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YEREVAN, OCTOBER 19, ARMENPRESS: The expectations of hundreds of Armenian university graduates have changed greatly since independence, and failing to find work at home they are looking for jobs overseas. At the same time, Armenia is gradually becoming an attractive destination for foreign students from Russia and Georgia, but especially from Middle East countries and neighboring Iran. In these countries, competition for state-run universities is too high, while here in Armenia requirements for foreign applicants are lower than they are for locals. The main requirement is their solvency: once they pay their tuition fees they are students.

It should be noted that Armenian universities are taking a step away from the Soviet-style educational system to adopt a new bi-level system to meet an education ministry decision that took affect recently. Universities that previously offered one five-year-long course are now changing to a bi-level system, under which a bachelor’s degree will be offered after four years of study, while a master’s degree will last another two years. One of the reasons young Iranians choose Armenia for their higher education is the proximity of their country to Armenia, with regular flights between Tehran and Yerevan and buses traveling daily. Armenian universities, both state-run and private, do not charge foreign students much and some universities, particularly the Medical and Engineering universities, are highly rated.

Another reason why foreign students choose Armenia is that foreigners are well-liked and warmly received. Violent street crime which occurs in some other CIS countries, particularly in Russia, is almost unheard of in Armenia. The greatest safety risk they face here, as they say, is the risk of an accident involving a motor vehicle. Pedestrians are rarely if ever granted the right of way by drivers in Yerevan, making it potentially dangerous to walk down the street.

Armenia is also an attractive country for the 200,000 strong Armenian community of Iran, especially for the young people who are coming here in their hundreds to study and settle down. 27-year-old Arpine, who moved here with her family from Iranian Isfahan, says only after arriving here she began to enjoy things that are taken for granted here. “I never hesitate or think twice before going out with my friends, to sit in a cafe to enjoy live music, to dance in a dancing hall or wear what I want,” she says, adding that “things are a bit different in Iran, where Armenian girls and women have to wear head-scarves every time they go out.”

According to the education ministry, as many as 900 young Iranian Armenians currently study at various universities in Yerevan. Karen from Tehran who wants to become a dentist, says he is going to stay here after graduation, citing lack of opportunities in Iran to grow professionally. The repatriation of Armenians mostly from Arab countries such as Syria and Lebanon and Iran is an unusual phenomenon for the country that has seen an exodus of its population in the last decade, caused by economic hardships. But a steady improvement of the economic situation and living conditions in Armenia forces many Armenians from these countries to start wondering whether it is about time they returned to their historical homeland. For young Armenians from Iran it also means escape from a strict code of behavior.

For them, the introduction of dual citizenship, which is envisaged by a package of constitutional reforms, to be put to a nation-wide referendum later this year, would be the best solution. “The issue of citizenship should be resolved because I am considered an Armenian in Iran and a Persian here,” complains Artin, a first-year student at the French University in Yerevan.

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