Caspian Energy (CE): Mr. Rahimov, fundamental reforms are nowadays put in place in the education field of Azerbaijan. They majorly refer to the higher education. Which measures must be taken to improve the quality of teaching and which problems must be addressed first?
Elshan Rahimov, Chief Executive Director, Barattson School of Business & Finance: For Azerbaijan it is a very important topic which we can talk about for a length of time. But as an educator and a person involved in the system of education I can say that the first step must start from teachers. We have a sufficient amount of good teachers who acquired a perfect education abroad and returned to Azerbaijan. However, nowadays some university lecturers, who apply out-of-date materials and are unaware of things happening in the modern world, do teaching using the techniques left from the 60s of the past century while we have young skilled human resources. We should use these human resources in order to change the teaching techniques which we inherited from the Soviet period and do not meet the modern requirements of the present education system.
Now we see this system changing at state universities. Private universities have already had this system introduced successfully. These are system changes which must be actively applied at state higher education institutes.
For instance, when I just started lecturing at the Azerbaijan State University of Economics it seemed to me that there had already been fundamental changes made in this institute. After a while I saw that students get ready for exams using the methods left from the last century: they grind at ready-made exam questions. That it is to say, the system itself has not changed within universities. Students must also realize that there is no way out but studying, otherwise they can be expelled for poor progress.
ADA, Khazar and a number of other universities are among the higher education institutes which succeeded in terms of these indicators. I also see colossal reforms being introduced at the Azerbaijan State Oil and IndustryUniversity after Mustafa Bananly has been appointed to the position of the rector.
It is necessary to renew the managerial and teaching staff of the state universities, appoint young human resources who bear new and modern thoughts in mind, got education at leading foreign universities and can move these universities forward. In many countries we see managerial positions trusted to not too aged and not to young people – at the ages from 30 to 40 in average, who can offer changes and are deeply familiar with modern teaching techniques.
As a member of the management board of the Caspian European Club (Caspian Business Club) we would like to contribute to the development of educational institutes, plan to conduct meetings with leading universities and private schools of the country, want to draw their attention to education forums, to the meeting that is planned to be held with the Minister of Education and leave a positive mark in development of the education sector of Azerbaijan on the whole.
CE: Which challenges are now faced by the education system and which methods should be applied in Azerbaijan?
Elshan Rahimov: The latest university management techniques should be used. At the same time, leading world universities use IT-technologies broadly. Students enjoy an online-access to their materials. Not in all universities of Azerbaijan apply this system yet. The experience of leading universities and education systems should be mastered. These are very efficient systems and the success won’t take long.
As far as problems are concerned, I can say that young human resources, who got a perfect education abroad, often can’t get employed for different reasons after they return home and have to leave the country again. An approach in this direction needs a change as well. I certainly do not have a solution now but I can stress the need of use of the best technologies of the foreign education systems. Control should also be tough in order to deprive students of chances to get an issue solved by art at the end of the semester. If a student demonstrates poor progress he certainly should be given a chance to continue studying. If he still can’t succeed he should try himself in other area. It is not necessary to have a higher education. For instance, people having no higher education get certain occupational certificates in the United States of America and make more money than university-educated people.
CE: As a result of reforms passed in Azerbaijan, the State Examining Center has been created in Azerbaijan instead of the State Students Admission Commission. To what extent will it improve the level of attestation of university entrants?
Elshan Rahimov: I found the previous system one of the rare state structures enjoying people’s confidence and belief in its objectivity. University entrants were confident in transparency of this body. They studied, took exams and did not doubt just assessment of their knowledge. The changes have shattered this confidence. Now I am speaking on behalf of students who I communicate with. “Whether this structure will be efficient or not triggered a question?”
Later it became clear that the system and the structure did not have serious changes. The confidence in objective examination was resumed. For now I see no certain serious positive or negative sides of this process and can’t describe the effect that will arise out of these changes.
CE: Do you think our universities need to obtain international rating in order to ensure global recognition of diplomas in foreign countries? To what extent is it real to introduce it in current circumstances?
Elshan Rahimov: It is possible to obtain international rating but I think that attraction of international rating organizations to evaluate Azerbaijani higher education institutes will not cost cheap.
If we set the rating of universities showing interest in this, different higher education institutes can lead in different indicators. But I find our market and country not big enough so that foreign international organizations could evaluate our universities.
First we should set the goals that will pursue the ratings. One of the goals is to attract foreign students. That is to say, the universities must also be interested in this. If our universities want to see not only local but also foreign students studying at them, then this rating will gain significance.
Nowadays there is no need for rating agencies in order to find out the level and the quality of education at any university. But foreigners will do attach importance to the rating as they are unaware of things happening inside of the university. The assessment of the third independent parties will serve as guideline for them.
CE: Mr. Rahimov, you head Barattson company, which can rightly be considered a mini-university. Could you please tell about your first steps in this business segment? How did you arrive at an idea to create Barattson School?
Elshan Rahimov: The field of education has been of particular interest to me since school days. I received my education abroad. I studied in two foreign states. I got my bachelor degree at CairoUniversity (Egypt) and majored in accountancy. I received my master’s degree at the OilAcademy via the program implemented jointly with the GeorgiaStateUniversity whereupon I was sent to the USA to continue my studying.
I took the first steps in the field of business and education in 2004 after I had done my studying in the USA.
After returning to Azerbaijan in September 2004, I became a cofounder of the Azerbaijani education company and used to be a managing partner till 2014. At the same time I started teaching bachelors and magistracy students at different universities.
In this way, all my life and professional career is closely associated with the education. I was directly involved in this area of activity as a teacher. Accordingly, I saw the necessity of developing professional skills in students, felt the need in professional courses in Azerbaijan. There were lots of local courses available in the country at that moment (2004). Unfortunately, they lacked quality and the branding was out of the question. Noteworthy were just several international organizations as the British Council and English First because they had a deep history and broad international experience. We established a new company in order to fill the gap in the market. It gave a start to development of new classifications. I gained a huge experience and knowledge in this field by 2014. I knew which way I should follow and in this way I arrived at an idea to create my own brand on the market – Barattson Company.
We did not aim to gain success within a year but the task was to gain success within a short period of time. The major goal we had aimed at becoming a leader in the field of professional education of Azerbaijan. At present we think that Barattson Company has its services represented on the market in a quite new style.
Guarantee of success - Barattson Guarantee
CE: What are the advantages that Barattson has now?
Elshan Rahimov: Since the establishment of the company we have pursued a goal to become a leader on the market of professional education. At the same time we had another goal implying the entry into foreign markets.
Our mission to provide students an opportunity for further employment within the framework of our education programs is our distinctive feature. We guarantee that if a person takes courses seriously and score necessary results he will definitely be employed. Through our programs we are offering different level knowledge in different areas, starting from simple foreign language courses right up to preparation for such professional qualification exams as ACCA, CFA CIA, etc. Our clients are confident in the service and teaching level. We pay a very big attention to the environment in the course of teaching. We differ visually and students see that a reality justifies their hopes.
Our marketing policy differs vastly. We provide transparent information about ourselves and do not keep our teachers behind the scene. On the contrary, we put their photos in our announcements and provide full information about their experience and education. If student choose any certain program they obviously want to know who will teach him.
It is the well-coordinated mechanism of combination of these factors that helped Barattson to gain serious success within a short period of time. Speed and rate of development of the company are high. Besides, we have no sponsors or other external investors. We are developing solely at the expense of our cash cycle.
Apart from this, our policy is based on high business doing ethics – we are very responsible for our work and expect it from clients. Practically, we assume an obligation to help them to reach the goal they have set. If a person starts lagging behind or changing priorities, we try to help him.
For instance, we have evening and day-time programs, courses held on working days and weekends. All of it is aimed at meeting clients’ requirements based on their wishes.
It is noteworthy that we apply only licensed materials. For instance, we are the only local organization which has an exclusive license from Becker to print ACCA materials. Our responsibility includes taking care of a student as well. We try to promote full-fledge teaching of our students in every possible way and help them to achieve their goals. Individual approach to each client can serve as an additional motivation from our side. If a person comes and understands what he needs for development, he feels that he does not meet the needs of the market, but he does not know what exactly he needs to study, we are offering him a free consultation to define necessary priorities and pave the ways for their achievement. In this aspect it is important for a person to feel the attention he is spared.
Students following our conditions often take exams successfully. The success in this case is guaranteed once they follow the rules and adhere to our program of teaching, which will help them to take exams successfully from the first attempt. But if students fail an exam, we provide them an opportunity to study a program again for free and also pay for their next exam.
CE: You noted a high level of the teaching staff of Barattson. Which parameters are paid particular attention when choosing teachers?
Elshan Rahimov: We attach particular importance to image because we are not involved in trade but share of knowledge. Our services are to convey knowledge which can be done by those who are the top of their profession. It is another specific character in our area of business.
The level of education, work experience and other important parameters are taken into account when choosing teachers. A teacher goes through a contest and holds test classes. We let teachers join the Barattson team once they prove their professional skills, ability to hold an audience, to make efficient use of time and deliver information to students clearly.
CE: With which universities and foreign organizations do you cooperate? Which joint projects do you plan to realize within the framework of this cooperation?
Elshan Rahimov: We are cooperating successfully both with local and foreign education institutes. Azerbaijan Diplomacy Academy (ADA), Azerbaijan State University of Economics (ASUE), Azerbaijan State Oil and IndustryUniversity and other higher education institutes are noteworthy among local universities. The mentioned universities are leading higher education institutes of Azerbaijan with which we cooperate in different projects. A joint work on opening of ACCA F3 Financial Accounting courses under the ASUE can be set as an example of successful cooperation. The courses are held in English and Azerbaijani languages.
Apart from this, on May 19, 2015 ‘Qafqaz’ University hosted a forum entitled ‘Accounting and accounting problems’ and held in Azerbaijan for the first time. We were a major sponsor of this project. We implemented a project which gave students an opportunity to take a free test exam on Accounting, F3 Financial Counting and check their knowledge.
Along with this, we actively cooperate with ADAUniversity, organize joint meetings, help them to work out a program, which would comply with ACCA’s program for accounting specialists, and hold IFRS master classes.
As far as international organizations are concerned, we are an official ACCA partner possessing a golden status for teaching. It means that ACCA guarantees the quality of teaching in our center. ACCA requirements include serious procedures and documentation, a strict selection of teachers meeting the criteria of teaching, certification, teaching control and tracking, a work with students lagging behind the schedule, as well as requirements for progress in studies, etc. I would like to emphasize that we have become the only company in the world which managed to get such a high status within its first year of operation.
At the same time, we are also certified examination computer center of ACCA. The first four ACCA exams are taken in our center.
We are also a Global learning Partner of Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) and an official test center for IELTS. All these projects are very important for us.
CE: Now Barattson conducts preparation on many education programs. What unites all these programs?
Elshan Rahimov: We hold trainings on different programs within the framework of BarattsonSchool of Business & Finance. One needs the language programs to enter foreign education institutes, which makes them common. There are also other courses which can be compared by sectors, for instance, financial courses - ACCA, CIMA, CIA, CFA. All these qualifications are aimed at a concrete area. If we talk about ACCA it implies audit, financial accounting and taxation. If we talk about CIMA, it also implies finances but refers to an internal accounting. As far
as CFA is concerned, it refers to the financial management, evaluation of list of projects, operations with securities, operation at stock markets. CIA means an internal audit and control.
Of course there is a certain interrelation. A person who gets ready for ACCA and CIMA can see reoccurring topics because it is the basis of the entire business. Accounting exists in both directions but there are differences in details. They are linked because one of them is designed for professional development and financial qualification while another is meant for academic development - IELTS, TOEFL, GMAT, GRE, etc.
We have become an official licensed test-center of IELTS as well as a test center for SAT. These exams are needed to enter higher education institutes in abroad, mainly in the USA, European universities, universities of Turkey, Canada and other countries. In December of the past year we became a representative of EF (Education First) company in Azerbaijan, which is a world leader in the field of international education.
CE: Do you plan to open courses covering new areas?
Elshan Rahimov: Currently, we are developing a completely new area where we provide training in the technical areas of expertise. It includes construction engineering, management of engineering-related matters in power supply, and at the same time computer engineering, areas related to IT programming, technical skills on repair of computer technologies, as well as Robotix - the development of robots. And all this is within the new area of expertise called BarattsonSchool of Engineering & Technology.
We also work on the market for the school-age youth education for admission to universities inside the country. Our ambition is to take a lead on this market. Of course, there are a lot of competitors on it, but up to the present day those defining features I mentioned earlier have been our key to our success.
In general, we have put the modern teaching technologies into practice in Azerbaijan and achieved our goal to become a leader in the local professional training market in a short time. Our success achieved within a short space of time is at the same time backed up by the fact that Barattson has become a member of the very prestigious organization Caspian European Club (Caspian Business Club). With an eye to contribute to the development of education in our country I had the opportunity to nominate my candidacy and won the elections for the Club's Board members. After reaching our objectives in the private sector we have embraced new opportunities, more social ones, where we can use our potential for the benefit of the education sector as a whole.
Thank you for the interview