How can Georgia keep its best and brightest from going abroad in search of work?

14 Jun, 2013


by Magda Magradze, Academic Fellowship Program Caucasus Region Manager, Open Society Foundations

The Academic Fellowship Program (AFP) aims at combating and reversing brain drain from academia and supporting higher education reform in the 17 countries where it operates.  Georgia, like other developing countries, needs scholars and professionals to facilitate and expedite the process of social and economic development.

The activities carried out by the Academic Fellowship Program have contributed to the ongoing education reform by changing the higher education environment, building open societies and promoting democratic values. 

The Academic Fellowship Program, established in 2004, seeks to achieve lasting higher education reform by assisting progressive university departments and by financially supporting promising scholars who teach at these departments after they have returned from abroad with a competitive postgraduate degree.

Recognizing that scholars and universities play a fundamental role in strengthening civil society, AFP, a program of the Foundation, focuses on higher education reforms that will bolster open, democratic societies.

  The Program has funded fellowships and helped professional development of about 100 Returning Scholars in Georgia. It has contributed to curriculum reform and development in nine departments at three Georgian universities. These efforts have involved international scholars, departmental development funds, travel grants, conferences and meetings of scholars, professional development fund, an academic webfolio project (, PhD schemes for returning scholars, and other opportunities. 

The AFP returning scholars have influenced important changes in Georgia.  The program has helped establish new curricula and academic disciplines in Georgia, such as gender studies, public health, modern and medieval studies, and social work.  Major changes took place in the undergraduate and graduate curricula of international relations program at the Tbilisi State University, while curriculum reform at the Faculty of Law of the Tbilisi State University resulted in better-structured programs. 

During the 2012-2013 academic year, the AFP is collaborating with 38 returning scholars and eight partner departments at the three largest public universities in Tbilisi (Tbilisi State University, Tbilisi State Medical University, and Ilia State University).  The main aim of the program this year is to help its partner departments develop graduate studies, integrate research into teaching, and improve the quality of education

AFP returning and international scholars have helped launch new doctoral programs in international relations and gender studies at the Tbilisi State University.  The returning scholars are serving as experts for governmental, non-governmental, and international organizations thus contributing to the development of civil society (Irakli Kobakhidze, Sergi Kapanadze, Giorgi Kamkamidze, Maia Butsashvili, Giga Zedania, Tamar Tsopurashvili, and many more). 

The program’s major goal of keeping the best and brightest in Georgia and in academia has been successful. The program has popularized the notion that serving in higher education is a prestigious and important activity which is evidenced by the fact that most returning scholars in Georgia continue to work in academia.   Previously, the majority of Western-educated Georgians found jobs in the private and public sector and international organizations. 

Tbilisi State University, the first university in the South Caucasus, is a good example of what can be achieved if brain drain is reversed. The university was founded in 1918 by Georgian scholars who returned from abroad for that purpose. That initiative resulted in the establishment of numerous universally recognized scientific schools in Georgia.

We hope that the activities of the Academic Fellowship Program will continue to bolster education reform by creating clusters of excellence in Georgia’s higher education institutions. 


AFP has supported 557 scholars and 86 academic departments since its inception. 

These departments are at the following large state universities in Georgia – Tbilisi State University, Ilia State University, and Tbilisi State Medical University. 

According to a self-study and evaluation carried out in 2011 and 2012.