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We have to strive to be a global university

We have to strive to be a global university
Mustafa Babanli: “We need to think about diverse development of industry by using the brand of oil”

Azerbaijan State Oil Academy was renamed to Azerbaijan State Oil and Industry University last September. Along with the name change, director of technical sciences, professor Mustafa Babanli was appointed the rector of the university. We interviewed Babanli about the work he’'s done since then and his future plans. 
- Professor Mustafa, you’ve been a rector for almost six months. How would you characterize this period? 
- We worked tirelessly during those months. We continue to take certain steps. We've begun to feel the results of our hard work since September.  
- After your appointment, the name of the university was changed. What did this change bring to the university? 
- This was the 8th time the university was renamed. We welcomed the last name change. Because they showed confidence in us and university’'s name was returned. Oil is our national treasure and it our brand. But industry is also the strategic direction of the country. We have to think about diverse development of the industry by using the brand of oil. 
- What percentage of change took place after the name change? 
- We didn’t assess it in terms of percentage. There was no change in the number of faculties and professions within the university. The main change was the merging of departments. During Soviet times, there was a tendency to create a new department whenever there was a new doctor of sciences. But in reality, a department should be created in accordance with the main strategic directions of the country and prepare specialists. But we were facing a situation where a number of departments were preparing specialists in the same profession. This, of course, led to additional costs. We decided to merge the departments in order to establish management, to achieve certain results in the issue of completing one another and most importantly, to accomplish our strategic plans. No one was laid off and no subject was eliminated. On the contrary, we will be receiving more students next year. 
- You’re starting to teach in English next year.. 
- Yes. Until now, only a few subjects were taught in English. We are partners with Siegen University of Germany and Georgia University from the USA. During the next academic year, we’re planning to teach up to 375 students in English 
- What’s the purpose of this? 
- We have to strive to be a global university. To achieve this, we plan to provide education in English and draw students all over the world. As the president said, we have to bring in foreign currency to the country. Competition is very high in international education. Countries providing worldwide education are proud of themselves. And we also want our country to be proud of Azerbaijan State University of Oil and Industry. That’s why we try to attract more international students. There are flickers here and there. Over 120 international students have applied to study in our university
- Under the order issued by the president, Azerbaijan- France University was established. Will it start to operate next year? 
- French and Azerbaijani ministers of Education signed a memorandum about this and certain steps are being taken in regard to this. Azerbaijan-France University is expected to provide education to 100 students on 4-8 different specified subjects. AFU will operate under State Oil and Industry University and lessons will be in English. During the first year, students will get trainings in English and French.  20% of period will be dedicated to mathematics, physics and chemistry so that they would be fully prepared by the end of the year. What’s special about this is that the education would be provided in French methodology by French professors. Our specialists will work alongside their French counterparts so that they could learn from them. This education will be funded by the government. 
- Some people draw parellels between Azerbaijan Oil and Industry University and Baku Higher Oil School. Do you see any parallels? 
- If Baku Higher Oil School was established by the order of the president, it means that high school is necessary. Both universities are public and each has their own agenda and there is no repetition. Higher Oil School operates under SOCAR and prepares specialists for the company. There, some subjects are completely taught in English and they don’t have all the specified subjects. Our university, on the other hand, provides Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD education for about 9 thousand students. We are preparing specialist in every areas of economy and industry. It’s impossible to create a university to replace ASOIU in a short time.  
- One of the problems of our education system is the disconnect between education and manufacturing. How do you organize this? 
- We have taken some steps. First of all, to establish a connection with production, we will hand out the topics of graduation work to students starting from this year. Students will gather all necessary materials to prepare to write a dissertation or graduation work by the end of the 4th year. We will not accept just about any graduation assignment. We will choose topics that are appropriate for industry and the general problems facing this sector today. We are trying to bring our students closer to industry and make them gain experience in industrial enterprises. Students will bring to the university the problems they see in the industry. It is also my wish that students could get experience during the semester. We are contacting industrial enterprises and  sending our students to gain experience there for a certain amount of time. After a month, the industrial enterprise and our experts determine which student is more qualified for that job. Unqualified ones will not advance to the next level. The qualified ones will work in the industrial facilities for 2-3 hours a day for a small salary. The student will use this experience to form his graduation work. Industrial facilities will hire those students full time during summer months. And after graduation, those students will start working as experts at those institutions. We will switch to this system at least in some faculties next year. 
- Sometimes, they say, the Bologna process in Azerbaijani education is just a formality. Are you satisfied with the level of transition to the Bologna Process? 
- We have incredible achievement in regard to transition to this system. And day by day, we are working on fully adopting this system. Starting from this semester, we probably will permit students to take credits from the top under certain conditions. It is not unusual to take bottom-up credit, but the student has the right to take top credits so that they can finish university not in 4 but 3 years. This is one of the characteristics of the Bologna process. We created these conditions for our top students this year. 
- Universities are providing distant education all over the world. Is it possible for your university to provide distant education ?
- We are thinking about it. But it’s not easy to provide distant education at technical universities. I’m in favor of dual education. Students learn practical aspects at industrial enterprises and learn the theoretical knowledge at universities. But we’re thinking about bringing the distant education to our university in a certain format. Distant education could be applied to refresher or retraining courses. 
- How useful is it to provide education by elderly people? What can you achieve by this?
- More than 50% of professors are older than 60 in our university. 23.8% of that is over 70 years old. We have professors who are older than 90. When we were merging the departments, there were some departments where the youngest professor was over 70. That’s why we started to carry out certain reforms. All of those professors are very competent. Between 2007 and 2015, 4 thousand students  studied in some of the top universities in the world and returned to Azerbaijan.We contacted those who were qualified to teach Master’s and PhD education in our university. Most of them are already working and the rest will also be hired. Some elderly staff will retire and some will remain as consultants.  
- When the rector is among students, they feel a lot freer in the university. How available are you to students? 
- After the interview, we can go to any room and you can ask that question to anyone. Since I started working, there hasn’t been a single day when I did not visit the classrooms. I’m trying very hard so that students would see me among themselves. We have open two microphone days every semester. During these meetings, students ask me their questions. This meeting last until the last student is done voicing their opinions. Tuesdays are my reception day. Any student can write to me. But there is one condition. The student has to turn to their dean or vice-rector first. If those people cannot solve the student’s problem, then they can come to me. 
- Social networks are where students are at these days. You are not there. Why not? 
- Our university and my assistant has a page on social media. The appeals are posted on our page and my adviser brings them to me. We are also always following the “Azerbaijani universities” . There is not a single information about our university to which we do not respond. We even respond to anonymous requests. But I personally don’t have much time to be active on social media.  I must mention that, most of the comments online are positive. They are writing very positive things about even the smallest accomplishments. I’m thankful for those comments. “AzII” is a brand in the world. We will not act in any way that will tarnish this image. 
Aygun Asimqizi

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