Public Debate and Higher Education in Today’s Ukraine: the Case of the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy

Speech at the Mykola Zerov Centre for Ukrainian Studies, Monash University (Australia): April, 26, 2012

In 2005, soon after the Orange Revolution, I participated in a seminar on university autonomy at the University of Cambridge. While there I asked the Vice-Rector of the university what he considered as the key factors for starting innovative projects or for implementing radical reforms in higher education. His response was that there are three things necessary for the success of any such initiative: tradition, the right people and trust. Then I turned to another member of our delegation, an official from the Secretariat of the President of Ukraine, and said, “Did you hear that? That was about trust.” The official’s response was quite predictable.  He said, “There is no such concept in Ukrainian legislation!”

This response is a good illustration for my speech because it was a typical response of a government representative to academic community’s ambition for university autonomy in Ukraine. Please note that at that time we were dealing with the political reality of the Orange government, which declared a policy of renewal of public institutions, including higher education, and had a huge credit of trust, relying on broad support from Ukrainian society.  Unfortunately, I have to state that educational reforms in Ukraine did not take place then and have not started to the present day.

I can state today with a degree of pride in our university, which as a matter of fact, all the most important innovations introduced into the Ukrainian system of higher education began at Kyiv-Mohyla Academy (KMA). I should mention that our university was the first in Ukraine to establish western-style Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD programs. Although Ukraine committed to comply with the principles and requirements of the Bologna Agreement to replace its Soviet-style postgraduate education with western curriculum PhD programs in all universities by 2010, unfortunately it has not done so, and National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy is the first and, unfortunately, the only Ukrainian institution of higher learning that established eight PhD programs, which are integrated in the Doctoral School.

Kyiv-Mohyla Academy’s Liberal Arts Education program enables our students to choose their own path of study. They can also complete additional certified programs, known in the west as minors, in other specialties and departments, and they can enter Master’s programs in specialities that differ from their Bachelor’s majors. These options are not available in other Ukrainian universities. I should also mention concepts of great importance in Ukraine – our university maintains the absence of corruption, two working languages ​​(Ukrainian and English), and a unique system of entrance testing.  All these highly important changes in higher education brought our university to leading positions in all national rankings of institutions of higher learning. Some of these changes were adapted later at the national level, but many are still not introduced in other Ukrainian universities.

The KMA educational system enabled us to form a unique community of students and faculty, for whom values like quality, integrity, ethics, patriotism, openness to the world, innovation, and critical thinking shape their goals. Their goals include reaching the ranks of the world’s best universities and being the catalysts of fundamental change for the improvement of Ukraine’s system of education and for building the Ukrainian state and its civil society. It was at Kyiv-Mohyla Academy where the press-centre and the headquarters of the Orange Revolution functioned in late 2004 and early 2005.

When the Vice-Rector of Cambridge University advised that “tradition, the right people, and trust” are needed to implement innovation and change successfully, I realized that we at KMA have a very strong basis for success because our university was founded on these fundamental concepts in 1615, and these traditions have been carried forth for centuries and generations.

Kyiv-Mohyla Academy’s graduates include many prominent political leaders, academics, philosophers, writers, and artists throughout the ages.   Both tsarist and Soviet governments treated the first university in the Russian Empire situated in Ukraine with great suspicion, and attempted to suppress dissidence and opposition. In the Soviet period, despite the fact that Kyiv is situated quite far from the sea, a Naval Political School was opened in the facilities of Kyiv Mohyla Academy, in order to prevent free scholarship.

Vyacheslav Briukhovetskyi, Honorary President of KMA, re-established the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy in 1991, when the Soviet Union disintegrated and Ukraine proclaimed its independence.  The almost-mythical image of the “ancient Academy” was preserved in the national historical memory of the Ukrainian people, and we at the Academy have assumed the mantle of the experience of our nation and the facts of history to continue the traditions of our cultural heritage for future generations.

KMA obtained its unique position among the rest of Ukrainian universities due to its responsibility to society, and society bestows us the people’s trust in our actions. Trust is also the intangible bond that holds the academic community of our university as a cohesive unit of mutual understanding and intellectual growth.  Every event at Kyiv-Mohyla Academy instantly becomes a newsmaker. We calculated that during the last academic year there were over 17 posts dedicated to the university published daily in the Ukrainian media.

With this package of history and accomplishments, the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy entered the year 2010, when the Party of Regions won elections and took over power. The new political reality was marked by a change of approach and the virtual absence of an educational policy. A new anti-Ukrainian rhetoric appeared, voiced by Dmytro Tabachnyk, current Minister of Education, known for his anti-Ukrainian position and regressive policies of central control that posed a threat to Ukraine’s democratic future.

The new threats required us to act decisively. On March 16th of 2010 I appealed to the Ukrainian academic community to oppose the appointment of Dmytro Tabachnyk to the Ministry, and his damaging policies toward Ukrainian education and the entire field of humanities. His statements demeaning the Ukrainian people, the Ukrainian language and denying Ukraine’s history, even rewriting it, were an attack on our nation and denied the young generation of Ukrainians a sense of identity and future.

As a further step, the Minister of Education tried to ban the use of English as the second working language at the KMA, and he also attempted to change the university Statutes, depriving us of those distinctions that enabled Kyiv-Mohyla Academy to be a leader and a test-site of innovation of Ukrainian higher education.

Later, on Dec. 10, after Tabachnyk presented a new draft law “On Higher Education”, hoping to rush it through the Parliament by the end of 2010, I called a press conference and presented two documents. The first one was an open letter to the President of Ukraine, the Speaker of Parliament and the Prime-Minister of Ukraine, in which I stated that the draft law was aimed at degradation of higher education. The second was an appeal to our colleagues and partners for support. In a short time we received letters of support from dozens of our foreign partner universities. In Ukraine, the only university that declared a public support to our position was the Ukrainian Catholic University. And since that time the struggle for a new Law “On Higher Education” became the main task of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy.

Our call was supported by various public initiatives, including student protests, which were the most effective. These efforts grew into a broad public discussion with the participation of representatives of the academic community, independent experts, journalists, and leaders of student organizations. These activities attracted public attention to the problems of education. Within this discussion, Kyiv-Mohyla Academy published a book titled, “The Time of a Cheap Clown. Ukrainian Education: a Challenge through Pseudo-Reforms” (2011). The title of the book refers to a colloquial expression referring to the current Minister of Education.

As a result of this struggle, we managed to defend English as a working language at the university, as well as other distinguishing characteristics of the university that were codified in the new university Statute, approved in March 2011. Four times we managed to block Tabachnyk’s pro-Soviet, Russian model law on its way to Parliament. We defended academic freedom, university autonomy and the right to innovate and reform an outdated system.

The Minister’s purpose was to keep Ukraine within the post-Soviet area, dominated by Russia, and to put obstacles to Ukraine’s integration into the European Higher Education Area.

But Ukraine is fundamentally different from Russia. Despite all the threats to democracy in recent years, we have two important consequences of the Orange Revolution: freedom of speech and political competition. Ukrainian society does not accept authoritarianism. Moreover, unlike the Russian government which relies on oil resources, the Ukrainian government does not have any extra resources. Therefore, Ukraine has to rely on other sources of funding for development of science and education, which must be based real market-based policies and structural changes in the national economy, by opening itself to the world and integrating into the European Union and into the global world. This integration is also the way to increase competitiveness of Ukrainian universities.

As a result of broad public discussion and efforts of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, now there are three draft laws “On Higher Education”: the first one from the government and two alternative draft laws presented by Member of Parliament Yuri Miroshnichenko and another by Members of Parliament Arseniy Yatseniuk and Lesia Orobets. KMA experts actively participated in all working groups, offering their own visions of the necessary changes.

The government’s change of attitude toward the “Law on Higher Education” was a turning point which can be considered a victory in our struggle on this issue.   Quite unexpectedly, in January 2012, Mykola Azarov, Prime Minister of Ukraine, sent the draft law back to the academic community for revision, and appointed Mykhailo Zhurovskyi, Rector of the National Technical University of Ukraine “Kyiv Polytechnic Institute” (KPI), as the chairman of the revision’s Working Group.  Ironically, Minister Tabachnyk tried to remove Dr. Zhurovskyi from his position of rector for months, but failed in his attempts.

This Working Group consisted mainly of members of Kyiv-Polytechnic Institute and Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, leaders of students’ organizations, and independent experts. Representatives of some other universities, of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, of the Administration of the President of Ukraine, of the Corporation of Employers of Ukraine, of trade unions and non-government educational organizations were also involved into the work. The group prepared a new version of the law, which was largely based on the concept offered by Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. The work was accomplished by consensus, to assure that all interested parties would feel included and would support the final document.  We considered approximately 4000 proposals from over 100 different organizations and institutions.

The new document properly provides academic, organizational and financial autonomy of universities. It is based on the understanding that reform of higher education means reform of universities, that university autonomy means autonomy the state, that the main task of all these reforms is to ensure the improvement of equality of education, teaching and research, and, finally, that the level of academic research is the main factor of merit for a modern university.

These concepts seem as a revolutionary approach for the Ukrainian reality today. It was 1920th when the Soviet government separated higher education from academic research. The concept was that universities are for learning, and so-called academic institutions are for research. In the new draft law, special attention is paid to integration of research and education, evaluation of quality, intellectual property protection, social protection of students, development of connections between the national higher education and the national industry, business, and labour markets.

European integration within the Bologna process was also among the main tasks of the new draft law. Therefore, the new proposed draft introduces the third cycle of education, the PhD, it cultivates the principle of interdisciplinary studies, and it grants universities the right to recognize foreign diplomas of their faculty and to develop their own educational programs.

After over one and a half months of work, on March 7, the Working “Group of Consensus”, presented the new draft law to the Government. The Prime Minister publicly promised several times that this draft law will be introduced to the Parliament. If that indeed shall happen, then Ukraine will get a progressive law “On Higher Education” and such an effort will be the result of the involvement of civil society.  Nevertheless, this is not the point where we can consider our work completed, because it is not enough to have a good law. The second necessary step is to assure its functioning.

I would also like to illustrate some other activities of the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy with several cases that are emblematic both for our university and for Ukrainian education today. These are part of our university’s daily activities.   Our university is an independent platform for various public initiatives, especially for those which find no other venue in Ukraine because of the nature of their opposition orientation. For example, the public movements “Stop Censorship” and “Honestly”, were established and were presented at KMA.

Another example of research, exhibits and presentations that are considered “controversial” in the current political environment encompasses research in the area of the historical memory of Ukrainian people that extends far beyond the strictly academic tasks, because it challenges the official position of Ukrainian State, which is denying the nature of “genocide” of the Great Famine known as the Holodomor of 1932-1933. In such areas, KMA carries on its own scientific, educational and publishing policies. For example, in October 2010, the well-known American historian Norman Naimark presented his new book Stalin’s Genocides / Princeton University Press.  Kyiv-Mohyla Academy obtained rights to translated it into Ukrainian and publish it, and in the spring of 2011 the Ukrainian edition of Stalin’s Genocides was presented in Kyiv with the participation of the author, who also held several meetings, public lectures and press conferences. These events were highlighted in Ukraine’s press and they provoked discussions on professional and political levels.

The university’s Doctoral School with its PhD programs introduced in Ukraine first, which I mentioned previously, is demonstrating its first results.  Kyiv Mohyla Academy’s Doctoral School has agreements with the universities of Maastricht and of Barcelona in Europe, and with the University of Western Ontario in Canada which recognize its professional level.  That means that besides their PhD degrees from KMA, our graduates can obtain their relevant degrees from these universities. Each of the PhD programs also has its own partners abroad. In December 2011, Androulla Vassiliou , European Commissioner for Education,  presented the first PhD Diploma in Ukraine to Hanna Bielienka, the first recipient of the PhD degree.

KMA was the first in Ukraine to establish many innovative academic programs. Among them Social Work, Ecology, Public Health, and Crimean Tatar Studies. Within a short time we plan to launch new Master Programs in Biotechnology, Theology, Jewish Studies, and a Centre for IT Specialists Advanced Training.

The Kyiv-Mohyla School of Journalism is also uniquely positioned by its content. It includes a two-year Master’s Program, PhD program in Mass Communications, and special programs in New Media for working journalists and instructors from other universities. This program was based and developed in close cooperation with our partners in Great Britain, USA, France, Germany, Holland, and Spain.

All the aforementioned, every issue and program in its own way, influences the development of higher education in Ukraine. KMA became an agent of change, largely shaping trends and a new agenda for educational reforms within the context of the European integration. Interestingly, for Ukraine, rapprochement with the European Union first of all is associated with values ​​and professional standards.

Kyiv-Mohyla Academy has had a life of almost 400 years. No other Ukrainian institution has had such a long history.  The Academy is meeting its 400th anniversary in 2015 in a new era, with new victories and new plans for future.



Опубліковано у Університет. Додати до закладок постійне посилання.

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