UWC Dilijan College opened in 2014 and rightfully stands as one of the key brands of modern Armenia. Yet, only few people remember that the journey to the realization of the dream of the businessman and philanthropist Ruben Vardanyan and his wife Veronica Zonabend was a challenging one, and in 2010 the project was on the verge of suspension.
On June 24, 2010 Armenian parliament approved amendments to the laws “On Language” and “On General Education” in first reading. According to the amendments, foreign language secondary schools would be able to function basing on interstate agreements and on private basis. Minister of Science and Education of Armenia Armen Ashotyan was saying that a particular investment program on setting up a large educational complex, designed for 650 pupils had already been launched in Dilijan.
The news about the adoption of the bill caused a sharp rejection among a part of society, the most active representatives of which set up “No to foreign-language schools” initiative.
Three weeks later initiators of DILIJAN International School project sent an open letter to the members of the Public Council of Armenia.
“The legislative amendments which were the reason for the negative context surrounding the DILIJAN project are not a necessary precondition to its successful realization, however in its current reading the law makes it difficult for the children of Armenia to obtain IB diplomas at our school in case they desire to continue their education at the universities in Republic of Armenia,” the letter read.
After the publication of the letter, the initiators of the project held a series of meetings in Armenia proved to be fruitful. In any case, in the fall of 2010, as a result of the meeting of the Board of Trustees of the project the following was stated:
“There was no need to suspend the project at the moment. The decision is justified by the amount of people that eloquently expressed their support to the project through media and direct mails to initiators. As a consequence, the architectural design work and documentation of the project shall carry on.”
Two years later, in March 2013, Ruben Vardanyan said in an interview with the Vedomosti newspaper:
“We live in the era of globalization, when one of the most important skills is the ability to understand and accept other cultures, without losing your own cultural identity. Dilijan School is a bright example of such international cooperation, both among the donors and among the students. It is expected that children from about 30 countries will come here to study during the first year. Dilijan is an international educational project that goes beyond a single country and opens the way for young people to the best universities of the world, be it in the USA, Europe or Asia. What we are doing is an attempt to establish a link between people who can influence the future of the world.”
He also said then that Dilijan school will be included in United World Colleges system set up 50 years ago and including 12 educational institutions worldwide, selected through a network of national committees in 140 countries.
Ruben Vardanyan noted that about 70% of the children in Dilijan school would study free, at the expense of a special scholarship fund collected from private means.
In October 2013 the Board of Directors of the United World Colleges (UWC International) confirmed that Dilijan International School (DIS) was granted a final approval to become a UWC school under the name of UWC Dilijan.
“We are really excited about the addition of UWC Dilijan to the UWC movement. Armenia’s location at the interface of east and west and its history make it an ideal location for a UWC college, and the role the future college will play in the regeneration of Dilijan will also give it a really distinctive character and place in UWC,” said Keith Clark, Executive Director, UWC International Office.
Veronika Zonabend, co-founder of the project and Head of DIS Board of Trustees, said that the selection for UWC admissions is held on a solely competitive basis and the priority is given to talented and socially active young people no matter where they were from.
The official opening of the UWC Dilijan College took place on October 11, 2014. For the first time ever, a school opened in the post-Soviet space which in the first year of operations welcomed 96 students from nearly 50 countries – Armenia, Russia and other CIS nations, Europe and Asia, the Middle East and Africa, North and South America and Australia. More than 200 donors from different countries supported the project.
Attending the opening ceremony of UWC Dilijan College were the President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan, the President of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Bako Sahakyan, the President of Serbia Tomislav Nikolic, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II, Founding Patrons of the school, as well as about 1000 guests. Welcoming remarks to UWC Dilijan College via video messages were given by HRH The Prince of Wales, who for 17 years headed the UWC movement, renowned tennis player and philanthropist Andre Agassi, and prominent Russian musician Valery Gergiev.
Expenditure on the school’s construction, implemented solely through charitable donations, totaled $115m.
In September 2023, UWC Dilijan marked its 10th anniversary academic year with new 111 students from 56 countries being admitted to school. As of September 1, 2023, UWC Dilijan had a total of 222 students from 72 countries. 75% of them receive full or partial tuition grants.