philosophical issues are being re-thought. Marxism-Leninism, of course, used to be the foundation of our educational system, but now we are in the process of creating a new national ideology based on our own traditions. Students in literature used to know far more about Pushkin, Gogol, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and other classic Russian writers than they did about their own great Azerbaijani writers such as Nizami, Fizuli, Akhundzade, Sabir and others. The University used to follow the Russian system, which meant after five years of study the Master's degree was granted. Today, we're trying to introduce a three-tiered program of Bachelor's, Master's and Doctorate degrees.
Instructional material is a problem. Texts are too expensive. They used to be so cheap. But now one major book alone can cost more than a month's salary. Too few books are available in the Azerbaijani language. Most are still in Russian.
But there are other difficulties that are even more subtle and more deeply entrenched. There are still many "hangovers" from the past especially in relation to "red tape" and bureaucracy.
The important thing is that we have finally managed to gain our independence. This gives us great sense of satisfaction despite the difficulties that we must overcome. As we continue our road to our 100th Jubilee, we're looking forward to continue making significant contributions not only to our own country but also to world knowledge, especially in scientific fields such as solid state and high energy nuclear physics, molecular biophysics, theoretical mathematics and chemistry, to mention just a few.
Dr. Murtuz Alaskarov, is Rector of Baku State University, Professor of Law and has recently been elected to Azerbaijan's Parliament, a position he will hold in conjunction with his university responsibilities. Dr. Mazahir Panahov, Professor of Physics at BSU, also contributed to this article.
From Azerbaijan International (3.4) Winter 1995.
© Azerbaijan International 1995. All rights reserved.