On April 19, President Ilham Aliyev signed a decree to appoint Mikayil Jabbarov as a new Minister of Education. Thirty-seven year old Jabbarov thus became the youngest high ranking official in Aliyev’s government. He replaced the 67-year-old Misir Mardanov, who like many other ministers has held his position for the last 15 years.
Journalist Kamal Ali stated that the presidential decree was “unexpected.” Despite several previous speculations that Mardanov would be on his way out, he has maintained a strong position ever since the period of former President Heydar Aliyev. According to Ali, “embezzlement of budget money and a poor job performance, or public displeasure with the operation of any state agency are no reason in Azerbaijan to fire or punish any minister … even discharging a minister is not aimed to gain the people’s love on the eve of presidential elections, because the people’s love is not necessary in Azerbaijan to win the elections. It seems that it is just a promotion of Jabbarov, a favorite, appreciated by the head of the country.”
At the same time, the opposition newspaper Azadliq (Freedom) considers the new appointment to be a result of Mardanov’s defeat in favor of Maleyka Abbaszade, head of the State Commission on Students’ Admission, who publicly criticized the Ministry of Education for the lowest level of education among students and teachers in Azerbaijan in comparison with other countries. In particular, she stated that the level of education among Azerbaijani 15-year-olds is ranked 56 among 57 countries. The newspaper noted that “…Abbaszade was just the executor, while the authors of the campaign against Mardanov were Ramiz Mehtiyev, head of Presidential Administration (also known as the Grey Cardinal) and Fatma Abdullazade, head of the humanitarian department of the administration.”
However, Fineko agency reported on April 20 that Jabbarov was appointed to realize the new national education strategy, prepared by a working group under the leadership of another young Western-educated official, the executive director of the State Oil Fund Shahmar Movsumov, and awaiting approval from President Ilham Aliyev.
Jabbarov graduated from the legal faculty of Baku State University and later continued his studies in the U.S. He started his career in the bank sector in 1995 and worked as a lawyer in the private sector in 1999-2002. In 2002 he served as an adviser to the Minister of Economic Development and then as President of the Azerbaijan Export and Investment Promotion Foundation. In 2004 he was appointed Deputy Minister of Economic Development and has since 2009 continued his career as Director of the State Reserve Icheri Sheher (Old Town).
Many young people appreciated the influx of new blood into the old education management system; however, some observers argue that radical reforms of the education system cannot be achieved through a change of personalities in the ministry, but require a change of the governance system itself.
Etibar Aliyev, head of the NGO “Education center of the twenty-first century,” considers the creation of a transparent environment in the education system to be the main task of the new minister. “It is time to conduct transparent elections of school directors and rectors of institutes by pedagogical staff, organize monitoring of the entire education system on all levels in order to detect weak spots, eliminate corruption and appoint new people,” Aliyev said. He noted that another challenge is “to get rid of corrupt university rectors ... Eight rectors are Members of Parliament ... in the past there were revelations of embezzlement of state money and bribes in the Foreign Languages University and so what? Nothing happened. The rector of this university is still sitting in the parliament,” Aliyev said.
Journalist Khadija Ismayil wrote on her Facebook page that “it is credulity to expect serious changes in the education system during an election year.” One of the reasons she gave is that “teachers with a salary of 130 AZN (US$ 165) will not generate high quality education. It could be possible to appraise teachers, reduce their numbers and increase their salary, but that means that thousands of teachers will lose their jobs. No one will do it in an election year.”
Independent economist Rovshan Agayev believes that no radical changes should be expected from the current government, either before or after the election. “This is not because the level of professionalism to reform existing governance is insufficient. The most important is the absence of political will and desire.” To achieve radical changes, Agayev proposed that education institutes should obtain a right to autonomous self-management; the welfare of pedagogical staff should reach the level of financial provision of state officials; student admission for pedagogical faculties should be made tougher; and the level of budget allocations for education should be no less than 15 percent of all budget expenditure, as compared to 8-9 percent in recent years.
Jabbarov has so far refrained from making any comments.