The PIE: Kutaisi International University opened its doors to its first cohort of students in 2020. Can you tell us a little bit about how the university was set up and what its goals are?
Magda Magradze: Kutaisi International University is funded by a private donor, [philanthropist and former prime minister of Georgia] Bidzina Ivanishvili, who has been funding a lot of different projects and initiatives in Georgia. Mr Ivanishvili’s International Charity Foundation “Cartu” has invested up to €1 billion into the development and operation of KIU.
“All our programs are developed in partnership with a leading international higher education institution”
One of the major challenges that Georgia faces currently is the mismatch between the labour market demand and supply of professionals and graduates by vocational and higher education institutions. The graduates of Georgian universities and vocational education institutions are usually not ready for the labour market and employers need to invest more into their professional development to build adequate workforce.
Thus, one of the goals of KIU is to bring international-standard programs to Georgia developed in partnership with foreign partner institutions, universities and research centres.
In our case, the Technical University of Munich is our strategic partner and we are expanding collaborations with other universities and research centres of the world. Our goal is that to ensure high quality of programs, all our programs are developed in partnership with a leading international higher education institution or organisation.
The PIE: How did you get involved in KIU?
MM: I have been working in the field of education since I graduated high school in the US in 1995. Since my return to Georgia I have worked at various education projects – the World Bank, USAID, the US Embassy in Georgia, Open Society Foundations and others.
Just recently (during 2013-2019), I managed a $140 million project, the US government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact II to Georgia, with a focus on developing STEM education and the workforce in the country.
We have implemented many projects in general, vocational, and higher education, among those we were able to bring one of the leading US higher education institutions – the San Diego State University – to Georgia. It is the first time that a US university is offering its US accredited undergraduate degree programs in my country.
In addition to my work at the Kutaisi International University, I continue to manage a foundation that is ensuring sustainability of the investments made within the Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact II.
The PIE: What’s the higher education landscape like in Georgia at the moment?
MM: Currently in Georgia, we have over 60 higher education institutions. The market seems saturated, but what we do not have is labour market demanded English language programs.
Also, very few programs have international accreditation of are developed in partnership with leading international universities, such as in our case at KIU.
KIU programs are vetted by an international advisory board consisting of leading scholars and scientists from various countries of the world. This ensures quality and internationalisation of our programs.
The PIE: Why is KIU putting emphasis on English-taught programs?
MM: KIU made emphasis on English language instruction for two reasons – one, to ensure that our graduates are internationally competitive by having acquired education in English and two, to offer programs in partnership with international higher education institutions and research organisations as well as attract leading scholars and faculty members to research and teach at KIU.
The PIE: Tell us a bit about the new campus. What makes it “international” compared to the sites of other HEIs in the region?
MM: The first and most important goal that we have is to create a truly international university with an attractive campus. KIU is the only university in Georgia and the South Caucasus region that offers a campus with dormitories and all amenities.
Up until now, one of the major weaknesses that Georgia had for attracting international students was non-existence of dormitories and university campus experience. International students that currently study in Georgia mainly rent apartments as majority of higher education institutions are located in the cities.
Inquiries from international students show that the majority of them would prefer a campus experience versus living in the rented apartments scattered throughout the city.
KIU offers a campus and student life experience that is incomparable to any other higher education institutions in the region. It is located on 150 hectares of land, and is ten minutes’ drive from the centre of Kutaisi, third largest city in Georgia.
“From 2021, we are recruiting international students and hope to increase the numbers gradually”
Living on the KIU campus means that students can enjoy studying and living on campus and meanwhile can travel to nearby destinations on weekends.
There is no other experience in Georgia where you enter a campus and have all amenities in one place. Our campus is in a beautiful forest of oak trees, where students can enjoy leisure, walking and various sports activities.
The PIE: Is KIU planning to recruit international students?
MM: In 2020, due to the Covid-19 and the pandemic, we have placed little emphasis on recruitment of international students. From 2021, we are recruiting international students and hope to increase the numbers gradually.
Georgia and KIU have a lot to offer. Georgia is very welcoming of foreign guests (in 2019 Georgia has welcomed over five million tourists).
There is a great cultural experience here that you can receive as a visitor. Some countries of the world are already familiar with Georgia and enjoy coming here (especially the former Soviet Union and other countries).
Georgia has a lot of students already from Southeast Asia, India as well as mainly English-speaking African countries. There are usually up to 9,000 [international] students per year. Predominantly, Georgia has become a destination for students in medical fields.
We think that international students from the countries that are already familiar with Georgia would welcome the opportunity of studying at KIU.
The PIE: You mentioned expanding partnerships with international institutions. What partnerships do you have at the moment?
MM: Currently we offer three bachelor’s degree programs (in computer science, management, and mathematics). These three programs have been developed on the model of TUM programs.
“Predominantly, Georgia has become a destination for students in medical fields”
German faculty members teach these programs together with their Georgian peers, the majority of whom have received education or carried out research abroad.
Additionally, we have a long-term partnership with the British Council on the delivery of English language courses for our students and staff. We are also currently working with various European and US universities to develop and start offering new programs after 2021.