The Challenges of Post-Secondary Education in Ukraine after Independence (2009)

(Speech at the University of Manitoba May 2009)

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am happy to deliver a few words to such a distinguished audience, thank you for such a possibility. Today I would like to tell you about the challenges of post-secondary education in Ukraine after independence, as well as about its problems and prospects. National University of “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy”, when it reopened in 1991, was established on the Western university model. That is why we have run into collision with the old Soviet system of education.

Therefore, today post-secondary education condition in Ukraine is similar to the one in other post-Soviet countries, exclusive of the Baltics’. That means no qualitative changes of the both, educational system and scientific research infrastructure were done since the Soviet Union collapsed. More over, corruption has fully grown. Instead of restructuring of post-secondary education, we can see only some rhetorical competition between Ukrainian politicians and conservative leaders of academic community who are not prepared to make any material changes. As a result, Ukraine – we – do not have any University of good quality represented in international ratings. Let me simply underline five main post-secondary education challenges in Ukraine.

The first challenge lies in the role of scientific research incomprehension. Since 1917 all universities in Ukraine were closed. Institutes of Public Education were set up instead. That is, Soviet Power simply reconsidered professional and social aims of the University. Scientific research was separated from the both, teaching and learning processes, and concentrated at the system of the Academy of Sciences. It was done for the state totalitarian control over scientific research fulfillment, from the one side; and over intellectuals’ from the other. It is still well considered in Ukraine that the aim of the University is teaching, but not developing science. Therefore, universities can not influence on the national economy.

The second challenge is the total university autonomy absence in Ukraine. Today we are witnessing the state puts authoritarian control under all the branches of university life. However, since independence of Ukraine in 1991 and the Orange revolution in 2004 it became possible for ideological overpressure to disappear. Today it can be seen only sometimes in some regions of the country during the election campaigns. Though, we can still talk neither about academical nor organizational, nor financial autonomies. Universities can not grant their own diplomas, can not confer degrees, can not manage their own finance, and control educational process and personnel policy. The state does all of that instead. But the state can not properly finance universities, and post-secondary education institutions can not diversify financing sources. That means, being Maecenas in Ukraine is a bad job.

The third challenge is a decline in teaching and educational quality compared with the Soviet times. The thing is that the Soviet secondary school level was quite high, including Ukrainian schools. The same we can say about the Universities. Though, it was not the Soviet system prerogative but came from the former Russian and Austrian traditions. Today there are 904 post-secondary education institutions, including 351 universities in Ukraine. The state does not expect any quality or research results and simply parting little finance between them which has no logical explanation and looks weird. Just to compare, for instance, studying expenses for one student (bachelor or master) in US equal 36 500 euro, in the European Union they are 8700 euro, and in Ukraine are only about

15 000 hrs., which is 1400 euro. To my high regret, private education has not become a competitor to the state ones because all Ukrainians can not simply pay for the education. Therefore, private universities do not even make necessary selection and have to accept all of those who can pay. More to say, they do not make any scientific research. All of these cause universities’ degrees sale which has become widespread in Ukraine.

The fourth challenge lies in self-delusion and self-isolation. The thing is, universities in Ukraine does not feel themselves like being a part of the world academic community and therefore do not thing globally. In Ukraine the learning society theory as well as the Bologna process with its’ European Higher Education Area, which Ukraine officially joined sounds, in fact like a blank space. Post-soviet mentality does include to take some responsibilities and to keep them not, talking about the one, doing the other and thinking about something else. Because of the fact that Ukrainian universities can not compete with the foreign ones on the international stage due to existing rates, then there is a tendency to talk about some “national peculiarities”, “our own way” in education or to compare ourselves with other post-Soviet countries like Russia, for instance. There are no essential reforms being carried out while the corruption is being kindly welcomed with the traditional sense of humor in the context of bad roads and state official’s idiocy. Though, in fact, the Ukrainian and the Russian realities look absolutely different. At least from the point that Russia with its centralized managing empire tradition is able to give financial support to master scientific researches and some main university branches or selected universities. However, Ukrainian universities are able and should develop according to world market mechanisms as autonomous institutions in close connection and collaboration with their Western partners.

At last, the fifth challenge includes inflexibility and apartness from existing economical and social targets. Ukrainian universities are not connected with labor market, national economy and national development aims. They have no research segment inside, as well as no complete cycle of highly qualified specialists’ preparation: bachelor – master – PhD. Ukraine still uses post-Soviet system of academic degrees, slightly upgraded. After four years of studying the student gains a bachelor’s degree. Another year at the university will typically make them a “specialist.” And after the next one or two years they become “masters.” They can start post-graduate studies to become a “doctoral candidate,” which takes three years to do. There is a higher “doctoral degree” that takes another five years to complete, bringing the total number of student years to 15. In addition, contemporary Ukrainian system does not require from young researchers any publications in international peer-review journals. Therefore, to be included in the “great science” Ukrainians often enter some Western Universities. That means, Ukraine with its huge economic problems basically is making good investments into Western education and research.

In fact, it is not so scary as it may have sounded from my tries to call things by their proper names. As a good example, I can name the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy experience. It was founded in 1615, then closed by the soviet power and returned to life in 1991 together with Ukrainian national state. I am telling that not only because our University is integrated into Western educational and scientific systems and is being the most innovative in Ukraine, not only because it has never been corrupted it it’s life and not because its’ 400-year history has made the greatest resonance in Ukrainian society or because the headquarters and press-center of the Orange revolution worked in its walls. I believe that our University’s example has always been considered as a sign of public activity which can change the old rules of the game in post-secondary education system and create the new ones, influencing wide public opinion and reforming the whole system of the state.

University autonomy is what Ukraine needs. Our state also needs to determine correctly the main national priorities, including post-secondary education institutions’ demands, to learn to defend them. Universities must have a right of self-regulation, producing qualitatively new knowledge which will influence the whole society and system of post-secondary education development. This is the only way out for Ukraine to reach European self-sufficing level and finally get rid of shameful “post-soviet, post-totalitarian and post-colonial” adjectives. We have dramatic changes in public consciousness after the Orange revolution. We should consider the global crisis as a chance
to change for the good, to refuse everything that pulls us backwards to the past. We had not crashed the Soviet system in 1991 and it existed till 2004. I am sincerely convinced that in the next five years with the change of Ukrainian intellectual, political and economical leaders’ generation all of us will witness drastically positive changes including the system of Ukrainian post-secondary education.

Опубліковано у Університет. Додати до закладок постійне посилання.

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