Prospects for Higher Education in Ukraine’s 2010 Post-Orange Revolution Realities

(Speech at the University of Western Ontario and the University of Toronto)

Ladies and Gentleman,

I am going to talk about changes in Ukrainian higher education, which followed the gains of the new ruling team from the Party of Regions, headed by the President Yanukovych. For professionals, a meticulous analysis of the situation will result in a lot of news and surprises. In some measure, the current processes in Ukraine can be helpful for better understanding of the situation in the whole post-soviet area. Later, in conclusions, I will try to clarify, in what way the program of radical reforms in science and education can be implemented in Ukraine.

What should be mentioned first of all, is the fact that the victory of the Orange Revolution in 2004, which was a reflection of the Ukrainian nation’s ambition to develop an effective democratic state, did not result in necessary reforms in any field, and the field of science and education was not an exception. Centuries of being a part of the Russian Empire, and especially the decades of the Soviet period, in which the Empire appeared in its worst version, the type of an irresponsive leader who takes corruption for a normal thing and, conforming to any conditions, cares only about personal gain, but not about the development of the country, or reforms, or service to public interests evolved in colonized (and, later, in post-colonial) Ukraine. That is why change of authority teams in Ukraine does not actually mean qualitative change of elites and their programs. Voting for one political force or another, Ukrainians often just change one corruption scheme into another one, and nothing more.

For Ukrainian higher education, all the old post-totalitarian features are still actual; among them are: corruption, lack of university autonomy, structural separation of scientific research from the study process (it is believed that universities are for study, and the “true” researches are being done separately, at the institutes of the National Academy of Sciences), and insufficient command of English among the academic community. At the same time, the new leaders of the state have changed in some measure their attitude to the educational policy.

Unlike the “orange government”, the team of the Party of Regions practically abandoned reformer’s rhetoric. That is a really interesting and rather infrequent case, when changes are even not being proposed in word. What we see normally is quite the reverse: those who oppose reforms defend them ardently in public. But, in our case, the previous minister of education harassed university rectors so much by his misunderstanding of administrative processes and imitation of reforms, that the new minister, keeping in mind the will of his political bosses – to provide the loyalty of the academic community, rushed to assure that there will be no reforms, and everything is going to stay the way it used to be before. These promises are accordant to reasoning of the most of Ukrainian rectors, like “we used to live happily before, and everything used to be all right”, meaning that the (post)Soviet education was effective, and there were no need at all to trouble head about the Bologna process which, by the way, is for Ukraine not only European integration of science and education, but a total change of rules of the game through integration into the western (or global) system.

A trait of the new reality is that there are no causes to resent abolishment of educational reforms in comparison to previous times. The matter is that the orange government did not make any reforms in science and education. As an educational reform, a change of entrance rules for higher education institutions was passed off; nevertheless the post-soviet status-quo of the universities by itself was preserved. It was not taken into account, that only high-quality autonomous universities can be requesters of this kind of changes, and that the reforms should start from such institutions. A strange attempt was made instead: to introduce honest and transparent entrance procedure in corrupted and poor-quality universities. Today leaders of Ukraine do not think strategically as well. Like their predecessors, they do not plan what Ukraine should be in 5, 20 or 50 years. And they also do not consider universities as centers of forming a knowledge society.

Abandoning reformer’s rhetoric means also including into another agenda, basically new concept. Today, a rapprochement with Russia is being proposed as an alternative to European integration, and devotion to so-called “Russian model” is being demonstrated. Vladimir Putin has found a very dubious name to that model – “a sovereign democracy”. In practice it objectifies corruption, severe centralization of authority, and, in fact, reanimation of the position of tsar, along with state capitalism, restricting of democratic freedoms (and first of all the freedom of speech), propaganda of aggressive foreign policy and xenophobia. For the actual Ukrainian government the “effectiveness” of the Russian model is associated with the hopes about a strong state authority which should come to Ukraine instead of the “orange chaos”. But the existing reality step by step proves that this model is totally ineffective in Ukraine.

That is because Ukrainian society, unlike the Russian one, requires freedom of speech, demonstrates ironic attitude to the authority, and postpones political interests to business; and because the status of Ukrainian culture can be determined as post-totalitarian and post-colonial, but not empire. For now, extend of Victor Yanukovych’s ambition – to develop a strong state authority following Russian course – is abasement of Ukrainian language and culture, disregard of the historical memory of Ukrainians, and negation of some historical evidences, in particular regarding Holodomor. Nevertheless, it would be not correct to conceive of the Party of Regions just as a net of Russian agents. By the way, some of them do not hide of their subordinate relations with Russian authorities. The problem is that post-soviet political elite totally misunderstands the factors consolidating nation, society, and state. In education, the “Russian model” means refusing university autonomy and reserving in hands of state authorities all the leverage, including financial, for administrative and political control over universities. As for me, the Ukrainian reality soon will make state leaders to find new pluralistic models, which will necessarily impact on educational policy.

The style of new Ukrainian authority in many aspects does not look any new. Also in education we see continuation of the practice of focusing on process, but not result. That means, the main thing is not development of high-quality, competitive universities, but imitation of activity, for the purpose of avoiding the real changes. Every political force in Ukraine is afraid of radical changes, because they can assert negative influence over the image of this political force at the next scheduled election. Here the Party of Regions borrows demerits of the previous, “orange” authority. That is why the prefix “post-” in the definition of “post-orange reality” indicates not quality, but just a time mark.

The best example of the activity imitation can be the continuation of years-long and fruitless work on the new Law about the Higher Education. The real purpose of this law is to introduce new words for extant (post)soviet reality, without any proper changes. Establishing in word three-cycle system of higher education (bachelor – master – PhD), the government and the parliament, in fact, are trying to conserve old soviet system. On one side, the “candidate of sciences” title is declared equal to PhD. On the other side, the concept of “doctor of sciences” as a specific post-soviet title is preserved. Such a typical product of the soviet epoch as the All-Ukrainian Attestation Committee, with centralized all powers connected with defense of dissertations, got right to exist again. Innovations are so exotic, that there is often no professional or even logical reasoning for them. For example: in defiance of Bologna obligations, Ukraine introduced 11-year secondary school instead of 12-year. And for gaining the status of university, an institution of higher education now must have at least 6 000 full-time students (or 8 000, according to some other propositions). In other words, quantitative requirements supplanted quality criteria.

There can be two ways of reforming science and higher education in Ukraine – through radical change of the whole system, or by developing successful pilot projects. If the political force which came to power in Ukraine together with the president Yanukovych just concentrates on self-enrichment and rollback of civil liberties, a new social outbreak will occur, which can result in radical reforms ignored by ex-president Victor Yushchenko after the Orange Revolution. But I abandon myself to the idea that the real authority will move little by little to the more pragmatic part of the Party of Regions, represented by big business. And then, the question of educational reforms will be included into agenda again, at first – rhetorically. In this case, the market concept of university autonomy as a way to success will become important for those who can take advantage of it.

The National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy demonstrates how an higher education institution can work effectively and be corruption-free in Ukraine today. Actually, in some measure it is a pilot project, but not connected with the state initiative. All the positive changes that took place in Ukrainian higher education during the years of independence were tested at our University, among them – opening of first Bachelor, Master and PhD programs. Now, Kyiv-Mohyla Academy has also the only in Ukraine Doctoral School, including the first 7 PhD programs and getting by on own resources. Step-by-step implementation of three-cycle system of higher education and opening of some innovative programs at NaUKMA was going on in opposition to state policy, and in different years caused conflicts with the government. Among the University specifics are: two working languages (Ukrainian and English), Liberal Arts principle, which allows students to form their trajectory of study by their own, and an original system of entrance testing which estimates both level of competence and level of aptitude.

Kyiv-Mohyla Academy was founded in 1615. Today, it is the oldest and at the same times the most innovative university in Ukraine. This University is cultural, historical, social and political value for Ukrainian society. Kyiv-Mohyla Academy played a significant role in Ukrainian history. A while ago, it was the first university that started political strike in days of Orange Revolution. The position of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy regarding notable events of current life in Ukraine is being reported by almost all mass-media. Our University not just plays the role of independent pluralistic tribune, but also is a medium by itself. A press-conference or a presentation taking place at NaUKMA immediately becomes a newsbreak, and the number of publications about the university in Ukrainian media averaged seven a day for the previous academic year. In some measure, Kyiv-Mohyla Academy is also an effective brand, which is going to celebrate its 400-th anniversary soon.

The success of the project is based on efforts of the whole Ukrainian people or, using modern terms, of Ukrainian civil society, which deserved a qualitative breakthrough to the knowledge society. After all, I would like to notice, that all the Ukrainian governments after 2004 will have a post-orange status. It means that their success, as well as success of their political opposition, will depend directly on their understanding of that fact, and of the level of carrying out the tasks which Ukrainian people included into agenda in days of the Orange Revolution.

Опубліковано у Університет. Додати до закладок постійне посилання.

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