The Academic Community in Contemporary Azerbaijan. Academic Structures and Independent Research NGOs: Challenges and Prospects for Cooperation

Contemporary Azerbaijan is a largely oil based economy, which has been able to benefit from continual high world oil prices over the past years. Despite the double digit growth rates, which the country was able to maintain until recently, the development of human capital and with it the advance of science and research remains in a backward stage. One alleged contributing factor may be a general undervaluation of the contributions of autochthonous science, education, and independent research for the further development of contemporary society and a subsequent shortage of public financing accorded to this sector. But the predicament Azerbaijan’s scientific community finds itself in is two-fold: Scientists do not only feel a lack of appreciation by their own government, but foreign Funds and Foundations have also been reluctant to put support of Azerbaijan’s scientific community on their agenda.

Picking up on the nascent domestic debate about the need to revise the current academic environment in Azerbaijan, the state of science was the topic of a roundtable organized by the foundation and its partners in Baku on April 12, 2010. Among an open and frank debate about the problems existing within academic structures today and possible solutions, a special focus developed around the ominous situation of independent research NGOs.

Many participants agreed that Azerbaijan had lost its scientific potential in the early nineties, following the demise of the Soviet Union and the following shift of priorities away from science with a global reach, a subsequent brain drain, the failure to recognize science as a strategic resource by incumbent governments and insufficient financing. Academy has allegedly developed into another state institution, which is plagued by many of the ills familiar to the public administration in Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, the dim prospects and low wages received by academics have encouraged a large number of scientists to leave the field, while others boycotted the ongoing politicization of science by joining independent research NGOs.

Representatives of independent research NGOs reported on their struggle from a lack of interest by western NGOs and funders. Many international foundations have shown a reluctance to embrace and support them and have been even more hesitant to finance publications in Azeri language, which are desperately needed to fill an apparent void of literature in the native language. A commercialization of research and science and a struggle to maintain integrity have been the consequence for many independent research NGOs. At the same time, domestic sources of funding are still hard to come by as the idea of venture investment remains at a premature stage for the time being.

All participants pointed out that Azerbaijan is full of creative ideas and that the lack of an adequate atmosphere to develop its potential is the biggest obstacle the scientific community of Azerbaijan is faced with today. Not least because the current state of affairs does not provide the young generation with incentives to join the scientific establishment in order to foster Azeri science and research and thus contribute to its own future as well as to encouraging young academics to become part of the international academic discourse.