In Georgia, students look abroad to build a future

Author: Sophio Sharadze
Edition: Future

Across the South Caucasus, students and young professionals are seeking better education and job prospects abroad. Government initiatives to entice them back appear to fall short.

Four months into the pandemic, 21-year-old Nika Gogitidze gave up looking for work in Georgia and resumed his computer science studies in Qatar. 

He had returned home when the Covid lockdowns started, but after months of fruitless searching, he says “I came to the conclusion that nobody needs me here, in Georgia.”  

The outflow of intellectual resources is a complex problem in Georgia, which has limited demographic and intellectual resources, notes Natia Gorgadze, a program manager at Center for Civil Integration and Inter-Ethnic Relations and a researcher specializing in education.

“Unfortunately, today our country's employment market is limited in scope. There are fields where employment is practically impossible to find or it is impossible to get a decent salary, therefore, specialists who find themselves in other countries and see their own professional success there, in the long term, obviously, are leaving their homeland,” she said. 

Economist and entrepreneur Marina Pkhovelishvili believes it is insufficiencies in the Georgian education system—an inability to put talented students’ skills to good use—that is pushing young people to stay abroad instead of returning home after their studies. 

“Unfortunately, Georgia is not characterized by a lot of technological infrastructure which creates the most relevant 'pull factors' in the process of brain drain,” Pkhovelishvili says.

Despite the fact that Georgia has added some new science-oriented universities, such as San Diego State University and the Kutaisi International University, science-driven fields such as mathematics, engineering, computer science, and physics have the lowest enrollment rate in Georgian universities, according to data from the Georgian statistics agency, Geostat. 

One such field in Georgia is oenology, the science of winemaking.  

Georgian wine is a major part of the Georgian culture and economy—it was the fifth largest export in the first nine months of 2022.

After attending harvest in Kakheti, Teona Dolidze, 25, knew that she wanted to become a wine expert in Georgia. However, the scarcity of the universities in Georgia offering oenology made this goal harder to achieve.

 “I searched each and every Georgian university, I attended all the open-door sessions, but unfortunately it turned out that only Georgian Technical University offered courses in the field of viticulture,” she recalls.

 “Then I expanded my horizons and looked for other, foreign, better universities. That’s how I got here, in Italy. “

She entered the Universita degli studi di Torino on a scholarship.  

“For local Italians, oenology cost around 8,900 EUR but because I was a foreign student, willing to study in the Italian language, I paid nothing.”

The Ministry of Education and Science did not respond to multiple requests for an interview about the issue of brain drain and the ministry’s efforts to align higher education in the country with modern demands.

At a forum in October 2022, education minister Mikheil Chkhenkeli said one of the main priorities of the Georgian government is to ensure equal access to quality higher education and support scientific research.  “We aspire to make Georgia a regional hub of science, research and education, where outstanding researchers from all over the world will have the opportunity to conduct scientific research of international importance using the latest technologies.” 

The ministry’s Unified National Strategy for 2022-2030 includes a priority to internationalize education in Georgia, in part through exchange programs, like Erasmus+. In addition, dozens of government-funded scholarship programs are awarded to help young students study abroad. In 2021-2022 out of 31,000 Georgian students 480 went to study in Belgium, Austria, Germany, Spain, Turkey, Italy and Budapest

Some Georgian schools, especially high-end private schools, prepare their students to study abroad: 90% of the graduates of Guyvi Zaldastanishvili American Academy in Tbilisi continue their studies abroad. In 2005-2022 years out of 938 school graduates only 92 stayed in Georgia.

As Ia Topuria, dean of external relations in Guyvi Zaldastanishvili American Academy in Tbilisi, noted the main motivator factor for the child to study abroad is the quality of education.

“Before, the most popular fields of study were business administration and foreign relations, but today children want to master professions that are not well taught in Georgia. Such are science, engineering, and computer technologies. For that purpose they enroll in American and European technical universities,” she says,

She added that the majority return to work in Georgia. 

At first, Teona also assumed it would be a short trip of acquiring all the necessary knowledge before building an oenologist’s career back to Georgia, however after two years of her studies, she got an internship and changed her mind. 

 “I moved to Italy to study and along this way, I found friends, qualified professors, a dream job, high salary and new career possibilities. Tell me one real reason why I should leave all these and come back?”

Teona also noted that undervaluation of oenologists in Georgia plays a huge role in making the final decision: the average pay for an oenologist in Italy is about €3,100 per month compared to 1100 GEL a month in Georgia. 

Other students have also found that they can earn more abroad. “Last year my professor offered me a job as his assistant. In this activity, I receive $20-25 per hour. In comparison, my Georgian colleagues, working for IT companies, spend the whole day and nights earning no more than 17 GEL per hour,” computer science major Nika said. 

Economists warn that the loss of many young, educated, forward-looking people could have economic ramifications for years to come.

“The long-run effects of this process could be: reduction of the stock of human capital, shortage of skilled labor scientists, limited capacity to innovate and adopt more advanced technologies and the loss of investment,” Pkhovelishvili says. 

“We should remember that each Georgian brain lost overseas is a huge setback for the development of our country.” 

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This feature story was prepared with support from the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) South Caucasus Regional Office. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of FES or Chai Khana.

This Feature Article was produced in the framework of Chai Khana Fellowship program - Summer/Autumn 2022

The networking event and the mentorship of the fellows was supported by the Federal Foreign Office and the Civil Society Cooperation program, implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft e. V. 

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