“Higher Education for an Azerbaijani Renaissance”

Keynote Address

Dr. Richard Kortum, Fulbright Scholar to Azerbaijan, 2004-05

Wednesday, February 2, 2005

International Conference held at Azerbaijan University of Languages:
“International Integration: Reforming Higher Education in Azerbaijan”
February 2-4, 2005

 Salaam!  I am very happy to be here.  It is a great honor and it is a great privilege to speak to you this morning.  I come to you as a Fulbright Scholar from the United States of America, sent by the U.S. State Department, as much to learn as to teach -- to learn from the teachers and students at the university here, from all the people in this wonderful country -- and to take my new knowledge and new wisdom back with me to the United States.  The people of Azerbaijan have been extraordinarily hospitable and friendly to me.  When I get lost, they show me the way; they serve me gallons of tea; and no one makes fun of me when I speak incorrectly in Azeri!  Yours is a truly beautiful country with many wonders, all along the Caspian Sea from Quba to Lankaran, from Ganja to Baku, and from Zaqatala to Nakchivan.  I am especially fond of the apples from Quba and the juicy pomegranates from Shamaka!

 I would like to acknowledge the warm help and invaluable support of a number of people: the U.S. Department of State and the Fulbright Commission; especially, the United States Ambassador, Reno Harnish, and the Public Diplomacy Section of the U.S. Embassy in Baku; Misir Mardanov and his deputies at the Ministry of Education, with whom we have enjoyed several fruitful discussions already in the past weeks.  We are planning to have more discussions in the days and weeks ahead.  I would like to thank Maleika Abbaszade, Head of the State Commission on Student Admissions.  We had some useful exchanges of ideas with Maleika khanim and her colleagues earlier this week.  I would like especially to thank my good friend Professor Shahlar Askerov, Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Science and Education, for collegial discussions which are going to continue throughout my stay in Azerbaijan.  I give my heartfelt thanks to the Rector, Samad Seyidov, to Vice-rectors Natiq Yusifov and Jala Garibova, and to Afgan Abdullayev, Dean of the School of English Language, my dear friend.  I wish to acknowledge the invaluable contributions of our foreign experts sitting here: Lincoln Morris, Judson Taylor, Uli Rothfuss, Lily Orland-Barak, Raphael Israeli, Colin Love, Igor Kavass, and Jeffrey Howlett.  They have traveled far to be here with us this week, in the middle of winter.

 There is someone very dear to me, dear to the U.S. Embassy, and dear to many of you, who could not be with us today: Yusif Valiyev.  Yusif Valiyev was an extraordinary person, one of the most beautiful individuals that I have had the fortune to meet in my travels around our wide world.  Yusif worked in the Political-Economic Section of the U.S. Embassy in Baku for eight years.  Most recently he was working for USAID.  He went to the United States for two years on a Muskie Fellowship and earned a Master's degree in Public Administration and Law.  He was on his way at the end of January to enter a doctoral program in my country.  Yusif's overriding desire was to return to Azerbaijan upon the completion of his studies to help lead efforts in educational reform.  To become a university rector was his dream.  Yusif was perfectly suited for this.  He taught courses at two universities here on top of all the valuable work he was doing at the embassy and at USAID.  He gave lectures at Khazar and Western Universities.  Just over a week ago, Yusif was killed in a terrible car accident while riding in a taxi -- two days before he was to leave for my country.  He was 36 years old.  He will be sorely missed.  I would like for all of you to keep him in your hearts, and to remember his wonderful example, as we embark together on these important initiatives.  We lovingly dedicate this conference to Yusif Aliyev.

 Many others of you have had the opportunity to spend time studying or training in my country or in other countries in Europe or around the world.  Afgan Abdullayev is leaving this Friday for the United States to begin a four-month project as a Fulbright Visiting Scholar.  I am very pleased to tell you that Natiq Yusifov is now a leading candidate for a Fulbright Scholarship to the United States for next January.  Those of you who have been awarded these kinds of opportunities have a special responsibility, to help lead your country into a new era -- for the good of all the people of Azerbaijan.

 When I first came to Azerbaijan in the summer of 2003, one of the things that first struck me, one of the things that impressed me the most and that continues to impress me every day, are your monuments to your great writers.  I was astonished to see towering public statues of figures such as Nizami Ganjavi.  This speaks volumes to me -- about what Azerbaijanis value, what you respect and hold dear, the deep traditions that enrich you.  We also have monuments in my country.  But most of our monuments are dedicated to our political heroes: figures such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln.  We have also erected statues to our most illustrious writers, artists, and inventors.  But they do not compare in size or majesty to your monuments to Nizami and Narimanov (very near to where I live in Baku).  It pleases me to see that Azerbaijanis respect this literary tradition so greatly.  It makes me feel glad to live among such people.

 Indeed, I believe that Nizami can serve as a model to all of us, and especially to our universities and our students.  His intellectual curiosity must have been insatiable.  It seems that there was hardly a subject on which he was not expert.  Nizami's poems show that he was fully acquainted with Arabic and Persian literature, with oral and written popular and local literary traditions.  And not only that, but he was also intimately familiar with such diverse fields as mathematics, geometry, astronomy, astrology, medicine, Koran studies, Islamic theology and law, history, philosophy, music, and the visual arts.  Besides being a writer of international acclaim, Nizami is by any measure one of the world's great scholars.

And I believe that many of you are also familiar with the writings of another prized Azerbaijani poet, the 19th-century's Seyid-Azim Shirvani.  In “A Word of Advice”, a poem addressed to his son, he wrote:

  My son!  The unschooled man is a wayward ass!
  For purest truth this saying will always pass!
  It is also a truth of undoubted import
  That beside the scholar, the unlearned man is naught.
  The gift of tongues it has truly been said
  Is the greatest blessing bestowed by God.
  He who adds one language to his store
  Will be possessed of one blessing more.
  Lay hold, then, on knowledge, my son, with both hands.
  Seek always to learn, and seek to understand.  . . .

 “Seek always to learn, and seek to understand.”  This is sage advice, indeed.  Azerbaijan has a great and proud tradition of learning.  The Western world -- Europe, the United States, and those who have followed after -- owe this region a large debt.  To you we trace our number system, our knowledge of mathematics and astronomy, medicine, architecture, music and philosophy.  When the days were dark in Europe following the collapse of the Roman Empire, the lights were burning brightly in this land.  We in the West are in your debt.  Now, for reasons not the fault of anyone here, fortunes have changed.  The time, I believe, is long overdue for us to begin to repay our debts to you -- especially our debts in scholarship and learning.  I believe that we can begin to repay these debts by helping you to rebuild your system of higher education.  In my crystal ball, I see that Azerbaijan will once again become a respected seat of higher learning, among all the countries of the world.  I believe this with all my heart.

 I know that your present circumstances are difficult.  Sometimes the problems appear to be insurmountable.  But, I want you to know that you have friends.  We have brought several of them here, to this conference.  I want you to know that you do not have to struggle alone.  I want you to know how impressed I am at how much you have accomplished already, in so short a time.  It has been just over thirteen years since you declared your independence from the Soviet Union.  You have bothersome neighbors north, south, and west.  Your land has been invaded and occupied; thousands of your friends and family members have been killed, and many more thousands have been made homeless.  I admire your courage and your endurance, and I salute you for having managed to achieve so much in so short a time, and under such difficult circumstances.
 Your desire to link with Europe, with the United States, and with our partners around the globe seems to me to be healthy -- and wise.  You should know that this desire is reciprocal.  It goes both ways.  We do not extend our hand downward to help you up.  We extend our hand straight out to you, like this, as friends.  We also, my fellow Americans and I, seek to join hands with Azerbaijan.  You are a Muslim friend in what has become a distrustful world.  Your friendship is important to us.  True cooperation -- working together as friends -- makes us all stronger, healthier, more prosperous, and happier.

 I see in my crystal ball a Renaissance, a rebirth, in Azerbaijan.  Advancement, progress, the building of a healthy, open society, with stable democratic institutions and values, a society that empowers individuals, that cherishes liberty, a society that enjoys free and healthy competition, that engages in cooperative enterprises, that leads to excellence -- I see all this.  Don't you?  Yes, and I also see that the single most important element in all this is education.  When leaders, political and commercial, give their full support to scholars and to creative individuals, this leads to a flowering of society -- to a cultural Renaissance.  Throughout history we see this: in ancient Greece, in northern Italy, in the United States of America, in China, in India, in Persian lands centuries ago.  I firmly believe we will live to see it happen in Azerbaijan, in the not too distant future.  As the Chinese proverb reminds us, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  Now is the time, and here is your opportunity.  Let us today take that first small step together.

As Ambassador Harnish said in his opening remarks, education has played an enormous role in driving the progress of the United States.  The system of education in the United States, made up of both public and private institutions -- particularly our system of universities -- has made us what we are today.  One of the hallmarks of this system is that we strongly encourage experimentation.  We value innovation.  We cherish creativity.  Our schools and our teachers are given a great deal of freedom, to try new things.  Sometimes these things work.  Sometimes they don't.  In either case, we learn from them.  We learn as much from our mistakes as we do from our successes.  We are encouraged to try new methods, to develop new materials.  We are not locked into one way of doing things.  When we discover something that works, we share it with others.  And then we try to find other ways to make it work even better.  When we discover that something doesn't work, or doesn't work so well, we share that, too.  “Seek always to learn,” said Shirvani.

We are not slaves to theory.  We are not chained to one idea.  The United States of America leads the world in Nobel Prizes.  This is no accident.  The United States of America leads the world rankings of universities.  Just this past fall, two independent rankings of universities were published, one in Great Britain, the other in Japan.  Based on slightly different sets of criteria, they list the top 100 or the top 500 universities in the world, respectively.  In one, of the top ten universities in the world, eight are American.  In the other, of the top twenty universities in the world, seventeen are American.  There are good reasons for this outstanding achievement.  The United States values innovation and hard work.  We reward these.  The academic profession strongly promotes these.  It is almost a demand on us, as university professors, as university presidents, to make improvements, to seek always to become better, never to be satisfied, never to rest even when things are going well.  “Seek always to understand.”

The United States historically has spent more money per capita on education than virtually any other industrialized nation.  The United States fosters free competition.  This includes competition among our universities.  Universities have to compete for the best teachers, for the best students, for grant money to support research and other academic programs, for funds to build new buildings and purchase state-of-the-art equipment to attract the best professors and the best students.  Professors have to compete for the best jobs at the best universities; at each university they have to compete for the best students and the best classrooms and the most desirable classroom hours.  Students have to compete to get into the best universities, and to be able to enroll in classes taught by the best professors.  They have to compete for the best jobs.  This free competition is based on merit, on achievement.  It practically defines a way of life in the United States.  We have learned that this competition can be healthy.  It has unquestionably raised the quality, and elevated the reputation, of our universities.  And it has done so comparatively rapidly.

Educational reform elevates an entire country, because it empowers individuals.  It empowers individual universities.  Universities need autonomy.  They need independence in order to grow and to prosper.  Each university needs to define its own mission, and needs to be able to pursue that mission in its own fashion.  Each must be allowed to compete for, and to select, its own students.  No two universities should be exactly alike.  But each must meet the same high standards of excellence -- which must be determined by the entire body of universities together.

Within each university, individual administrators -- rectors, vice-rectors, deans, department chairpersons -- must also be allowed a considerable amount of independence, to formulate goals, to oversee programming, to administer personnel and budgets.  They need to be given a voice in decision-making at the highest levels.

Within each university faculty or department, individual professors need autonomy, too.  They must be invited to help design and implement the curriculum or program of courses; they must be given the freedom to design new courses, to develop new study materials, to experiment with new methods of teaching, to create appropriate classroom exercises and student assessments.  Individual professors -- dear to my own heart -- need to be empowered through training programs, in practical seminars and workshops at home and abroad, programs that provide instruction on new teaching methods, on the use of new computer technologies, and on ways of carrying out original scholarly research.  Professors need incentives to increase their effectiveness.  They need to be rewarded when they succeed.

Students, too, need freedoms and independence.  Students at American universities are invited to participate in virtually all aspects of their education.  This includes student representation on administrative bodies and committees even at the highest level, for example on Boards of Trustees.  Students are involved; students are consulted.  Students can be as active as they choose to be.  This is strongly encouraged on our campuses.  Students are free to choose which universities they will apply to and, of the ones that accept them, which university they will attend.  Students are free to choose many of the courses they take.  They participate in self-governing processes.  Each and every university campus in the United States supports numerous student organizations.  These are governed by the students themselves, with by-laws, elected officers, regular meetings, and other public activities.  They are given small budgets, to allocate as they see fit, according to democratic procedures involving all the student members.

This teaches our students to be leaders.  This teaches them to take an active role in their own education.  This increases their motivation to learn and to pursue excellence.  To succeed at our universities students cannot remain passive learners.  Leadership qualities are something that we try to inculcate in our students in every single course we teach.  After all, each generation takes over the reins from the previous one.  We are preparing America's future leaders on our campuses -- and all of us professors are well aware of this fact.

In reforming higher education, at every level we must strive for openness, transparency, and integrity.  These make for reliability.  Reliability leads to credibility, in the eyes of our own society and in the eyes of the international community.  Openness, transparency, and integrity pave the way for excellence.  Excellence opens the door to receiving recognition, to gaining acceptance -- and ultimately, to accreditation.  Which means that a university is fully and officially given a stamp of approval by the community of universities worldwide, insofar as it has surpassed in every area the established standards of excellence.  Accreditation, in turn, will give rise to integration -- with the West and with the rest of the world's leading universities.  Corruption, on the other hand, entails the opposite: unreliability, lack of credibility, distrust.  It produces low standards and poor achievement.  It results in non-accreditation and non-acceptance in the eyes of your own people -- and non-acceptance by outside nations.

Incentives are needed to spur individuals from all these categories: individual universities, individual administrators, individual departments and faculties, individual professors, and individual students.  Incentives are needed to spur all of these to achieve excellence in their respective endeavors.  Giving freedoms also means giving responsibilities.  Which means that individuals are accountable for what they do and for what they are supposed to do.

Independence, freedoms, responsibilities -- incentives and rewards -- these help a great deal.  So does a healthy kind of competition.  Benefits will come to your universities in Azerbaijan.  They will come to hardworking and creative individuals at each university.  And, thus, benefits will come to your society as a whole.  More jobs at your universities will be created as a consequence of these reforms.  You will need more skilled professors in your classrooms, not fewer.  In order to become accredited, your universities will need more offices, more departments, more facilities, and more student services.  These will require more educated working people.

Market reforms, which you are pursuing in the economic sphere, must also be applied to higher education.  Reforms in education, reforms in the political sphere, reforms in the economic sphere must all take place together.  They cannot be separated.  This is a densely woven carpet and you cannot pull these threads apart without leaving a gaping hole.  Market reforms in higher education will improve the quality of your universities.  I promise you.  Market reforms in higher education will improve your economy.  They will result in the creation of new jobs.  Universities will produce more entrepreneurs among your graduates.  People who are learned, who are highly educated, not just in what to think, but in how to think, people who are trained to use their creative imaginations, to think up new things, these people who have received a high-quality university education will create new opportunities.  They will create new businesses and new commercial enterprises that bring new jobs ¬¬-- ones that none of our crystal balls can now see.  But it will happen.  When your universities are open and when they embrace individual freedoms at all these levels, your graduates will proudly take their place among the best in the world.  And then we will have to try very hard to keep them here at home!

I would like to say a few words about this conference, because as Natiq mualliim mentioned, this conference will follow a slightly unusual format.  The main focus of this conference is on integration.  The plan is to present to you some practical ideas, about how we might better integrate the system of higher education as it is developing in Azerbaijan, with our “Westernized” system as it is practiced in the United States and Europe, and by our many friends around the world: how to make them more compatible.  As the Minister of Education says, this does not mean that one should merely copy another.  Copying is not very creative, is it?  It is not innovative.  Surely, one must take into account relevant local conditions.  But the thrust of this conference is not on theory, or theoretical ideas, per se.  The driving force will be generated by concrete, practical suggestions and information.

Your leaders have expressed a desire to work more closely with Western and Westernized countries.  I believe this is a good thing.  Our host, Azerbaijan University of Languages, has just this past week been officially accepted into the Association of European Universities.  This is a significant achievement, deserving of your applause.  . . . Now, therefore, as a result of this welcome development, Azerbaijan University of Languages will have to bring itself into compliance with the high-quality standards that have been adopted by this reputable Association, namely those set forth by the terms of the Bologna Process.  This process of quality assurance is modeled largely on precedents established earlier by America's system of accreditation.

The purpose of making reforms in higher education is very basic: to raise standards and improve quality.  We all want our young people to be as highly educated as they can possibly be.  It is in everyone's interest.  Your universities and your students need to be recognized, and fully accepted, not only in the West, but globally.  One of the chief purposes of integrating our systems of higher education is to open up more opportunities for your students.  Integrating our systems will help more Azerbaijani students gain admission to Western universities; it will enable more faculty from Azerbaijani universities to teach and engage in research at foreign institutions; and it will enable foreign students to study in your wonderful country.  It is my own great desire that some of my students in Tennessee will one day be able to attend your universities, to study with and learn from your professors and your students -- about the many marvelous features of your history and cultural traditions.  I know that some of my students will fall in love with your mugam -- just as I have!  Unfortunately, they cannot do this, they cannot come here to study with you until our systems are well integrated, until the standards are the same, until our university officials can properly evaluate the transcripts or academic records of students, the courses, the examinations, and until our officials can be assured that all of these are of the same high quality expected of universities in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, for instance, and of universities in Israel where Professors Lily Orland-Barak and Rafael Israeli teach.

So, integration is desirable for several reasons.  But ultimately, these reasons are practical.  They are not theoretical merely.  The format of the conference, as I said, is not typical.  This conference will not be devoted to debating educational theories.  Certain things, like the need for integration, we will to a great extent simply accept as a given.  Also, we will not be reading long papers or delivering long lectures -- except for this one!  The aim of this conference is to bring together as many of those in this country as we can assemble here who are concerned with matters pertaining to higher education reform -- you who can play a role in this important matter -- to bring you together with some of the world's leading experts.  The conference organizers and our hosts here at Azerbaijan University of Languages wish to create a forum for our illustrious international experts to present some of their important findings with you.  We have invited them here to share with you some of the many concrete, practical lessons they have learned -- strategies, methods, materials, and so on that they have found to work for them in their prestigious universities in their respective countries.

Please understand that we do not claim that these practices will necessarily work for everybody.  Nevertheless, I happen to believe that many of them will work well for you.  As others have discovered, these practices work perfectly well for many people with different traditions and different customs in many different lands.

This afternoon we will have two panel presentations of 90 minutes each.  Each panel will be comprised of four experts, plus a moderator.  Each panel member will present in turn some practical idea, information, or suggestion pertinent to the session's main topic.  There will be some time at the end of each session for questions from the audience -- which we warmly invite.  In the interests of time, we request that you keep your questions brief and to the point.  We, of course, are available to all of you outside the auditorium -- at lunch, during the coffee breaks, in the afternoons and early evenings following the official sessions -- to discuss these things in more detail.  As I mentioned at the beginning, we have already held several meetings on these matters with this distinguished group of experts and different committees, both at this university, among the rector, vice-rectors and other administrators, and with various bodies within your government.  I am happy to report that we have found all of these to be illuminating and productive.

It is not our intention, it is not our desire, to come here to tell anybody what they should do.  This approach is repugnant to us.  Our experts have a wealth of experience in these matters and a vast amount of expertise.  I want them to share this with you.  They have a great deal of useful practical knowledge and advice to offer.  They offer themselves to you in the spirit of friendship.

We want to talk about some issues in greater detail, and so we have also scheduled three 90-minute “workshops”.  These will take place one after the other on Thursday -- tomorrow.  The format will be much the same, but with three presenters instead of four.  This will give us more time to “roll up our sleeves” so as to work together in greater depth.  On Friday morning, we have scheduled a workshop especially designed for university administrators.  But everyone is strongly urged to attend.  These sessions will address important issues, so I very much hope that all of you will return to participate.

As you can see from your programs, the panel and workshop topics will focus on three general areas.  The first is accreditation: which means quality control and certification by a licensed, non-government agency of a university's compliance with established standards of excellence.  Our experts will examine specifically the key accreditation policies, procedures, and organizational structures in the United States, and they will also discuss the details as they are set forth in Europe's Bologna Process.  They will show what is required of Azerbaijani universities in order for them to become accredited.

The second general topic concerns curriculum development.  We will present some possible ways of integrating the curriculum, or program of courses, of Azerbaijani universities with those of American, Western European, Israeli, and other similarly structured universities around the world.  We will begin with something called the “credit system” (not to be confused with accreditation).  It has already been decided that at this university, Azerbaijan University of Languages, a credit system is going to be implemented in a few programs of study, within one or two faculties, beginning this fall.  Already in your country two private universities -- Khazar and Qafqaz -- have partially adopted a credit system; and we are going to invite them to help with this initiative -- to share their experiences with us and to contribute their expertise.  We soon hope to get other universities working together to establish this in a more widespread fashion.

None of these reforms, that you will accomplish, can happen overnight.  They must be done carefully.  They must be done step by step.  Adopting a credit system, in a way that is compatible with the credit systems of other countries, will enhance the chances of integration.  Foreign universities will be able to evaluate applications from Azerbaijani students.  Foreign students will receive credit at their home universities for studying here.  That is, my students will receive credit from my university for studies that they successfully carry out in Azerbaijan.

Our credit system has several virtues.  It allows for the mobility of students.  Students in my country are able to transfer to other institutions -- in their own state, or anywhere across the United States.  It enables them to transfer to other universities in England, France, Germany, Israel, Turkey, because these systems are so similar.  They match well with each other.

As a middle class grows in Azerbaijan, your work force is going to become more mobile.  New centers of business and industry will develop in other regions: in Ganja, in Quba, in Lankaran, in Zaqatala, in Nakchivan.  Your workforce will move as jobs are created.  The credit system allows students to move.

In terms of curriculum reform, we have found that a flexible curriculum, in which a student is given a variety of choices, will suit a more mobile market.  In the United States of America, for example, statistics now show us that the average American will change careers -- not just their job -- but will change their career -- you understand what I mean? -- change a career, from a doctor to a businesswoman, from a professor to a lawyer, from a banker to a social worker -- on average now, Americans change their careers SIX times in their working lifetimes -- SIX times!  Obviously, they cannot go back to school every time to earn another degree!

Our universities, therefore, our curricula -- the courses that our students take and the way they are taught -- must enable our graduates to do this, to change from one career to another.  Even when they are 40 or 50 or 60 years old!  Our focus is on having our students learn a variety of skills, not just a lot of information.  -- A variety of skills that can be applied in a variety of situations.  -- A variety of job situations.  One leading reason our economy is so successful is that our universities prepare our graduates to perform many different tasks and fulfill many different functions; they are not restricted to one narrow specialization.

The third topic we will focus on is improving, reforming, classroom teaching.  We have discovered, and innumerable scientific studies have confirmed, that human beings learn in a number of different ways.  The human brain does not effectively process information delivered in a nonstop 80-minute lecture.  Students, in fact, learn best when we teachers make creative use of a variety of different learning activities and exercises.  Students learn best when we apply interactive teaching methods, when we allow students to take on a large role in moving the lessons forward.  Where the learning, the questioning, the inquiry, the research comes mainly from the students.  Where professors do not lecture the whole time, do not simply tell students everything; but where professors act as “facilitators” to help students discover important things on their own and with each other.  I know that this approach is new to most of you.  Some of our experts have already begun to work with teachers at this university and at a few other universities in Baku on this kind of approach.  I can tell you from recent experience that students with whom I have worked at this university are tremendously excited by this style of teaching.  They find it stimulating.  They find that it really engages their minds.

Our emphasis in teaching is not on imparting information, or mere “bits” of information.  Our emphasis is not on memorizing a lot of “facts”.  Our emphasis is not on telling students what to think, but on helping them learn how to think -- and how to think in a variety of ways.  We pose problems and challenges that do not always have one “right” answer.  We push them to see things in different ways, from different perspectives.  The accumulation of knowledge, or of information, is not the primary objective of our classrooms.  Because, after all, one has to understand what can be done with that information.  One has to know how to go about collecting relevant information; one has to understand how to organize that information; one has to know how to interpret it; one has to know how to analyze and critically evaluate it; one has to find different ways to put it to use.

Our businessmen and businesswomen come to our universities and say something like the following:

“When your graduates get a job with my company, we will train them in the particulars, the details, the special techniques essential to the way we do things at my company.  But what we cannot do now, at this late stage, is to train them how to think critically, how to write clearly and effectively, how to speak cogently and persuasively.  These are things that you must do at the university.”

Having a lot of information can be useful, of course.  But having a lot of information is not the same as having knowledge.  And knowledge is not the same as understanding.  Our emphasis is on helping students to understand.  The highest form of understanding, as you must know, is self-understanding.  This is known as “wisdom”.  And wisdom, coupled with compassion, or concern for others, is enlightenment.  The lofty goal of our classrooms, of our entire system of education, is to produce citizens who possess understanding, who have self-understanding (wisdom), and who have compassion: enlightened citizens.

Our systems of public and private education in the Western world are to an overwhelming extent the product of the European Enlightenment of the 18th century.  The emphasis was on empirical and rational methods of enquiry, on the dissemination of practical knowledge, on a liberal or liberating program of studies, on education being available to all, on free thinking, on democratic principles and the dignity of the individual, where the attainment of individual excellence was seen as fundamental to bringing about a healthy, thriving, prosperous, peaceful, and enlightened society.  These are lofty goals, to be sure.  But the United States and all advanced democracies need enlightened citizens -- in order to carry them forward to a better future for all.

As I said, no one here among us has come to tell anybody what to do.  We frankly admit, we do not have all the answers.  We do not believe that one size fits everybody.  In the United States these days, a selling point of certain kinds of merchandise is captured by the slogan “One size fits all”.  If you go to the bazaar and you don't know your wife's dress size or your son's sweater size, you can simply go to the racks that say “One size fits all”.  It means that everybody, no matter how large or small, how thin or fat, can wear these garments -- they will stretch or shrink to accommodate just about anyone.  As appealing as this might sound for clothing, none of our visiting experts believes for a second that this applies to any of the matters we will be talking about these next few days.

And yet, even though there may be differences between us, Azerbaijanis and Westerners, I myself do not believe that these differences are very great.  I believe that underneath the surface we are very much alike.  Our similarities are greater than our differences.  You do not have to reinvent the wheel, as the saying goes, every time you want to go for a drive in your car.  You can build upon what others have already accomplished.  And building upon what others have already accomplished, you can build more quickly.  There are good reasons for the success of our American universities.  The international rankings bear us out.  But you can build a bridge from our universities to yours -- and I sincerely believe that you can do it reasonably soon.

Let me give you an example.  Consider the history of telecommunications.  It has taken the United States of America 225 years or so, through many intermediate stages, to come to the Internet and cellular phones.  In over two centuries, many steps were taken along the way: our horseback mail carriers, called the “Pony Express”, the old stagecoach deliveries, telegraph cables with Morse code; then we constructed above-ground telephone lines; then followed radio, television, underground cables, and finally satellites.  But other countries now jump straight to mobile phones and the world wide web within five years or less.  Forget about the Pony Express and Morse code -- they haven't even had to lay a single underground cable.

  You do not have to reinvent the wheel.  You do not have to start from “scratch”.  Others have laid the groundwork for you.  The same is true for higher education practices.  I believe you can build quickly on what others have done.  It requires only your will and the wise commitment of your resources.  What the United States has accomplished in higher education has mostly been done in the past forty years.  Maybe you can do it now in far less than half that time.

We must put our heads together.  We must bring our hearts together.  We have to put our muscle into it.  It doesn't come easy.  It requires some sweat.

You here in this auditorium are the elite of this country.  These reforms are necessary not just for your children and grandchildren, who enjoy some advantages, but equally for the children and grandchildren of those who wait outside these doors.  You have a serious responsibility to them.  You have a responsibility to Nicat, the friendly young taxi driver who waves and calls to me every morning on my way to school, and to his children.  You have a responsibility to Samaya, the dear old woman who sits on the stoop outside the entrance to this university and sells me packets of sunflower seeds, and to her grand-daughter.  You have a responsibility to the stately old guard, Fuad, who greets me each morning and each evening with a firm handshake and a “Salaam!” as I enter the courtyard below.  You have a serious responsibility to these people and their families.

Now is the time and here is your opportunity.  You must not let it slip away.  We must succeed.  Working together -- as friends -- we will succeed.  Allah qoysah!

I want to call on each and every one of you here for support.  These things cannot be done by a few people alone.  These reforms cannot be made by outside experts, though their knowledge is vast and their expertise is profound.  It will require the help of very many people.  Each and every one of you can do something.

Everywhere I go in this beautiful country -- everywhere I go -- people ask me, what can they do?  The task seems too daunting, too difficult, too impossible.  People feel so small.  Many have given up hope.  Probably, some of you have felt this way at one time or another.  I know this feeling, myself.  But, you must take heart.  Because, working together, each person doing something, no matter how small, you will accomplish a great deal.  I know it.  You've all seen what our little brothers, the ants, can accomplish.  Each tiny ant, carrying one grain of sand, builds a gigantic colony -- a complex and thriving community.

Why are the United States, Europe, and Western or Westernized countries at the top?  Because of innovation, and because of investment.  These countries invest freely in their people.  They invest in their education.  And it has paid off handsomely.  I know that each of you can do something.  The president of your republic can do something.  Your members of parliament can do something.  Your ministries and state commissions can do something.  The embassies can do something.  The NGOs can do something.  Your commercial leaders, your businessmen and businesswomen, your professionals, they can do something.  The media can do something.  Your universities -- your rectors, vice-rectors, deans, department chairs, and professors -- can do something.  Ordinary citizens, families, and students can do something.
I would like to call on the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the ministries, members of parliament and other national agencies to invest in higher education.  In a matter of months your oil pipeline will be flowing.  Money will be flowing into Azerbaijan.  It needs to flow into the right pockets.  It needs to flow into your educational institutions.  Oil money needs to be invested in rebuilding your schools and universities.  It needs to be invested in teacher training.  It needs to be invested in teachers' salaries.  Your teachers are perhaps the most important resource you have in this country.  And they have to earn a decent and respectable wage.  Oil money is coming to this country and it must be invested in these people.  Because this investment will pay great dividends.  I call on your leaders to make a pledge that they will allocate roughly the same percentage of the national budget to Azerbaijani education as is allocated by the advanced Western democracies to their teachers and schools.

I call on your leaders to invest in new books and equipment, and I call on them to invest in your students.  You can set up very soon a basic student loan system, such as is common to all our countries, with your banks and with the help of foreign assistance.  You can enlarge your academic publishing house so that it can produce up-to-date books, reviewed rigorously by expert scholars and editors at home and abroad.  Your publishing house should be equipped and managed so that it can publish high-quality textbooks and other educational materials in large quantities and at prices that students can afford.

I call on the embassies in Baku, and the NGOs such as IREX and ACCELS, to extend their efforts to send the best Azerbaijani students and teachers on programs that focus specifically on education and educational reform.  It is my suggestion that when you select students to send to the United States, for example, you require or at least strongly encourage them to participate in student government organizations and activities.  Perhaps you can reserve, or specially designate, a number of places for individuals who will be charged with returning to Azerbaijan to help enact reforms at various levels and in various ways.  Perhaps the C.R.R.C. -- the Caucasus Research Resource Center, on which I serve as a member of the Advisory Board -- can target some of its research grants for researchers who will collect and analyze data that will be of help in improving your national testing, be useful for student admissions, be useful for job placement services for graduates, and the like.

I call on SOROS (the Open Society Institute), the Eurasia Foundation, the British Council, the American Chamber of Commerce in Baku; I call on the World Bank, Azerbaijan's National Banks, and others here today to contribute small amounts of money -- for books, for educational materials, for classroom and laboratory equipment, for library and classroom furnishings, for faculty and administrative training programs abroad.  It is an excellent thing to have international experts come visit with us here, to share with us the benefits of their knowledge and experience.  But it will be far more effective, I guarantee you, to send more Azerbaijanis to them for periods of training, so that your future leaders can see for themselves first-hand how things work in other advanced places.  I tell you truly, nothing compares with this.

I call on representatives from commerce and industry to cooperate with universities, to help departmental and faculty committees formulate appropriate objectives and raise standards for university graduates.  I call on you to help organize “job fairs”, in which employers visit university campuses to set up booths that display career information and job opportunities, and to actively recruit graduates for positions in their firms.  I call upon representatives from commerce and industry to support the creation of university placement offices -- a “department” and officers whose duty it is to help graduates find meaningful employment when they successfully complete their degrees and receive their diplomas.  This is a well-established practice at each and every university in my country.  And let me tell you, it is highly successful.

I call on representatives from the commercial sphere to offer summer internships, whether paid or unpaid, to complement a student's educational training.  So that the student will have the benefit of some practical work experience before he or she graduates.  As a result, the student will be more highly motivated in his or her remaining studies, and be better prepared to assume professional responsibilities upon graduation.

I call on the media -- to keep these issues in the public's attention.  I call on you to conduct follow-up investigations and to file reports, about reform actions of the Ministry of Education, the Parliamentary Committee on Science and Education, the State Commission on Student Admissions, and of the university rectors and vice-rectors -- to run stories in your newspapers, on your televisions, to keep people informed about what is or is not going on.  I call on you to “keep the heat on” as we say, to keep the heat on all of us.  Do not allow us to cease in our efforts to bring about these reforms.

And I call on ordinary citizens, families, and students to speak out, to let your voices be heard.  Let your needs and desires and feelings be known.  Remember, this is supposed to be a democracy.  Every voice counts.  Do not remain silent any longer.  Write to your newspapers, write or, better, call your district representatives.  Write to, call, and speak with university officials.  Let them know what you think about the quality of education.  You can and you must demand improvements.  An extraordinary amount of progress occurred in the United States in the 1960s and early 1970s when our university students and secondary students stood together and with one voice demanded of their schools certain changes.  And the universities had to listen.  My country's leaders had to listen.  Because our government is run by the people, and it is for the people.  The same is true of education: it is designed for the students.

As I've said, I know in my heart that everyone can do something.  Every little bit helps.  It all adds up.

Last but certainly not least, I call on the universities.  I call on the universities of Azerbaijan to begin -- to begin with small steps to implement changes.  I call on universities to be more open, to put an end now to bribery and corruption.  I call on the universities to begin to cooperate with each other, to share your experiences and your expertise with each other.  You must help each other to achieve excellence.

And so, finally, I also call on myself.  It is not right to call upon others, if one is not also willing to contribute.  I would like to begin by making a humble offering to my dear friend, colleague, and mentor, Samad muallim.  As part of my Fulbright grant I am awarded a stipend for the purchase of books to assist me in carrying out my own research.  This Fulbright stipend is in the amount of one thousand, five hundred dollars.  Herewith, I present to the honored Rector a voucher for fifteen hundred dollars' worth of books: books that I will purchase and donate to the American Studies Library in the new American Studies Center that is going to be established at this university.  [Audience applauds as Dr. Kortum hands the rector a voucher, and then a box of books.]

. . . Each and every one of you can do something.  For these three days please listen carefully to our foreign guests.  They have made long and tiresome journeys, in the dead of winter, to be with you this week.  Consider carefully what they have to say.  Then ask questions.  Learn what you can from them.  And at every opportunity, please speak with us.  Let us know what it is that you want, what you need, what you feel.

We are here for you.  We offer ourselves to you.

You have faith in Allah.  And I, . . I have great faith in you!

Thank you, and may Allah smile upon our efforts and grant us success.