Estonia and Finland will to work together to support the development of higher education in Azerbaijan, despite the country's negative human rights record.
Vice Chancellor for Youth and International Relations at the Ministry of Education and Research, Madis Lepajõe, met with Azerbaijani officials last week to discuss the plans.
The Finnish-Estonian joint project which will be launched in the autumn, costs 1.3 million euros and aims to develop higher education in the former Soviet-occupied republic in accordance with the European Higher Education Area. Last year the Finnish-Estonian proposal beat others from Lithuanian-Austrian and French-Spanish to the two-year project.
At the time, the Estonian junior project leader Heli Mattisen said: “The competition was fierce – three projects had fairly equal chances to win. The advantage of the Finnish-Estonian joint project was probably our long-term cooperation in the field of quality evaluation in higher education and achievements in the field of education in general. In Baku we half-jokingly referred to the FIN-EST Project as the finest project.”
Azerbaijan has recently come under scrutiny for the international community for arresting critics, dismissing its NGOs and blocking some members of the international media from reporting on the 2015 European Games which were hosted in the capital Baku.
When asked about the Azerbaijan's human rights record, a spokesman for the Estonian Ministry of Education and Research said: ''Azerbaijan is an official partner of the EU in the Eastern Partnership initiative, and cooperation in the field of education is a part of this as it promotes contacts between people.''
Human Rights Watch described the situation in country as: ''Azerbaijan’s government has escalated repression against its critics, marking a dramatic deterioration in an already poor rights record. In recent years, dozens of human rights defenders, political and civil activists, journalists and bloggers have been arrested or imprisoned on politically motivated charges, prompting others to flee the country or go into hiding. Bank accounts of independent civic groups and their leaders have been frozen, impeding their work, or in some cases forcing them to shut down entirely. New legal regulations make it almost impossible for independent groups to get foreign funding. While criticizing the increasing crackdown, Azerbaijan’s international partners have failed to secure rights improvements.''
Editor: H. Wright, S. Tambur