Kyiv Mohyla Academy President Serhiy Kvit Advocates Real Change and Not Rhetoric for Ukraine’s Education System

Serhiy Kvit is president of the National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy in Ukraine, founded in 1615. He and only one other university rector in Ukraine, Borys Gudziak of Ukrainian Catholic University, have openly voiced concerns about the policies being implemented by Ukraine’s newly-appointed education minister, Dmytro Tabachnyk. The Ukrainian press has reported that most other rectors have been critical of the previous leadership, which was instrumental in implementing the early stages of reforms according to the Bologna system of education that Ukraine joined in 2005. Today’s interview with Serhiy Kvit offers readers a glimpse of the changes that can be expected in Ukraine under the new administration.CD: As you know, a new Education Minister, Dmytro Tabachnyk, was recently appointed in Ukraine. What kind of changes can be expected in the educational arena?

Kvit: I do not believe there will be any signficant changes. The primary message of the new education minister is aimed at university presidents. They are being told not to worry. Dmytro Tabachnyk has made it clear that no one will get in their way and that their lives will not be made difficult with a variety of reforms and problems. They will be able to live in peace. But one demand was put forth: loyalty to the new administration. Any new administration hopes to obtain loyalty from representatives in the educational arena. At the same time, for higher education institutions in Ukraine to develop there needs to be movement and change. Peace only keeps corrupt post-Soviet practices in place.

CD:Why has there been criticism of the new education minister and his policies?

Kvit: There has not been a lot of opposition toward the new minsiter. Only two universities, Kyiv-Mohyla Academy and the Ukrainian Catholic University, have openly spoken out against the new minister. Everyone else has been silent. Opposition political forces and independent student organizations have protested against him. This means the education community fairly easily agreed with the new policies. I see two reasons for this. First of all, everyone was irritated by the problems that developed from the simulated reforms implemented by the previous minister. Secondly, civil society in Ukraine is not sufficiently developed. Moreover, the education sphere is innately very conservative. The current calm that we have is tied to the fact that many Ukrainian universities have suppressed their animosity toward Dmytro Tabachnyk’s views of Ukrainian history and national identity. Some are also keeping silent about his chauvinist tendencies and his pro-communist speeches.

CD: You were reportedly one of only two university presidents who chose to speak out against the new minister’s appointment. What made you decide to be a vocal critic of the new administration when most other rectors reportedly criticized the previous education minister’s policies?

Kvit: My decision is connected to the idea and spirit of the university. No university can be without integrity and dignity. A university is more than a place for research and study. It serves as a platform for academic freedom, including freedom of speech. The history of Kyiv-Mohyla
Academy is inseparably linked with the history of Ukraine. As a representative of Ukraine, I am much concerned with its interests and aspirations. The point of Tabachnyk is that Ukraine is a kind of temporary historical misunderstanding, not a European state. What we are seeing today is a continuation of many centuries of struggle for Ukrainian independence. That is why I did not have any other decision.

CD: Isn’t it true that most teachers and administrators at universities throughout Ukraine were opposed to the administrative changes connected to the Bologna system and that many did not implement in their classrooms the required changes—such as adding written vs. oral exams, creating a multiple-assessment grading model based on a 100-point system, and using an interactive teaching approach– that were mandated by the previous administration?

Kvit: This is such a hard question. Most rectors today are more concerned about the survival of their universities and not about development. This is why it is important to create a completely new situation for our universities according to Western standards. Our university leaders, along with the country’s president, our government, parliament and the whole of society, should have a shared understanding of what a contemporary university is and what steps need to be taken to create it. There cannot be a civil society without autonomous universities. I am sure that we will eventually attain success in this area, but I doubt we will see any serious changes in the near future.

CD: But what about the teachers and the administrative changes in the classroom?

Kvit: Since teachers did not see real change happening in the overall education system some were reluctant to implement the [required] administrative changes in their classrooms. I believe that faculty members are more progressive than administrators and that we could have their support for real reforms.

CD: What will remain the same under the new minister?

Kvit: This is not a very simple question. One must understand that when previous Education Minister Ivan Vakarchuk was in office no significant changes took place in the education sphere. In contrast to the «new» policies envisioned by Tabachnyk, the reforms under the previous administration were simulated and we had pro-Ukrainian rhetoric. Now we have an outright rejection of the earlier reforms and we have anti-Ukrainian rhetoric. The primary difference between the two ministers is related to the issue of patriotism and the lack of it [under the new administration]. Education in Ukraine has undergone a steady decline since the end of the 1980s, when the country was still part of the Soviet Union. In the near future we will not see the growth of academic research within Ukrainian universities. Universities will not maintain autonomy and Ukraine will not implement western standards for assessing quality teaching, learning and research standards.

CD: You say that the new administration is rejecting the earlier reforms but the ministry says it plans to unify Ukraine’s education system with other countries.

Kvit: In the post-Soviet period, signing a document does not mean that a promise will be fulfilled. Since 2005 we have only had a simulation of reforms without any significant changes that correspond to the Bologna education system. We talked a lot about reforms and we created Bologna rhetoric. That is all. It means, Ukraine needs to really begin the reforms, which will change our outdated and corrupt system of higher education.

CD: The Ukrainian press reported a couple of months ago that independent testing, implemented by the previous education minister, will be suspended. But a review of the testing system shows that students were taking tests just this past month. What is the current status with the tests?

Kvit: I believe that Tabachnyk will not be able to fully suspend independent testing because it has a lot of support from the Ukrainian public. Generally speaking, independent testing is an example of the «half-reforms» that we have in our education system. From one perspective, this is a very important endeavor, the success of which is tied to the activities of the previous Ukrainian president and a few governments. This type of admissions test is progressive and it truly protects the most talented students. From another perspective, the realization of similar reforms should occur in tandem with the reformation of Ukrainian universities, particulary the reduction of the number of universities that exist in Ukraine and the improvement in quality education offered by universities. Today in Ukraine we have an incredible number of universities: 256. Instead of creating conditions for improving universities, Ivan Vakarchuk, our previous education minister, focused on strange and unnecessary efforts, such as the battle against the autonomy of the Kyiv Mohyla Academy. Vakarchuk did not like, for example, our original admissions policy, which has been in effect for the past 18 years and has worked quite well. It should be noted that our admissions test was the basis for the independent testing policy originally implemented by Vakarchuk, but which now may be cancelled. Rather than utilize our experience with independent testing, Vakarchuk fought against it. He also tried to stop the mandatory English-language tests for KMA students. In other words, independent testing is necessary for quality, competitive universIties, which Ukraine does not have. So if it is cancelled, few universities will protest.

CD: So was some of the opposition connected to the fact that students in Russian-speaking regions had difficulty taking the admissions test because they are not fluent in Ukrainian?

Kvit: Regional protests against the admissions test were not specifically connected to the use of the Ukrainian language on the test. Students in Ukraine have been able to substitute the

Ukrainian language admissions test for tests that are offered in a language that better suits their language competency. However, the policy of allowing students to take the test in another language is not doing them any favors. These students are not planning to study in Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Russia, etc. Allowing them to take the test in another language only delays their fluency in Ukrainian, which is needed for all university classes in Ukraine. Right now the only protests we hear about the use of the Ukrainian language is coming from political interests. But the real problem with the testing system was that Vakarchuk did not introduce it correctly. Universities themselves must see the need for a transparent and ethical admissions policy before it can be implemented. In the U.S., for example, universities utilize a wide range of admissions requirements because they are interested in selecting only the best students for their schools. In Ukraine we need to create a base of strong, reputable and autonomous universties that would compete for the best students. Our universities are not interested in the standardized testing system because the goal of many of our universities is not to provide a quality education but to survive in these hard economic times. Bribes are a form of profit for them. Vakarchuk said universities should teach and not worry about the quality of students they accept. That’s why the system of testing should have been introdued in tandem with the reforms.

CD: Education Minister Tabachnyk was quoted in an UNIAN article as saying that the money allotted for publishing Ukrainian text books by the previous minister, reported as 30 million UAH, will arrest the ministry’s accounts. The article quoted Tabachnyk as saying that «not a single bus has been purchased for village schools in two years and many programs have been scrapped.» What was the reason for publishing the books?

Kvit: Such announcements should not be taken seriously. Any new minister has reasons to criticize his predecessor. Due to the financial crisis many programs typically funded by the state were not supported because of the buget crisis. The books were published with funds from the state budget and Vakarchuk may not have been involved with this. But I certainly do hope that state-supported educational programs in Ukraine will receive funding under the new minister’s leadership.

CD: What future changes do you suggest for the education system in Ukraine?

Kvit: I’ve mentioned some of them. But I will summarize them here. Ukraine should fulfill it’s so-called Bologna declaration responsibilities with regard to integrating Ukraine’s education system with Europe. This did not happen under the previous administration and it’s obvious that it will not happen under the new leadership. Euro-integration, or, more correctly, the Western-oriented integration strategy of Ukrainian higher education and research requires concrete steps in order to implement the reforms. This includes providing universities with greater autonomy since today the state controls in an authoritarian manner all aspects of university life: costs, academic affairs, staffing questions. Another step involves changing university structures to incorporate academic research. This second step is important because during the Soviet period it was generally believed that universities must teach and that academic research must be carried out by the National Academy of Sciences in Ukraine. Other steps require the introduction of market mechanisms connected to university ranking systems, and making English-language fluency mandatory for students at all universities throughout the country.

CD: Before we conclude, can you comment on the recent vote in Parliament to reduce Ukraine’s secondary education system from 12 to 11 years of education. Some officials say the decision was made to cut expenses, while others say there’s a shortage of qualified teachers. Will this prevent high school graduates from matriculating to Western universities?

Kvit: This is more of a political decision.   There’s no logical or professional reason for it.

Опубліковано у Університет. Додати до закладок постійне посилання.

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